The 6 Best Rowing Machines for Building At-Home Strength and Cardio

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man adjusting settings on a rowing machine at home
Rowing machines build strength, cardio and take up minimal space in home gyms.
Image Credit: THEPALMER/E+/GettyImages

If you've ever used a rowing machine, the home gym of your dreams undoubtedly has one.

The low-impact cardio tool is phenomenal for getting your heart rate up while building total-body strength and stamina. With each pull, you work your legs, glutes, core, back, shoulders and arms. And since you determine the speed and resistance, rowers can fit every fitness level.

But with so many different types, models and brands out there, picking just one model can be tricky. To find your perfect match, consider these six indoor rowing machines.

1. Best Overall: NordicTrack RW700

If you've used a rower in a studio high-intensity interval class, it was probably made by NordicTrack. Famous for their treadmills and bikes, this brand makes a top-of-the-line rowers, too. Enter, the RW700.

This fan-powered rower (more on that below) features a 14-inch rotating screen and offers a year's membership with iFit, a personal training video program with on-demand classes, according to NordicTrack. So, if you love high-energy HIIT classes, this is definitely the best home rowing machine for you.

The RW700 offers 26 different resistance levels with LIVE controls, which means your trainer can automatically adjust your workout difficulty.

The RW700 is built with oversized pedals and a comfortable, padded seat and handle, helping your posture and form. Unlike many other rowers, the straps on these pedals are quick and easy to adjust, which means you won't be pausing mid-way through a workout.

And while many indoor rowers can be noisy, this one has a silent system. Plus, the design allows you to fold your rower in half for easy storage.

Bottom line: This machine checks all the boxes to win out as the top overall pick for at-home rowing workouts.

Buy it:NordicTrack.com; ​Price: ​$1,299

2. Best on a Budget: Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine

Eligible for Amazon Prime, the Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine is definitely the most budget-friendly rowing machine out there. It's built with magnetic resistance, which means this rower is a quieter option than most air- or water-powered versions.

Although this rower doesn't have a bunch of flashy screens, it is built with an LCD console that tracks time, row count, total calories and a scan mode, making it easy for you to watch these metrics at the same time.

This rower is only about 60 pounds and is built with wheels on the bottom, so moving it around the house will be a breeze. Plus, the narrow design makes storage simple.

Buy it:Amazon.com; ​Price:​ $224.99

3. Best for Living-Room Workouts: Ergatta Rower

The Ergatta rower really takes form and function to a whole new level. This water rower is quite the looker with its cherry wood structure, so you won't mind making it a permanent decoration in your living room. The machine is built with wheels on the rear end, allowing you to move and store the rower against the wall with ease.

One quality that really takes this rower above and beyond is the technology. Equipped with a Bluetooth and a WiFi touch screen, the Ergatta video program offers a variety of training plans from high-intensity full-body workouts to endurance training.

Exercisers with a competitive edge will love the rower's live races in which you go head-to-head against other users.

Buy it:Ergatta.com; ​Price:​ $2,199

4. Best for Athletes: AssaultRower Elite

If you're an athlete looking to improve your at-home training routine, look no further. The AssaultRower Elite is the top machine for tough training.

Built and designed for athletes, it can definitely withstand a beating, according to Assault Fitness. This fan-powered rower is made with a solid steel frame and sweat-proof seat, so you can expect it to stay together through even your hardest sessions.

The on-screen technology for this rower is pretty minimal, which is ideal for athletes trying to stay in the zone. The dashboard gives you just the information you need, without any of the intro videos or workouts you'll get with some other at-home rowing machines.

Buy it:Assaultfitness.com; ​Price: ​$1,199

5. Best for Small Spaces: Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine

Weighing only 39 pounds and about 5 feet in length, the Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine is as space-friendly as they come. Plus, it even has folding arms to save every bit of free flooring possible.

But don't let this rower's compact size fool you. This rower is built with a sturdy frame, full range rowing arms and an adjustable resistance. And the attached LCD monitor will help you keep track of the most important stats, including your workout time, stroke count and calories burned.

Buy it:Amazon.com; ​Price:​ $139.99

6. Best for Noise Concerns: The Hydrow

If noise is a concern in your home, the Hydrow is sure to give you a silent experience. This rower is water-powered and built with durable foot straps, making each stroke of the machine as quiet as possible, according to Hydrow.

What sets the Hydrow apart is its one-of-a-kind system, which feels like you're truly rowing on water. The smooth-moving seat is designed to keep you comfortable during even your longest workouts.

Buy it:Hydrow.com; ​Price:​ $1,995

What to Know Before You Buy a Home Rowing Machine

Before you invest in a rowing machine, you'll want to make sure you're getting the best rower for your skill level, available space and fitness goals.

Rower Types 101

Rowers are categorized by type, which makes it easier to pick the ideal home rowing machine for you.

Fan-Powered Rowers

Fan machines are powered by a flywheel at the front of the rower, churning air for resistance.

These machines are ideal for experienced rowers or athletes, as they allow you to adjust between resistance levels to mimic rowing on real water, according to Mathew Forzaglia, CPT, a New York-based certified personal trainer. Fan rowers are also usually a little more durable for intense workouts. Often, fan rowers are used in competitive sports, like CrossFit.

Fan-powered rowing machines aren't without their disadvantages, though. They can be noisy and challenging in small spaces. Keep in mind that they tend to blow air and kick up dust, Forzaglia says.

Water-Powered Rowers

Water rowing machines are powered by a tank of water at the front of the rower, which creates drag or resistance as you row.

Unlike fan rowers, these machines make less noise and tend to be a little more smooth with each stroke, Forzaglia says. Although they can be a little pricier, water rowers are excellent for most everyday exercisers.

Unfortunately, though, they can be more difficult to move and store, as they're often heavier than fan versions. They also need maintenance to keep the water clean. But if you have the space and can afford the price tag, water-powered machines can be a lovely splurge.

Hydraulic Rowers

Nowadays, traditional hydraulic rowing machines are pretty uncommon, especially in the gym. But if you're looking for a simple, easy-to-use machine, a hydraulic rower can be a fitting choice.

Hydraulic rowers are generally cheaper and smaller in size, making these machines appealing for a home gym, according to Forzaglia. They're one of the more quiet rowing machines, too.

On the downside, hydraulic rowers don't provide a smooth rowing action, which can make them less-than-ideal for intervals and class-style workouts.

Magnetic Rowers

Available at most gyms, magnetic rowers create resistance by moving a magnet closer and farther from the wheel at the front of the machine.

Magnetic rowers are pretty easy to operate, quiet and provide a smooth stroke, Forzaglia says. Usually, they are easy to store and make great entry-level machines with a variety of resistance levels.

However, if you're looking for the feel of rowing on water, a magnetic rower isn't for you. These aren't the most durable variety either, so serious athletes may want to consider another option.

Consider Rower Comfort and Technology

Once you've found the type (fan, water, hydraulic, magnetic) of rowing machine you want, you can hone in on the details. After all, the design of the seat, handlebars, pedals and technology have a huge impact on your workout experience.

Select the Best Padded Seat for Your Body

First, think about whether the height of the seat is a challenge for your body, says Sam Becourtney, DPT, CSCS, a physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York. Some rowing machine seats can be pretty low to the ground, which means getting up and sitting down can be strenuous, especially for older populations or people with pre-existing injuries or conditions.

Then, look at the cushion and design of the seat itself. Prioritizing an ergonomic seat will guarantee a more comfortable experience.

Choose Durable Foot Straps

If you've ever used a rower with flimsy pedal straps, you're probably aware of what a big difference small details make. "If your feet are not secure and snug to the base of the foot plate, you will not be able to generate as much power when rowing," he says.

Look for straps that are adjustable and suited to your foot size, according to Becourtney.

Find a Non-Slip Handle

Rowing is a tough workout, which means sweat is pretty much inevitable. Look for a machine that's handles are equipped with non-slip, comfortable material, he says.

Consider Technology

The screen and technology of the machine is like an added bonus, Becourtney says. So think through how much you'll use it and what features matter to you.

For example, if you're new to rowing, want some extra guidance or love classes, choose a machine that offers a screen with built-in workout programs.

Or, if you don't need the super-flashy tech, but want some way to measure your workout, make sure the machine you're considering at least offers a small LED screen. (Luckily, most machines have these built in).

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