Best rowing machine: the best buys for full-body cardio at home

NordicTrack, ProForm and Concept 2 lead the pack, plus a few clever competitors – here is our edit of the best rowing machines for your home gym

Exercisers with the NordicTrack RW600 rowing machine
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(Image credit: NordicTrack)

If you're looking for a full-body, low-impact cardio workout, it's hard to beat a rowing machine. Sometimes called a rowing ergometer, these exercise machines simulate the feel of racing in a sweep or 'crew' racing shell — the 4- or 8-person rowing teams you'll sometimes see powering along winding rivers in sleek, fast boats.

Most rowing machines fold up or store vertically to save space. Depending on what kind of resistance your rowing machine uses, they can be among the quietest and most challenging types of home cardio equipment. Win win if you are looking for some kit to use at home while gyms are shut – and beyond.

What's the best rowing machine for you? Keep reading as a retired personal trainer and masters coxswain walks you through the best picks for budget, resistance type, durability, and user experience.

Want more workout options? Check out our lists of the best home gym equipment.

The best rowing machine 2021

NordicTrack RW600 rowing machine

(Image credit: NordicTrack)

1. NordicTrack RW600

Best rowing machine under $1,000: all the rowing machine most people will ever need

Specifications
Resistance type/levels: Magnetic AND air/26 levels
Monitor size/type: 10" HD touchscreen
Special features: Folds; includes 1 year iFit Family membership ($468 value)
Dimensions (L x W x seat height): 87" x 22" x 48"
Maximum user weight: 250 lbs
Machine weight: 117 lbs
Reasons to buy
+Can adjust resistance manually, or let a trainer do it for you remotely (with iFit)+Touchscreen monitor+Bluetooth audio capable+Good warranty+Pivoting foot pedals+Folds, stores vertically
Reasons to avoid
-iFit features require a paid subscription-User weight limit could be higher-Heavy to move around

One of the newest rowing machines from NordicTrack, the RW600 offers a great mix of high-end features, all at a price that remains faithfully below $1,000. For many people, this is the only rowing machine you'll ever need.

What we like about it
The NordicTrack RW600 has 26 levels of electronic-adjust magnetic resistance, plus an air damper you can adjust to increase or decrease the overall intensity of your workouts. 

This rower also comes with one free year of iFit Family membership, allowing you to create up to four different user accounts and explore an ever-expanding library of video-based studio workouts and outdoor rowing videos, plus yoga/mindfulness and strength-training workouts. 

One of the most interesting features in iFit is that the studio trainers can automatically adjust the magnetic aspect of your machine's resistance for you. 

Finally, this rower has built-in 2" speakers and is compatible with Bluetooth audio — so you have the option of blasting your favorite workout tunes or listening to your coaches through Bluetooth headphones. 

Things to note
As great as this rowing machine is, we do wish the user weight limit of 250 lbs was a little higher to make it accessible to more people. The machine itself is also fairly heavy. That's only an issue if you need to regularly fold it or move it around for storage.

Lastly, once you're past that free first year of your iFit subscription, the interactive features require a subscription fee. As of 2021, an iFit Family membership costs about $39/month.

NordicTrack RW900

(Image credit: NordicTrack)

2. NordicTrack RW900

Best rowing machine under $2,000: a few extra bells and whistles for your enjoyment

Specifications
Resistance type/levels: Magnetic AND air/26 levels
Monitor size/type: 22" HD touchscreen
Special features: Folds; includes 1 year iFit Family membership ($468 value)
Dimensions (L x W x H): 85" x 22" x 51"
Maximum user weight: 250 lbs
Machine weight : 131 lbs
Reasons to buy
+Versatile resistance options+Rotating 22" HD touchscreen+Bluetooth audio capable+Oversize, pivoting footpedals+Folds for storage
Reasons to avoid
-User weight limit could be higher-iFit subscription fees after first year-Heavy

The NordicTrack RW900 comes with all the interactive features that make the RW600 such a great value, plus a massive, rotating 22" HD touchscreen monitor, which really shines when it comes to enjoying interactive iFit workouts.

What we like about it
The NordicTrack RW900 has 26 levels of magnetic resistance that you can adjust yourself, or have a trainer adjust remotely through the interactive iFit workouts. If you take the trainer option, you can still tweak your workout intensity by manually adjusting the air damper on the rower.

We also love this machine's massive 22" HD touchscreen, which rotates to give you the perfect viewing angle or facilitate off-the-machine workouts that come with your iFit membership, including yoga/mindfulness and strength-training.

Bluetooth audio means you can choose between using wireless headphones or blasting your favorite workout music on built-in 2" speakers.

Things to note
Although this rowing machine has everything most exercisers will need for years of fitness and fun, like the RW600, the weight limit of 250lbs is a little disappointing.

Meanwhile, the rowing machine itself weighs just over 130 lbs — something to keep in mind if you're planning to frequently fold it up or move it around for storage. 

Finally, once you're past the first free year of iFit membership, you'll need to pay more if you want to keep using those interactive features. As of 2021, an iFit Family membership costs about $39/month.

ProForm Pro R10 rowing machine

(Image credit: ProForm)

3. ProForm Pro R10

Best for interactive coaching: buy the coaching, get the rowing machine for free

Specifications
Resistance type/levels: Magnetic, 24 levels
Monitor size/type: 10" HD touchscreen
Special features: Folds; interactive iFit training (with subscription)
Dimensions (L x W x H): 87" x 22" x 46"
Maximum user weight: 250 lbs
Machine weight: N/A
Reasons to buy
+Totally free with a 3-year iFit subscription+10" HD touchscreen+Oversize, pivoting footpedals+Folds and rolls for storage
Reasons to avoid
-iFit requires subscription fee-Touchscreen could be larger

If interactive coaching is one of the most important features to you, it's hard to beat a deal like the ProForm Pro R10 rowing machine. If you pay for a 3-year iFit Family membership (valued at roughly $1,400 as of early 2021), you get the Pro R10 as a bonus. It's completely free. 

What we like about it
There's a lot to like about this machine, aside from its 'buy the training, get the rowing machine free' price tag. Its adjustable 10" HD touchscreen lets you watch interactive training videos, both on and off the water, in real time.

The Pro R10 has 24 levels of magnetic resistance you can adjust on the fly, or let an iFit trainer adjust for you in real time. And when you're not using it, it folds up and rolls away for storage.

Built-in 2-inch speakers make it easy to hear your trainers, or listen to your favorite workout tunes when you connect an audio device through the auxiliary port.

Things to note
If you love a big-screen TV, you might want to spring for something like the NordicTrack RW900, which comes with a massive, rotating 22" HD touchscreen monitor — although you'll have to pay for both the rower itself and the iFit membership, once your free one-year iFit trial is up. 

We also would like Pro R10's user weight limit (250 lbs) to be a bit higher.

Concept 2 Model D rowing machine

(Image credit: Concept 2)

4. Concept 2 Model D

Best workhorse rower: solid build, no unnecessary frills

Specifications
Resistance type/levels: Air + flywheel, variable resistance
Monitor size/type: N/A
Special features: Folds; Bluetooth and ANT+ wireless capable
Dimensions (L x W x seat height): 54" x 24" x 14"
Maximum user weight: 500 lbs
Machine weight: 57 lbs
Reasons to buy
+Superb build quality, durability+Doesn't have to be plugged in+Bluetooth and ANT+ wireless capable+Adjustable foot pedals and ergonomic handle
Reasons to avoid
-Limited interactive features

Featuring superior build quality at an affordable price, the Concept 2 Model D rowing machine is a superb workhorse of an exercise machine.

What we like about it
If all you want to do is row, row, row an imaginary boat frequently and far, this is the rowing machine for you. Concept2 rowers are extremely popular with competitive athletes (including Olympic rowers and collegiate athletes), fitness centers and Crossfitters. That's due in large part to this rowing machine's superb build quality, highly variable resistance, and realistic ergonomics.

Although interactivity isn't the focus of this rowing machine, it does feature a few basic games and the option of racing against other rowers.

Things to note

Although this is a superb workhorse of an exercise machine, its monitor is basic and its interactive features limited. It is Bluetooth and ANT+ wireless-capable, though, for syncing with heart rate monitors. It also has a built-in smartphone cradle; so you can always use third-party apps for motivation. 

Heads up: You'll need two 'D' batteries to power the display.

Sunny Health and Fitness Obsidian Surge 500 rowing machine

(Image credit: Sunny Health and Fitness)

5. Sunny Health and Fitness Obsidian Surge 500 SF-RW5713

Budget-friendly water-resistance rowing machine: quiet, authentic-feeling resistance without breaking the bank

Specifications
Resistance type/levels: Water, variable
Monitor size/type: Basic
Special features: Water-based resistance
Dimensions (L x W x H): 80" x 22" x 34"
Maximum user weight: 300 lbs
Machine weight: 92 lbs
Reasons to buy
+Affordable water-based resistance+ANT+ wireless compatible+Pivoting footrests+Folds, stores upright+Doesn't need to be plugged in
Reasons to avoid
-Basic display-Sporadic quality control issues

The Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge 500 offers most of the perks of a water-resistance rower at about half the usual cost.

What we like about it
Water-resistance rowers are some of the quietest, realistic feeling rowing machines available – and some of the most expensive. This model's price, which sometimes dips under $500, is truly impressive.

We also appreciate the Obsidian Surge 500's ability to fold and store vertically, drastically reducing its footprint when not in use. The pivoting foot pedals help create a comfortable stroke for any body type. 

As long as you dodge sporadic quality control issues, users say this rower is sturdy enough for one person to use regularly. If you need a machine that can stand up to heavy use from multiple people, though, we would suggest investing in a heavier-duty model. 

Things to note
The display on this rowing machine is very basic, with no interactive programs. Sunny Health and Fitness does offer a sizable library of rowing workout videos, but you'll need a separate smart device or computer, and a holder to position that device, in order to use them. 

Hydrow interactive rowing machine

(Image credit: Hydrow)

6. Hydrow

Most immersive rowing experience: built to feel like being out on the water

Specifications
Resistance type/levels: Computer-controlled electromagnetic
Monitor size/type: 22" HD touchscreen
Special features: On-the-water workouts, Bluetooth capable, can be stored upright
Dimensions (L x W x H): 86" x 25" x 47"
Maximum user weight: 375 lbs
Machine weight: 145 lbs
Reasons to buy
+Patented resistance mechanism+22" HD touchscreen+Elegant, minimalist design+Bluetooth for heart monitors and audio+Very quiet+Optional upright storage kit
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Heavy-Monthly membership fee for coached workouts

Some describe the Hydrow as 'the Peloton of rowing machines'. This immersive rowing experience uses patented resistance technology and immersive video of on-the-water workouts to really simulate the feel of being on the water.

What we like about it
In addition to its very quiet, computer-controlled resistance mechanism, the Hydrow also features a number of on-the-water workouts. With the help of its vibrant 22" HD touchscreen display you can explore real-world waterways as you row, or follow trainers that are on the water themselves.

Although we prioritize function over form for workout equipment, it's also worth noting that the Hydrow has a sleek, elegant design. It makes a pleasing, futuristic-looking addition to any home gym.

We also like the generous 375-pound user weight limit – a good sign this machine is built to last.

Things to note
The Hydrow doesn't fold as many rowers do, but you can wheel it around for storage or purchase an optional add-on kit to store it upright against a wall when not in use. Heads up: the machine itself is pretty heavy, at 145 pounds.

And of course, there's no ignoring the $2,000+ price tag – although if you really want the closest-possible experience to being out on the water, it's worth a splurge.

Keep in mind that if you want to take advantage of this machine's full immersive capability, you'll also need to pay a monthly membership fee to access video workouts. If you'd rather skip the membership, you can always operate it in 'Just Row' mode – but if that's all you want, there are more affordable options available.

Sunny Health and Fitness RW1205

(Image credit: Sunny Health and Fitness)

7. Sunny Health and Fitness RW1205

Best rowing machine under $200: compact and gets the job done on a budget

Specifications
Resistance type/levels: Hydraulic, 12 levels
Monitor size/type: Basic
Special features: N/A
Dimensions (L x W x H): 54" x 20" x 23"
Maximum user weight: 220 lbs
Machine weight: 21 lbs
Reasons to buy
+Inexpensive+Easy to assemble, move around+Very compact
Reasons to avoid
-Low user weight limit-Not the most durable-Manual-adjust resistance

If you're on a tight budget or only plan to use your rowing machine occasionally, the Sunny Health and Fitness RW1205 could be the perfect bargain.

What we like about it
This machine is inexpensive, compact, extremely lightweight, and easy to move around. These are all great features for a 'use it every so often' exercise machine, or for anyone who wants to work out in limited space.

The 12 levels of hydraulic resistance will be enough to challenge beginning and intermediate exercisers, but more advanced athletes will probably want something more challenging.

Things to note
If you're used to push-button exercise machines, it might come as a surprise that you have to manually adjust this rowing machine's hydraulic tension.

And, although this rowing machine's very light 21lb weight makes it very easy to move around, the downside of that is that such a lightweight machine feels less stable beneath you than its heavier competition – and durability could be better.

Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower

(Image credit: Velocity Exercise)

8. Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower

Best folding rower: the ideal blend of sturdiness and portability

Specifications
Resistance type/levels: Magnetic
Monitor size/type: basic LCD
Special features: 12 built-in workout programs
Dimensions (L x W x H): 81" x 21" x 25"
Maximum user weight: 275 lbs
Machine weight: 75 lbs
Reasons to buy
+Easy to fold, wheel around+Extremely quiet+Easy to assemble
Reasons to avoid
-Durability and stability issues

The Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower features one of the best folding/storage mechanisms in all the models we've evaluated.

What we like about it
Although the Velocity rower does take up plenty of floor space when it's in use, it easily folds and stores in a very small footprint – making it a great choice for apartment dwellers or anyone who can't leave a full-size rower out all the time.

It's also very quiet – another perk for apartment-dwellers – and users say it's easy to assemble.

Things to note
It's hard to beat this rower's fold-up capability, and when it works right users love it. But we do see some mixed reports about durability and stability problems. 

How to buy the best rowing machine

As you shop for the best rowing machine, consider three key criteria: how much space you have; how often you'll use it; and what type of resistance mechanism best suits your needs. 

How much space do you have?
Many home rowing machines fold up or store vertically – or both – to help you save floor space when the machine is not in use. But just because a machine folds doesn't always mean it'll be easy to wheel around. 

And sometimes, putting a piece of exercise equipment out of sight also means putting it out of mind. You might find that you're more consistent about working out if you buy a relatively small-footprint rower that can stay out in plain sight, and ready to row, all the time.

How often will you use it?
The more frequently you plan to use your rowing machine, the more important durability becomes. Although buying a rower for only $100 or so might seem like a bargain up front, this type of ultra-budget machine often won't stand up to repeated, heavy use – leaving you with the cost of buying a replacement. If you're going to be a frequent rower, you'll often save money in the end if shop with durability in mind.

Choosing a resistance type
When it comes to choosing a resistant type for your home rowing machine, every option has its pros and cons.

  • Air resistance is one of the more affordable and reliable resistance mechanisms, and offers a realistic feel. But the harder you work the louder an air-resistance rower will get. And, because the actual resistance you experience adjusts depending on how hard you pull, it can be difficult to exactly replicate resistance levels from a previous workout.
  • Magnetic resistance rowers are some of the quietest options, and come in two types. Electromagnetic resistance is adjusted by pushing buttons or tapping a touch screen, much as you would on an elliptical trainer, and often exists at the higher end of the price range. Manual-adjust magnetic resistance usually occupies the low end of the price range, and requires you to manually adjust resistance by moving a magnet closer or farther from the flywheel.
  • Water resistance offers a very realistic feel, and is also very quiet. But with only one or two notable exceptions, water-resistance rowers are pretty expensive. And of course there's always the chance of a leak, although on well-build machines that kind of problem is very rare.
  • Hydraulic resistance is something that usually crops up on budget-priced rowers. Although this type of resistance mechanism can provide an effective workout, hydraulics typically offer only a few resistance levels to choose from — so they may not be enough to challenge advanced athletes.

How to use a rowing machine

Don't fall into the trap of thinking rowing machines only offer an upper-body workout. If you do it right, these cardio machines also deliver a full-body workout, as you transfer a powerful push (or 'drive' in rowing parlance) with your legs through your torso to your arms and hands.

Get a feel for the proper technique with this excellent instructional video from rowing machine manufacturer Concept 2.