The best rowing machines offer a great way to boost your stamina and heart health without putting a strain on your joints. Rowing is also a fantastic activity for burning calories and improving general fitness.
“[A rowing machine] works all major muscle groups, which makes it really efficient — 20 minutes of exercise on a rower is equal to about 40 minutes on a bike,” Filip Ljubicic, a chair of the Indoor Rowing Commission, told Live Science. In fact, the average 125 pound (56 kilogram) person can burn 510 calories an hour when rowing vigorously, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.
However, we know that buying a rower is not an easy task, and many models come with truly steep price tags. So to help you pick the right model, we've tried and tested some of the best rowing machines out there. Whether you're looking for a budget-friendly option or a sleek piece of hi-tech wonder, we have a range of rowers to choose from.
At Live Science we take pride in recommending products we’ve tested ourselves, and the best rowing machines are no exception. We’ve put each model through its paces, carefully assessing its performance, types or resistance used, whether or not there is a heart rate monitor, screen display, how easy they are to set up, the features that set them apart from their rivals, and many other aspects.
The best rowing machine overall
Reasons to buy
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This top-end model is beloved by rowers, thanks to its unbeatable performance and data-tracking prowess. It's the model you'll find used in most indoor rowing competitions and installed in gyms across the country. When we tested it out, we found it delivered a smooth, comfortable workout and we were happily surprised at how quiet it was, too.
Keeping track of how much you've rowed (and being rewarded when you reach landmarks) is simple with the Concept2 logbook. All that data is synced, which means you can also enter competitions and pit yourself against other users over set distances.
The flywheel is common to all air-resistance machines and produces a white noise that is certainly louder than a magnetic rowing machine, and less appealing than the swoosh of the water rower, but the Concept2 RowErg's noise levels aren't excessive. We found it produced around 70-100 dB while in use, which is similar to a regular washing machine.
The Concept 2 Model D boasts an impressive 4.9 out of 5 stars on Amazon, with 94% of users giving it the full 5 stars. Positive reviews praise this rowing machine for sturdiness, comfort, and ease of assembly and storage, and many users are impressed with how quiet it is. As one user said, the Concept 2 Model D "rides like a Cadillac". However, one user did complain that it wasn't suitable for building muscle: "This is a 95% a cardio only machine".
The rowing machine's monitor is compatible with the free ErgData app, which allows you to monitor all your performance statistics; it stores and displays your workout results; and it uploads everything to the Concept2 online logbook. The app also works with Android and iOS devices. The monitor also connects to a suite of other apps so you can take advantage of online classes, coaching and training programs. You can even sync up to virtual racing.
The advantage of the machine's simple design and tech is that there's very little to go wrong, and people tend to keep their Concept2 RowErg for many years, replacing parts as they wear out and taking advantage of the extremely helpful customer support.
- Read our full Concept2 RowErg review
Best water-based rowing machine
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Many of us will be familiar with the addictive, “one more level” effects of moreish mobile games. But what if you could apply that principle to your home workouts? Well, now you can, courtesy of The Ergatta Rower.
It gamifies regular exercise sessions with workout modes such as “Meteor” and “Pulse” requiring you to increase and decrease your effort in order to hit targets. There is a fantastically fun, adrenaline-pumping race mode too, which sees you go head to head with several other members of the thousands-strong Ergatta community or friends you’ve connected with via the platform. As sporty sorts, we found this extra competitive element was a major motivator.
We also liked how the entire Ergatta platform experience was personalized to us. An initial 1,000 meter calibration test was used to determine our ability level, and workouts were adjusted accordingly.
The Ergatta Rower enjoys an almost immaculate 4.9 star rating from over 600 reviews left on the company’s website. Users agree with our take, saying the gamification of workouts “really takes your head out of having to ‘work out’” and instead encourages you to have fun with your exercise sessions. People also say they like the competitive, community elements of the Ergatta platform, which let you race against friends and more.
Designed with apartment living in mind, the Ergatta's handcrafted cherry wood frame also looks fantastic. It can be folded flat and stored upright too, so it takes up a patch of floor little over 20 square inches when not in use.
The monthly membership costs means it’s on the expensive side, but if you’re looking to replace your gym membership with this motivational machine then we think it’s worth it.
- Read our Ergatta Rower review
Best value rowing machine
Reasons to buy
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The Proform 750R is solid, quiet and comfortable. It’s not flashy — there’s no touchscreen display here and it’s not built from aesthetically-pleasing wood. But we found it performs well, offering consistent, magnetic-based resistance and a whisper-quiet workout. If you're looking for a well-priced, well-built machine that doesn't come with unnecessary extras, then this is a perfect option at less than $600.
Like other Proform and NordicTrack models, this rower comes with a free trial to the iFit app, which contains plenty of workouts for you to follow — some led by famous Olympians. During classes, the resistance on your machine will be adjusted by your instructor’s prompts, which is a neat little extra.
However, to access this feature – and to be able to clearly see the workout – you’ll need to secure a tablet to the front of your machine. There is a basic digital display included with the rower, which will show you metrics such as calories, distance, speed, time and strokes per minute, but you won’t be able to see the iFit classes on this.
Despite the lack of screen, we think you’d be hard pressed to find a better option at this mid-range price. The machine comes with 24 different resistance levels – we found the top-end of this to be suitably challenging. It’s also incredibly easy to fold away, making it a good option for those with limited floor space.
The Proform 750R scores 4 out of 5 stars on Amazon, according to just 25 global ratings. Positive reviews say that the rower is "great value" and "very good quality", while negative reviews discuss problems accessing the free period of iFit that comes with the machine.
Be warned that the set-up process is quite tricky for this rower. The machine is incredibly heavy to move around – make sure you have a friend to help you with the installation process – and the screws come vacuum packed, which make them difficult to access. Once installed, the machine is solid and sturdy, but be prepared to sink some time into the set-up. It wheels into position too, though we only tried it on a hard floor. It might be harder to move on a carpet.
- Read our full ProForm 750R review
Best rowing machine for beginners
Reasons to buy
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Having tested (and fallen in love with) the original Hydrow, our expert was understandably sceptical about any attempt to improve this impressive machine. Yet, credit where credit’s due, the Hydrow crew has managed it incredibly well.
The inaugural machine scored top marks for its accessible and engaging rowing workouts, likable instructors and realistic electromagnetic resistance system, but lost points for its hard to accommodate dimensions and high asking price. The Hydrow Wave maintains the original’s winning formula of fun workouts and a real rowing feel, but packs all of this into a smaller, lighter machine. And the best thing? At $1,495, it’s $1,000 cheaper than its predecessor.
The Hydrow Wave scores an impressive 4.6 out of five stars on Trustpilot from more than 9,800 user reviews. Of those to have rated the product, 84% awarded it full marks. Happy customers say they love being able to get a “great workout in a short amount of time”, describing it as “enjoyable” and stress-busting to use.
Despite its significantly lower price tag, the Hydrow Wave still benefits from full access to the thousands of workouts available on the Hydrow platform (if you pay a monthly membership fee). Rather than taking you into an artificially lit studio — à la Peloton and the like — each of these sessions brings you aboard the rowboat of a former Olympian, professional athlete or elite coach for a follow-along class on some of the world’s most beautiful waterways.
It’s for the reasons listed above that the Hydrow Wave equals the industry-standard Concept 2 RowErg as our top-scoring rowing machine. So if you’re looking for a new way to get in shape at home, we can’t recommend it highly enough.
- Read our full Hydrow Wave review
Best foldable rowing machine
Reasons to buy
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Slickly designed and easy to fold away, the Echelon Smart Rower is a stylish and convenient bit of kit for home rowers. We tested it out for several weeks and enjoyed the vast range of classes – available via the app – and the whisper quiet magnetic resistance on the machine.
There’s a lot to like about this particular rower. We were really impressed with how easy it was to set-up (although it was heavy to move around) and the foldable mechanism is very straightforward to operate. And despite the folding hinge, the machine felt solid and sturdy throughout our rowing sessions.
There’s no screen, which is a shame as you need to view the Echelon app to track your metrics. Instead, there’s an ‘arm’ that can hold your tablet or phone (we'd recommend sticking with a tablet, as phone screens are too small.)
The Echelon Smart Rower has netted 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon, with users lavishing praise on its near-silent operation, straightforward assembly and sturdy design. Negative reviews focus on the costs of the app along with its clunky design.
At $1299, this is a fairly mid-range option, but prices can soon rack up when you calculate the additional cost of the Echelon app subscription ($39.99 per month.) Without the app, you don’t get any feedback on things like resistance levels or your speed – which means you can’t really track your progression.
There are a wealth of classes available on the app though, so if you need a little extra motivation to get going then this could be a great option. It will certainly look the part in anyone’s home gym, thanks to its sleek design.
- Read our full Echelon Smart Rower review
Best rowing machine for fun workouts
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
Unusually for a rowing machine, we wouldn’t say the Aviron Tough Series is designed with rowers in mind. Instead, the brand finds a way to make play a central theme of its workouts, using the incredible health benefits offered by indoor rowing as a vehicle for improving user’s fitness.
It has an (ever-growing) selection of games to choose from, with each one providing a new twist on getting your fitness fix; whether that’s guiding a flying rower through an icy tundra (this one was somewhat bizarre) or firing a laser at increasingly fast aliens in a Space Invaders-esque shooter (this one was a lot of fun). Either way, we were always shocked when we came to the end of each game to find we had rowed a few thousands of meters, and had plenty of fun doing it.
The games are displayed on a clear 22” touchscreen, while you can also choose to row while watching major streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and Disney+ if you fancy burning calories as you binge your favorite series.
The machine is well-made too, with a wide handle, adjustable footplate and high, ergonomic seat able to comfortably accommodate most body types. It looks sleek too, though it is on the larger side, so you’ll need a fair bit of floor space to house it.
The Aviron Tough Series Rower has more than 200 user ratings online, with an average score of 4.8 out of five. Among these reviews, many people praise its “fun and competitive” games as well as the option to row while streaming from the likes of Netflix and Hulu. A few say they wish the platform’s membership was cheaper, but they still admit they “love” the machine for home workouts.
Overall, we think fitness fanatics and rowing aficionados may prefer the Concept 2 or Hydrow Wave for a more traditional workout experience. But, for those who’ve tried the classic home workout formula and want something new and different to keep them engaged, this is a unique bit of kit that can offer just that.
- Read our full Aviron Tough Series Rower review
How we test
How do we test the best rowing machines at Live Science?
We’ve tried and tested some of the best rowing machines on the market — from the ever-popular Concept 2 RowErg to the pioneering Hydrow Rower — to find out whether they sink or swim when it comes to giving you a great workout.
Our fitness writers judge every aspect of each machine, including how easy they are to set up, the features that set them apart from their rivals and their functionality — for providing both a lung-busting workout and a realistic rowing experience. To do this, they row a range of distances from short sprints to longer endurance pieces, as well as trying the preset programs and follow-along sessions available on some machines.
After testing, all feedback is collated to award rowing machines a final star rating, with a maximum score of five.
Frequently asked questions
Why should you buy a rowing machine?
Rowing machines are a great investment, as they offer a low impact alternative to running and they're easy to use. The best rowing machines are built to last as Personal Trainer Stephen Hoyle explained to Live Science: "A good rowing machine will last you a very long time, with minimal upkeep. There’s no complicated machinery, just a chain that needs occasional oiling and a computer that will require the odd battery change."
Still undecided about making the switch from a treadmill to a rowing machine? To help you, we've summarized our thoughts on the rowing machine versus treadmill debate; give it a read to determine what machine is best for you! We've also put together some advice on how to use a rowing machine to lose weight.
What are the benefits of a rowing machine?
When it comes to the benefits of using a rowing machine, it’s hard to know where to start. As mentioned in the intro above, each stroke uses 86% of your body’s muscles including every major muscle group. A rowing workout is adaptable too, with the best rowing machines generating dynamic resistance that increases as your strokes become more powerful. So, exercisers of all abilities will be able to get out what they put in, and you can enjoy both aerobic and anaerobic exercise depending on the length and intensity of your session.
Beyond this, rowing machines are far easier on the joints than classic cardio workouts, such as running and jumping. Moreover, regular use can proffer significant bone-building benefits (according to this study in the Osteoarthritis and Cartilage journal) and many people find the rhythmic action has a calming, meditative effect.
How to use a rowing machine
One of the main benefits of rowing machines is how accessible they are. After all, all you really have to do to get started is sit down and pull. However, there are some technique cues you should know if you want to perfect your form — boosting your performance and reducing your risk of injury as a result.
First, make sure you're sitting comfortably (and correctly). Rather than slumping down, make sure your sit bones are pointing down into the middle of the seat, advises Sarah Fuhrmann, certified rowing instructor and owner of UCanRow2.
The stroke can then be broken down into four phases; the catch, drive, finish and recovery. Alex Dunne, managing director of leading rowing machine brand Concept 2, explains:
Catch - Here, your legs are bent and your shins should be vertical. Use your triceps to fully extend your arms as you grasp the handle. Your abdominals should be engaged, flexing your torso forward slightly.
Drive - Initiate the drive phase with the powerful leg muscles, pushing away from the footplates while keeping your arms straight. Then, pull the handle towards your abdomen and lean back slightly.
Finish - This should leave you with your elbows bent, the handle pulled into your body just below the chest, and your abdominals stabilizing your torso at a slight angle around 2 O’clock on a clock face.
Recovery - This is how you return to your starting position before beginning the drive phase again. First, engage your triceps to straighten your arms away from your body. Flex your torso back forwards, then contract your hamstrings and calves to bend your legs and slide back down the rail.
What muscles does a rowing machine work?
One of the most comprehensive home workout tools on the market, the rowing machine works a reported 86% of muscles in your body. But which muscles does rowing work?
Your quads, calves, hamstrings, glutes, back, arms and core will all be incorporated in a rowing machine workout, Fuhrmann says. The only significant muscle that isn’t hit hard is the chest, she adds. So, if you fancy supplementing your rowing sessions with strength work, we recommend trying our collection of the best exercises for chest muscles.
Is a rowing machine good for weight loss?
A session on a rowing machine is capable of burning calories, helping you achieve a negative daily energy balance (or calorie deficit). This means you burn more calories in a day than you consume, through exercise, NEAT, TEF (the energy used to digest, absorb and metabolize food) and your basal metabolic rate.
A calorie deficit is the key principle behind weight loss. A 2007 study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism concluded that “independently of the method for weight loss, the negative energy balance alone is responsible for weight reduction”.
However, this is one of many benefits a rowing machine has to offer, and workouts should also be seen as ways to decrease body fat percentage, build muscle, strengthen bones, build fitness and more.
Can you lose belly fat on a rowing machine?
The short answer is that it depends. “Rowing is a full-body exercise that engages lots of different muscle groups - the legs, core, back and arms. This combination of muscle engagement makes for a high calorie burn which can definitely help to blast belly fat. But, just as a reminder - it's not necessarily possible to lose fat in one specific area through targeted exercise alone. Fat loss occurs throughout the body as a whole and is influenced by various factors like genetics and overall body composition,” Juju Sheikh, a certified personal trainer and founder of Cloud Nine Collective, told Live Science.
Fundamentally, rowing cannot spot-reduce belly fat, but it can assist in improving your overall body composition. In fact, rowing may be more effective at burning body fat than cycling, according to a 2015 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. Thirteen young males were instructed to perform 20-min steady-state exercise bouts, both on a bicycle ergometer and a rowing machine. Researchers found that, despite similar oxygen consumption, rowing appeared to burn on average 45% more fat than cycling.
However, it needs to be pointed out that there are two types of belly fat: subcutaneous and visceral. Subcutaneous fat sits underneath the skin and acts mostly as a protective layer to your muscles and bones. Visceral fat, on the other hand, wraps around your internal organs deep inside your abdomen. Exercise appears to predominantly burn fat stored underneath the skin, while only a small percentage of released energy coming from visceral fat. How your body burns fat may also heavily depend on the duration and intensity of physical activity, according to a 2020 review published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.
Although it is unclear what may be the best strategy for losing stubborn belly fat, studies suggest that combining high-intensity and moderate intensity exercise appears to be the most effective workout strategy for improving body composition, the review authors noted.
The good news is, a rowing machine can be used effectively for both steady-state cardio and high-intensity training, making it a good tool in the fight against obesity, Sam Shaw, a certified personal trainer and founder of Lemon Studios, told Live Science. “The rowing machine is a great all-rounder and is extremely useful for helping with cardio fitness and building muscle. You can use it for interval training to increase your calorie burn, as well as for building your capacity to burn more calories,” he said.
But no matter how hard you train, losing belly fat may be close to impossible without a proper diet. “You can implement a session on the rowing machine into your workout, but you won't lose belly fat from using the rowing machine alone without the right nutrition. In order to drop excess body fat, your food intake needs to be in a calorie deficit so that you are expending more energy than you are consuming,” Shaw said.
Is 15 minutes a day enough on a rowing machine?
Again, it depends. Rowing machines allow you to engage in a variety of different workouts, from gentle steady-state cardio on the lowest setting to sweaty high-intensity interval training. Whether 15 minutes a day is enough to achieve your goals will vastly depend on your overall fitness level, type of exercise and your rowing technique.
Rowing is one of the most effective forms of cardio exercise; unlike running or cycling, it works your entire body, including your core, upper back and even shoulder muscles. When done with proper form, working out on a rowing machine can boost your cardiorespiratory fitness and lead to some serious calorie burn. In fact, elite rowers have one of the highest energy requirements among athletes, according to a 2022 review published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.
However, for steady-state aerobic workouts to produce tangible results, they cannot be too short. According to the World Health Organization, adults aged 18 to 64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week in order to reap the health benefits. 15 minutes of aerobic exercise a day on the rower comes down to only 105 minutes a week, so you would need to supplement your sessions with other cardio, or go for longer.
Dedicating just 15 minutes a day to rowing may also not be sufficient for significant weight loss or noticeable changes in body composition, depending on your starting weight and body fat percentage, Sheikh told Live Science. However, that does not mean that short workouts serve no purpose. “Any physical activity is better than none! If 15 minutes is all you can manage to start off with, that's fine. Gradually work your way up to at least 20-30 minutes of continuous rowing, and consider increasing the duration as your fitness level improves. Longer sessions allow you to burn more calories and engage in sustained aerobic activity,” she said.
On the other hand, rowing for 15 minutes a day may be enough if you opt for high-intensity interval training (HIIT), characterized by short bouts of intense or explosive exercise interspersed with brief rest periods. According to a 2022 review published in the Journal of Physiology, there is strong evidence that low-volume HIIT, which typically involves less than 15 minutes of high-intensity exercise per session, can lead to the same, or at times greater, improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness and blood sugar metabolism when compared with traditional forms of aerobic training. Studies have also shown that low-volume HIIT is safe and well-tolerated by most individuals, and does not tend to produce adverse effects, the review authors noted.
But how does one adopt an interval training program? “An effective way of exerting energy and building fitness levels may be alternating between 30 seconds sprint (fast row) and 30 seconds rest (slower pace row) for the 15 minutes duration. You could also opt for one minute fast/one minute slow for 15 minutes. Alternatively you could adopt a race mode where you row fast for 15 minutes and see how many meters you can achieve as a challenge,” Shaw said. In addition, many rowing machines come with built-in HIIT routines, so if you’re in doubt, try those instead.
Filip Ljubicic is the Indoor Rowing Commission Chair at World Rowing and previously served as Director of Rowing at University College London from 2012-2014. 2014 was the most successful rowing season in UCL's 150 year history and under Ljubicic's supervision, the team won Academic Eights at Women's Henley and the first medals (2 x silver) at the British University Championships. Ljubicic oversaw a squad of 150 athletes and a team of 4 coaches.
Sarah Fuhrmann is the CEO and owner of ucanrow2 and a certified rowing instructor. She helps women 50+ use rowing and smart nutrition to meet their fitness and weight loss goals.
Alex Dunne helps oversee operations at Concept2’s UK subsidiary, Concept2 Ltd. He brings with him 15 years of experience representing Concept2, a competitive rowing background, and a passion for “anything connected with sport. Dunne's rowing career began at school when he was 14-years-old. He went on to row at Nottingham University, then rowed lightweight at Notts County Rowing Association for eight years.
Sam Shaw is a certified personal trainer and founder of Lemon Studios, a personal training private gym located in Wooburn Green in England. He specializes in lower back pain management, injury rehabilitation and pre- and post-cancer strength programmes. Sam’s also a champion bodybuilder and keen rugby player.
Juju Sheikh is a certified personal trainer, a Pilates instructor and founder of Cloud Nine Collective, a fitness app designed for women. She specializes in body weight management, healthy nutrition and mobility training. Juju has garnered over 120,000 Instagram followers and has worked with global brands such as Nike, Adidas, Gymshark and Amazon.