Best rowing machines 2024: Top 5 picks from ProForm, Ergatta and more

The best rowing machines offer a great way to boost your stamina and cardiovascular health without putting a strain on your joints — or, for that matter, draining your wallet. A full-body movement, rowing is also a fantastic activity for burning calories and improving general fitness. 

However, there are plenty of rowers available on the market, many of which require a steep upfront investment. So to help you pick the right model, we have tried and tested some of the best rowing machines out there, looking at their design, ease of use and additional features. Whether you are looking for a budget-friendly option, a foldable rower to fit in small spaces, or a machine suitable for beginners, we have a range of rowers to choose from. 

At Live Science we take pride in recommending products we have tested ourselves, and the best rowing machines are no exception. We have put each model through a wide range of different workouts, carefully assessing its performance, durability, and functionality, so you can put trust in our reviews. 

But if you are looking for something more compact, check out our roundup of the best exercise bikes. Alternatively, we have a selection of the best treadmills for a heart-pumping workout. 

The quick list

See the quick list below for a brief overview of our favorite rowers, or scroll further down for more in-depth reviews of each machine.

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The best rowing machines we recommend in 2024

Why you can trust Live Science Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best ones for you. Find out more about how we test.

The best rowing machine overall

The best rowing machine overall: This iconic rower combines unbeatable performance with sturdy design and a reasonable price tag.

Specifications

Resistance: Air
Display: PM5 performance monitor
Dimensions (inches): 96 (L) x 24 (W) x 50 (H)
Dimensions (centimetres) : 244 (L) x 61 (W) x 127 (H)
Storage: Can be stored upright
Heart rate monitor: Yes, bluetooth

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent value for money 
+
Industry standard model used in competitions 
+
Reliable and robust with readily-available replacement parts 

Reasons to avoid

-
No in-built apps, fancy graphics or live workouts 
-
Not the most aesthetically attractive 
Buy it if

You want excellent value for money: This model is an industry standard, but it is reasonably priced. 

You are looking for a machine that will last you years: It is sturdy and durable, and you can easily get hold of the replacement parts.  

You are looking for smooth workouts: This rower delivers an excellent rowing experience, and it is quiet, too. 

Don't buy it if

You want a sleek-looking machine: This model boasts a rather simple design. 

You enjoy immersive rides and fitness classes on demand: No colorful touchscreen or workout apps.

What the users say

The Concept 2 Model D boasts an impressive 4.9 out of 5 stars on Amazon, with 88% of users giving it a full five stars. Positive reviews praise this rower for its sturdiness, comfort, and ease of assembly, and many users are impressed with how quiet it is. As one user said, the Concept 2 Model D "rides like a Cadillac".

The Concept2 RowErg needs no introduction — this iconic rowing machine takes the top spot thanks to its unbeatable performance, sturdy design, and data-tracking prowess.    

This top-end model is beloved by rowers, too, and it's regularly used in prestigious indoor rowing competitions and installed in gyms across the country. When we tested it out during our Concept2 RowErg review, 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 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.

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Concept2 RowErg
AttributesNotes
DesignFlywheel with 10 airflow resistance settings
PerformanceQuite noisy (70-100 dB)
Additional costsNone - the ErgData app is free

Best water-based rowing machine

The best water-based rowing machine: Stylish and feature-packed, the Ergatta rower is a great option for the fans of open water rowing.

Specifications

Resistance: Water
Display: 17.3” touchscreen
Dimensions (inches): 86 (L) x 23 (W) x 40 (H)
Dimensions (centimetres) : 218.4 (L) x 58.4 (W) x 101.6 (H)
Storage: Can be stored upright
Heart rate monitor: Yes,bluetooth

Reasons to buy

+
Fun games and classic workouts on the Ergatta platform 
+
Community element for added motivation
+
Compact and stylish design

Reasons to avoid

-
Narrow foot plate and low seat may not suit those with mobility issues  
-
Expensive monthly membership  
Buy it if

You want a real looker: It offers a stylish and compact design.

You are looking for a realistic rowing feel.

You enjoy games and challenges: This rower comes with plenty of fun workouts and a supportive community.

Don't buy it if

You have wide feet or mobility issues: It features a narrow foot plate and low seat.

You are on a budget: This rower is on the expensive side, and the app membership is costly, too. 

What the users say

The Ergatta Rower enjoys an almost immaculate 4.9 star rating from over 1250 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.

The Ergatta Rower is the best water-based rowing machine we have ever tested, period. It is stylish, durable, and offers a great rowing experience. During our Ergatta Rower review, it particularly impressed us with its extensive workout gamification. 

The Ergatta Rower 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.

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. 

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Ergatta rower
AttributesNotes
DesignDetachable water tank
PerformanceWhisper-quiet
Additional costsErgatta app membership - $29/month

Best value rowing machine

The best value rowing machine: This budget-friendly rower is compact, foldable and whisper-quiet.

Specifications

Resistance: Magnetic
Display: Digital display with tablet holder
Dimensions (inches): 85.8 (L) x 21.7 (W) x 45.7 (H)
Dimensions (centimetres) : 218 (L) x 55 (W) x 116 (H)
Storage: Foldable
Heart rate monitor: No, but syncs with bluetooth monitors

Reasons to buy

+
Good value 
+
Optional membership program 
+
Folds up for storage 

Reasons to avoid

-
Only one month’s iFit subscription included in price 
-
Design not the most attractive 
-
Fairly basic digital display
Buy it if

You are on a budget: This rower strikes a good balance between quality and affordability. 

You are looking for a space-saving design: It is compact and can be folded away. 

You want a quiet yet smooth rowing experience: It makes little noise even during challenging workouts.  

Don't buy it if

You enjoy immersive rides and fun fitness classes: No touchscreen display. 

You are looking for a sleek-looking rower: This rower is not particularly eye-pleasing.

What the users say

The Proform 750R scores 4.3 out of 5 stars on BestBuy, according to just 28 ratings. Positive reviews say that the rower is "easy to set up" and "sturdy", while negative reviews discuss problems accessing the free period of iFit that comes with the machine.

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 during our ProForm 750R review, 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.

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.

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ProForm 750R
AttributesNotes
DesignFlywheel with 24 magnetic resistance settings
PerformanceRelatively quiet (up to 70dB)
Additional costsApp membership: iFit Train - $15/month / iFit Pro - $39/month

Best rowing machine for beginners

The best rowing machine for beginners: Packed with engaging workouts and tutorial videos, the Hydrow Wave offers a great introduction to rowing.

Specifications

Resistance : Software-driven electromagnetic resistance
Display: 16in HD touchscreen
Dimensions (inches): 80 (L) x 19 (W) x 43 (H)
Dimensions (centimetres): 203 (L) x 48.2 (W) x 109.2 (H)
Storage: Can be stored upright (requires storage kit, purchased separately)
Heart rate monitor: No

Reasons to buy

+
Engaging workouts with expert coaches 
+
Comprehensive intro videos for beginners 
+
More compact design than the original Hydrow 

Reasons to avoid

-
Monthly subscription adds up 
-
Body of machine not foldable
Buy it if

You want coaching and fun games: The Hydrow Wave makes it easy to take up (and fall in love with) rowing.

You want good value: It is well-built and feature-packed, but it does not cost the earth.

Don't buy it if

You are looking for a space-saving design: This rower is compact, but it does not fold.

You do not want to pay for subscriptions: The Hydrow platform requires membership fees.

What the users say

The Hydrow Wave scores an impressive 4.6 out of five stars on the company's website, based on more than 9,800 user reviews. Of those to have rated the product, 83% 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.   

Rowing is not as intuitive as running or cycling, which is why many beginners feel apprehensive about trying this calorie-busting activity. But with the Hydrow Wave rower, even a complete novice will quickly get a good grasp of rowing basics.     

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, it has managed to do incredibly well during our Hydrow Wave review

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.

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.

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Hydrow Wave
AttributesNotes
DesignSoftware-adjustable electromagnetic resistance levels
PerformanceRelatively quiet (up to 70dB)
Additional costsHydrow app membership - $44/month

Best for small spaces

The best foldable rowing machine: With its space-savvy design, the Echelon rower is a great option for small apartments.

Specifications

Resistance: Magnetic
Display: None
Dimensions (inches): 84 (L) x 21 (W) x 45 (H)
Dimensions (centimetres) : 213.4 (L) x 53.3 (W) x 114.3 (H)
Storage: Foldable
Heart rate monitor: No, but app supports bluetooth heart rate monitors

Reasons to buy

+
Foldable design 
+
Echelon Fit app for virtual workouts 
+
Quiet magnetic resistance system 

Reasons to avoid

-
No integrated display for workout metrics 
-
Echelon Fit app requires monthly subscription 
Buy it if

You are short on floor space: This compact rower features a foldable design. 

You enjoy fitness classes: The Echelon app is packed with fun workouts. 

Don't buy it if

You are looking for detailed workout tracking: No integrated display.

You want the frills: It is reasonably priced, but at the expense of premium features. 

What the users say

The Echelon Smart Rower has netted 4.6 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.

Foldable rowing machines are a perfect option if you do not have much floor space available, or if you prefer to keep your exercise machines out of reach of children and curious pets — and this sleek piece of kit is one of the best on the market.  

Slickly designed and easy to fold away, the Echelon Smart Rower is a stylish and convenient bit of kit for home rowers. During our Echelon Smart Rower review, 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.)

At $999, this is a fairly mid-range option, but prices can soon rack up when you calculate the additional cost of the Echelon app subscription ($34.99 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.

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Echelon Smart Rower
AttributesNotes
DesignFlywheel with 32 magnetic resistance levels
PerformanceRelatively quiet (up to 70dB)
Additional costsEchelon app membership: Limited fitpass - $11.99/month / Full - $34.99/month

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.


Our experts

Filip Ljubicic
Filip Ljubicic

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. 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. Filip told Live Science about the health benefits of rowing.

Sarah Fuhrmann
Sarah Fuhrmann

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. We spoke to Sarah about the correct rowing technique. 

Alex Dunne
Alex Dunne

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 sport. Dunne went on to row at Nottingham University, then rowed lightweight at Notts County Rowing Association for eight years. We spoke to Alex about the correct form on a rowing machine.

Sam Shaw
Sam Shaw

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. For this piece, he discussed the pros and cons of different rowing workouts.

Juju Sheikh
Juju Sheikh

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 told Live Science about the weight loss benefits of rowing. 

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."

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. 

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 rowing session 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. When used correctly, a rowing machine can help with weight loss

“[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.

More info

What to look for when buying a rowing machine

With such a wide range of rowing machines on the market, picking the right model might feel like more of a workout than what you intend to do on it. Making a decision based on the price may be a tempting short-cut, but this strategy may not give you the best possible experience. In truth, even the fanciest models could prove to be a waste of money if they do not cater to your skills and preferences. So to help you make the right choice, here’s what to look for when buying a rowing machine. 

First, carefully examine the dimensions of your chosen model. Rowing machines tend to be smaller than exercise bikes or treadmills, but they can still take up a lot of floor space. You also need to account for the rowing motion itself, so make sure your rower  allows you enough room to spread your arms and tilt your back without bumping onto the walls or sacrificing your technique. If you have a small apartment, consider investing in a foldable rowing machine. However, check whether your chosen model is light enough to be moved around with ease ― the last thing you want to do is to get injured while lugging your rowing machine to the cupboard.

The next thing you want to look into is the ergonomics, or in simpler terms, whether the rowing machine fits your body. Your chosen model may be packed to the brim with hi-tech features, but if your seat is too small or downright uncomfortable, or the console is placed too high up, you may end up frustrated and dissatisfied with the whole experience. Be sure to check the width and positioning of the footplates, and whether the handlebar provides a steady, comfortable grip. Lastly, account for any mobility issues. For example, if you struggle with tight hips or knee pain, consider investing in a rowing machine with a higher seat.    

Now that you’re sitting comfortably, make sure to choose the right type of resistance. There are three main types of rowing machines: magnetic, air and water. Models that use water for resistance offer the closest possible experience to open-water rowing. The strokes are smooth and balanced, and the machine itself does not make much of a noise. In fact, many people find the characteristic whoosh-whoosh sound soothing and motivating. On the other hand, water rowing machines offer a limited range of resistance, and can be maintenance-heavy.

Models that use air resistance are equipped with a flywheel with an integrated fan ― a feature that allows for smooth rowing movement and reduces the need for machine maintenance, but also generates a considerable amount of noise at high speeds. Magnetic rowing machines, on the other hand, are often whisper quiet, but the strokes may not feel as smooth and intuitive as the ones achieved with water-based models. 

Lastly, the console. If you want to stick to the basic rowing stats, such as rowing speed or stroke rate, simple black-and-white monitors can work well for you. However, if you are a fan of high-octane entertainment and immersive experiences, consider investing in a model with a more advanced screen. Many rowing machines come with brand-specific apps that offer games, virtual races and other fun-filled features. And if such a colorful touchscreen can keep you motivated and eager to achieve your goals, then it may be worth splashing out on.  


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.


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.