Understanding the Basics of Home Rowing Machines

You should have a basic understanding of how home rowing machines operate before you go shopping for an indoor rower. This will help you choose the appropriate style of machine when you’re ready to buy. A good understanding of how rowers operate can also help you get the most from your workout while minimizing the risk of an injury.

The Common Elements

All rowing machines have a few things in common. They use flywheels to supply movement; they have handlebars which are held by the rower and pulled back on to mimic the motion of rowing a boat with oars. The flywheel is attached to a braking system or energy damper.

You can learn more about the different braking systems used in indoor rowing machines right here on this site. The most common are air or pneumatic brakes, hydraulic brakes, or magnetic brakes (sometimes called magnetic damping).

A chain or rope runs from the flywheel over a pulley to the handlebars. Pushing on the foot stretcher and pulling on the handlebars activates the flywheel, setting it in motion. As the flywheel rotates, either the seat or the foot stretcher will move along the rails and away from the flywheel, whereas in some designs both the seat and the foot stretcher slide on the rail.

Some Differences

Home Rowing Machines

Not all home rowing machines are the same. There are some basic differences that effect the operation of the equipment. The most common system is called a fixed flywheel system. Both the flywheel itself and the stretcher on these rowing machines are stationary at all times. When the handlebars are pulled back, the seat moves back and forth along rails. This was the earliest version of machine on the market for in home use.

Two more modern versions of home rowing machines include the fixed seat and the floating seat and stretcher models. With a fixed seat rowing machine, the seat is stationary at all times, but the foot stretcher glides away from the rower with each stroke. The floating seat and feet models allow both the foot stretcher and the seat to move along the system’s rails. This is closest to the feeling of rowing in a moving boat.

How to Use an Indoor Rower

The seated rower pulls on the handlebars as though rowing a boat, pulling back with elbows bent. At the same time, he pushes against the stretcher with his feet, causing him to slide back and forth along the rails. The braking system will slow the flywheel down at a steady rate, slowing movement as the handlebars and stretcher move farther apart toward the end of each stroke, when the arms are fully extended.

Home rowing machines provide an excellent cardiovascular workout and will help tone the arms and legs. They are often used during interval training or when an individual wants to exercise indoors during inclement weather. Try out a few different styles and models to find the indoor rowing machine that’s right for you.

The History of Rowing Machines – Indoor Rowing Comes of Age

Our Expert's
Best Rowers For 2017

Best Rowing Machine

Concept2 Model D


The top choice of professional rowers and health clubs, a quality piece of equipment and a great investment for your home gym.

Best Water Rower

WaterRower Natural


The WaterRower Natural rowing machine is a stunning piece of fitness equipment and offers an amazing simulation of the feel of on-the-water rowing.

Best Budget Rower

Stamina ATS Air


A solid budget model offering great value for the money, with continuous resistance and ergonomic design.

Best Rower Under $300

Best Rower Under $500

Comparison Chart

Rowing Machine Comparison Chart

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