Piston Rowing Machines Offer Budget Friendly Exercise

Although there are various price points for piston rowing machines, these rowers are less expensive than those using magnetic, air, or water resistance. Sometimes referred to as hydraulic rowers, they offer a budget friendly workout because of their simple design, small footprint, and use of fewer parts.

How Hydraulic Rowers Work

Hydraulics use force applied at one point to convey that power or movement to another point through fluid. Some vehicles feature hydraulic brakes.

In piston rowing machines, hydraulic cylinders are attached to the handlebars. When the person rowing exerts force on the handlebars by pulling them back, they will feel that resistance of the air or fluid in the cylinders and have to work against it.

Simple Design Means Cost Savings

Piston Rowing Machines

The simpler mechanics of this type of rowing machine make it popular with individuals who are looking for a decent cardiovascular workout and some upper body toning. Most piston rowers, however, have fixed seats, so there is no leg movement, minimizing the effects in terms of a full body workout.

This fixed seat position doesn’t emulate real world rowing because you can’t recreate the difference in hand height on the stroke and return. In fact, the sometimes jarring movement experienced with some lower end models may lead to muscle strain or minor tendon injuries.

Hydraulic Rowers

Not all piston or hydraulic rowing machines offer variable resistance, but if you shop around you’ll be able to find a few. While you can’t adjust the resistance “on the fly” while you’re rowing, you can adjust the tension or resistance on the cylinders before you begin rowing in order to customize your workout to your fitness level.


There are several features that make piston rowing machines an excellent choice for novice rowers or anyone who wants a simple rowing routine. While they may not be suitable for intense rower training, they are more than adequate for a typical individual’s daily workout. Some pros to consider include:

  • A lower price tag due to simpler mechanics and design, especially compared to water rowers that can be quite expensive.
  • Compact size – most hydraulic indoor rowers are quite small, and many fold up easily for storage when not in use.
  • Some higher end models offer variable resistance by adjusting the fluid in the cylinders before you begin working out.
  • Piston rowers are quieter than either water or air rowing machines, making them ideal for apartment dwellers.


If you’re concerned about getting a full body workout or intend to use your indoor rower to train for actual rowing, there are some drawbacks with a piston machine that you should keep in mind:

  • The seat on most piston rowing machines is stationary, so your legs won’t be applying any resistance, nor doing any real work.
  • Hydraulic rowers don’t emulate real world rowing conditions because your hands can’t recreate the difference in hand height on the stroke and return.
  • The action isn’t as smooth as on machines using other forms of resistance such as magnetic or water.
  • Resistance can’t be adjusted during the course of your workout.

Before choosing an indoor rower, take the time to compare the features and cost of each machine in relation to your own needs and budget. If you’re looking for an inexpensive, reliable machine that’s easy to care for and use, one of the many piston rowing machines now available may be the ideal choice.

What's the Best Hydraulic Rower?

When it comes to choosing the best hydraulic rowing machine on the market today, it's usually a matter of personal preference. There are a number of solid choices out there, all very affordable.

Here are some of the ones we like...

Sunny Health & Fitness Rower - This is a very popular choice from one of the leading home fitness brands. It's typically under $150 on sale and has 12 different resistance levels to choose from. It has a padded seat and good sized pedals and can accommodate up to 350 lbs., which is impressive given the low price.

Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1052 - This is the updated version of the popular rower from another big brand in home fitness. It also offers 12 levels of resistance like the Sunny Health rower, plus a more advanced console with workout metrics. This one tops out at 250 lb. so if any users are on the heavier side the Sunny might be a better option.

Niceday Rowing Machine - This is one of the newer players on the market that has grown in popularity recently. This rower has a more modern, streamlined look, with up to 16 resistance levels and a 300 lb. max user weight capacity.

Check out these three rowing machines for starters. Any of them will make a great addition to your home gym. 

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