We’ve put together this rowing machine buying guide to help anyone from a beginner to a hard-core athlete get the most out of an indoor rower without being taken to the cleaners.
Some people buy a rowing machine based on nothing more than a friend’s recommendation or a great commercial they saw online. Unfortunately, not taking into account all the pros and cons of a particular machine can mean you’ll be disappointed once you have the rower set up in your home.
Doing your homework and understanding the difference between what you need and what you want is crucial to finding the best indoor rower for you and whoever else will be using the machine.
There are four types of rowing machines available for in-home use: hydraulic or piston style, magnetic resistance, water resistance and air resistance.
If you don’t narrow down your search to one of these four, you’ll be looking at so many machines that you’re likely to be overwhelmed with the choices. If you stick to one of these four styles, you’ve automatically narrowed the field considerably.
Hydraulic or piston rowing machines aren’t always mentioned in a rowing machine buying guide because they are considered low-end units. These machines use hydraulic pistons attached to the handlebars to power your rowing.
They have fewer parts, are simple in design and don’t take up much space. They are most suited to beginners or anyone looking for a basic routine without spending much. Do test out a few models to make sure you aren’t straining your joints, as piston rowers can be a bit jarring.
Magnetic rowing machines use magnetic resistance braking and are extremely quiet, making them ideal for apartments. They offer several levels of resistance and give you an extremely smooth rowing action, although it doesn’t have the same feel as rowing on water.
There are a variety of price points, but you’ll discover that a good rowing machine buying guide or review website can suggest both moderately priced and more expensive models.
Air resistance indoor rowers are the most popular. They offer a realistic rowing motion, a complete upper and lower body workout, and natural movement. The extension is usually better on these machines than hydraulic or magnetic machines, making them ideal for athletes and taller individuals.
They are, however, very noisy and some people don’t like the price tag or the need for plenty of space; these tend to be extremely large machines.
Water resistance rowing machines are highly touted by some rowing machine buying guides for the realistic feel. The use of paddles in a tank of water is the closest you’ll get to actually rowing on water, but you do have to periodically change the water and there is the possibility of leaks.
These machines give you a great workout, but are heavy and difficult to move. These tend to be high end machines and are often made of superior materials such as hardwoods.
Once you’ve decided which style of rower you’re interested in, you can narrow the field even further by asking a few important questions:
What is the frame made of? It could be stainless steel, aluminum or hardwood. An aluminum frame will be easier to move, but a stainless steel one will have a longer warranty. Wood frames are more attractive and have a bit of flex to them for added comfort.
How complex is the console? Most rowers have a console that can track calories burned, time elapsed and some other basic functions, but higher end models will calculate more complex functions such as training routines and various rower profiles. Don’t let other rowing machine buying guides convince you that you need all the bells and whistles – look for a console that offers what you need without charging you for extras you’ll never use.
What is the weight limit? Some have a weight capacity that tops out at 250 pounds, while others are double that.
What size is the machine? Be sure you measure your home space to make sure the indoor rower you’re considering will fit. Don’t forget to add twelve to fourteen inches to the space available to reflect full extensions when the rower is in use.
If you still feel like you need more information than what we’ve offered in this rowing machine buying guide, check out our detailed articles on the various styles of machines for more information. Then, when you’re ready to buy a rowing machine, you’ll be an informed consumer.
UPDATE: New Year's Rowing Machine Sales are now on!
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