If you’ve assumed rowing is strictly a leg workout, you’re sadly mistaken. In fact, rowing is about 70 percent leg work and 30 percent upper-body work, according to the American Fitness Professionals Association (AFPA). What makes rowers, or ergometers/ergs, different from other at-home fitness equipment is that they target and strengthen a multitude of muscles — including your quads, calves, glutes, arms, back, core, and obliques. (Related: Why the Rowing Machine Deserves Your Attention)
And if you’re also wanting an at-home exercise that’s going to burn calories, look no further than rowing. You can burn up to 300 calories in 30 minutes of rowing, which is about the same amount you’d burn doing a moderate stationary bike workout or running at 5mph (a 12 minute/mile) for the same amount of time, according to Harvard Medical School. While rowing offers a similar calorie burn compared to running or spinning, it builds more muscle (since it’s recruiting more muscles) and is kinder to your body (since it’s low-impact).
Before adding an erg to your shopping cart, consider the three types of rowers on the market: air rowers, water rowers, and magnetic rowers. Air rowers create resistance from the wind produced by the flywheel, which is attached to a fan that spins when pulled. On the other hand, water rowers gather resistance from liquid in their tanks, simulating the feeling of rowing in a boat. And finally, magnetic rowers use a brake system in which strong magnets are adjusted at varying the distances apart to set the resistance level. You’ll want to do additional research since there are characteristic with each that sets them apart. For example, magnetic rowers tend to be quieter, while the sounds water rowers make can be meditative — just like being in open water. Other things to consider? Size, where you’re setting it up, and if you’ll need to store it.
Like with any exercise, correct form is essential in order to reap the benefits and to prevent injury. Start with knees bent, arms out long, back straight, and core tight. Since strapping into an erg is a little different compared to hopping on a treadmill or bike, you may want to take a rowing class or check out an online video to ensure you are moving correctly. (Related: How to Use a Rowing Machine for a Better Cardio Workout)
Ready to hit the (virtual) open seas and try a new fitness routine? Ahead, nine of the best rowing machine options to add to your at-home gym.
A standout on the market with an LCD screen that streams workouts, this magnetic rower offers a group-fitness experience or trainer-led exercises right in your home. You can utilize iFit’s interactive personal training library with this rower, which contains in-studio classes, as well as sessions filmed around the world — cross the English Channel in the morning, and complete an endurance race on Lake Bled in Slovenia in the afternoon. Led by Olympic gold medal rowers that will push you to your limit, the classes ensure boredom won’t be an issue. The rower also makes automatic, real-time adjustments to the resistance during workouts, so you don’t have to move from your position. Not in the mood to row? Pivot the 22-inch screen towards your mat to enjoy a yoga or strength class — it’s that versatile of an investment. Plus, it’s easy to store since it folds in half and stands upright.
One reviewer wrote: “The Nordic Track rowing machine is my new favorite way to work out. I feel like rowing is one of the few low-impact cardio options (after two babies running is not an option) that gets my heart-rate up, and also feels like a full body strength workout. I always enjoyed the rowing machine at the gym, but now I can use the iFit classes. The trainers go through the proper form for rowing , which makes a big difference. It also fits perfectly in a corner of our kids toy room when not in use.”
Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine Rower
Smaller than the size of a yoga mat, this rowing machine won’t take up a lot of precious real estate in your home. The easy-to-read monitor tracks your workout, and the handles are sweat-resistant, so you don’t have to slow down or stop to adjust your grip as perspiration builds. For those who find the foot platform on rowers to be uncomfortable, pivoting pedals allow for flexibility and effective strokes. Sleek and portable, there is no doubt this will change up your fitness routine. (Related: 20-Minute Total Body Rowing Workout)
“Great equipment. Easy to use and quiet. The levels of intensity are challenging, I am using level 2/3. Level 4 gave me some left lateral knee discomfort, which indicates I have not built up enough leg strength to tolerate it. But I am working on it! I will admit that my butt was sore after the first use, but you’ll get used to it. If you are a first-time rower (like me), make sure you research proper rowing mechanics as your workouts can be less effective,” suggested a customer.
Buy It: Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine Rower, $260, amazon.com
Fitness Reality 1000 PLUS Bluetooth Magnetic Rowing Rower
This machine has Bluetooth connectivity with free MyFitnessCloud App membership to record workouts via your phone or tablet — which can sit in a convenient holder on the rower. For those who worry about sounds levels living in an apartment or townhouse, this is an extremely quiet piece of equipment that won’t distract you or bother your neighbors. Magnetic tension grants a challenging workout and keeps your strokes smooth. What makes this a unique rowing machine is patent-pending footpads on the front of the machine that allow you to use the handlebar for curls, tricep extensions, shoulder presses, and other upper body moves, similar to a cable machine.
After spinning for years, this fan tried rowing and now can’t get enough. “We’ve been using a stationary bike for some time now and wanted to add something to mix up our workout routine. After using this rower we both are feeling the effect in muscles the bike wasn’t really hitting and we’re looking forward to seeing the changes this rower will make in our bodies. The machine was easy to put together and the MyCloudFitness app is fun to use. Bonus- with the wide range of resistance settings this rower is usable by my husband and I as well as our kids.”
Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5
Incredibly versatile and easy-to-use, this high-performance machine (you may even see a similar model in your gym) connects via Bluetooth to a wide range of apps, offering an endless number of low-impact, high calorie-burning workouts. Adjust the intensity of the air-resistance flywheel by changing one of the 10 damper levels. And don’t let the long base turn you off. Storing it is as simple as lifting and separating the bottom, and standing it upright in two pieces. Turn on your favorite workout playlist and get rowing!
“I was tempted by the luxurious looking wooden water rowers (smaller footprint, easier storage, more home friendly appearance). But, the gym has the Concept 2, and my experience has been that the air blowing from the fan chamber keeps you cool while working out. Rowing in dead air did not seem attractive… This machine rides like a Cadillac. We live in an apartment, and my mom’s first question was, “won’t the neighbor’s hear it?” Answer: no. This machine does not rumble. It is smooth and quiet. The fan is the only source of noise. The seat glides in near silence and the chain-pully thing is also nearly silent. I can also watch TV at just over normal volume and hear everything,” reported a shopper.
MaxKare Water Rowing Machine Water Rower
For a more realistic experience, without getting wet, try a rower powered by water. This style imitates the feel and sound of paddle strokes pulling through water, and offers a workout that’s just as challenging. The result is a full-body, therapeutic workout, thanks to the sound of swooshing water and smooth glide. Supported by a durable steel frame, this piece of equipment comes highly rated by Amazon shoppers, with them swearing that it’s comfortable and easy to use. Also nice: An LCD monitor tracks all of your metrics, and the adjustability ensures you can view it mid-stroke. (Related: The 8 Best Treadmills Under $500, According to Customer Reviews)
One reviewer highlighted the fact that this was simple to put together: “The assembly of this rowing machine was very easy. It takes about half an hour. I was able to do it all by myself. (I am a 5’4″ lady.) All tools are provided and worked fine. The resistance is smooth and feels like you’re really rowing on water. The length of the footplates is adjustable and equipped with foot straps, my husband and I both get the most comfortable experience during work-out by setting it to different hole sites. The monitor is large and shows every data you need! The man-machine competition mode is so interesting! I love it! And the whole look of the water rower is fantastic and fits my living room. You can clearly observe the oar’s movement when you use it. All in all, it is a great water rowing machine and I highly recommend it!”
CITYROW GO Max + Classic Water Rowers
Launched as an accessible at-home version of the water rower used in CITYROW’s popular studio classes, these rowers are perfect if you want something that’ll look gorgeous right in your living room. The Classic rower (right) has a backlit monitor displaying your workout stats in real time, as well as Bluetooth connectivity that allows you to pair your mobile device. Pop it into the device holder, and stream instructional classes (or, ya know, Netflix) while you work out. Access a full library of classes — including rowing endurance classes, hybrid rowing and strength bootcamps, or even mobility drills — led by top-notch trainers in their CITYROW GO app, which you can subscribe to for $29/month. (FWIW, you can stream classes on the app to use with any of these other rowers, too.) Want a bigger screen to stream classes? CITYROW also offers a premium version of their rower (left) — called the CITYROW GO Max (Buy It, $2,195, go.cityrow.com) — with a large touchscreen display and built-in speakers, so you have everything you need for a studio-quality workout in one device.
“I struggled for months to decide if I wanted to make the investment in CITYROW GO. Now that I finally made the leap I only wish I had gone with my gut and gotten it sooner. This has made it so easy for me to get a fun and heart-pounding gym-quality workout without leaving my living room,” wrote one customer on their site.
MARNUR Water Rowing Machine
No need to have been a part of your collegiate crew team to desire a real-life rowing experience at home. Water rowers support consistent resistance and a more natural feel when pulling since the level isn’t fixed. This rower, in particular, is celebrated as a high-quality machine with an easy five-step setup. Double rails made from aluminum ensure a smooth and quiet glide of the seat. The ergonomic handle and fixed pedals offer a secure stance so your legs and arms don’t bounce around while rowing.
“I had decided early on that I wanted a water rower, and trust me, you want one too,” shared a customer. “It is whisper quiet and the movement is smooth. I initially thought that I would have to spend close to a thousand dollars for a good machine. But then I saw this model and decided to take a chance. Well, I am glad I did. It’s a quality machine. Easy to assemble. Despite the instructions suggestion that it takes two people to assemble, I did it by myself in less than an hour. Once assembled and filled with water (do not overfill), it was smooth rowing.”
Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine Rower
If you’re looking for a rower with a smaller footprint (and at a cheaper price tag!), this is an excellent option for under $100. The streamlined, lightweight design can fit in a cramped apartment or tight, spare room without being an eyesore. This erg features a single hydraulic piston that works with fluid for resistance; you can easily adjust the resistance by turning the dial at the top of the piston and selecting one of 12 levels. While it might not look as high tech as other rowers on the market, it still has a digital monitor that tracks your progress — including time, row count, and calories burned. This simple rowing machine proves you don’t need a souped up machine to achieve huge results.
“I was not anticipating enjoying this item. Instead it is a staple in my workout. This machine feels lightweight, but packs a punch. You can increase the resistance, which I learned after telling my husband “this is so easy, feels like nothing.” I lived to regret those words. I can feel my abdominal muscles contracting and my arms working significantly. The little back plastic caps on the feet do come off, so be careful when moving it to different rooms. It handles my weight and my husbands girth appropriately. This is a mobile unit and is not heavy at all. I highly recommend,” said a shopper.
Buy It: Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine Rower, $90, was $109, amazon.com
Fitness Reality 4000MR Magnetic Rower Rowing Machine
Looking for something a little different? This style — with dual independent rowing handles — allows your arms a wider range of motion. Use one of the 10 preset conditioning programs for a surely intense workout, or customize and save five of your own. The rower can also store three workout goal settings based on calories, times, and distance. Foot stabilizers keep you secure and prevent the machine from wobbling. Built-in transportation wheels make carrying and moving it a cinch. (Related: The Best Folding Bikes That Won’t Take Up Your Whole Living Room)
One user shared some health benefits this magnetic rower helped them achieve: “Purchased this high-quality two-handled rower to replace a single handle pull rower I couldn’t use. This rower sits high off the floor so it’s easy to mount/dismount. It folds easily and takes small space when stored.. it works perfectly and is very sturdy… Since I purchased a few months ago and using at least 4 time weekly, my blood pressure has lowered from the 160/80 range to 120/50-60 range. I would highly recommend.”
Buy It: Fitness Reality 4000MR Magnetic Rower Rowing Machine, $685, amazon.com