Pretend You're On the Water

The 3 Best At-Home Rowing Machines


October 3, 2019 Buying Guides By

It’s time for a revolution — a rowing revolution. For too long, the rowing machine has been the default loner in the corner of the gym that seems to always be available. The desperation needs to end. Rowing machines work three major power groups of muscles — arms, core and legs — and are some of the most efficient power tools. With this one machine, you can target your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, shoulders, upper back, arms and core. And the pros are coming around: while there may not be an uptick in gym users, there’s undoubtedly an upswing in fitness studios opting to mix in a rowing component or focus on rowing as a critical fixture.

Studios like Orangetheory, CityRow and Equinox all offer classes each week to introduce new users to rowing, as well as help rowing veterans crush their goals. “The rowing machine makes for one of the most efficient workouts, and intervals on the rowing machine are a great workout,” says Bryan Volpenheim, two-time Olympic medalist and previous head coach of the US Men’s National Rowing Team. “You don’t have to do it for hours like you would running or cycling. You can get an incredible workout in 30 minutes… and it’s low impact so it’s not hard on your joints.”

These three machines are the top of the lot for a home gym, with one editor’s note: if you’ve got money to burn, you might also consider the Hydrow ($2,200), the “Peloton of rowing machines” that was fully funded on Indiegogo in just four minutes. I tested this touchscreen-equipped, live-streaming capable rower and can attest to the smooth ride and easy-to-store platform.

Easiest to Use: Concept 2 Model D


First launched in 1976, Concept 2 churns out high-quality equipment that can be found in gyms nationwide, as well as at the indoor world rowing championships. Elite athletes use Concept 2 machines to push them to new levels. The Model D is easy to use: on the performance monitor, just hit row to get going. The harder you pull, the more muscles you’ll engage and the more intensity you’ll feel. You can also raise and lower the damper to control how much air gets into the flywheel housing. To store, separate the machine at the middle, tuck away the arm and roll the resistance sphere to a closet or corner.

Best Looking: WaterRower Classic Rowing Machine

While the WaterRower has been around since 1988, it experienced a revival of sorts after its starring role in the Netflix series House of Cards. The beauty of the machine is that it’s built to blend in with its surroundings, so you don’t have to banish it to your gym dungeon. At CityRow and Orangetheory gyms, the WaterRower is the lead feature of each class. “When I first saw the WaterRower, I thought, ‘Is that the same [machine] as the dusty metal one I’m picturing empty in the corner gym?'” Helaine Knapp, founder and CEO of CityRow, says. “When I dug into the specifics of the WaterRower, I learned it was perfect for group fitness and changing the perception people might have historically (from CrossFit, rowing on the water, etc.).” The machine is smooth, easy-to-use and works for everyone from beginners to experts. The soothing sound of water rushing around the base of the machine is also a big plus.

Best on the Water Experience: NordicTrack RW900 Rower

NordicTrack creates machines that work in gyms and at home nationwide. If Peloton and Concept 2 were to have a baby, you’d get the RW900. Your first year of an iFit membership, which can be used on the RW900, is free, so you can enjoy workouts from trainers like Alex Silver-Fagan and Jay Wein that range from 10 to 60 minutes. And it’s not just rowing workouts. Thanks to the iFit app, you can pick from cross training, boot camp, HIIT and active recovery workouts — both on and off the rower. The digital screen transports you to the Olympic Training Center in San Diego, where Susan Francia, two-time Olympic gold medalist, leads you through a workout. Whereas the entry-level RW200 ($799) uses air resistance to challenge you, the RW900 uses a magnetic resistance that’s quiet and tough, in addition to the air resistance.

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