Rowing Machine Terminology
The type of resistance on a rower will influence the noise level, price, size and overall rowing experience.
Different types of rowing machine vary greatly in the rowing experience they provide, as well as in price, size and durability.
Air rowers create resistance by pushing air over an internal flywheel. The harder you row, the more resistance you’ll feel. This makes for an incredibly accurate rowing simulation. An indoor air rower will match your level of intensity. This gives you the perfect workout for your strength and fitness levels.
Gym rowing machines tend to be air rowers. Athletes and professional rowers favour these commercial rowing machines because of their dynamic resistance. You’re always in real-time control of the resistance with an air rower. So, there’s no need to change the resistance settings. They can be a little noisy, though. Make sure to buy one with noise reducing technology if you’re buying for home use.
Read our Concept 2 vs JTX Ignite Air Rower comparison here.
Magnetic rowing machines change resistance by moving magnets closer to the flywheel. The resistance is changed manually by the user. Indoor rowers that use magnetic resistance alone tend not to provide a lifelike rowing experience. This is why gym rowers tend to use superior air resistance.
Mag-air rowing machines, like the JTX Fitness Freedom Air Rower, combine the benefits of air and magnetic resistance. Mag-air indoor rowers use air to provide some of the resistance, creating a smooth rowing feel. The rowing experience is not quite as lifelike air rowers, which provide purely dynamic air resistance. You can easily adjust the magnetic resistance manually, choosing a workout intensity that suits you.
Water rowers use a flywheel (or paddles) in a tank of water. When you pull on the handlebars, the paddles turn in the water and create drag or resistance. The hardest and more powerfully you pull on the handlebars, the more resistance will be created. The feel of rowing on a water rower is very similar to an outdoor rowing experience. However, they can take up quite a lot of room and be fairly noisy.
If you want to learn more about the various types of rowers, have a look at our rowing machine buying guide.
Damper settings are specific to air rowers. If you've used a gym rower or an air rower at your local club, you would have spotted the damper settings on the side of the flywheel. You can generally adjust your damper between levels 1 and 10. They are often mistakenly assumed to be 'resistance levels', but this isn't strictly true.
The damper setting changes how much air can flow in and out of the flywheel. Lower damper settings let less air into the flywheel, which makes it easier to get the flywheel spinning. It also will keep spinning for a while after each row. Higher damper settings let more air into the flywheel, which makes it harder to get the flywheel spinning. The flywheel will also slow down faster after each row. The damper settings change the feel of the row.
On low settings, it will feel like rowing a fast, sleek boat. On high settings, it will feel like rowing a big, heavy boat. This means that your damper setting should be chosen according to the aim of your workout. If you’re looking to improve your cardio, a lower setting is best. If you’re looking to increase power and strength, a higher setting is best. It's generally said a damper setting of 3-5 will give you the best cardio workout. But, the best way to approach damper settings is to try a workout on various levels, and see what feels best for you.