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Rowing Machine Benefits & Buying Guide

Rowing machines provide a full-body strength and conditioning workout whilst remaining low impact on your joints. This buying guide will help you research and confidently find the rowing machine to suit your needs. Find out about rowing machine benefits and the different types of rowing machines below.

If you’d rather speak to our specialist customer service team, please get in touch. We also have a Sussex-based gym equipment showroom where you can try out any of our rowing machines before buying.

Rowing Machine Benefits and Buying Guide

Choose one of these buying guide topics:


Recommended Rowing Machines:

Resistance style is the key way to differentiate between the four main types of rowing machines. Select an image below to find out more about each rowing machine type.

Air Rowing Machines Features & Benefits:

Air rowing machines are the main type of rowing machine found in commercial fitness gyms and rowing clubs.

Air rowing machines have a large round fan and offer 'dynamic resistance'. The resistance is created as the fan blades push against the surrounding air. Pulling with more power and speed creates more resistance on the blades which in turn makes it harder to row. This means that air rowing machines match the amount of effort you put in, leaving no slack or parts of your workout with not enough resistance. If you want more resistance, you simply row harder and faster. For an easier row simply slow down and pull with less intensity. As your fitness improves you will improve the power of your stroke and record better performance results on the monitor. Air rowing machines provide a highly challenging workout for your cardiovascular system and will also help you build muscles.

Air rowing machines are the loudest type of rowing machine but are considerably quieter than a treadmill

The most well-known brand, Concept 2, costs about £850 for their cheapest Model D version. The JTX Ignite Air Rowing Machine is a great alternative. Read our Concept 2 vs JTX Ignite Air Rower comparison here.

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Air & Magnetic Rowing Machines Features & Benefits:

Air and magnetic rowing machines combine both magnetic resistance and air resistance to offer an affordable alternative to air rowing machines. They are also known as mag-air rowers. Magnetic air resistance can be changed on the computer console as well as by changing the power you put into your row. The air resistance also ensures a smooth rowing motion.

However, the feel of the row is not comparable to that of air rowing machines. The air resistance mechanisms are less powerful in mag-air rowers. The resistance is not as dynamic and the row not as smooth. Although mag-air rowers don’t give the most accurate rowing simulation, they suit most home users. They offer a rewarding rowing experience, tailored to your ability.

Mag-air rowing machines offer a great compromise between the budget friendly magnetic rowing machines and the smoother rowing option of the air rowers. They can usually be purchased for between £350 – £800 depending on a variety of features.

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Hydraulic Rowing Machines:

We have carried out a lot of tests on these cheaper rowing machines. If you are likely to be exercising on them more than once a week or you weigh over 10 stone, we recommend that you avoid them. They are often very cheap but the build quality is in general not very good either so you are likely to end up wasting your money.

Hydraulic rowing machines often use an elastic cord, rather than a high-quality belt or chain. The elastic cord has a tendency to create a variety of problems. They can lose their elasticity over time and slip, causing a jerky rowing motion.

Hydraulic rowing machines use a piston mechanism to provide resistance. This can often get stiff and put the welding under a lot of pressure.

If you do end up buying one of these cheap rowing machines, please be careful to look at the rowing machine warranty.

Magnetic Rowing Machines Features & Benefits:

These magnetic rowing machines have a similar type of resistance to exercise bikes. Magnets are placed next to the flywheel and create a drag on the spinning flywheel. Changing the resistance involves moving the magnets closer to the flywheel for more resistance. Resistance is then changed either manually (by turning a knob) or digitally (by pressing a button on the console) during the workout. You can set the resistance at a level that suits your fitness level. The resistance will remain constant, however hard you work out. The downside? Because the resistance doesn’t respond to your movements, the row feels less smooth and less like real rowing on water.

Purely magnetic rowing machines are often cheaper than air and water rowing machines. The cheaper cost often links to lower build quality so they are often less durable than other types of rowing machines. Their lower maximum user weight will reflect this.

They do not have a large air rower fan or water rower container so they can be up to 30% smaller than other types of rowing machines. So magnetic rowing machines are a great choice if space is an issue. They are also much quieter than other types of rowing machines.

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Water Rowing Machine Features & Benefits:

Water rowing machines provide resistance via blades rotating in a large tank. This provides an accurate rowing-on-water simulation with the feel and exercise benefits of open water rowing.

The smooth 'continuous drive' means there is no rowing dead-point, where the resistance becomes slack and no loss of momentum. You can increase the intensity of your workout through stroke efficiency, power and rowing speed.

You can occasionally adjust the water level in the machine to change the way the strokes feel but this won't change the effectiveness of your workout. Add water to the container to make the strokes feel heavier, and remove it to lighten the strokes. However, regularly adding and removing water from the machine is not common practice.

The water inside can grow algae and bacteria but this can be kept at bay with purification tablets (normally provided with the machine).

A magnetic rowing machine is much quieter but the sound of rowing on the water can also be very soothing.

Water rowing machines are also stylish, looking great in any home gym or in the corner of your living room. The market leader is the WaterRower brand with stylish wooden framed rowing machines from £850 to £1300.

Water Vs Air Rowing Machine, Which Is Best?

Air rowers and water resistance rowing machines are both well known for their smooth stroke. Most users would find the rowing action and workout results very similar. Deciding which is best normally comes down to noise, budget and home decor preferences. If you are focused on your rowing technique, water rowing machines have a stronger catch at the start that softens through the stroke. Air resistance rowing machines feel softer at the beginning of the stroke and stronger at the end.

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Rowing Machine Benefits:

Benefits of Rowing Indoors & On Water:

Full Body Workout

Rowing machines provide a full-body workout when used correctly. Unlike many other types of exercise, rowing requires your upper and lower body to work in equal measures to perform a full stroke. A huge range of muscles are used in rowing, which means you gain maximum benefit from one machine. Check out our How To Use A Rowing Machine video to ensure you get the full benefits of a rowing workout.

Cardio Training

Rowing machines benefit your cardiovascular and muscular systems. Rowing gets your heart racing, bringing you all the benefits of improved circulation.

Impact Free

Indoor rowing is a low-impact and non-weight-bearing exercise. The smooth movement of a row makes for much less impact on joints, decreasing the likelihood of injuries. Therefore rowing benefits a range of people in recovery or rehabilitation for existing injuries. Because there are no weights to hold during rowing, it’s highly suited to users with bad knees or hips. It’s also fantastic for older people who want to enjoy a vigorous workout without the risk.

Increase Stamina

Rowing machines are an excellent choice for endurance training. Rowing stimulates and strengthens the heart and lungs, helping you along in your fitness journey. You can perform full-body aerobic and anaerobic exercises on the rowing machine by switching up your workouts. Steady-state rowing will promote aerobic endurance. HIIT sessions will develop your anaerobic endurance.

Major Muscle Groups

Regularly using a rowing machine is good for all major muscle groups. This resistance training leads to increased strength and muscle condition. It will strengthen your shoulders, arms and back muscles as well as your glutes and hamstrings. It will also improve the strength and tone of your core muscles.

Weight Loss

Because your entire body has to work hard during rowing, it’s a great exercise to help you achieve a healthy weight. Weight loss facts: Rowing burns 600- 1,000 calories per hour, making it a highly effective exercise to shed some pounds.

What Is A Rowing Machine Good For?

Beginner Friendly

Indoor rowing can get very technical. As you improve your fitness you are likely to want to improve the efficiency and power of your stroke. However, a total beginner can get on a rowing machine and achieve a great workout for their fitness level straight away. You can take a look at our beginners rowing video, How To Use A Rowing Machine, or just start slow and build up your knowledge and fitness over a few weeks.

Convenient Home Workouts

Indoor rowing has just as many health benefits as outdoor rowing. Without beautiful outdoor views, it's great to follow free online rowing workouts to keep you motivated. A home rowing machine is a convenient and reliable fitness option no matter how little time you have or how bad the weather is.

Space Saving & Easy To Move

If you’re looking for home workout equipment, but don’t have a lot of room, a rowing machine could be a perfect option. Rowing machines are relatively lightweight and don’t take up as much floor space as other fitness equipment. If you have lots of steps or you live in a flat, rowing machines are probably one of the better options for you too. Most rowing machines can also be stored upright or split into two for even more compact storage options. Check out this compact rowing machine if you are looking for a quiet and smooth workout but have limited space.

Rowing Machine Specifications

When you buy a rowing machine, look in the specification for these important features.

Monorail length:

Some of the cheaper rowing machines will have a very short monorail and be unsuitable for taller rowers. Our rowing machine size guide explains maximum user heights for different monorail lengths.

Machine weight:

Rowing machines that are too light can lift up at the front while rowing. The heavier the rowing machine is, the more stable they are likely to be.

Maximum user weight:

A high maximum user weight is another good indication of good design quality and durability.


When you buy a rowing machine, you'll want to make sure it stores easily when you're not using it. A folding rowing machine, or one that separates easily into two pieces, is a good option for small spaces.

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