Integrating rowing into your workout can rapidly improve fitness, burn fat and build lean muscle. Studies have shown it provides a better cardio workout than a treadmill or exercise bike session, burning almost 400 calories in half-an-hour with a full body workout that’s great for tone too.
Jumping on a rowing machine doesn’t necessarily mean shelling out for a costly gym membership either. There are plenty of budget and space-friendly options for bringing some lung-busting boat race training home to you.
Whether you’re new to rowing, or experienced with the oars and seeking additional out-of-water training ahead of a competition, there’s a home rowing machine that’s perfect for you. However, there are many key features to consider before you splash out on a machine for dry land.
What training features does it have? How much information does the display provide? Are there means of connecting a heart rate sensor or to fitness apps in order to gain more insights into your workout?
It’s also important to consider where you plan to keep your rowing machine when you’re working out and when you’re not. Some rowing machines can be folded up for compact storage, while others require adequate floor space. Noise is also a consideration if your machine will live, and be used, in the main areas in your house or flat.
Traditionally, rowing machines with air-based resistance give off the most noise, while rowers offering magnetic resistance will be quieter. Many machines offer a combination of both, which can enable a greater array of workouts. There’s also water-based machines, which offer a greater sense of realism and minimise noise thanks to the wooden construction.
Last but certainly not least, there are a wild range of price-tags to consider. You can spend anywhere between between £150 and £3,500, though you can get the world’s top selling machine for under £1,000.
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JTX freedom air folding rower: £499, JTX Fitness
Dimensions: 225 cm (l) x 58 cm (w) x 86 cm (h)
Resistance: Air + magnetic
Max. user weight: 130 kg
Combining air resistance with 16-levels of electromagnetic resistance, the Freedom Air is a big step up from some of the other models on our list. We loved the range of guided fitness programmes, which maximise the cardio and strength training benefits on offer. It also ships with a chest strap for monitoring your heart rate for interval programs, while enabling users to set BPM-based workout targets.
It also offers more detailed metrics like revolutions and power, as well as split times. The more substantial build gives a sense of security while rowing at full speed, while it has a sleeker design than some of the other rowing machines in our round up. Oh, and if you hadn’t guessed by the name, it folds down too.
JLL R200: £189.99, Amazon
Dimensions: 180cm (l) x 52cm (w) x 49cm (h)
Weight: 26.2 kg
Max. user weight: 100 kg
The R200 is a magnetic rower with ten resistance levels and an LCD monitor with a scan mode to cycle through all the important metrics including strokes, speed, calories burned and time. It’s comfortable and smooth to use with no noticeable jolt at the full extension of your stroke. As well as the budget-friendly pick, the folding, compact design is also perfect for rowers with limited space and the magnetic resistance will keep noise to a minimum.
For a sub-£200 budget option some advanced features are missing, however, such as Bluetooth connectivity for heart rate monitor integration, and there are no training programmes to follow.
V Fit tornado air: £262.99, Amazon
Dimensions: 212 cm (l) x 44 cm (w) x 74 cm (h)
Weight: 24 kg
Max. user weight: 115 kg
As the name would suggest, the resistance on this gym-style rower comes from the air or, more accurately, a chain drive air resistance system, which has pros and cons. The biggest advantage is that your tempo sets the resistance – the faster you row, the stronger the resistance. The machine responds to your improving performance to test you further, so even when you get fitter and faster, you don’t have to upgrade the machine. However, as with all air resistance rowers, it can be a little noisy.
There’s a large and easy-to-read digital display showing all of the vital stats (time, distance, strokes, strokes per minute, calories), oversized footpads for comfort and it can handle up to 18-stones (115kg) in weight. The machine was easily folded down for storage.
Concept2 model D: £849.99, Decathlon
Dimensions: 244 cm (l) x 61 cm (w) x 36 cm (h)
Max. user weight: 227kg
You’ll probably recognise this machine, and may even have used it. It’s the one parked at most gyms and, as such, is the top-selling rowing machine in the world. According to Concept2, this is the machine used by Olympic athletes to train indoors – and it’s available for well under £1,000. It’s an air-based machine, but it does enable you to adjust a dampener on the flywheel to change the feel of the stroke.
It also has Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity, enabling you to connect chest straps and sync with fitness tracking apps. It delivers so much information via the motion-powered Performance Monitor 5 display, you have to stay on the machine longer to take it all in. We also appreciated the easy set-up that simply required the tightening of just eight screws. That’s our kind of DIY workout.
York R301: £410, York Fitness
Dimensions: 253 cm (l) x 58 cm (w) x 100 cm (h)
Resistance: Air + magnetic
Max. user weight: 120kg
The York R301 is another hybrid machine combining air and magnetic resistance. Like the JTX model, there are 16 resistance levels to choose from (12 preset, 1 Heart rate, 1 Recovery and 1 Race). The 7in, information rich display can be adjusted for easier viewing and the heart-rate monitor, which wirelessly transmits your BPM data to the display in real-time, is a big plus.
This enables the heart-rate workout – a custom workout based on your current BPM rate. We liked the padded seat, which makes for a comfy, distraction-free workout. The R301 also folds down small enough to fit under the bed but, as with all air resistance rowers, it can be a bit noisy.
WaterRower natural rowing machine: £999, WaterRower
Dimensions: 209 cm (l) x 57 cm (w) x 51 cm (h)
Weight: 47kg (with water)
Max. user weight: 454kg
Generally speaking, rowing machines are bowling shoe ugly, but the solid ash WaterRower is so aesthetically pleasing you’ll want to keep it in the living room. Given its price tag, you probably will anyway. As the name suggests, water provides the resistance for this rower made famous by Frank Underwood in House of Cards. There’s method behind the design too.
After all, rowing is performed in water so you get a more realistic sense of the resistance and the wood does its bit to absorb noise and vibration. It ships with an S4 performance monitor display, which displays time, distance, speed and intensity, stroke rate and heart rate (with an optional HR sensor).
TechnoGym skillrow: £3,490, TechnGym
Dimensions: 244 cm (l) x 63 cm (w) x 128 cm (h)
Max. user weight: 160kg
The most advanced, most expensive rowing machine on our list is also TechnoGym’s first. The high-end machine uses magnetic resistance to boost the air-based resistance for performance-orientated workouts. This multi-drive technology makes it easy to switch from cardio to power training by adjusting the resistance level, while an Aquafeel option offers more gradual, lifelike resistance.
There’s a built-in 7-inch display where you can race against friends and fellow users, take part in assigned workouts from coaches and even tackle your own personal best with a visual representation on the screen. You can holster a smartphone to extend the training possibilities, using your phone to view metrics like stroke length, force peak and much more. If this is a shared machine, users can login to their own account with Bluetooth, the Technogym key, mywellness band, NFC and QR code. If money was no object, this would be our pick.
The verdict: Home rowing machines
The TechnoGym Skillrow is the easily the most advanced rowing machine here, but unless you’re a gym owner or lucky to have an overflowing bank account, you’re probably going to have to look a little further. For this reason, the JTX Freedom Air Folding Rower offers the best combination of rowing comfort, training features and space saving, all for a less than a year’s membership at most gyms.
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