Indoor rowing doesn’t have the distinctive charm of being on a skiff on a river (sigh, if only), but the best rowing machine will still give you an excellent workout. Between smart rowers like Hydrow and industry stalwarts like Concept2, there are plenty of top-notch rowing machine options on the market. We spoke with fitness experts on the benefits of rowing and how to find the best rowing machine for you.
What are the benefits of indoor rowing?
Before we get into it, though, a little refresher on the mental and physical benefits of indoor rowing. “[It’s] truly a full-body workout,” says Paralympian and Hydrow coach Dani Hansen. “When you row, you’re engaging nearly 86% of your body’s major muscle groups, which is more than double the engagement you get from cycling or running.” There’s plenty of versatility in rowing workouts too, thanks to the resistance. You can go faster with lower resistance for a cardiovascular boost, or increase the resistance and slow down for strength training. “Even though rowing is a high-intensity workout, it’s low impact, which means it’s gentle on your joints, and it actively builds bone density,” Hansen says. “The fact that it’s both safe and effective makes it a really fantastic and accessible option for everyone.”
How to choose the best indoor rowing machine
When it comes to choosing the right rower for your home gym, there are a few important points of comparison worth noting. “When selecting a rower, I think it’s important to identify what your rowing goals are upfront,” Hansen tells SELF. “Are you a beginner looking for guidance? Will rowing be your primary fitness activity or a part of your overall training plan? Where in your home will your rower be placed? What types of workouts are you looking for?” We tapped trainers and coaches who also mentioned looking at rowing resistance, machine durability, and experience level when buying a rowing machine.
There are four different mechanisms used by rowers to provide resistance, says Ben Walker, CPT, owner of Anywhere Fitness in Dublin. Those include hydraulic, air, water, and magnetic resistance. If noise is an issue and you prefer a quiet workout, a hydraulic or water-based model is ideal.
But if you’re more concerned about performance, many people opt for an air-based or magnetic rower because they’re easier to maintain, more affordable, and less likely to break. Like other features, though, it tends to come down to personal preference in terms of how much you like the feel of the rower.
Look for companies that have had time to perfect their design and have good reviews in terms of durability and maintenance, suggests former elite rower Maria Brezler. Quality isn’t just about financial investment, she adds; it can change how you feel when you’re doing a workout. “You can get on one machine and it feels like you’re riding in an old beat-up Toyota, while another will feel like driving a Mercedes,” she says. You might also want to check for a warranty.