Different Types of Rowing Machines 

Different Types of Rowing Machines

September 30, 2019

The rowing machine - what’s considered as the gym's most underestimated piece of equipment is now the center of a new fitness craze, succeeding spinning or indoor cycling.

Although it’s described as a full-body, low-impact workout, rowing is no easy-peasy exercise.

Here are five primary reasons it's called a whole-body workout:


It works out more than 80% of your muscle mass.

Rowing activates nine major muscle groups from your back, chest, shoulders, and arms to your abdominals, glutes, thighs, hamstrings, and calves.


It helps correct your posture.

Proper rowing strengthens your back, encourages proper upper body form, and allows shoulder mobility.


It's a great aerobic workout.

Rowing kick starts your heart as your body's large muscle groups move repeatedly over an extended period, boosting your mood and providing overall fitness that will improve your immune system and cholesterol level as well as lower the risk of chronic heart ailments.


It helps shed fat and calories.

You can burn as much as 400–800 calories by working on the Rowing Machine for an hour.


It's a non-weight bearing exercise so it's easy on the joints.

This makes rowing good for people recovering with surgery and weak knees or ankles, or who can’t run or jump.

Different Types of Rowing Machines

1. Air Rowing Machines

Air Rowing Machines

Air rowers, also referred to as ergometers or ergos, are the most common types of rowers that you find in the gym and now at home too. They have sliding seats and resistance systems with fan-like flywheels. The fan blades spin and resist the surrounding air when the rower pulls the handlebar.

  • Air rowers make you feel like you’re rowing on water.
  • They work on the principle of responsive resistance. When you row fast, the resistance gets harder in response to your effort.
  • They are the loudest of all rowers as the fan blades create resistance.
  • Be prepared to give it plenty of room for home use.

Top Air Rower Models:

1. Concept 2 Model D

Concept2 Model D with PM5 Performance Monitor Indoor Rower Rowing Machine Black

We discuss the Concept 2 air rowing machine in detail in a separate article. It's the leading air rower in the industry with respect to durability and ergonomics.

2. Stamina Conversion II

Stamina Conversion II Recumbent Exercise Bike/Rower

The Stamina Conversion II model is a recumbent bike and indoor rower rolled into one. It has built-in sensors that can take your heart rate and flash it onto an LCD display.

Stamina also has ATS models that sell for below $500.

3. NS-6050RE Marcy

Marcy Foldable Turbine Rowing Machine Rower with 8 Resistance Setting and Transport Wheels NS-6050RE

It has 8 resistance settings and a computer display panel. It also has a mold-injected seat that can support users weighing up to 300 pounds.

Maintenance for Concept 2 rowers:

  • Open the flywheel enclosure. Take out the outlet perf, the metal perforated belt that wraps around the circumference of the flywheel, and use a rag to clean the flywheel after 250 hours of use since it collects dust.
  • Use a vacuum to suck out the dust from the flywheel before returning the outlet perf.

2. Water Rowing Machines

Water Rowing Machines

Water rowers are considered the most elegant and the best rowing machine of all. They feature a large reservoir of around 10–20 liters/2.5–5 gallons of water behind the footplates. The flywheel spins in the water as rowers pull the handle, creating resistance. The sound of the moving water gives exercisers a more natural rowing feeling.

  • Most of them are stylishly designed—some are even made of wood—that they look like furniture more than exercise machines.
  • Although a little louder than magnetic rowers, water rowers operate more quietly than air rowers. Many people also enjoy the "water sound."
  • They offer responsive resistance with each stroke.
  • They’re usually more expensive than other indoor rowers.
  • The plastic water tanks make these rowers the heaviest of all rowers.
  • They need regular water change.
  • Only a few water rowers are foldable.

Top Water Rower Models:

1. WaterRower

Water Rower Exercise Machine by WaterRower - A1 S4 Rose with Self-Regulating Resistance

You can build more or less resistance by adjusting the amount of water in the tank.

WaterRower has a Series 4 monitor that tracks calories burned, heart rate, workout intensity, stroke rate, and more. The frame of the WaterRower Natural and Xeno Muller models are made of ash wood, which are certified sustainable hardwoods.

U.S. national team rower John Duke is the founder of the company behind the brand and made the rower's original design.

2. First Degree Fitness

First Degree Fitness Apollo Pro rowing machine

Similar to the WaterRower, the First Degree Fitness Apollo Pro II runs on dual rails. Meanwhile, its Newport model is made of steel and features only a single rail. The products are equipped with USB ports so you can operate your workout apps.

The company’s top-of-the-line FluidPowerRow is recommended for gyms. It has a twin tank design with 10x fluid resistance.

3. H20 Fitness

HCI Fitness Prorower RX-750 Prorower Indoor Water Rowing Machine

The brand has home rowers (RX-750) and club rowers (RX-950). The RX-750 can support up to 350 pounds, while the RX-950 can hold up to 550 pounds. Both models have a wireless heart rate receiver. Chest straps are sold separately.

The rowers use a bungee cord system instead of the usual chain, which can require extra regular maintenance.


Water in the reservoir must be changed every six months or so.

3. Hydraulic Rowing Machines

Hydraulic Rowing Machines

Hydraulic rowers are also referred to as piston rowers because they get their resistance from one or two hydraulic pistons. Hydraulic rowers designed for upper body workouts only don’t have sliding seats, while models designed for full-body workouts come with sliding seats.

  • They are the smallest of all rowers and are the most basic, being the oldest type of rowing machines.
  • They are quiet so you can use them without waking up others or while watching TV.
  • The rowers, especially two-piston types, don’t allow synchronized arm and leg movements so it doesn’t simulate a natural rowing motion.
  • Because it is piston-powered, there is a chance of the piston leaking oil or overheating. When the piston heats up, resistance is reduced so you have to stop and raise the setting.

Top Hydraulic Rower Models:

1. Kettler Favorit Rower

Kettler Home Exercise/Fitness Equipment: Favorit Rowing Machine

The Germany-made Kettler Kadett offers the most realistic rowing motion due to its outrigger handles. It has an earlobe heart rate monitor that can be upgraded to a chest strap monitor. You can adjust the resistance levels from 1–12.

2. Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1060

Stamina Products BodyTrac Glider 1060 Hydraulic Resistance Fitness Rower Machine, Blue

The brand's latest BodyTrac Glider model is the 1060 version with "free motion" or separate arms that can mimic real boat rowing movements. It features 12 resistance levels.

3. Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205

Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine Rower w/ 12 Level Adjustable Resistance, Digital Monitor and 220 LB Max Weight

We discuss the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205 single-centered piston rower in detail in a separate article. You can choose from 12 resistance levels by turning the piston's knob. It can support up to 220 pounds of weight.


Check for possible leaks coming from cylinders or pistons.

4. Magnetic Rowing Machines

Magnetic Rowing Machines

Magnets create resistance for magnetic rowers by getting far from or coming close to the metallic flywheel. The closer the magnet is to the wheel that is turning, the more resistance is produced.

Magnetic rowers are the quietest among all the rowers because there is no contact between the magnets and flywheel. Without any friction, no sound is produced.

  • They’re often smaller than water or air rowers.
  • Some products are mounted on a monorail or track so they can’t be folded up.

Top Magnetic Rower Models:

1. Hydrow

Hydrow rowing machine

The Hydrow rower has a touchscreen monitor with built-in speakers, camera, and microphone that will help you tune in to live on-the-water or in-studio workouts from rowing instructors that are available 24/7.

2. Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515

Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine with LCD Display, 8 Resistance Levels, 44 Inch Rail Inseam and 250 LB Max Weight - SF-RW5515

Sunny's SF-RW5515 has 8 resistance levels that can be adjusted with the twist of a dial. It features a fully padded seat, sweat-resistant handlebars, and large anti-slip pivoting foot pedals. It could support weight of up to 250 pounds.

The foldable rower also has built-in wheels, which will help when you have to store it away after use.

3. Stamina Avari

Avari A350-700 Stamina Programmable Magnetic Exercise Rower, 81

The rower has 12 workout programs. It has a chest strap that records your heart rate and a backlit LCD fitness monitor in front of the rower.

The product can be disassembled into three parts, making it easy to carry and store after use.

4. Velocity CHR 2001

Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower

The Velocity CHR 2001 is equipped with a drum magnetic control system, making it very quiet during operations. It has 8 levels of resistance. The rower is equipped with double bearings that make it stable during vigorous training.

Other general maintenance reminders:

  • Examine equipment frequently for any loose screws or clunking noises.
  • Use a protective floor mat to reduce the rowing machine's impact on your floor.
  • Wipe your rower after use.

Final Thoughts

Whatever rowing machine you'll end up buying, you'll only get its maximum effects if you know how to use it and if you know the proper technique that will prevent injury and produce the desired results.

About the author 

Kevin Lee

Health and fitness have always been a passion for me; whether its being in the weight room, going for a run before work or even participating in a half iron man triathlon. ShapeJunkie was created to share to knowledge and love of fitness with others.

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