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Best rowing machine 2023: The best air, magnetic and smart rowers for a full body workout

Peter Stuart Leon Poultney
31 Jan 2023

Our guide to the best indoor rowing machines to suit every budget

Thanks to the best rowing machines, getting fit with a well-rounded full-body workout has never been easier. With each and every stroke using nine major muscle groups, rowing is a great way to get fit without putting excessive strain on any of your joints. Indoor rowing machines (also known as ergometers, or “ergs”) allow you to reap all the benefits of a rowing workout without ever needing to set foot in a boat. Great news for the aquaphobic.

Despite the wildly varying quality and prices of rowing machines, buying your first indoor rower needn't be a daunting prospect. To take the stress out of the experience, we've compiled a selection of the best rowing machines on the market, whether you're looking to save money or to buy the best rowing machine money can buy. If you want to learn which type of erg is best for your needs, you can read our buying guide below.

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Get the JTX Freedom Air Rowing Machine for MUCH LESS

For less than £500, the JTX Freedom Air Rower 2 makes for a top buy – and now it’s even cheaper in JTX’s sale. It’s self-powered and has eight levels of air and magnetic combination resistance for that natural feel. At £429, a saving of £66 compared to its usual price (and even more against the inflated £595 RRP), it's a standout pick. JTX Fitness Was £495 Now £429 Buy Now

Save £100 on the Echelon Smart Rower

Our favourite smart rowing machine is now £100 less than its previous price via Amazon. What's smart about it? Well, it links with the Echelon app (which you can view mid-row using the rower-attached tablet) and lock-in to over 900 classes on-demand across 32 resistance levels. Grab it today! Amazon Was £749 Now £649 Buy Now


Best rowing machines: At a glance


How to buy the best rowing machine for you

What are the different types of rowing machine?

There are four different types of rowing machine, using different types of resistance, but each has its pros and cons:

  • Air rowing machines generate resistance using a flywheel that rotates within an enclosed cage. You can let more air into the cage to generate more resistance, or close it to lower the resistance. However, since your power output is based on the flywheel’s speed as much as the damper setting, there’s no need to use a higher setting to get a great workout – on the contrary, it’s better to use a lower setting unless you want to exhaust your muscles. Air-resistance machines are the most common on the market, but generate quite a bit of noise, which might not be practical in all households.
  • Hydraulic rowers, often referred to as piston rowing machines, are usually the most affordable option. These machines use a pair of hydraulic pistons to generate resistance, and tend to be the smallest and easiest in terms of storage, folding up in most cases. However, they often bare little to no resemblance to the movement of rowing. Usually, the range of movement is limited to a short arc that won’t offer the full-body benefits of a more expensive rowing machine.
  • Water-resistance models are designed to mimic the experience of real rowing, using large water-filled tanks and internal paddles to create resistance. They're relatively quiet and often designed from wood and so are aesthetically fetching. The major disadvantage is cost – they’re rather expensive and offer less functionality than the top machines.
  • Magnetic is the final type of resistance used by rowing machines. Compared to the other varieties, these are extremely quiet and can be manually adjusted using a digital console or a slide lever, depending on the model. The disadvantage is that the magnetic resistance lacks the reactive and powerful resistance of air or water machines. Magnetic rowers’ simple, flat level of resistance can make it harder to achieve the all-round muscle gains of a more advanced rowing machine.

What else should I look out for?

Feedback and data are important to making progress in your fitness, and almost all rowers come with an LCD display that lets you know how far you’ve rowed and how quickly, with others giving you more advanced metrics, too. If all you want is a rower to give you a quick exercise fix, there’s no need to go for a model that provides extensive workout data.

As with most things, though, the more you spend, the more features you normally get. Some rowing machines include a USB port you can use to export data from your workout, and some support ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, enabling you to connect to a range of devices, including smartphone apps and heart-rate monitors.

Longevity and toughness may seem like a strange requirement for an indoor machine, but extensive use can take its toll on a rowing machine so it’s worth considering how heavy-duty the unit is. Hydraulic pistons, for instance, can begin to wear out. The Concept2 flywheel, by comparison, is fairly bombproof and many units from 30 years ago (the infamous Model B) are still in use.

The realism of the resistance is also important for more than just competitive rowers. Hydraulic and magnetic resistance may look superficially the same, but the unique benefit of rowing exercise relies on resistance changing according to the speed of the stroke. A flywheel or water chamber can generate that type of resistance, meaning that your arms and body are offered a dynamic workout just as much as your quads, whereas cheaper systems cannot.

A final advantage of that flywheel system is consistency across machines. You can jump on a top-end air or water resistance machine in any gym or health club in the world and pick up where you left off from your home workout.

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The best rowing machines to buy

1. JLL R200 Home Rowing Machine: The best budget rower

Price: £260 | Buy now from Amazon

This is the perfect rowing machine for anyone just starting out on a fitness kick, who doesn’t want to spend a lot of money or commit a vast amount of space in their home to the rower. The JLL R200 offers 10 levels of magnetic resistance to keep challenging you as you get fitter, and folds up into a tall position that makes it possible to store it out of the way in a cupboard.

It’s also a fairly quiet machine, since it uses magnetic resistance instead of air, and it has a clear display that shows stats during your workouts. While even the highest level of resistance might not be enough of a challenge for experienced rowers, beginner and intermediate users will get plenty of action out of the R200.

Key specs – Dimensions in use: 180 x 52 x 49cm (LWH); Dimensions while stored: 71 x 52 x 127cm (LWH); Weight limit: 100kg; Ant/Bluetooth support: No; USB workout upload: No; Warranty: One year

2. Domyos Essential 120 Rowing Machine: Best-value rowing machine

Price: £250 | Buy now from Decathlon

The Essential 120 from Domyos, one of Decathlon’s in-house brands, is perhaps the next step up from the JLL R200 featured above. At £250, it’s also pretty budget-friendly, while its 4kg flywheel makes for a smooth rowing experience. The small multi-function console can provide you with a range of stats from distance covered to stroke rate and calorie expenditure, and it’s also got a tablet holder in case you fancy watching some Netflix while you row.

It’s not the most feature-packed rowing machine but, alongside the R200, the Essential 120 is a decent budget rower.

Key specs – Dimensions: 184 x 65 x 51.5cm (in use), 72 x 52 x 125cm (while stored); Ant/Bluetooth support: No; USB workout upload: No; Warranty: Two years (parts and labour), five years (frame), spare parts available for 10 years

Buy now from Decathlon


3. Concept2 RowErg: Best for build quality

Price: £990 | Buy now from Argos

The Concept2 RowErg (formerly known as the Model D or E) is used by everyone, from at-home fitness aficionados to medal-winning Olympians, making it the best-selling rowing machine in the world. Crossfit games, World and National Indoor Rowing Championships, even Olympic rowing squad selections are all held on the RowErg. There’s a good reason behind it.

As well as its smooth action, comfy ergonomic handle, easily adjustable footrests and intuitive resistance settings, the Concept2’s Performance Monitor 5 (PM5) computer system offers simple metrics in an advanced and reliable way.

The RowErg’s PM5 has a backlit LCD display and gives you all the key metrics you need during a workout, including distance, speed, calories, power curve efficiency, and watts. Its USB flash drive port lets you export all your workouts to your computer, but for even more advanced metrics and analysis, you can sync to the ErgData smartphone app, which will interface with Strava and TrainingPeaks. It'll work with both ANT+ and Bluetooth heart-rate monitors, too.

At just over 2.4m, it’s a large machine, but the quick-release framelock mechanism means you can split the body and store the two halves upright. And you can still go larger, as Concept2 also offers the RowErg with tall legs (effectively mimicking the now-discontinued Model E) which raise the machine by six inches – great for those with mobility issues, or those who simply want a more impressive-looking machine.

The RowErg is popular for a reason, and worth every penny of the asking price if you’re serious about building power and fitness.

Key specs – Dimensions in use: 244 x 61 x 106.5cm; Dimensions while stored: 63.5 x 83.8 x 137.2cm; Weight limit: 227kg; ANT+/Bluetooth support: Both; USB workout upload: Yes; Warranty: Two years

Buy now from Argos


4. JTX Freedom Air Rower 2: The best rower for under £500

Price: £495 | Buy now from JTX Fitness

For most people, the JTX Freedom Air Rower 2 will be the ideal pick for a home rower. Not only does it offer the quality of a gym-standard machine for less, but it’s also self-powered, so you can use it anywhere inside or outside your home without having to worry about finding a convenient plug socket.

The machine has eight levels of resistance that are provided by a combination of air and magnetic means. This allows you to set a level of magnetic resistance and then row against the air resistance, which provides a natural feel and increases the harder you pull. You can also set up workout targets on the console to help you keep pushing during your training sessions.

Key specs – Dimensions in use: 230 x 88 x 55cm; Dimensions while stored: 130 x 157 x 55cm; Weight limit: 135kg; Ant/Bluetooth support: Yes; USB workout upload: No; Warranty: Two years

Buy now from JTX Fitness


5. Viavito Sumi Folding Rowing Machine: The best quiet rower

Price: £180 | Buy now from Sweatband

Whether you’re working out with music, in front of the TV or during unsociable hours, this Viavito machine is the one for you for the simple reason that it makes much less noise than other models. Of course, it’s not silent, but this magnetic resistance rower is one of the best for those seeking peace and quiet during their workout.

That's not its only appeal, either. Ten levels of magnetic resistance help you find the right intensity for your training, while its basic LCD screen lets you see important info such as distance, calories burned and stroke rate. The Viavito also boasts a handy fold-up design, although one downside is its lack of support for heart-rate monitors.

Key specs – Dimensions in use: 178 x 53 x 48cm; Dimensions while stored: 74 x 53 x 48cm; Weight limit: 120kg; Ant+/Bluetooth support: No; USB workout upload: No; Warranty: Two years

Buy now from Sweatband


6. Echelon Smart Rower: Best smart rowing machine

Price: £749 | Buy now from Argos

It’s simplistic to call this smart rower the Peloton of rowing machines, but that does quite neatly convey what it does. The rower links with the Echelon app, which you can view mid-row using a tablet mounted on the console, and that app is laden with live and on-demand instructor-led rowing workouts you can follow. There are more than 900 classes you can tackle on demand, plus a handful of live ones to join each day.

The classes are great for motivating you, especially when it comes to HIIT workouts, but if you're not in the mood for that you can also row on rivers in scenic locations through the Echelon app. You’ll also find non-rowing classes in the app, with options like yoga and meditation.

There are 32 levels of magnetic resistance on the machine, which you can change using buttons in the middle of the handle. It’s a great all-round package for people who want the extra motivation and camaraderie of classes during their rows, but you will be paying through the nose for it. The rower itself is expensive, and you also have to pay £39.99 a month to get access to the Echelon app, but since it used to be well over £1,000 it now offers pretty decent value should you be able to afford the monthly app payments.

Key specs – Dimensions in use: 215 x 52 x 111cm; Dimensions while stored: 101 x 52 x 154cm; Weight limit: 135kg; ANT+/Bluetooth support: Bluetooth; Warranty: One year

7. The WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine: The best water-resistance rower

Price: £1,049 | Buy now from John Lewis

If you want a rowing machine that marries expert performance with handcrafted design, this model from WaterRower could be the one for you. Made from solid ash and treated with Danish oil, you might recognise this machine as the one used by Frank Underwood in House of Cards. Its appeal isn’t just in the design, though – it performs like a high-end rower, too.

Thanks to the ingenious water-resistance flywheel, it’s the closest you'll get to real rowing without leaving the house. Like the Concept2, it has adjustable footrests and a nice grippy handle and, of course, there's the LCD display, which shows all the key metrics during your workout such as distance, stroke speed and watts.

The dolly wheels on the WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine are a nice touch, letting you easily wheel it away and store it vertically. Although the price tag is steep, the five-year frame and three-year parts warranty are testament to what a high-quality product you're getting.

Key specs – Dimensions in use: 209 x 57 x 51cm; Dimensions while stored: 51 x 57 x 207cm; Weight limit: 300kg; Ant+/Bluetooth support: ANT+; USB workout upload: No; Warranty: Three years parts, five years frame

Buy now from John Lewis


8. TechnoGym SkillRow: Best rowing machine if money is no object

Price: £3,850 | Buy now from TechnoGym

TechnoGym is a very new player in the world of rowing machines, but it is extremely eager to challenge the throne of Concept2.

With Bluetooth and ANT+ compatibility, the SkillRow can link up to a smartphone app and any third-party heart-rate monitors. The accompanying SkillRow app offers long-term form analysis, as well as multi-player interactivity and virtual race simulation. Like interactive spin classes, users can access structured group sessions, too.

The machine isn’t just geared solely to competitive rowers, though. It has simple adjustability that lets you switch resistance from a rowing simulation to a high-resistance power development setting. The SkillRow offers interactive coaching for rowing technique, too, because even the best machine is only as good as the user’s ability to use proper technique and maximise the workout.

For now, there’s no doubt that it’s a little too expensive for most users, but this is the first brand to really challenge the status quo and try to take indoor rowing to the next level.

Key specs – Dimensions in use: 244 x 63 x 128cm; Weight limit: 160kg; Ant+/Bluetooth support: Yes; Warranty: One year

Buy now from TechnoGym


9. Wolverson Air Rower: Best for comfort

Price: £595 | Buy now from Wolverson Fitness

Wolverson’s Air Rower is a powerful machine that comes in a few hundred pounds cheaper than the Concept2 models. But what’s the difference? Not much really, aside from Wolverson Fitness’ own version of the PM5 performance monitor – it’s not quite as in-depth as the Concept2 counterpart and you won’t be able to synch to a proprietary app, nor download workouts via a USB slot, but it does play nice with most external heart rate monitors using 5.3kHz technology, which is a little old-school now.

The machine itself is fantastic though, offering the same robust build quality as a RowErg, but with a more comfortable seat and an even larger screen, which makes up for the slight lack of connectivity. It’s also not the easiest thing to split and store either, but it has castors and can easily be upended and stored upright, with feet on the fan resistance unit to allow for this.

If it’s a no-fuss but supremely powerful rowing workout you are after, things don’t get much better than this.

Key specs – Dimensions in use: 248 x 62 x 112cm; Dimensions while stored: 248 x 62 x 112cm; Weight limit: 230kg; ANT+/Bluetooth support: 5.3kHz; USB workout upload: No; Warranty: Five years frame, Two years parts

Buy now from Wolverson Fitness


10. Hydrow Wave: Best for instructor-led workouts

Price: £1,395 | Buy now from Hydrow

It’s very easy to draw comparisons between this and Peloton products, simply because the offering is largely similar – a relatively standard piece of fitness equipment receives some swanky styling, a large interactive screen and on-demand workouts – but here your instructors are professional rowers, piloting real boats along real waterways as you merrily row along with them. What’s more, Hydrow offer a host of “off-machine” workouts that cover everything from core strength to pilates.

The rowing machine itself uses magnetic resistance, which doesn’t offer the most realistic rowing feel, though it provides enough challenge for even fairly advanced rowers. But more importantly, the magnetic resistance system is quiet, which can’t be said for the fan-operated opposition.

This Wave is a slightly smaller, more compact version of the classic Hydrow machine and, with the sold-separately anchor accessory, it’s able to stow upright and out of the way, making it perfect for smaller spaces. That said, it’s expensive, and you’ll have to fork out £38 per month to access the daily live workouts, 4,000+ on-demand sessions, and live leaderboards.

Key specs – Dimensions in use: 204 x 49 x 110cm (LWH); Dimensions while stored: 67 x 76 x 209cm (LWH); Weight limit: 170kg; ANT+/Bluetooth support: Both; USB workout upload: Vi app; Warranty: One year

Buy now from Hydrow


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