7 Best Rowing Machines in 2022, From the Hydrow Wave to the Concept 2
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We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The best rowing machines are the gym’s most underrated piece of fitness equipment. Seriously, rowing is a full-body workout that cooks your core, works under-appreciated muscle groups like your hamstrings, and burns your lungs. But it’s also low-impact, meaning it’s a great cardio workout for young bucks and the washed alike—and definitely worth adding to your home gym or living room.
Yes, rowers may look bulky and clunky, but thankfully they don’t take up as much space as you might think. A new wave of innovative companies has made huge strides in making these semi-portable, ergonomic, and handsome enough that you might not even feel the need to stow it away when you’ve got company. And while the best rowing machines are a bigger investment than, say, running shoes or some free weights, once you drop that initial cash you might be able to skip the gym membership. Just you and the silent whirr of modern design.
And Milan Kamphuis, the deputy program director at Top Row New York, explains that a workout on a rowing machine can actually be more worthwhile than hopping in a boat. “There’s a reason a lot of rowers use these machines, because it’s a much more effective way to get fitness in. You can see your numbers and the power you put in, whereas with the boat, you can feel it but you can’t see it.” It’s also an all-season kind of rowing experience that isn’t dictated by the weather. “Every program for schools and college has rowers on these seven days a week during the winter time,” he adds.
The Best Rowing Machines, At a Glance
And if you want to jump right to the good stuff, here’s our assessment of the best rowers out there:
- The Best Rowing Machine for Most People: Hydrow Wave, $1,695
- The Best Rowing Machine for Most Dedicated Rowers: Concept 2, $990
- The Best Stylish Rowing Machine: Ergatta, $2,499
- The Best Hardcore Rowing Machine: RP3 Model T, $2,369
What to Look for in an Indoor Rowing Machine
One of the biggest factors when shopping for an indoor rower, besides the price tag, is the square footage your indoor rowing machine will take up in your space. Kamphuis warns against caving on a cheap foldable machine, as he explains that the most high-quality rowers ones will be sturdier machines that can help simulate the feel of being out on the water. Plus, he notes that for under $1,000, a solid model like the Concept 2 comes apart in two pieces to pack away (while others, like the Ergatta, can stack up against the wall when they’re not in use).
If a quiet ride is a high priority, a magnetic rower that nixes all the sloshing from a water tank (like water rowers) is your best bet. From there, you can pick and choose what other features you’re looking for in your rower, depending on your experience level, and how close you want your rower to approximate the real deal of muscling it out on the water. Any opportunities to adjust the levels of resistance, or drag factor, are ideal for variation, Kamphuis says. And while any of these rowers will give you a killer workout, some are more equipped for comfort with cushy seats and wide handlebars.
More high-tech variations of rowers will come with Bluetooth, WiFi, LCD touchscreen displays, and the opportunities to row along to live workouts or sync up to other machines. Others will display advanced stats like your power curve (how you apply force during a stroke), give you the opportunity to gamify your experience by racing to the finish along with real or simulated regattas, and sync up to apps to help optimize your performance.
Below, we’ve tapped Kamphuis for his top picks on the best rowing machines out there, and hand-selected some of our favorites as well.
The Best Rowing Machine for Most People: Hydrow Wave
The GQ Fitness Award-winning Hydrow Wave is the next gen of the brand’s rowing simulators that packages all of the things you might love about the original Hydrow rower in a smaller body. Founded by rowing champion and U.S. National Team coach Bruce Smith, the brand works with elite rowers around the world to screen live workouts every day from locations like Boston or all the way out in Bergen, Norway so you can fake a real rowing experience.
Unlike other machines that use a water barrel to drum up water resistance, this one uses magnetic resistance technology to simulate the drag of an oar, and wide handlebars for comfortably gripping as you pull. This model is slimmer and lighter than its predecessor for easy storage, and includes the same digital membership so you can cue up live classes as you workout. It’s a heavy duty, commercial gym-worthy rowing machine complete with a bright-ass 16″ HD screen, and a recurring monthly fee gets you constantly updating workouts. The native programming is stacked with 4,000 workouts in the app, including rowing 101 with Olympians like Aquil Abdullah and even pilates and yoga if you’re slowing it down between rowing workouts.
“If you don’t have access to a boat but still want the experience of rowing, the Hydrow is the closest you can get to being out on the water,” Kamphuis says. Though he hasn’t tested it first-hand, he notes that the Hydrow has a reputation within the rowing community for feeling similar to the Concept 2 below, which is popular with dedicated rowers. Still, it won’t get you anywhere close to the sensation or stats of an RP3 (which is the gold standard for rowing machines, he tells us). One other sweet perk: Hydrow just rolled out the Wave in a handful of splashy colors ahead of the holidays if you’d prefer to get your erg on in a forest green model, or a high-vis yellow or orange.
The Best Rowing Machine for Most Rowers: Concept 2 RowErg
You maybe have noticed that hardcore rowers tend to refer to these machines as an “erg.” This bare-bones setup is what they have in mind, and it’s really all you need in a rowing machine even if you’re not training for the Head of the Charles. No video screen, no subscription required—just a serious workout. Kamphuis notes that when it comes to a machine that actual off-duty rowers use on their days outside the water, it’s a Concept 2.
“Every university, high school rowing club, and gym has those machines,” he says. With a price point under $1,000, they’re more accessible than a lot of pricier new models (like the Ergatta and the Peloton Row), but don’t skimp on functionality. It gives you a lot of data, and it’s one of the most dynamic-feeling rowers out there, Kamphuis says. One thing the Concept 2 won’t offer is some of the more high-design features of the Hydrow Wave, like the live rowing classes streamed to your machine, that’ll give you the sensation of being out on the water even if you’ve never rowed before. It’s why we’d recommend the Hydrow for someone who wants the full suite of experiences, from on-demand videos to a quiet, space-saving design.
The Best Stylish Rowing Machine: Ergatta
There’s a reason everyone, including us, raves about the Ergatta rower. It’s a beautiful machine and the overall experience is centered on the athlete. Rather than simply prescribe workouts or offer classes, the Ergatta’s calibration system tailors workouts specifically to your fitness level (sorta like a personal trainer), so they’ll grow with you as you level up over time.
With its handsome cherry wood body, it looks a helluva lot more sleek than a hulking metal indoor rower, plus it stows away vertically when it’s not in use. But with a price that’s even more steep than the RP3 T below, an Olympic-caliber machine, you’re really paying for looks and design over actual game-changing features. It also uses a traditional water tank to dial up the water resistance similar to an actual oar moving through the waves, which can be a lot louder than a magnetic rower like the Hydrow Wave. It’s a solid, lightweight machine, though, with a cool gaming component that’ll help your morning workouts feel a little more enjoyable. (If you’re a cyclist who loves the gamification of Zwift, you’ll love the virtual regattas on Ergatta.) And if you’re still unsure, the machine comes with a 30-day trial period so you can test it out in your home and get a feel for it.
The Best Hardcore Rowing Machine: RP3 Original
“The best of the best, if you’re looking for one that the Olympic teams and elite Ivy League schools are training on, is the RP3,” Kamphuis says. That’s because the RP3 actually moves underneath you for a unique boat-like sensation, he explains, that really simulates the experience of being out on the water. It combines an aluminum body with a dynamic wobble seat and a tablet or phone monitor that connects to the RP3’s free app to pull up your stats. Kamphuis calls out the fact that the RP3 feeds you a lot more metrics and live feedback than the average machine on your dig force, joules, and your power curve—not only your watts or speed—which is ideal if you’re trying to maximize your performance.
If you’re training with a team, you can also connect one RP3 to another to pull up the power curve of your teammate, which can help you optimize your technique. The RP3 can be used in dynamic or static mode, which allows rowers to have more flexibility with how they train, and the machine itself is designed to help improve a rower’s posture and go easy on the body during training, which can help prevent any injuries down the line. It’s a hefty investment for the average rower, and probably overkill for anyone who wants a basic machine, but a really bang-up machine for serious rowers.
3 Other Rowing Machines We Like
This budget rowing machine, which mimics the looks of an Ergatta at a much less scary price point, is the perfect way to test your mettle without making a massive investment. It’s not as high-tech as the other smart rowers on this list, but it’s a user-friendly, compact model that gets the job done with a Bluetooth monitor to chart your stats. It’s our top pick for the best budget rower in the $500 range, but we’d suggest throwing a little more money in on the Concept 2 if you want to work out like a serious rower.
This year, the fitness junkies over at Peloton branched out into the rowing space with the launch of the Peloton Row. It’s got a sleek, compact frame at just 8′ x 2′, and magnetic resistance that allows you to get a sweat session in without waking up your partner. It also dials in on metrics that help you improve your form and stroke rate, with a padded seat to help you stay planted for a while without your glutes going numb. The swiveling touchscreen is a nice feature that the Hydrow Wave doesn’t have, and it borrows from the folks at Hydrow with some scenic features that make it look like you’re out on the water in pretty, far-flung locales. If you want the experience of working out with actual rowing experts versus Peloton instructors, we’d still recommend the Hydrow Wave over the Peloton. But for Peloton devotees, the siren song of a new Peloton machine that can help them gamify their rowing workouts (and build a community with other Peloton folks on the leaderboard) might be too compelling to resist.
If you love the Assault Bikes you’ll find in every CrossFit gym in America, here’s the rower for you. Made by the same company, the massively overbuilt AssaultRower will fit in nicely next to your squat rack, kettlebells, and TRX straps. Unlike the other picks on this list, the Elite is an air rower model, meaning it produces resistance using air flowing over an internal flywheel. It’s all powered by you, so the harder you row, the faster the flywheel spins, dialing up the resistance in the process. It’s a great way to self-regulate your workouts, but isn’t quite as dynamic an experience as some of the other picks on this list that offer classes and magnetic drag resistance. The monitor displays basic stats, but won’t stream any classes or scenery as you whir away.
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