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Best rowing machine 2021: The best air, magnetic and smart rowers for a full body workout this Black Friday

Peter Stuart
22 Nov 2021

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 £250 off the Echelon Smart Rower for Black Friday

Want to bring statistics and on-demand instructor-led workouts into your rowing routine? The Echelon Smart Rower might be for you - especially at this huge Black Friday discount of £250. With more than 900 classes on-demand, plus occasional live ones, and 32 levels of magnetic resistance on the machine itself, our favourite smart-rowing machine will help maximise your fitness levels. Read more in our mini-review below.
Amazon
Was £1,199
Now £949

Save £10 on the JLL R200 Home Rowing Machine during the Black Friday sales

Our choice budget rower is now even cheaper for Black Friday with £10 off. The JLL R200 Home Rowing Machine has 10 levels of magnetic resistance to keep you fit and fighting this Winter season, as well as being able to fold up into a tall position that is perfect for cupboard storage.
Amazon
Was £250
Now £240

Almost 20% off the JTX Freedom Air Rower 2 this Black Friday

In our mini-review below, we marked the JTX Freedom Air Rower 2 as our favourite rowing machine for under £400. Self-powered, with eight levels of resistance, this is gym quality in the comfort of your home. Now, you can get £86 off its regular retail price to make the Air Rower 2 an even more palatable buy this Black Friday.
JTX Fitness
Was £495
Now £409

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 Concept 2 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: £250 | 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 500 Rowing Machine: Best-value rowing machine

Price: £400 | Buy now from Decathlon


Decathlon has good form for making reasonably priced exercise machines, pumping out treadmills, exercise bikes and all manner of weights benches under the Domyos brand. The Domyos 500 rowing machine showcases that expertise. It uses a 7kg flywheel alongside magnetic resistance to offer a smooth rowing motion and a heavier load than most magnetic machines.

The multi-functional LCD display offers nine training programs and seven metrics, including speed, stroke rate and heart-rate. A heart-rate monitor is also included with the machine – a surprising bonus. However, there is also a mount for a tablet or smartphone, which can be linked up via Bluetooth for connectivity with training apps such as E Connected or Kinomap.

It’s easily assembled and easily stored. Although it won’t offer the feel or level of resistance of a full-size air-resistance machine, it is a fantastic offering for general fitness at this price. For fewer features, but a cheaper price, the Domyos 120 may also prove tempting.

Key specs – Dimensions in use: 184 x 65 x 51.5cm; Ant/Bluetooth support: Yes; USB workout upload: No; Warranty: Two years

Buy now from Decathlon


3. Concept 2 Model D: The best rowing machine you can buy

Price: £995 | Buy now from Best Gym Equipment

The Concept 2 Model D 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 and even Olympic rowing squad selections are all held on the Concept 2 Model D or E. There’s a good reason behind it.

As well as its smooth action, comfy ergonomic handle, easily adjustable footrests and intuitive resistance settings, the Concept 2’s Performance Monitor 5 (PM5) computer system offers simple metrics in an advanced and reliable way.

The Model D's PM5 with has a backlit LCD display. It 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 more advanced metrics and analysis, you can sync it to the ErgData smartphone app, which interfaces with Strava and TrainingPeaks. It'll work with both ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart heart-rate monitors, too.

At just over 2.4m, the Model D is a large machine, but the quick-release framelock mechanism means you can split the body and store the two halves upright. It lacks a few of the impressive finishing touches of Concept 2’s flagship Model E, but the core functionality and physical experience is completely identical, making it tough for most consumers to justify the extra £200.

It’s popular for a reason, and worth every penny of the asking price if you’re very serious about building power and fitness.

Key specs – Dimensions in use: 244 x 61 x 63cm; 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 Best Gym Equipment


4. JTX Freedom Air Rower 2: The best rower for under £400

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: £200 | 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: £1,199 | Buy now from Amazon

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 very expensive, and you also have to pay £39.99 a month to get access to the Echelon app.

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 WaterRower

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 Concept 2, 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


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

Price: £3,490 | 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