Built by rowers for rowers, this machine is used by professional athletes and amateurs alike thanks to its ease of use and build quality
- Very durable
- Adjustable air resistance
- Folds for storage
- Lacks digital integration
- Not as attractive as some rivals
The Concept2 RowErg, formerly known as the Model D (or Model E if you had the tall leg version), is a common sight in gyms and training facilities the world over. Renowned for its robust build quality and potentially punishing levels of rowing resistance, the RowErg is “made by rowers, for rowers”, and it’s also one of the best rowing machines for the average gym-goer and fitness enthusiast.
Although it may look a little dated, the performance monitor found on the latest RowErg has been updated so it now connects via Bluetooth to a variety of apps, including virtual training platforms like Regatta (it’s basically Peloton on rowing machines) and the pounding rhythmical training of Club Row.
In fact, as incongruous as it sounds, it’s even possible to connect the Concept2 RowErg to Zwift and use your rowing power to propel an on-screen bicycle around the course. With the RowErg, classic rowing machine styling meets modern indoor training.
Concept2 RowErg Review: What do you get for the money?
The Concept2 RowErg is what’s known as an air rower. The handle pulls a chain that’s connected to a finned flywheel, and the harder you work, the harder it becomes to overcome the air resistance of the fins.
The design also does a good job of replicating the progressive “pulling” sensation you’ll find when rowing on water, and although it’s a noisy option it generally feels more realistic than rowers which use magnetic flywheel resistance.
The RowErg has a standard seat height of 14-inches (36cm), although a taller version that adds 6 inches (15cm) to the seat height is also available. Some larger users prefer this set-up, while anyone with mobility issues might benefit from a lower rower.
In terms of price, the Concept2 costs £990 – that’s at the pricier end of the spectrum but is nowhere near as expensive as some rivals. For example, Life Fitness charges in excess of £3,000 for its stylish Heat Rower, complete with 100 resistance levels, while you’ll need over £4,000 for Technogym’s technically accomplished Skillrow.
One fresh alternative on the market is Hydrow. This offers a Peloton-style home workout experience with real instructors via its latest Wave model for £1,395 plus a monthly subscription. The only downside is that some reviewers have complained that the rowing experience isn’t particularly lifelike.
By comparison, the Concept2 RowErg still feels like good value, especially given its track record for reliability and the wide availability of replacement parts. This is a machine that’s built to last – and built to be repairable.
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Concept2 RowErg Review: How easy is it to use?
The act of indoor rowing is simple to learn but can take years to master. For most, it’s all about perfecting stroke and technique – and this is the machine that some of the best athletes on the planet have used to do just that.
A lack of digital display makes on-screen tuition difficult, however, and we found alternatives such as Hydrow to be more rewarding for complete novices. In truth, you may be better served by YouTube tutorials than Concept2’s own ErgData app.
But when it comes to simplicity, things don’t really get easier than the RowErg itself. It’s merely a case of sitting comfortably, strapping those feet in, selecting from the 10 damper settings to fine-tune the resistance and grabbing the handle. The PM5 Performance Monitor that comes as standard with all RowErg models then takes care of crunching all the data.
Select Just Row if you fancy, erm, just rowing, or opt to select from a number of inbuilt workouts. Most of these revolve around distance, but you can equally dial up the intensity and set up your own based on wattage output, calories burned and much more either via the ErgData app or on the screen directly.
The great thing here is that the monitor only requires two D cell batteries – there’s no need for a nearby mains socket. During your workout, the monitor draws power from the spinning flywheel to extend battery life.
A new addition to the RowErg is an integrated device holder that sits beneath the PM5 monitor and can house anything from a small smartphone to a large iPad Pro tablet thanks to its easily adjustable mechanism.
What’s more, the Performance Monitor can connect via Bluetooth to any app that can then take power, pace, stroke rate and calorie burn data from the machine and translate that into a virtual environment – be it an online class with live instructor, a virtual row on digital water or chasing high scores on a live leaderboard. Simply find the third party app on your smartphone or tablet that works best for you.
This becomes an even more powerful training tool when you throw an external heart rate monitor into the mix, which you’ll have to do seeing as there’s no heart rate monitoring built into this machine.
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Concept2 RowErg Review: How effective is it?
There have been numerous studies that have proved the effectiveness of indoor rowing machines, with a 2015 study finding that rowing five days a week for six weeks led to a significant decrease in fat mass and total body fat percentage of its 24 visually impaired participants.
Additionally, the participants’ cholesterol levels decreased and their back strength and trunk flexion increased significantly.
So what makes it such a good form of exercise? It’s a heady mix of strength and cardio training that is said to use up to 86 per cent of the muscles in the body. What’s more, it is low impact, so it’s much easier on the joints than running.
What makes the Concept2 RowErg so effective is that its design provides a wide range of resistance levels without the synthetic feel of magnetic resistance systems, such as those found on indoor cycling trainers or turbos. These are fine for simulating a steep hill or gear changes, but simply making it harder to pull on the handle doesn’t offer the same fluid feeling found in flywheel-based machines such as the Concept2.
One alternative is the WaterRower, a design which spins a paddle in real water to create resistance, but there are some question marks over the system’s long-term robustness compared to the simple engineering found in Concept2 products.
Concept2 RowErg Review: Is there anything we don’t like?
It’s not the most compact rower on the market. Even when split in two, which doesn’t require any tools but is still an absolute faff, the unit weighs 26kg and measures 63.5cm x 83.8cm x 137.2cm.
Once it’s unfolded for use, Concept2 recommends that you have a space measuring 122cm wide and 274cm long to use it safely – a large chunk of most household living areas or dedicated home gyms.
If you do have to move it around, then the castor wheels on the heavier flywheel section make wheeling it around while fully assembled a little easier.
Secondly, there’s the noise. The rush of air across the flywheel’s fins causes quite a racket, and when you pair it with the seat sliding along the monorail and the chain moving backward and forward with each stroke, those with thin walls or ceilings may need to think twice before embarking on a workout.
Finally, we aren’t overly enamoured with Concept2’s digital offering, as the ErgData app looks and feels a bit basic when compared to some rivals. It’s great for poring over interval and split data, as well as geeking out on pace and stroke graphs, but it lacks the gamification that many home workout fans are now used to thanks to Zwift, Hydrow, Peloton and rivals.
That said, it’s easy enough to find a third party app that offers something to keep you smitten with the rowing machine, just be aware that some will require an additional monthly membership.
Concept2 RowErg Review: Should you buy one?
The Concept2 name is synonymous with indoor rowing and it’s easy to see why: the machines are built like tanks and feature the sort of build quality that can withstand daily abuse in a commercial gym and overzealous professional athletes alike.
As a home workout concept, it’s certainly not the sexiest, but it is a mightily effective exercise tool and the improvements to the PM5 Performance Monitor mean it now plays nicely with numerous third party apps, which buoys the appeal for those not deep into a training programme or sporting the tenacity of a pro athlete.
It’s also priced keenly for something that is built this well. If you’ve got the space (and/or a forgiving family) the Concept2 RowErg offers a beguiling mix of strength and cardio training that’s hard to find elsewhere.