1. Expert reviews

Rowing machines: 3 models tested

Daniel Agerhult

Updated March 14, 2021

Rowing machines: 3 models tested

How we did the test

We carry out our tests ourselves and test all products as they are intended to be used in reality. Our test team consists of both elite and recreational athletes, and together they have evaluated over 100 exercise machines. We retain the models that perform well for longer-term testing, in many cases several years, and continuously add updates to the reviews.

In our assessment we have focused on the following areas:

  • Ease of use: How easy-to-use is the exercise computer? How well adapted is it to the rowing machine? Does the rowing machine suit both short and tall users? Is it easy to move? Can it be folded away? How clear is the user manual?

  • Quality and design: How well designed is the rowing machine? How much stress and wear should the construction tolerate? What type of resistance does the rowing machine have? How reliable is the measurement of heart rate, calories burned etc.? What guarantee does it have?

  • Functionality: Does the rowing machine support a wireless pulse strap?

  • Performance: How strong is the maximum resistance? How high is the maximum user weight? How powerful is the flywheel (for machines with magnetic resistance)?

We have scored each rowing machine according to its value for money; in other words how good it is, in each area, in relation to its price tag. We thus have higher expectations of an expensive product than a cheaper one, and vice versa.

1. Concept2 Model D - BEST CHOICE ROWING MACHINE 2021

First-class build quality, rowing movement and resistance

Price class: Elite Number of training programmes: 12 Maximum user weight: 225 kg Resistance type: Air Display: Type: LCD | Colour: Monochrome | Size: 4.3 ins Slide length: 99 cm Noise level: approx. 71 dB Length: 240 cm Width: 61 cm Height: 51 cm Weight: 29 kg Heart rate monitor: Yes Accessories: Pulse belt (Wireless) Guarantee: 2 Years Folding: Yes Video clip: Product demo User manual: PDF

Concept 2 Modell D

The Concept2 Model D is the little brother of the undisputed king of rowing machines, the Concept2 Model E. Although the performance of the two rowing machines doesn’t differ very much, the Model D is several hundred pounds cheaper. This makes the Model D much better value, which is why we’ve named it as best in test as well as best elite choice. Like the Model E, the Model D is something of a technical masterpiece, with superb build quality that can withstand long and enthusiastic use. The aluminium frame gives the Model D a very low machine weight and its generous length leaves plenty of space for both short and very tall rowers. The frame height is lower than on the Model E, but this doesn’t affect performance. As the frame is easily disassembled into two parts, the Model D is also easy to move and store.

Well-thought-out construction and advanced training computer

The Model D has a compact construction and is suitable for long workouts as well as tough, short intervals. The training computer is quite advanced and has all the programmes and functions a professional rower might need. More spartan, however, is the display, although at least it’s now been upgraded from a PM4 monitor to a PM5. This means that, among other things, it has backlighting and a wireless heart rate receiver.

With the upgrade, the training computer can save up to 1000 training sessions in memory, and it’s become much easier to link several rowing machines together, for example for competitions. In terms of size, the display is at the small end of things, but it’s still large enough to remain clear throughout the entire rowing movement. We strongly recommend that you spend time on achieving the right rowing technique in order to be as effective, and as gentle on your body, as possible. For example, we recommend this video here from Concept 2.

The Concept 2 Model D is primarily aimed at elite practitioners and everyday athletes who demand the highest quality and are willing to pay for it. It’s compact and suitable for long workouts as well as tough, short intervals and provides effective training for the whole body.

First-class rowing movementbuild quality and resistancesophisticated & intuitive training computerlow weight
Somewhat spartan display

Price Comparison

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Concept 2 Model D Indoor Rower with PM5 Monitor, Black

£1,242.70

2. FINNLO Aquon Evolution

Comfortable rowing machine with lots of training programmes

Price class: Premium Number of training programmes: 17 Maximum user weight: 130 kg Resistance type: Air & magnet Display type: Backlit LCD Display size: 5.5 ins Slide length: 98 cm Noise level: 58 dB Length: 240 cm Width: 50 cm Height: 107 cm Weight: 45 kg Heart rate monitor: Yes (option) Accessories: No Guarantee: 3 years Folding: Yes Comment: Not quite the same quality as the Concept machines, and not as reliable in terms of training computer. Nicer seat than the TP340, so gets a higher score. User manual: PDF

Finnlo Aquon Evolution

The FINNLO Aquon Evolution is a premium class rowing machine designed to give the user an effective and pleasant workout. The design is modern and the resistance is provided by a combination of air and magnetism. This allows for a stronger resistance than air or magnet can provide separately, so the Aquon Evolution delivers a really tough workout. The training computer is relatively advanced for a rowing machine and supports four user profiles and a full 17 training programmes. In addition, the training computer supports pulse measurement, although the heart rate belt isn’t included and must be purchased separately. The colour display is pleasant, backlit, relatively large and easy to see during the entire rowing movement.

The Aquon Evolution has a solid build quality with a long aluminium frame, and the seat slides frictionlessly at every stroke. This allows for long, smooth strokes that feel very good. The model also stands out by being equipped with a really comfortable seat. On the other hand, the handles are slightly narrower than normal, which limits the choice of grip to some extent. The manual is fine, and has clear assembly and user instructions as well as plenty of illustrations. The rowing machine is easy to fold up, and thanks to transport wheels it’s also easy to move. The FINNLO Aquon Evolution is aimed at people who are looking for comfortable but tough training.

Colour displaycomfortable seatlots of training programmes
Narrow handles

3. FINNLO Aquon Waterflow

Exclusive elite model with water resistance and retro design

Price class: Elite Number of training programmes: 1 Maximum user weight: 150 kg Resistance type: Water Display type: LCD Display size: 4.2 ins Slide length: 85 cm Noise level: 62 dB Length: 205 cm Width: 50 cm Height: 60 cm Weight: 42 kg Heart rate monitor: Yes (option) Accessories: No Guarantee: 3 Years Folding: No Comment: See First degree...

Finnlo Aquon Waterflow

The FINNLO Aquon Waterflow is an elite-class rowing machine designed to give the user a comfortable, ergonomic workout. The design is retro and appealing. Unlike many other models, this one wouldn’t look out of place in a living room. It’s also easy to stand upright, which means it doesn’t take up much space. It has an usual water resistance that produces an almost meditative sound with every stroke of the oars. You attach your feet to two non-slip foot plates that are easily adjusted up and down, which is the only setting you need to make before starting your workout.

The Aquon Waterflow is well built, with a good choice of materials and high quality components throughout. All of which is clear from the price tag. The machine has a black lacquered steel frame with a really good slide length, and it offers a long rope which means it’s even suitable for people over two metres tall. In addition to the fact that the rowing stroke is excellent, the seat also stands out as the best one we’ve tested. The Aquon's computer provides you with the most common training information, but only includes one training programme. The measured speed is about half that of an air resistance machine for the same effort, but you have to get used to this if you’re making the switch from air resistance. There isn’t a backlit display, which makes it impossible to follow your training in a dimly lit room. The FINNLO Aquon Waterflow is aimed at people who are happy to pay extra for top-class quality, design and comfort.

Slide lengthexclusive designexcellent seatcomforting sound
Mediocre training computerexpensiveno backlit display

Everything you need to know about Rowing machines

Rowing machines are an increasingly popular item of exercise equipment that effectively activate all major muscle groups in the body. Rowing strengthens both your heart and lungs and is very energy-intensive, burning a lot of calories. So a rowing machine isn’t just an excellent training machine for those who want to build muscle, it’s also ideal if you want to lose weight. Rowing machines also offer fantastic cardio training, which means that many people now have one at home instead of a treadmill, because they generally have a lower price tag and take up less space. The rowing movement is also unique and enables a tough workout that’s simultaneously kind on joints and knees.

A rowing machine is often part of a home gym together with one or more other exercise machines and/or equipment such as dumbbells and barbells. However, it also works really well by itself and many people prefer a rowing machine to other exercise machines such as cross-trainers, exercise bikes and treadmills. Not least because a rowing machine works more muscle groups than those other machines and is also relatively inexpensive.

The best choice for you

We’ve tested the most popular and best rowing machines currently on the market. To decide which rowing machine is best for your needs, you need to first ask yourself a few basic questions:

  • How often will I use the rowing machine?
  • How much can I afford to spend on a rowing machine?
  • Will the rowing machine have several different users?
  • What do I expect from the rowing machine in terms of performance and functionality?

Once you've answered these questions, you’ll know approximately how much you can spend and what your requirements are. This is important, as the price varies greatly depending on the rowing machine's build quality, functionality, design, brand etc. We’ve divided rowing machines into four different price ranges as follows:

Budget: up to £400
Medium: £400-700
Premium: £700-1,000
Elite: over £1,000

The "budget" class is characterised by simpler, lighter and less robust rowing machines. Sometimes these offer a hydraulic or rubber band resistance. The "medium" class is characterised by more solid constructions, usually offering magnetic resistance. The "premium" class is characterised by more lavish and well-built rowing machines, often using air resistance or a combination of air and magnetic resistance. The "elite" class is the very top, where the rowing machine performance should be sufficient for the likes of Olympic athletes. We’ve scored each model according to value for money, so the score reflects how much machine we think you get for your money. A high price therefore also means higher expectations in terms of performance, functionality etc.

Important features on a rowing machine

User weight

This characteristic is particularly important for people who weigh over 120 kg, as a rowing machine is usually fine up to this weight. If you’re severely overweight, we think you should consider buying a crosstrainer as that’s probably the best exercise machine for people who are overweight. If you’re very heavy because you have a lot of muscle mass, however, you should consider buying a rowing machine that can handle your weight. In general, one rule applies to all exercise machines: the more expensive the machine, the higher the user weight it will be able to handle.

Build quality

Build quality is a very important feature for all training machines, including rowing machines. A robust rowing machine can generally handle a heavier load than a less robust model, and it should also have a longer service life. Build quality becomes particularly important if the machine is used often, or if it is used by strong people with a heavy resistance. Of course, the higher the build quality, the greater the price and the heavier the machine. But if you can afford it, that’s the best way to go.

Design

The design of a rowing machine shouldn’t normally affect the functionality, but it does have an aesthetic role to play. If a rowing machine has a stylish design that blends into its surroundings, that can be pretty important, especially if the machine is large and can’t be hidden away between workouts.

Display

A good rowing machine should have a clear, user-friendly display, preferably with visualisation of parameters such as time, speed, distance, calorie consumption and number of strokes.

Guarantee

Most people who buy a rowing machine spend at least a few hundred pounds on it, which is not an insignificant amount for you as a buyer. So you want to be able to use your exercise machine a fair amount without it breaking. This means a good guarantee is important. Even cheap rowing machines often have fairly generous guarantee periods, but as a consumer you need to remember that in the event of a complaint, you normally pay the transport cost for any return. This cost can be high in relation to what the rowing machine itself cost if you bought a very cheap model.

Noise level

It is inevitable that a rowing machine will make some noise during use, not least because the flywheel gets a push on each stroke. However, some rowing machines are noisier than others. Many people train in front of the TV, so it’s important that the sound from the TV isn’t drowned out by your rowing machine.

Machine weight

Although rowing machines are amongst the lightest exercise machines, the weight still varies a lot between different models. Usually, the more expensive, more robust models weigh more than cheaper rowing machines. In other words, the machine weight is often in proportion to the robustness of the machine but also to the maximum user weight. This is because a solid and well-built exercise machine can withstand a greater load than a lighter model. Although it’s obviously more difficult to move a model that weighs twice as much as another, it’s usually relatively easy to move rowing machines as they typically weigh less than 40 kg.

Mobility

Rowing machines are relatively light training machines and most budget and medium class models today can be folded and have transport wheels. How easy a machine is to fold and transport varies between models. However, it’s far from true that all machines are movable. Premium models often lack transport wheels and can’t be folded either. These aren't really intended to be moved around. On the contrary, premium rowing machines are often bolted to the floor to ensure stability. As a rowing machine in the premium class is normally more permanently located in a gym (or home gym), the need to move it around is probably small.

Assembly & manual

Assembling a rowing machine is usually a relatively uncomplicated operation. If the assembly is more complicated, however, then the user manual needs to be up to the job. The manual must be sufficiently detailed and clear, not only about the assembly but also about how to use the training computer and how to service and maintain the rowing machine. Unfortunately, many manuals fall short on these points, even those that come with the more expensive models. Something we feel should be standard today is for manuals to also come in digital format, for example as a PDF. This is because it’s so much easier to save a small data file on your computer than it is to store and keep track of an often bulky paper manual.

Resistance

There are three different types of energy dampers to provide resistance on rowing machines, but two of these are often combined for maximum functionality.

Magnetic resistance

A magnetic resistance uses electromagnetism to mechanically brake the flywheel. Magnetic resistance is the quietest type of resistance as no physical contact occurs during braking. The strength of the resistance is adjustable and energy consumption can be measured fairly accurately. The weak point of magnetic resistance, however, is that the resistance is constant. In real rowing, the resistance varies depending on how hard you row, i.e. if you pull hard, the water also gives hard resistance – and vice versa. For this reason, magnetic resistance is often combined with air resistance, to provide a more realistic, varying resistance.

Air resistance

Air resistance is generated by fan-like rotor blades on a flywheel. The faster the flywheel spins, the stronger the air resistance. An air hole is sometimes used to adjust the air flow to the rotor blades and thus to vary the resistance. Air resistance also enables fairly accurate measurement of energy consumption.

Water resistance

Water resistance works in much the same way as air resistance but obviously it uses water instead of air to generate the resistance. Water resistance is considered by its proponents to be the type of resistance that best mimics real rowing. At the same time, this type of resistance is more expensive than air resistance, and is therefore much less common.

Price

Of course, price is an important factor when you’re choosing training equipment and although the price range isn’t quite as wide as for treadmills or cross trainers, the more expensive and cheaper models do still differ considerably in price. The cheapest rowing machines cost about £300, while the most expensive ones for home use can cost in the region of £1,000.

If you've read this test and want to know more about cheap rowing machines, we recommend Pricerunner's guide to cheap rowing machines.

Frame

The frame is the metal structure on which the rowing machine is built and upon which the seat sits. On rowing machines with a mobile seat, the seated user slides back and forth during training. The frame is normally made of steel or aluminium and durability is therefore usually very good. Instead, it’s the length of the frame and the friction against the seat that can be decisive when it comes to making a choice. The longer the frame, the further the seat can normally slide forward. The seat has to be able to slide far enough to enable a sufficiently long rowing movement. The taller the user, the longer the rowing movement required, which means the frame must be long enough too. So the length of frame is the most important thing for tall users. The friction between frame and seat determines how easily the seat slides over the frame. Minimal friction not only leads to lower noise and lower resistance, it also means minimal wear on the frame and seat. So you really want minimal friction between frame and seat.

Size

If yours is a crowded home, with limited room for exercise equipment, you probably won’t want it to take up too much space. Unlike, for example, a crosstrainer or a treadmill, the various models of rowing machines don’t differ very much in size. What can differ significantly, however, is how easy the rowing machine is to fold and move, i.e. the mobility of the exercise machine (assuming it’s actually possible to move it at all). Mobility can therefore be an important feature to take into account if you want to maximise your space by folding and moving the rowing machine when not in use. If, on the other hand, you have plenty of space, the size of the rowing machine is often of less interest.

Flywheel

Rowing machines with a magnetic brake (which today means most rowing machines) have a flywheel as part of that braking mechanism. The flywheel is surrounded by magnets that slow it down, creating the resistance that makes rowing strenuous. To get good resistance, the flywheel needs to be heavy enough. So you can follow the rule of thumb: "the heavier the flywheel, the better".

Training computer

A good rowing machine should also have a good training computer with enough different training programmes to provide varied and enjoyable training. In addition to pre-programmed training, the training computer should also be able to measure certain parameters such as time, speed, distance, calorie consumption and number of strokes.

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