Whether you’re building out an in-house gym or want a single device to facilitate exercise at home, you may consider an indoor rower (also known as a rowing machine or “ergometer”). These machines are more than a means of training crew team members to take to the water—with good form and some practice, rowing is one of the best methods for getting a cardio workout.
We tried out all the top contenders, including rowers from Hydrow, Echelon, Ergatta, Concept2, and Sunny. After several months of testing, we think the best option for most people is the NordicTrack RW-900 (available at NordicTrack), thanks to its high-quality design and incredible fitness programming. We also have recommendations if you want to spend less, or you’re ready to make a splurge.
Here are the best rowing machines we tested ranked, in order:
- NordicTrack RW 900
- Concept2 RowErg
- Proform R10
- Echelon Row-S
- Stamina ATS Air Row
- Sunny SF-RW5515
The NordicTrack RW 900 was my favorite rower of all the ones I tested, and the one that I think is the best option for most people. Its electromagnetic flywheel provides 26 levels of resistance and its 22-inch touchscreen broadcasts trainer-led classes in studios or on open water all over the world.
The RW 900’s handle has a fantastic grip held by a woven strap that felt secure in every workout I tried, even ones when I got extra sweaty. I found it easy to change the resistance, which you can do manually by swiping the screen or using the “follow the trainer” feature, which makes the machine auto-adjust to whatever resistance the instructor is using.
As for the classes, I loved every single one I took. NordicTrack’s workout app, iFit, offers seemingly limitless streaming options, from in-studio bootcamp sessions in which you get on and off the rower to long rows out on open water in far-flung locations like Lake Bled in Slovenia and the Kafue River in Zambia. There are also a lot of instructors, so you can poke around the offerings and choose whether you want to take classes with high-energy trainers or ones who keep the commentary to a minimum (iFit doesn’t list this in the class description, but you’ll figure it out quickly enough on your own).
If you want to row to music in addition to trainer guidance, you can select from stations divided by genre, from rock to pop to old-school hip-hop (though, annoyingly, you can’t skip a song if you don’t like it, you can only change the station). Finally, if you decide you don’t want to take a guided class (or don’t want to pay for the iFit membership), you can use the manual row setting. In either case, the same basic stats are displayed: Distance in meters, strokes per minute, split time per 500 meters, total time or time remaining in the workout, and a calorie burn estimate.
You can choose to assemble the rower yourself or spring for “white-glove” assembly for an extra fee. I had it assembled—which was easy to schedule and done quickly—but reviewers say it’s not too difficult to do on your own. Once put together, the RW 900 measures 86.5 inches long (just over 7 feet), 22 inches wide, and 50.4 inches tall—it’s taller but about as long as the rest of the rowers. It also folds up vertically when not in use, which puts the length measurements at about 42 inches and height measurement at about 41 inches—about the size of a medium bookshelf. It feels sturdy and well-constructed, so I was shocked when I checked its user weight limit—just 250 pounds, one of the lowest we tested. NordicTrack does not list a height limit to use the rower.
A subscription to iFit is included for the first year, and costs an additional monthly or yearly fee thereafter. No-interest financing is also available. NordicTrack also offers the best warranty of all the rowers we tried: 10 years on the frame, two years on parts, and one year labor. You can also add an extra three years to the warranty or a three-year service plan, in which a NordicTrack technician comes to your house once a year to tune up your equipment, for an extra fee.
Approximate first year cost, including app membership: $1,800
Incredible classes and instructors
Weight limit is lower than most
The Hydrow, an electromagnetic rowing machine, felt the most luxurious of all the ones I tested—which makes sense, as it costs more than twice our Value pick. It has a sleek design with a 22-inch touchscreen at the front that plays live and pre-recorded classes with a Peloton-esque leaderboard to rank each rower who is in the class or has ever taken the class.
Hydrow’s main draw are its classes—included with Hydrow’s app membership fee—in which instructors lead rowing excursions across bodies of water all across the United States. You can also take off-erg classes, such as yoga, Pilates, and general strength training, which are also often taught outside by a waterfront. I loved every class and every instructor who guided me. It was awesome to row alongside people who were gliding along the water in places I’ve never been, even though I was just at Reviewed’s office. If you don’t want to pay for the membership, you can use the “Just Row” mode, which shows the same basic metrics as what’s shown in the classes—strokes per minute, pace per 500 meters, meter total, and a calorie burn estimate.
The rower itself feels solid, too. It has a 375-pound weight limit, a 36-inch inseam limit (to use as a stand-in for height), and a seat that seems capable of fitting most people within that height and weight range. Sometimes I noticed that the seat creaked, but it wasn’t worse than any bike I’ve ridden and it didn’t seem to be a structural flaw. You can adjust the machine’s resistance, or “drag,” before each workout, but Hydrow discourages it on the basis that water itself doesn’t change its resistance. I never changed it, and I felt challenged on its standard setting. Each pull felt smooth and even, like I was paddling out on open water with the guides on the screen.
One baffling Hydrow flaw: It doesn’t have a pause button. If you need the video to stop playing, you must use the “Exit” button on the screen, which stops the workout completely. Hydrow says this is a requirement to "preserve both leaderboard integrity and data quality for rowing statistics"—but it’s pretty annoying if you just need to grab a sip of water or take a phone call during your session. Hydrow’s handles also felt more slippery than others, which made long, sweaty workouts more challenging.
Shipping is included with your purchase but Hydrow no longer offers assembly due to COVID-19 restrictions—however, we were able to get the Hydrow assembled, so I can’t speak to that process. Once built, the machine is 86 inches long, 25 inches wide, and 47 inches tall, or comparable with other rowers with touchscreens. You can fold down the screen, but the machine doesn’t fold up other than that—if you want to reduce the rower’s footprint, you’ll have to spring for Hydrow’s upright storage kit that allows you to hook it up against the wall for an additional cost.
When purchasing a Hydrow, you can just get the rower or select packages that provide additional accessories such as rower mats, heart rate monitors, and resistance bands for an extra fee. No-interest financing is also an option. Hydrow’s warranty provides five years of protection on the frame, one year of protection on its components, screen, and electronics, and one year of labor. You can also add on an extended warranty when you purchase the Hydrow, which provides one or two extra years of protection.
Approximate first year cost, including app membership: $2,700
Classes filmed in scenic locations
No pause button
Anyone who rowed crew at some point in their lives is likely to have a visceral reaction to the words “Concept2 RowErg.” But there’s a reason this air-resistance rower is so often used among participants of the sport: It provides excellent rowing training with very few frills. (This is also the rower popular with CrossFit gyms.)
During my workouts, the RowErg felt sturdy, durable, and like it would last for a long time. The handles felt secure in my grip and the seat and frame, which has a weight limit of 500 pounds, never wobbled or felt unsteady. Because it uses air-powered resistance, you can’t change the intensity of each stroke or the resistance settings overall, but I felt it increased in intensity every time I pulled harder.
For metrics, the RowErg has a simple LCD display at the front that shows your time on the machine, distance in meters, pace per 500 meters, strokes per minute, and an estimated calorie burn. You can also select basic workouts that guide you by telling you when to increase or decrease your stroke count and split. If you’d rather follow along with a video, the RowErg includes a device holder that’s expandable to fit smartphones or tablets. This makes it a great option if you want to use the rower with a fitness app that includes rowing workouts, such as Apple Fitness+ or Asensei.
On the not-so-great end: My pulls felt less smooth than other rowers I tested—possibly because the handle is held by a chain, not a fabric belt—and sometimes distracted me during my workouts. It’s also not the prettiest piece of equipment, but that’s not the point. With a Concept2 in your workout space, people will know you mean business.
Concept2 does not offer assembly, but the RowErg is so easy to set up, I would have felt silly if I’d paid for help. It has fewer parts than other rowers I had to assemble, and I just had to follow the included instructions and get it in rowing form. It took me less than 10 minutes to finish—you can watch this video for a visual on how it’s done. The RowErg’s footprint is 96 inches long (that’s 8 feet and the longest rower we tested), 24 inches wide, and about 28 inches tall. It also has two leg sizes, standard and tall. The standard legs (and price) provide a 14-inch seat height and the elevated legs provide a 20-inch seat height for an additional cost. Both seat heights can be used by rowers with inseams up to 38 inches, but the taller seat is a good option for anyone who doesn’t like being too close to the ground. It does not fold in half, but you can split it apart for storage, or tilt it up against a wall if you have the ceiling height.
Concept2 does not offer financing. Its standard warranty provides five years protection on the frame and two years protection on its other components. No extended warranty is available.
Approximate first year cost: $945 or $1,095
Simple to use on its own or with an app
High-quality build and design
Handle sometimes feels gritty
How We Tested Rowing Machines
I’m Sara Hendricks, Reviewed’s health and fitness editor. After testing exercise bikes, treadmills, and the odd smart cable machine, I consider myself somewhat of an expert in at-home workout equipment. It only seemed right to tackle a comprehensive test of rowing machines.
There was only one way to test the rowing machines: A lot of rowing. But first, we established a list of qualities we deemed important in a good one and devised a series of tests to evaluate each machine as a whole. These ranged from rating relatively small factors like how slippery each rowers’ handle got throughout workouts and how much noise the machine made, as well as more broad ones like general ease of use and whether the overall experience was something that would make people want to keep working out with that specific machine. We ordered eight of the most popular rowers to Reviewed’s office—some were loans from brands and some we bought ourselves. I spent several rowing sessions on each machine to ensure they all got a fair shake.
What You Should Know About Buying a Rowing Machine
Indoor rowers are meant to replicate the action of rowing a boat on the water. They are also called ergometers (or “ergs” for short) because they gauge the amount of work the person using the machine is exerting. Most indoor rowing machines have some kind of display that shows the “distance” traveled by the user and the pace at which they’re covering it. This is usually displayed in meters, with the pace shown as the split required to travel 500 meters and the number of strokes per minute.
We tested rowers that use the three most common methods of resistance: Magnetic, air, and water.
Magnetic rowers work by moving electrically charged magnets closer or farther away from a corresponding flywheel stored at the front of the machine to increase or decrease the resistance. The resistance changes only when you change it, not based on how hard or fast you pull.
Air rowers use a fan at the front of the machine to create resistance. When you pull the handle, the fan creates drag that increases in intensity the faster it’s pulled. These are the simplest and often the cheapest of the lot.
Water rowers use a tank of water with a paddle in it. When you pull the rower’s handle, it creates resistance. Like air rowers, the faster you pull, the more resistance you get. However, unlike air rowers, you must replace the water in the tank periodically—and these machines can be quite large to accommodate the tank.
There’s no one “right” resistance option. People who want to train specifically for rowing may want an air or water option, as this mimics the experience of rowing on the water most closely—after all, you can’t manually change the resistance of water you’re rowing on, but you can change your speed. People looking for a good at-home workout may like the option magnetic rowers provide to toggle with their resistance.
Rowers are often heralded as the most effective type of machine for a full-body, cardio-heavy workout—according to one study, it utilizes 86% of the body’s muscles when used correctly. Rowing is also relatively low-impact compared to other exercises that boost the heart rate like running.
To achieve good form, sit down, strap your feet into the rower’s foot rests, bring the seat as close to your feet as possible, and hold the handle with both hands. Press your heels as you push out with your legs, keeping your shoulders relaxed and the spine upright to avoid hunching over. When your legs are fully extended, lean back from the hips and pull the handles in toward your chest, maintaining good posture the whole time. Then, bend your knees to get back into the starting position and repeat. (If you’re just starting out, a how-to-row video can serve as a helpful guide.)
Rowing is a great option for many people, but because it involves sitting and knowledge of how to complete each row, it may not be the best option for some. If you’re not sure, consult a certified trainer, physical therapist, or medical provider for guidance.
Other Rowing Machines We Tested
Most connected-workout equipment uses the studio-class model, in which a trainer instructs the at-home user to follow a set of exercises, offering commentary and encouragement along the way. But Ergatta provides a game-based model, using an animated, interactive 17.3-inch touchscreen—placed on top of a water rower—that shows you (or your avatar) moving along through a variety of workouts, from races to interval programs. The handle provides smooth, even pulls, and the water tank makes a pleasant swishing sound as you row.
I’m a sucker for charismatic, athletic people shouting out encouraging mantras, so I’m partial to studio-style classes—which is not what Ergatta offers. But this didn’t stop me from enjoying Ergatta’s guided rowing sessions, available on its accompanying app for an extra fee. In the games, Ergatta tells you a speed to row at certain intervals, from a low-key “paddle” to an all-out “race.” At the same time, a display on the screen shows how you measure up against these goals, as well as the usual metrics like distance (in meters), time, strokes per minute, and a calorie burn estimate. You can also choose to race against people on a certain course, either through an individual challenge or racing against anyone who has rowed the course, in which case you simply want to go as fast as you can through each set. In some ways, the game-based style made the objective of the workout more clear—the instructions were right there on the screen, and I didn’t have any distractions from a hyped-up instructor. On the flip side, I found that this made me get a little bored of the workouts faster than I would with an instructor-led workout, but someone who finds trainers grating or who is more into rowing for rowing’s sake probably won’t have this problem.
One thing I think is a bummer for everyone, though, is that Ergatta’s app only offers rowing classes. This means no off-rower strengthening, cardio, or stretching classes, which every other connected rower we tested provides. Ergatta’s app is less expensive than the others, so you could conceivably get another workout app to use on the side, or simply trawl YouTube for additional workouts. Either way, you’ll want to complement your workouts with some cross-training exercises—rowing is a great full-body exercise, but everyone needs to mix it up now and then.
Professional assembly is included with purchase. When built, the rower measures 86 inches long (just over 7 feet), 23 inches wide, and 40 inches tall—comparable in length to the NordicTrack and Hydrow and a little bit less tall. You can tilt the screen down, which brings the height to 22.5 inches, or prop it upright against the wall where it will take up about the space of a tall overhead lamp (as long as you have high enough ceilings), but it does not fold. However, I thought it looked the best out of all the rowers we tested with its understated wooden frame, and it didn’t strike me as something most people would want to hide. The rower itself is top quality, with a weight limit of up to 500 pounds and a height limit of 6 feet 8 inches, and feels solid, supportive, and well made.
Ergatta offers no-interest financing for qualified buyers. You must purchase at least one month of the Ergatta membership at checkout (after that, it’s possible to use the rower and tablet without a membership, and still see basic stats like time, distance, and strokes per minute). It automatically comes with a one-year warranty on the frame and parts, but registering the device provides five years protection on the frame, three years protection on the parts, and one year protection on the tablet for no extra charge. You can also purchase an extended warranty that provides an extra two, three, or four years of protection for additional fees.
Approximate first year cost, including app membership: $2,750
No workouts other than rowing
The ProForm R10 is a connected magnetic rower with 24 levels of resistance and a touchscreen that plays iFit workouts, like our Best Overall NordicTrack. (ProForm and NordicTrack are owned by the same parent company, Icon, that produces iFit.) All in all, it’s a decent option for anyone who likes a wide range of classes that take place all over the globe and doesn’t mind looking at them on a (much) smaller screen, measuring 10 inches to the NordicTrack’s 22 inches.
It’s easy to change the ProForm’s resistance, either by using its auto follow feature or pressing buttons beneath the screen. And it has iFit’s workout catalog, which ranges between classes on the water and in the studio, as well as off-rower yoga, strengthening, and cardio classes.
The rower itself isn’t too loud, but its speakers aren’t great—sometimes, it was hard to hear the instructors, and the display seemed a little grainy and lackluster compared to the NordicTrack rower. The tablet also kept trying and failing to do an update, so I’m not sure what, if anything, I was missing out on. (I suspect it had something to do with the single music station I had access to, whereas the NordicTrack gave me a whole bunch.) That said, I don’t know how much this would have bothered me if I didn’t have access to the other, nicer rower just across the room—such are the woes of a professional product tester.
Curbside delivery is included with your purchase, but assembly is not—if you want professional assembly, add on an extra fee. I had it assembled, but most commenters say the rower is easy enough for two people to put together. Once assembled, the R10 measures 86.5 inches long (just over 7 feet), 22 inches wide, and 45.5 inches tall—about the same size as our best overall. It has a vertical folding feature, which puts its measurements at about 35 inches long and 45 inches tall, or about the size of a tall nightstand. The ProForm felt sturdy, well-made, and like it could withstand years of use—however, its weight capacity is rated at just 250 pounds (on par with the NordicTrack).
The R10 is “free” with a three-year commitment to iFit that you can pay this all at once or in installments. ProForm’s warranty provides five years’ protection on the frame, one year on the parts, and one year of labor. You can also add three years to the warranty or a five-year premium service plan for an additional fee.
Approximate first year cost, including app membership: $1,400
Access to iFit classes for three years
High quality rower
Easy to use
Low weight limit
Echelon’s Row-S is a connected rower with a 22-inch touchscreen. It excels as a rower, but I had serious issues with its touchscreen.
As soon as I sat down on the rower, I loved it. It has a Goldilocks-style seat consistency that’s soft but not too soft, and the whole frame feels sturdy, supportive, and well-made. Its handles have buttons that allow you to shift the resistance, which made it easy to change things up without missing a beat mid-workout. The seat felt like it was gliding over the beam and each pull of the rower felt smooth, even, and reflective of the resistance I set. I also liked the classes I took on Echelon’s Fit Pass app, which costs an extra fee. These range between live and on-demand rowing-only classes and bootcamp-style classes in which you get on and off the rower to change up your exercises. Fit Pass provides access to all of Echelon’s general workout classes, which include Zumba, yoga, Pilates, and strength training. During classes, the screen shows distance rowed (curiously measured in kilometers, not meters), current resistance, average resistance, a calorie burn estimate, and how you compare to other people who have taken the classes via a leaderboard.
What I disliked about the rower: the touchscreen. It’s responsive and clear enough, but it’s also too heavy for its stand. This meant it always slanted down, making me have to crane my neck or strain my eyes to see what the instructors were doing. What’s more, the first touchscreen I’d been sent was defective. I was then sent another screen, which also didn’t work right away because it thought it was connected to a bike, not a rower, so I had to make another call to get that sorted out, too. On the plus side, Echelon’s customer service reps were friendly and helpful in getting it sorted out.
Once the rower is set up, it measures 85 inches long (just over 7 feet) and 24 inches wide, with a seat height of 18 inches—comparable to most others. It also folds up, which makes the length 48 inches and height 69 inches (taller than most). The Row-s has a recommended weight limit of 350 pounds and no recommended height guidelines that I could find.
Echelon follows a convoluted “choose your own adventure”-type pricing plan that requires you to pick an app payment plan at checkout. The lowest time commitment is a one-month app payment that requires you to pay the cost of shipping. You can also pick a one-year or two-year app commitment, both of which include free shipping and discounts on the monthly subscription. No-interest financing is available if you pick the one-year or two-year app commitments. Echelon provides a one-year warranty on its rower, though you can add on a one-year or three-year extended warranty for an additional fee.
Shipping may or may not be included with your purchase, depending on the membership plan you go for (more on that in a bit) and assembly is not included with purchase or for an extra fee. And, for me, that assembly was a bear (though I was doing it alone, and I imagine it would be much easier with another person). It has a lot of big and small parts that require careful maneuvering.
Because I liked almost everything about the rower and almost nothing about its touchscreen, I’d recommend skipping this edition and going for the less-expensive Row. You won’t have the touchscreen right at your fingertips, but you can stream Echelon classes—or classes from any other app—from your own iPad or tablet propped on its tablet holder.
Approximate first year cost, including membership: $2,278, $1,998.96, or $2,298
Easy to change resistance
Wide range of fun classes
Screen doesn’t seem to fit machine
Anyone in search of a decent budget-minded rower should look to the Stamina ATS. This air rower doesn’t have much in the way of frills and features, but it’s a solid option for a full-body workout at a moderate price.
As for the rowing itself, the ATS performed well. It was noisier than other air-powered rowers, but its handles were comfortable to hold and it provided ample resistance that went up or down, depending on how hard I pulled. However, the machine sometimes felt flimsy and the seat got a tad wobbly, even though I’m not in the vicinity of its height or weight limit (which, to be fair, could have been due to my own assembly skills or lack thereof). It also does not have a tablet holder, so if you want to row with a guided program, you’ll have to add one yourself.
The ATS does not come assembled, but you may be able to add on expert assembly for an extra fee depending on where you buy it (likewise, the cost of shipping can vary depending on the retailer you choose). However, I don’t think most people would need assembly—it doesn’t have many parts, and its included instructions are clear and easy to follow, so it took me about 30 minutes to complete it without any help.
Once it’s set up, the rower measures 77 inches long (just over 6 feet, and shorter than most), 18 inches wide, and 28 inches high, with a seat height of 10 inches high and has a recommended user height of 4 feet 9 inches to 6 feet 4 inches. It also has a weight limit of 250 pounds. It can fold, too, which takes its length from 77 inches to 48 inches. It has an LCD screen that displays pace, distance, and calories burned. Even when it wasn’t folded, I found it unobtrusive in size, portability, and looks—it certainly isn’t a design statement, but it’s no eyesore, either.
Stamina offers a three-year warranty on its frame and 90 days warranty on its parts. No extended warranty is available, and financing may or may not be available depending on where you buy it.
Approximate first year cost: $350
Easy to set up and move around
Doesn’t feel as solid as others
No built-in tablet holder
The popular Sunny rowing machine is a basic option, but it’s not exactly bare-bones. It uses magnetic resistance and has an LCD monitor that displays time, stroke count, calories, and total stroke count. One key thing missing: distance traveled (in any unit), which made me dock some points. It also offers eight levels of resistance, which you can change by twisting a knob at the front of the machine.
The handles felt secure as I was holding them, even throughout sweaty workouts. But my strokes also seemed to lag, like they were catching on something inside the machine, no matter what resistance I set. It was also tough to adjust the resistance during workouts, because I had to put the handle down to give it a twist—an annoying pause, especially compared to other rowers that integrate the resistance controls into the handles.
Setting up the machine was simple and straightforward—it took me about 30 minutes to put it together without any assistance. It’s not connected to a tablet, nor does it have a tablet holder. If you want to follow along with classes, you’ll have to get a separate app subscription and tablet holder (or place the rower in front of a TV where you can stream classes).
The rower measures 78 inches long, 19.1 inches wide, and 23.2 inches tall—smaller than most other rowers we tested. It also folds up, which puts its measurements at 37.4 inches long, 19.1 inches wide, and 53.5 inches tall—comparable to a tall nightstand or side table.
Sunny offers a three-year warranty on the frame and 180 days on components. No extended warranty or financing is available.
Ultimately, it’s a fine rower—especially for the price—but the handles and inconvenience of changing the resistance made it a machine I didn’t want to return to often.
Approximate first year cost: $250
Easy to set up
Handles tough to pull
No tablet holder
Annoying to change resistance