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Rowing Machine Buying Guide

Rowing machines date back as early as the mid 1800’s however it wasn’t really until the 1950-60’s that they took the leap to the more modern rowers of today when John Harrison and Professor Frank Cotton integrated and developed a fixed flywheel braking system into the design. Since that time air and water resistance machines have also come into the mix too with the popular Concept 2 dominating the commercial gym market.

Rowers are more effective than treadmills, cross trainers and exercise bikes; the reason behind this is because they use the vast majority of your muscles in one swift rowing motion. As you pull back and push your legs away from the machine you effectively use your back, legs, arms, shoulders and abs so you exert energy at a much quicker rate than other fitness machines. They may not be as popular because they are harder and proper technique must be used but they are certainly more effective, if you’re prepared to take that leap you will certainly reap the benefits.

Different Styles

Three different variations of the rower are currently in circulation, these are magnetic, air and water resistance. Each style has its own pros and cons but all follow the same design overview. A handle is pulled against a resistance force whilst the user pushes their legs away from the rower on a sliding seat and pulling the handle simultaneously with their feet firmly fixed to foot plates.

Magnetic rowers use an electromagnetic resistance against a flywheel to provide a fixed level of difficulty usually adjustable by a tension dial, the benefit of this is that you can maintain a constant level of tension and it makes it easier to monitor your progress. They are also much quieter than air or water and generally more cost effective machines but some argue that they do not accurately simulate the real rowing experience as you wouldn’t have a fixed difficulty in the water.

Air rowing machines also operate from an internal flywheel but it’s edged with fins to generate wind resistance, this system does more accurately simulate the real experience as the harder you pull the more wind resistance you generate to increase the difficulty and vice-versa but can be a little noisy in the home.

Water rowers feature a large water filled container at the front, every time you pull the handle a rotating paddle spins through the water providing a natural flow of resistance which can be adjusted by the level of water in the tank. This is certainly the most realistic rowing experience but they do come at a steep price, they are generally more for the competitive athlete.

Key Features


With the magnetic machines the size of the flywheel plays a large effect on the quality and how quiet the rower will be. The common rule is the larger the flywheel the better the quality, this been said they don’t require as large a flywheel as bikes or cross trainers so anything above 4kg should be satisfactory.

Handle & Strap

The strap and handle are most prone to wear and tear, snapping straps are all too common amongst cheap rowers under £100.00 which is why we don’t stock them as they cause endless problems. More expensive models above this feature thicker, long lasting straps with comfortable foam grip handles for easier use.

Rail Length

This may not be to relevant for a lot of people but if you’re tall then it’s important to ensure that you have a rail length that’s long enough to allow your legs to fully extend. You also don’t want a thin and flimsy seat rail so try to make sure it’s quite a thick, tubular piece of steel framework as it’s going to take a lot of wear and tear.

Seat Pad

Nobody wants a sore bottom after putting in some hard work on the rower; ideally the seat should be grooved or ergonomically designed instead of flat to conform to your body’s natural shape. It should also be foam for comfort, the glide roller wheels that the seat moves back and forth on are also better with bearings inside for a smooth motion and slow deterioration.

Foot Pedals

On some rowers foot pedals are fixed and on others they have a swivel design to release some pressure off your ankles, choosing between this is simply down to personal preference but it’s worth noting down. All machines have adjustable straps as a mandatory feature because they’re absolutely essential, expensive models will use larger foot pedals so will be more accommodating for taller users.


Rowing machines generally have basic console displays to provide simple workout feedback on time, distance, strokes, calories and rpm unlike other fitness equipment that heavily feature training programmes, unless you’re looking to spend a fair chunk on a rower this is all your console will provide.

Folding or Non-Folding

A lot of rowers due to their size do have a quick fold option which reduces their length almost in half; they normally work by releasing a spring loaded pin towards the centre that enables the rail to fold inward. The only real downside to having a foldable rower is that it can reduce the stability and integrity of the machine but this is only really relevant if it’s getting regular heavy use which is why commercial rowers don’t fold.


  • Rowing is highly efficient and is proven to burn calories quicker than any other piece of fitness equipment shredding away up to 600 calories an hour on average compared to 350-400 on a bike
  • Because your feet stay fixed to the foot plates there is really no impact from rowing which is great for your joints
  • Engaging both upper and lower muscle groups gives you a full body workout for leaner legs and a stronger core and upper body
  • The convenience of an indoor rower at home is much more practical and less restrictive than outdoors especially with most folding up out of the way so they don’t take up much space
  • Regular exercise helps to prevent depression as it releases endorphins to fight the effects and help your mental state; it also helps to alleviate stress levels too
  • A reduction in heart and lung disease is directly related to the positive effects of exercise on a regular basis

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What rowers would be suitable for someone over 6ft?

Answer: Cheaper machines in general do have short seat rails so you’ll probably need to fork out a bit of extra cash to get one that’s suitable, most rowers over £400.00 should provide sufficient rail length for taller users.

Question: How easy are they to assemble?

Answers: On average it probably takes about 1 ½ to 2 ½ hours to build a rower up, there isn’t anything too complex to assemble with them but they just take a bit more time than say a treadmill or bike.

Question: How would I train on a rower specifically to lose weight?

Answer: For weight loss specific training you should set the rower to a low level resistance (between 1-4) and exercise at a moderate intensity, it doesn’t need to be your full capacity as high intensity isn’t designed to burn fat it’s to increase fitness, if you lower your heart rate a bit you will start to target the fat burn area instead.

Question: Do they need to be plugged into a mains socket?

Answer: In short, no they don’t, the vast majority of rowers are battery powered which is just for the console so you can put them anywhere you like in the home.

Question: How would it come delivered?

Answer: For our smaller rowers that don’t weigh a substantial amount we use a free 1-man express courier service however for some larger models we use a 2-man courier service that is also free of charge but is selected to specific models only.

Question: What do you recommend for a starter?

Answer: We have some great rowers between the £150-£300 margin that would be perfect if you’re new to rowing, they offer multiple resistance levels, simple consoles but you can still expect a smooth, quiet motion from any of these.

We hope that you have enjoyed this buying guide and have gained a better understanding of these fantastic machines from it, please feel free to view our range of rowing machines.