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Best rowers and rowing machines of 2020 for your home gym

At-home gyms have seen increasing popularity all year, among them exercise bikes and treadmills — some fitness experts argue rowers are the best option.
We asked experts how to find the best at-home rowers from NordicTrack, Proform, Echelon and more.
We asked experts how to find the best at-home rowers from NordicTrack, Proform, Echelon and more.Pro-Form; Echelon

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With temperatures dropping and gyms re-closing across the country, Americans are investing more in at-home gyms, among them cardio machines. Unsurprisingly, at-home fitness equipment purchases have grown about 170 percent since the initial Covid-19 lockdowns and so fitness brands and retailers have scrambled to keep up. Shoppers are shelling out for treadmills and stationary bikes — and we're seeing an increasing demand for rowers. Rowers aren't always top of mind for shoppers, said Brad McLam, the director of business development at exercise equipment retailer Gym Source. But there's good reason to change that perception, he added. “They can truly give a really good workout for areas of the body that are very difficult to train in other ways, such as the hip and back. Both of those are very important for overall conditioning.”

SKIP AHEAD Expert guide to picking the right rower

If you're looking for a rower to add to your home gym — alongside your dumbbells, kettlebells and suspension trainers — you've got a slate of options available online, many offering easy returns and trial periods. We consulted fitness experts on how to go about finding the best rowing machine and which are the best rowers available now.

Best rowers and rowing machines

1. Echelon Smart Rower

This smart rower comes loaded with adjustable features to personalize your indoor rowing workout. The machine can be set to 32 resistance levels, which can be easily toggled from the handlebars. A standout feature of the Echelon is the screen, which can flip 180 degrees, to incorporate floor exercises to your workout.

Users get one month’s free access to Echelon’s fitness subscription, which includes dozens of rowing workouts and a library of classes including boxing, pilates, yoga and more. Subscriptions cost $40 per month after that. This rower is foldable and has built-in wheels for easy storage and needs to be plugged into the wall. This model is also much more affordable than other smart rowers, a good option for those who aren’t looking to splurge.

2. The Ergatta Rower

This smart rower is able to create fitness challenges based on the user’s fitness profile, gamifying the workout process. You'll get access to both interval and HIIT workouts, goal-based workouts and individual races, via Ergatta’s app ($29 per month). Users can also join competitions and group challenges with other Ergatta rowers.

Ergatta, which must be plugged into the wall, uses water in its wheel for a smoother and quieter ride. It’s not Bluetooth enabled but will connect to Wi-Fi. Note that this rower is pricier than other smart models, though sports a stylish design and includes some high-end bells and whistles. If you aren’t quite sure if you’re ready to commit, Ergatta offers a 30-day free trial with free returns.

3. Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge 500 Water Rowing Machine

This affordable water-based rowing machine from Sunny Health & Fitness relies on a flywheel with 16 fan blades and boasts sweat-resistant handlebars. The brand highlights the height of the seat, as well, noting it's designed with a high-profile.

A non-smart display tracks your workout metrics, including strokes, calories and more. Wheels at the end of the rower will help you move it and it's designed for easy vertical storage.

4. NordicTrack RW200 Rowing Machine

This rower, priced similarly to the Proform, offers more interactive features. The RW200 is Bluetooth-enabled and includes 20 preset workout apps and 24 resistance levels. The model has built-in wheels and an adjustable console.

Rowers will also get access to NordicTrack’s iFit membership, a platform providing live classes, varied workouts and personalized coaching — you get one free year with purchase, after which membership will run you $180 annually. The RW200 also comes with two speakers so you can play your music out loud while you ride — as long as your household is on board.

5. Hydrow Rower

Hydrow's large, high-definition screen helps give the illusion that you’re not in your living room as you ride, said Yasmin Farooq, a women’s rowing coach at the University of Washington. The rower is Bluetooth-enabled to allow health metrics to sync with your smartwatch or fitness tracker, and it includes a library of interactive workouts and landscape to row through via its membership, which costs $38 per month — there’s no complimentary membership period. Hydrow also offers live classes from Olympic and elite instructors

Similar to the Echelon, Hydrow lets users swivel the screen around and access yoga, pilates and other workouts to complement their rowing workouts. Keep in mind the Hydrow must be plugged into a wall, so you’ll need electric capabilities in your workout space. You can grab a 30-day risk-free home trial of the Hydrow and that includes free returns (including a free pick-up).

A lot of people come to rowing from other sports because they know it’s a fantastic workout that is kinder to your joints.

Yasmin Farooq, Rowing Coach, University of Washington

6. WaterRower Rowing Machine

If you’re a former or current rower looking for an indoor experience similar to the real thing, the WaterRower is right for you. It’s created to feel and sound like you’re actually rowing on the water, making it a much smoother ride than other rowers out there. It also doesn’t need to be plugged into a wall to work — it uses natural resistance, meaning there are no cords to deal with.

The rower has wheels on one end for easy vertical storage and an adjustable foot pad and seat. Its wooden design has a craftsman-like feel that could blend in nicely with existing home furniture. Fun fact: It’s also the rower Frank Underwood uses in House of Cards.

6. Proform 440R Rower

Another affordable option that skips built-in smarts, the Proform model comes with eight levels of resistance and a large display that tracks health metrics. The Proform sports adjustable pedals and foot straps.

A unique feature of the rower is the ability to adjust the handlebars to use for strength-based workouts, similar to a cable machine. And the 440R Rower does not need to be plugged in (though the console uses batteries). It's also foldable and can be stored vertically or under your bed.

7. Fitness Reality 1000 Magnetic Rower

If you want a durable rower without splurging, try out this basic model from Fitness Reality. It’s Bluetooth-enabled and can easily fold for storage.

Users can adjust the foot pads and seat, as well as switch the handles around for strength exercises. You’ll also have free access to the My Cloud Fitness App, which offers dozens of workouts and tracks your calories, distance and time as you ride.

8. Concept2 Model D Rowing Machine (out of stock)

This rower is used primarily by Olympians, collegiate rowers and fitness centers. The Model D comes with a performance monitor, providing splits, calories burned, pace and more. This indoor rower does not come with smart technology, but is an extremely durable and affordable alternative for users looking for a no-frills workout.

The rower can be stored vertically and comes with adjustable foot pads and seat. The monitor uses a chargeable battery and its recharge rate depending on how often and how fast you row.

Why a rower?

Rowing trains nearly every muscle in your body, said Yasmin Farooq, a women’s rowing coach at the University of Washington, and is “second only to cross-country skiing for cardiovascular fitness.” Rowers also don’t put pressure on the legs and back, making it ideal for those with back or knee issues. “A lot of people come to rowing from other sports because they know it’s a fantastic workout that is kinder to your joints. People at every age can row,” she said.

There are advantages to owning an indoor rower over other cardio machines like treadmills, too, Farooq pointed out. For one, they don’t take up much space — about 9 feet by 4 feet — and they’re typically quieter. And “if you live on the second floor of a duplex apartment, your neighbor might appreciate the fact that you bought a rower instead,” noted McLam.

The best rower for you

Whether you’ve never sat down on a rower before or are an avid rider, here’s what you need to know about rowers and how experts recommend to choose the best one.

  • You don’t have to spend a fortune to find a solid indoor rower, though “smart” models and live classes, exercise tracking and virtual simulations will cost you extra. If you’re new to rowing, it may be smart to stick to a cheaper model or one with less features starting out, said McLam.
  • Pay particular attention to how a rower will fit into your existing space. Most rowers are roughly the same size but some can be stored more easily than others. If you want to store your rower, find one that can easily be tilted upwards and stored vertically. Users often run into ceiling height issues than the actual size of the rower, said McLam. Most rowers come with a chargeable battery pack and don’t require you to plug the machine into a wall. But there are some models (typically ones with smart technology) that do, so keep that in mind when considering your space.
  • Lastly and as always when buying at-home fitness equipment, consider the types of workout you want to get out of your rower, said Farooq. Do you want to casually row a couple times a week? Do you want to row with others in a live class? Or maybe you want to combine rowing with strength exercises? Different models will have different features that appeal to all types of rowers, she said. If possible, McLam recommended trying out the rower or participating in a free trial before purchasing, especially if you’re new to rowing. Make sure the seat is comfortable and the rowing motion feels smooth, he said.

“I cannot stress enough though that each person may prefer different exercises based on their body type, size, age, fitness level and experience,” he repeated, imploring you to “try before you buy.”

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