Our Top Pick for 2017: Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5
Read our full review.
When you turn on the TV, countless commercials appear that advertise every possible exercise machine on the market today. You may want to get in shape, but all of these machines are simply a blur in your mind. However, there’s one machine that stands out above the rest. The basic rowing machine is a tried-and-true product that offers real-life results. Whether you’re a rowing enthusiast or a curious onlooker, these machines simulate a real experience that occurs across the globe. Before you invest in that next exercise-machine purchase, take a close look at some of today’s top features that you should consider with care.
Table of contents
- #1 Gold Pick (1st Place Winner)
- #2 Silver Pick (2nd Place Runner-Up)
- #3 Bronze Pick (3rd Place)
- #4 Budget Pick (Best Cheap)
#1 Gold pick (Winner): Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5
View it on Amazon: $859.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
The rowing machine that stands out from the crowd is the Concept2 Model D system. At first glance, it’s a basic machine with a long seating rail and flywheel assembly. Hopping onto this machine gives you a different perspective, however. With comfort and real-life rowing capabilities as main attributes, the Model D system remains a top pick for the best athletes in the world, including the Olympic team. Consider some of the features that make this rowing machine a star.
The largest part of this rowing machine is the flywheel assembly. Essentially, this section looks like a household fan. Inside the housing is a flywheel and damper. These assemblies are the forces that you work with as you row your way to fitness. As the resistance is increased, you’ll notice a definite challenge posed by the flywheel. For many rowing athletes, they believe that this machine is the closest that they can come to feeling the same resistance as on the water. Because the flywheel does spin, you’ll also feel a breeze emanating from this section. Although it’s a minor feature, this airflow almost feels like a fan blowing cool air around your workout area in order to keep you fresh for more rowing adventures.
Concept2 systems are designed for the home gym. Although this particular model requires about 16 square feet of space during use, its large size doesn’t correspond to its noise production. In fact, the flywheel and damper are designed with low-level noise features. If you place the rowing machine at the highest resistance, you’ll still have a whisper quiet workout. Place this machine in your living room as the family watches television, for example. Your rowing action won’t hinder anyone’s evening because it sounds like a fan simply cooling the area.
During your workout, you need solid accessories to keep you moving at a healthy pace. The footrests are entirely adjustable, and they come with straps at the ball and heel of your foot. Slide your feet into the footrests, and adjust the straps. Slide the rests’ pads up and down as you size them to your feet size. It’s critically important to adjust the pads to your feet in order for you to have an ergonomically correct workout. Repetitive injuries might occur if your feet are held in an awkward position. Your workout also benefits from the uniquely designed handle. Instead of a basic 90-degree handle bend, the Model D system comes with a slight, 10-degree angle that mimics a true rowing position. When you grab onto the handle, you can close your eyes and imagine the water lapping around your boat.
Your rowing machine isn’t complete without a control panel reflecting all of your efforts. The Model D system comes with the PM5 or Performance Monitor 5 panel. When you sit down at the rowing machine, the PM5 display immediately illuminates with a comfortable backlight. On this display, you’ll notice all of your core measurements being evaluated, including a tracking mechanism for burned calories, rowing distance and pace. It’s also possible to set workouts or play games through the display features. Don’t worry about the display being in the way during your workout, however, because it has an adjustable arm for your convenience.
If you’re a tech-savvy workout enthusiast, you’ll love the Bluetooth connectivity that’s embedded in this rowing machine. Wear your heart monitor, and sync it to the rowing machine. Both your monitor and PM5 display will keep track of your health measurements. Your workout and health information can also be saved and transferred from the Concept2 machine. Use a handy flash drive to plug into your rowing machine as you save the information for further analysis. For serious rowing athletes, this information can easily help you define your strengths and weaknesses as you improve your stroke.
With a strong flywheel and seating construction, this rowing machine has more complex parts that connect these areas for safety and durability. With each stroke, you’re placing incredible pressure on the entire rowing system. Don’t worry about damaging the internal mechanisms because they’re supported with a steel chain. This strong metal connects the flywheel, damper and handle assemblies into one, smooth machine. These chains are tested by the manufacturer, and they can withstand repetitive motion and stress. In fact, this rowing machine can withstand up to 500 pounds of weight and that person’s pulling action.
Because rowing machines inherently need a lot of space for their operation, their manufacturers try to make them more compact each year for storage purposes. This particular machine doesn’t just fold, but it splits into two pieces. You might push the machine into a corner when it’s not in use. Some consumers, however, report that the machine can be top-heavy if it’s placed on end. Keep the machine close to the ground instead of leaning it upright in order to prevent any falls.
#2 Silver pick (Runner-up): WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine with S4 Monitor
View it on Amazon: $1,095.00*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
You might miss the open water when real rowing is your passion. Although you can’t bring the river, lake or ocean to your home, the next best solution is purchasing a WaterRower rowing machine. This unique workout system looks more like a work of art than a standard machine. At 117 pounds, this rowing machine is a heavy-duty type that can support up to 1,000 pounds of weight. If you’re looking for a real rowing experience but can’t travel to water, try this machine in your home gym.
The first feature you’ll notice about the WaterRower is its physical construction. This machine doesn’t rely on steel frames, but actually has an ash wood design. Derived from sustainable sources, this wood rowing machine takes advantage of this natural substance’s features. Wood is a dampening agent for sound and vibration. As you row along, most of your efforts are dampened within the wood frame itself. The surrounding floor and room remain quiet and nearly vibration-free as a result. Your wood rowing machine also has Danish oil as part of its construction so it will hold its beautiful look for many years of sweaty workouts.
The main attraction that makes this machine stand out is the water flywheel. Other rowing machines use an open flywheel and damper housing, which generates a fanning sensation in the room. However, the WaterRower places the flywheel in a fixed water tank. As you row faster, the water’s resistance will give you a spectacular workout. When you slow down, the resistance changes with your efforts. At the end of your workout, you’ve experienced a real rowing simulation that reflects in your fitness level. You never need to change the water or maintain the tank either. It’s a closed system that’s been perfected by the manufacturer.
One aspect of this machine that may not appeal to everyone is the fixed footrests. Because the entire frame is created from wood, the footrests aren’t plastic or adjustable in any way. The footrests are angled at an approximate 45-degree angle, which corresponds to the majority of rowers’ stances during workouts. There are straps that hold your feet in place as you row along too. Although some consumers might see this feature as a drawback, others believe that it lends beauty to the overall design.
The rectangular seat is black with comfortable padding underneath. Because of its smooth surface, the seat can be wiped down in a matter of seconds as you offer the machine to a loved one. With the resistance built into the WaterRower, you’re sure to work up a sweat as you sit down for a lengthy workout. For added stability, this system comes with four wheels located at the seat’s corners. When you lean on the seat, it will always have a stable connection to the wood frame. A stable seat contributes to a steady stroke rate and improved fitness levels.
At first glance, you would assume that this rowing machine has many moving parts. However, most of the parts are hidden within the water tank. The pulling mechanism, including the recoil belts and pulleys, are self-contained as well. With this design type, you actually have almost no moving parts that can break down. Maintenance is entirely minimal, and most consumers notice that they spend more time working out than trying to repair or alter the machine at any time. Whether you keep the WaterRower stretched out for impromptu workouts or flipped upright in storage, every part remains in good shape throughout the machine’s lifetime. In fact, it’s even possible to receive a 5-year warranty from the manufacturer when you register your machine with them.
#3 Bronze pick (3rd place): Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine
View it on Amazon: $124.62*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
Space in your home is often at a premium, especially if you live in an apartment or condominium. When you want to row your way to good health but lack the physical space, look for the Stamina Body Trac Glider. This rowing machine is sturdy, compact and reliable for those daily workouts. Made entirely of steel, this rowing machine offers you a high-quality design and reasonable price rolled into one product. Explore some of the features of this third-place machine.
Your first impression of the Glider may be size. Rowing machines are usually large because they must simulate wide arcs for your legs and arms. You’ll still enjoy a real, rowing experience with this machine, but it will only take up about 8 square feet of your home. With this size, you can fit the machine in a living room corner or office space. Slide the machine out whenever you want a solid workout. Stamina created this design with a compact nature as their core feature. The bulk of this machine’s size is mainly the rail which creates enough space for your rowing motion. There’s no flywheel to take up a lot of room either, so you have the most compact machine in the industry today.
Because this machine has no flywheel, your rowing resistance comes from gas shocks hidden within the frame. Adjust the resistance before you start your workout by accessing the manual knob on the machine. There’s no need to power up the monitor for any resistance alterations. Use the knob to change the resistance at any time, and you can keep up with your workout as it’s reported on the monitor. Because the shocks are closed systems, you’ll never have to repair or adjust them as your machine ages. The shocks can be continually adjusted in order to improve your fitness with each workout.
Although this rowing machine is entirely compact, you can fold it up for even better storage options. It can remain upright in the folded position, and it appears to be very sturdy because it has a triangular base formed by the supportive feet. Some consumers may be concerned about this machine’s weight capacity, however. Although other models may support up to 1,000 pounds, this steel frame only holds 250 pounds. In most cases, it will support most rowing enthusiasts who want to see better results from their workouts.
The Glider also has a distinct feature with its rowing arms. You aren’t pulling on a handle attached to a pulley. In fact, you’re using two metal arms that curve inward toward your body. These arms simulate the paddling motion seen on the open water. If you’re looking for a real rowing experience that tones your shoulders, arms and back, these machine arms will make a big difference. You’ll feel the resistance in your body as you try to row with each stroke. As you get used to the rowing motion, you can adjust the resistance to define your muscles even more or improve on your cardiovascular health with a rapid pace.
You can maintain a smooth motion as you slide along the metal rail because Stamina designed their machine with a ball-bearing system. In many ways, the ball bearings create a life-like sensation of floating in the water. Some consumers do mention some squeaking concerns over time, however. Simply keep your body centered on the seat as you row in a controlled manner, and any squeaking noises should quickly disappear. Ball bearings have long been used in many mechanical designs where friction is constantly being created. The smooth rolling action should remain with the machine well after its one-year warranty anniversary.
#4 Budget pick (Best cheap): Sunny Health and Fitness Rowing Machine
View it on Amazon: $82.86*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
It’s not necessary to break the bank with a rowing machine purchase. In fact, you can find machines for less than $100 that still offer high-quality parts. Your budget solution is called the Sunny Health and Fitness rowing machine. This system comes with all of the basics that you need for a stellar workout. This statement even includes the batteries for the control panel. Several features dominate this machine, which will turn you into a fan almost immediately.
You’ll notice that the LCD control panel is located right on the handlebar. As you move up and down the smooth rail, the LCD screen remains right at your eye level. Watch your progress as the screen counts down your time, strokes and burned calories. The screen is simplistic by design in order for it to be easily readable as you sweat the time away. Toggle through the basic modes by using the large, red button on the panel’s center section.
Look past the LCD screen, and you’ll discover the comfortable foot pedals. These pedals are fixed in position, but they do have a pivoting motion that allows you to have some flexibility to your movements. Enjoy the included safety straps with the system along with the textured pedals themselves. The texture gives your shoes some traction with the surface as you row. Slipped feet on the pedals can cause injury and prevent your stroke from improving over time.
Other rowing machines might have pulleys or arms stretching out at the sides, but Sunny uses a different handle configuration. To the left and right of the LCD screen are the handles attached to a long lever. Sit down in front of the handle, and carefully pull it toward you. This handle is strategically covered with foam in order to give your hands some purchase on the surface. You can grab onto these handles and feel the comfort for hours at a time. The foam also absorbs your sweat so that a slippery sensation isn’t possible on the handle. With this long lever helping you with your workout, you can always have the stability and resistance that’s necessary for physical improvement.
The resistance felt within the lever handle is from the system’s hydraulic cylinders. Pressured liquid in a closed system gives you the resistance necessary for a great workout. In fact, the resistance might feel like you’re really paddling through the water. Enjoy the 12 resistance levels that are fully adjustable during your workout. Beginners should try the lower resistance values while experienced athletes can challenge themselves with the more difficult settings.
If you’re concerned about space for your rowing machine, the Sunny system only takes up 7 square feet. At only 20 pounds, the machine can also be moved to almost any area. Many consumers simply tilt the machine upright when they need more space in their home. When it is in use, the machine’s weight limit is capped at 220 pounds. The solid steel frame is built with this weight capacity in order for the seat to slide with no problems.
It’s critical for most rowing machines to have some folding capabilities. Folding isn’t just for storage, but it’s also important for transport purposes. Before you purchase any machine, try to see it in person. Touching and manipulating the machine before purchasing it will give you a good idea of its quality and design complexity.
You might have a foldable machine, but it can be bulky in this compact state. Verify if your model has any casters or wheels. These components may be hidden in the legs where they pop out with some effort on your part. Other rowing machines have obvious casters that swing out when you fold the item together. If your chosen machine doesn’t have any casters, you might want to rethink the purchase. Rolling the machine into another room may be a frequent chore, and you don’t want to hurt your back by lifting a product without wheels.
Some rowing machines don’t have a fold design because they split in two. In many cases, this design is beneficial to the consumer because the product as a whole may be incredibly heavy. Splitting it in two will only make transport much easier than folding it into a bulky form. Try to separate the machine by yourself before purchasing it, however. Some models might be too difficult to manage on your own.
Splitting a machine in two is normally beneficial, but it can have a drawback with low-budget models. Your chosen model needs to have high-quality parts for consistent separation needs. If you pull a machine apart and a section becomes warped, you won’t be able to put the product back together. Look for machines with a solid-steel design. These machines are difficult to damage even when one section is dropped.
The machine might fold like a dream, but it’s unstable when you push it into a corner. Look for machines that have some quality support at their base after folding. Several models use a triangle shape as their base by using the rail and foot pads as supports. If you prefer a machine that doesn’t have the best support during storage, consider leaning the product against a wall with the center of gravity as close to the ground as possible. You don’t want the item to tip over and injure anyone.
A feature that many people overlook on their potential, rowing-machine purchase is the seat. Although there are many other factors to consider during your research process, the seat is the component that you’ll use the most. You have to sit down at each rowing session and place most of your weight on this item. If the seat isn’t comfortable, you simply won’t use the machine as much as you should.
Ideally, look for a seat that conforms to the rear end. Some seats come in an oval or rectangular shape, but the best design is often a heart shape. Your rear end is gently cradled while your thighs have ample room at the seat’s edge to move with the rowing action. Always sit on a rowing machine and feel the seat beneath you before purchasing the product. If the seat doesn’t conform to your body, it will slowly feel uncomfortable as you slide up and down the rail.
The seat should also be large enough for your body. When most of your rear end isn’t supported by the seat, you’ll feel this fact as you stand up after a workout. In fact, this sitting situation can be bad for your health if you continue to use the machine. If your body doesn’t fit on the seat, another machine might be a better option.
The seat’s padding is a concern as well because you’ll spend considerable time sitting on the machine. Press your hand onto the seat and feel the cushion. A high-quality seat will have some softness but with a firm hold. It’s also possible to add more padding to a seat if necessary. After-market products can be attached to the seat for added comfort. Be wary about relying on these other products, however. Their additional padding might alter your workout’s proper body positioning.
Take a look at the wheels that attach to the seat too. Some models may have hidden wheels, but others are easily seen as you look under the seats. The wheels should be centered with the seat in order to stabilize it throughout your workout. If the seat looks or feels wobbly, the wheels aren’t properly aligned. Over time, your workout and the machine’s quality will decline.
The entire point of purchasing a workout machine is to improve your fitness. You cannot gain more muscle and lose fat when your body isn’t challenged, however. Your rowing-machine purchase should include a careful look at the product’s resistance settings. Ideally, you should have beginner, intermediate and advanced settings available within arm’s reach during your workout. Today’s machine manufacturers add many features to their resistance settings to entice your buying dollar.
The most basic resistance setting is through a knob embedded in the machine’s frame. This knob allows you to manually set the resistance. The machine might have a dozen preset resistance levels that you access by turning the knob, or the settings are more refined like a volume control knob. In most cases, you’ll find knob designs on low-cost machines where mechanical additions keep the price tag lower than other products.
In today’s technologically driven world, resistance settings are often placed in the control panel itself. As you sit down at the rowing machine, the control panel activates. You can set the resistance to any value, or activate the panel for a preset program that changes the resistance throughout the workout time. Most consumers appreciate this electronic-resistance feature, but it can break down over time. The cost to fix or maintain the machine might be higher than a manual type.
An important factor to consider during your machine-shopping process is the type of resistance. Your rowing experience will differ greatly between the various resistances, including magnets, air, hydraulics and water. Because traditional rowing is performed on the water, it’s natural to look for this resistance type. It gives you a real, rowing simulation, but the machine will be a heavy design. For a more compact and lightweight machine, look for the other resistance designs that incorporate either magnets, hydraulics or air. In fact, try several different machines out before deciding on a resistance type. You’ll naturally have a resistance preference, which will encourage you to workout more with the right machine.
Every rowing-machine manufacturer wants to believe that they have a perfect product, but part failures among consumers can happen. In these cases, consumers are protected by warranty contracts. When you buy a rowing machine, this product is a relatively expensive purchase. You want to know that the machine will work as advertised for many years. Before you select a brand, consider the warranty details that can make your purchase even better.
Some manufacturers limit their warranties among consumers who don’t register their products after purchasing them. In most cases, rowing machines don’t have serial numbers. This identification number usually tells a manufacturer when and where an item is purchased. As a way to identify your purchase, machine manufacturers encourage you to send in a registration card. Filling out your personal and product information on these cards tells the manufacturer that you’re a customer with a viable product. If an issue arises that requires warranty coverage, that registration card tells the manufacturer about the machine’s age and location. As a result, your warranty claim may be pushed through more quickly compared to others without registration cards.
It’s a basic warranty rule that consumers can void their coverage if they alter the machine in any way. If you experience a malfunction, don’t open the machine and try to fix it. Simply opening the housing can expose sensitive, internal parts to harmful conditions, and you’ll void your warranty. If an issue occurs, immediately contact the manufacturer. They can decide if the unit must be repaired or replaced. In the future, you are welcome to work on your own machine when the warranty has expired.
Be aware of what is covered by your warranty as well. Most manufacturers don’t cover everything for the same period of time. Your rowing machine’s frame, for instance, may be covered for an entire year. If the frame becomes bent or warped from normal use, you can receive a new part or machine because of a defect in the product itself. The frame is normally covered for a long time period because it’s the strongest section of the machine. In most cases, you won’t have any problems with the frame.
In contrast, parts are usually covered for only 90 days. These components might include the pulleys, footrests and flywheel. Small parts are under a lot of strain, and they can wear down faster than the fixed frame. In the first 90 days after purchase, any failed parts are probably factory defects. Experiencing bad parts after this time period normally means that they’ve simply broken down from wear.
Conclusion (Wrapping it up)
Whether you’re looking for a rowing machine that folds into a compact size or a whisper-quiet model, every product has a specific set of features. Before you enter a showroom or shop online, write down the key attributes that you need in your next purchase. These features can be listed in order of their importance or in a random fashion. Although you may not find a product with everything on your wish list, most rowing machines today have several dozen features that are appreciated by most enthusiasts. Hop on your new machine, and wile away the hours with rowing flair.