Guides Rowers Training Equipment

Types of Rowing Machines: Breaking Down the Best Options

Puzzling over the types of rowing machines and how they work? You’re not alone. Navigating the sea of fitness equipment and different rowing machine types can be a daunting task. Understanding the different types of rowing machines is crucial in making an informed choice that aligns with your fitness goals and needs. So, hop aboard as we row through the details, ensuring you can confidently navigate the waters of your fitness journey!

The types of rowing machines are mainly determined by their resistance mechanism: hydraulic, magnetic, air, and water. Each of these rowing machine types offers varying levels of rowing machine resistance, catering to a range of fitness goals and preference. The choice depends on your goals.

Types of Rowing Machines

Main Types of Rowing Machines

  1. Air Resistance Rowing Machines
  2. Magnetic Resistance Rowing Machines
  3. Water Resistance Rowing Machines
  4. Hydraulic Resistance Rowing Machines

Hydraulic rowing machines are a popular option for their adjustable resistance, quiet operation, compact design, and affordability. They use hydraulic pistons to create a tailored workout experience, where as air or fan rowing machines deliver a realistic rowing sensation due to their use of a flywheel and fan blades to generate resistance. The intensity of this resistance increases with the force applied, making it a preferred choice among experienced rowers.

Water rowing machines, on the other hand, offer a similar principle to air rowers but use a water tank and paddle mechanism for resistance. The immersive, authentic feel of this type of machine makes it widely favored among both professional rowers and fitness enthusiasts alike. Much like the magnetic rowing machine which sets itself apart with a virtually silent operation and consistent resistance levels, regardless of rowing speed, thanks to the use of magnets.

Each type of rowing machine caters to different workout styles, fitness levels, and personal preferences, however, has its positives that will have a great impact on sports performance, as well as drawbacks, so understanding these differences is vital when choosing the right rowing machine for your needs. However, with any exercise, be sure to practice correct form.

air resistance rowing machine

1. Air Resistance Rowing Machines

Air resistance rowing machines provide a unique workout experience that stands apart from other types of rowers. Here are some pros and cons to consider:


  • Variable Resistance – The defining trait of air resistance rowers is their variable resistance. As you pull harder, the resistance intensifies, echoing the natural sensation of rowing on water. This dynamic resistance ensures an efficient and intense workout.
  • Consistent Challenge – With an air resistance rower, the workout always stays challenging, regardless of your fitness level. As your strength improves and your pulls become more powerful, the machine reacts by ramping up the resistance.
  • Smooth Movement – Air rowers are widely praised for their fluid rowing motion. This fluidity can enhance the comfort of your workout and could potentially minimize the risk of strain or injury. This smooth, continuous rowing motion replicates the feel of rowing on water, enhancing your overall workout experience.
using air resistance rowing machine

Could be better:

  • Noise – One common complaint about air rowers is the noise. The spinning flywheel creates a fan-like noise that can be disruptive, particularly in shared spaces. In a quiet home or apartment, the sound of the air resistance mechanism can be clearly heard, potentially disturbing others in the household or even neighbours in close proximity. For those who enjoy watching TV or listening to music while exercising, the noise level might also necessitate the use of headphones.
  • Size – Air resistance rowing machines are often larger than other types, requiring more space for storage and use. They typically have a longer rail to accommodate the sliding seat, which means a larger footprint in your workout space. Plus, because they’re heavier and more robustly built, they can be more difficult to move around or store away. This could be a significant drawback for those living in smaller homes or apartments, or for multi-purpose spaces where the machine needs to be stored after each use.
  • Cost – While prices vary, air resistance rowers are generally more expensive than hydraulic or magnetic ones, which may be a deterrent for some. The higher cost is often associated with the durable construction, advanced features, and the realistic rowing experience these machines provide. However, for people on a budget or those just starting their fitness journey, the initial investment required for an air resistance rowing machine might be prohibitive. It’s worth considering your fitness goals, available space, and budget when choosing the right rowing machine for you.

Our Recommended Product: Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine


The Concept2 Model D is an impressive piece of fitness equipment lauded for its durability and high-level performance. Constructed from robust aluminum with steel front and rear legs, it exhibits stability and can support users up to 500lbs.

The machine features a PM5 performance monitor that provides comprehensive, real-time workout data, storage capability, heart rate monitoring, and even interactive games. It prioritizes user comfort with adjustable footrests, an ergonomic handle, and a 14-inch seat height designed to enhance rowing posture.

concept 2 instagram
photo by @rakeywouldgo

Despite weighing around 57lbs, the Concept2 Model D’s design is quite manageable, thanks to its quick-release frame lock mechanism and caster wheels for easy relocation and storage.

While it is priced higher than some competitors, its superior performance, durability, and extensive workout tracking capabilities make it a worthwhile investment for fitness enthusiasts and professional athletes.

2. Magnetic Resistance Rowing Machines

Magnetic resistance rowing machines are another popular choice, offering a distinct workout experience. Let’s examine some of their advantages and disadvantages:


  • Quiet Operation – One of the key selling points of magnetic rowing machines is their quiet operation. Unlike air rowers, magnetic rowers use a magnet and flywheel design, resulting in virtually silent operation. This makes them an excellent choice for users who want a low-noise workout environment.
  • Adjustable Resistance – Magnetic rowers typically offer adjustable resistance settings, allowing you to customize the intensity of your workout. The resistance remains constant, regardless of how fast or slow you row, providing a stable and predictable training experience.
  • Low Maintenance – Magnetic rowing machines require little to no maintenance, which can be a big advantage for users who want a hassle-free workout machine. The resistance system is enclosed, reducing the risk of damage and increasing the machine’s longevity.
magnetic water rowing machine

Could be better:

  • Fixed Resistance – While the adjustable resistance is a plus, it’s also a drawback. Because the resistance is fixed for each setting, it doesn’t automatically adjust based on your rowing intensity. This could make the workout less dynamic compared to air rowers.
  • Less Natural Feel – Some users find that magnetic rowers don’t provide as natural a rowing experience as other types. The constant resistance doesn’t mimic the feel of water rowing as closely.
  • Higher Price Point – Magnetic rowers tend to be more expensive than hydraulic rowers. While they are generally less expensive than air or water rowers, they might still be out of range for those on a tight budget.

Our Recommended Product: Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515

sunny magnetic resistance rowing machine

The SF-RW5515 stands out. This machine blends robust performance with user-friendly design, offering an impressive eight levels of adjustable resistance. The large LCD console ensures easy tracking of your progress, displaying time, count, calories, and total count.

The machine’s fully padded seat and non-slip grip handlebars provide a comfortable and secure workout. Its anti-slip foot pedals with adjustable straps keep your feet firmly in place, offering additional security during high-intensity rowing sessions. Despite its relatively compact size, the SF-RW5515 supports users up to 250lbs, making it a versatile choice for a wide range of users.

Finally, the built-in transportation wheels make moving and storing the machine a breeze. All in all, the SF-RW5515 offers a balance of convenience, performance, and value, making it a great choice for those looking for a magnetic resistance rowing machine.

3. Water Resistance Rowing Machines

Water resistance rowing machines deliver a workout experience that closely mirrors real-life rowing. Here are their key advantages and disadvantages:


  • Realistic Rowing Experience – The biggest selling point of water rowers is their ability to provide a realistic rowing experience. These machines use a water-filled flywheel to simulate the resistance felt when rowing on water. As you increase your rowing speed, the resistance naturally increases, just as it would with the drag of water on the oars. This natural feel can make your workout more enjoyable and effective, enhancing your motivation and engagement during exercise.
  • Variable Resistance – Similar to air rowers, water rowers offer variable resistance, but with a unique twist. The harder and faster you pull, the more resistance you’ll feel. This allows for a workout that’s dynamically responsive to your effort and intensity. It means you can tailor your workout to your fitness level and goals, making the machine suitable for beginners and advanced users alike.
  • Quiet Operation – While not completely silent, water rowers are significantly quieter than air rowers. They produce a soothing swooshing sound with each stroke, which many users find calming and even meditative. This can add an unexpected element of relaxation to your workout, making it a more pleasant experience overall.
water rowing machine

Could be better:

  • Maintenance – The primary downside of water rowers is their maintenance requirements. To keep your machine in optimal working condition, you’ll need to change the water occasionally and add purification tablets to prevent the growth of algae. This additional upkeep might be a minor inconvenience for some users, especially those with busy schedules.
  • Size and Weight – Water rowers are generally larger and heavier than other types of rowing machines. Their size and weight might pose a challenge if you have limited space or if you frequently need to move your machine. Despite their bulk, many water rowers do come with transport wheels to aid mobility.
  • Cost – Water rowing machines are typically more expensive than other types, including hydraulic, magnetic, and even some air rowers. The higher price tag might deter budget-conscious users. However, many users find that the quality of workout, durability, and the authentic rowing experience these machines offer are worth the extra cost.

Our Recommended Product: Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5809

sunny water rowing machine

Our recommended water resistance rowing machine, the SF-RW5809, offers an unparalleled rowing experience with its water-resistance design. The water tank and flywheel together create a smooth, consistent rowing feel that mirrors the sensation of rowing in a lake or river. The machine’s sturdy frame can support users up to 300 lbs, while the comfortably padded seat, non-slip handlebars, and adjustable foot pedals ensure a secure and comfortable workout.

sunny water rower
photo by @heavensreign

The built-in LCD monitor enables you to track your time, stroke count, calories burned, and strokes per minute, helping you monitor your progress. Notably, the machine includes wheels for easy transportation and a device holder for your tablet or phone, so you can stay entertained during your workout. The SF-RW5809 is a top pick for those seeking an authentic, engaging rowing experience at home.

4. Hydraulic Resistance Rowing Machines


  • Compact and Portable – Hydraulic rowing machines are typically the smallest and lightest of all types, making them excellent choices for those with limited workout space. They’re easy to move and store, ensuring that even in a small apartment, you can enjoy a full-body workout.
  • Budget-Friendly – These rowing machines are usually the least expensive, making them a great option for those on a budget. Despite their lower cost, they can still offer a solid workout, providing excellent value for the price.
  • Adjustable Resistance – Hydraulic rowing machines often come with adjustable resistance, allowing you to customize the intensity of your workout. This feature gives you the flexibility to tailor your sessions to your fitness level and specific training goals.
hydraulic rowing machine

Could be better:

  • Unnatural Motion – Hydraulic rowers, especially those with two arms, may not offer a natural rowing motion. This could potentially lead to less effective workouts and, in some cases, strain or injury.
  • Maintenance – The hydraulic cylinders in these rowers can heat up with use, altering the resistance level. They also may require regular maintenance or replacement, which could be a hassle for some users.
  • Limited Longevity – Hydraulic rowing machines may not last as long as their magnetic, air, or water counterparts. The hydraulic cylinders, in particular, can wear out with regular use, leading to potential additional costs down the line.

Our Recommended Product: Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5639

sunny hydraulic resistance rower

The SF-RW5639 stands out as a reliable choice for a hydraulic rower. This machine is designed to offer a full range of motion for a comprehensive, low-impact workout. It supports a higher weight capacity (up to 350 lbs), setting it apart from many other hydraulic models.

The machine’s wide, cushioned seat, non-slip handlebars, and large anti-slip foot pedals ensure comfort and stability during your workout. The 12 levels of adjustable resistance offer a range of workout intensities, accommodating beginners and more advanced users alike.

With its easy-to-read LCD monitor, you can track your workout time, row count, total count, and calories burned. Despite its compact size, this rower delivers an impressively robust and versatile workout.


The latest reviews of must-have home gym training equipment, apparel, and supplements that will enhance your performance and bring you new results.

How to Pick the Right Rower Type For You

Selecting the right rowing machine is a balance of multiple factors. Your fitness level and goals will inform your choice. In all, the main variable is this: how does the rowing machine work? Beginners may favor hydraulic rowers for their affordability and compact size. Advanced athletes or those training for a rowing competition might opt for air or water rowers for their realistic simulation of rowing. The purpose of your workout, whether it’s general fitness or sport-specific training, also matters.

Your body proportions and available space are practical considerations. Taller individuals or those with a larger build might need machines with a longer rail or wider seat. Hydraulic rowers are typically smaller, while air and water rowers can be larger, so consider your space constraints. Some rowers offer foldability or wheels for easy storage.

Budget plays a role as hydraulic and some magnetic rowers are generally more affordable, while air and water rowers can be pricier due to their complex mechanisms. Noise level is another factor. If you prefer a quiet workout environment, a magnetic rower is typically quieter, making it suitable for shared living spaces. Lastly, maintenance requirements differ. Hydraulic machines may need regular maintenance or replacement of the hydraulic cylinders, while magnetic rowers are virtually maintenance-free. Taking all these into account will help you find a rower that best suits your needs and goals.

workout using rowing machines


How Does A Rowing Machine Work?

A rowing machine simulates rowing action, using various resistance types (air, water, magnetic, hydraulic) to provide a full-body workout.

Are Hydraulic Rowing Machines Effective For Weight Loss?

Yes, hydraulic rowing machines can effectively support weight loss by providing a low-impact, high-intensity workout that burns calories.


Rowing machines offer a complete body workout, and their variety ensures a fit for every fitness goal. Understanding the types of rowing machines and how they work is key to selecting the right one for you.

Have you ever used a rowing machine before? Which type do you prefer and why? Have you found our guide helpful in choosing the best rowing machine for your needs? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. Let’s continue the conversation!

Also read:


  1. Effect of Resistance Training Methods and Intensity on the Adolescent Swimmer’s Performance: A Systematic Review // NIH: /35444975/
  2. Selecting and Effectively Using a Rowing Machine // Healthysd: wp-content/uploads/2014/12/ selecting-and-effectively-using-a-rowing-machine.pdf
  3. Development of Magnetorheological Resistive Exercise Device for Rowing Machine // NIH: /pmc/articles/PMC4887648/
  4. Concept 2 Rower Evaluation and Rowing Workouts // Texas Department: section/training-operations-tod /concept-2-rower-evaluation-and-rowing-workouts
  5. An ergonomic comparison of rowing machine designs: possible implications for safety // NIH: /11916892/

Why Trust Us?

With over 20 years in Olympic Weightlifting, our team does its best to provide the audience with ultimate support and meet the needs and requirements of advanced athletes and professional lifters, as well as people who strive to open new opportunities and develop their physical capabilities with us.

By trusting the recommendations of our certified experts in coaching, nutrition, dietology, and sports training programming, as well as scientific consultants, and physiotherapists, we provide you with thorough, well-considered, and scientifically proven content. All the information given in the articles concerning workout programming, separate exercises, and athletic performance, in general, is based on verified data. We ensure that you can rely on our professionals’ pieces of advice and recommendations that can be treated as personalized ones which will benefit you and fully meet your needs.

The product testing process is described in more detail here

Ihor Shymechko

Author: Ihor Shymechko
Pro Olympic Weightlifter, Coach

Experience: 26 years
Best Results: Snatch – 208 kg,
C&J – 240 kg

Ihor has been a professional weightlifter since 1996, boasting over two decades of competition experience. His notable achievements include clinching the European Championship in 2009 and securing a silver medal in the 105kg division at the Senior World Championships in 2011. Ihor represented his country in the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Summer Olympics. After retiring from competitive weightlifting, he transitioned to coaching, leveraging his vast experience to guide athletes who now compete on both national and international stages.

View author’s page

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *