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Looking for an at-home workout? The best rowing machines offer a full-body exercise at home in one compact piece of equipment, no gym membership necessary—just one of the many reasons they’re so popular. Much like an under-desk treadmill, some of the picks on our list even fold up for storage, so you won’t have them taking up precious space!
As you invest in your home gym, consider adding a rowing machine alongside your treadmill, your weight set, and your fitness accessories for a great low-impact workout in about 20 minutes. Just ask Nick Karwoski, a Hydrow athlete and triathlete, who swears by them.
“Using a rowing machine is one of the most efficient ways to get a cardiovascular and strength training workout in a short amount of time,” he says. “We live in an ever-stressed world, where we’re constantly sitting and rounding our backs, but rowing helps correct this by engaging those lats and sitting upright.”
Our top picks
Ready to row? We’ve corralled the best rowing machines for an at-home, full-body cardio, and strength workout below. You’ll never have to wait your turn at the gym again.
How to choose the best rowing machine
✔️ Pick your mechanism. Rowing machines with water, magnetic, hydraulic, and air resistance are all available, and each has its pros and cons. Water and air are smoother, magnets are quieter, and hydraulics are usually cheaper. Depending on your space, experience level, and budget, each could end up being an ideal option.
✔️Consider size. When you’re making your final decision, make sure you have enough space for your ideal model—it might be longer or wider than you’re anticipating, and it’s a pain to return a rowing machine. (We suggest measuring your home gym before you start your search.)
✔️ Balance features with cost. There are rowing machines at pretty much every price point, from $100 to over $2,000. Features like touchscreen displays, built-in workouts, and data reporting come at a premium, but they really do help beginners and serious athletes alike make their workouts better. However, they’re not necessary if they’re not in your budget. Some high-end rowers also require subscriptions, so watch out for those fees, too.
How to use a rowing machine
Proper form is key to an efficient and safe rowing workout. Here’s how to use a rowing machine, as previously reported by Prevention.
Step 1: Get into catch position. In this starting position, feet are in the heel cups of a rowing machine with the strap tightly secured over your shoelaces. Holding onto the handlebar with both hands and arms extended, knees are bent and torso is leaning slightly forward as you sit on the seat cushion toward the front of the machine.
Step 2: Straighten legs. The first movement on a rowing machine is led with the legs. Push both legs straight out powerfully, using the glutes and quads to send the seat toward the back of the machine.
Step 3: Lean back. Once legs are straight, lean the torso back farther than a 90-degree angle, keeping a flat back. Use your core to maintain the position and take the work out of the lower back.
Step 4: Pull arms to chest. While engaging your core and leaning back with straight legs, pull the handlebar to your chest. Finish the movement by pushing the arms forward and reversing the first three steps: Lean forward, bend knees, and return to the starting position. That’s one rep. You’ll repeat this motion until you meet your time or rep goal.
What are the benefits of using a rowing machine?
Using a rowing machine regularly can provide numerous benefits throughout the whole body. “The rowing machine combines strength and endurance and as a cardio exercise can strengthen a person’s cardiovascular system as well with progressive use,” says White.
This type of exercise provides a full body workout, White says. “Consistency with this machine will bring about positive effects to not only your quads, calves, and glutes but also secondary benefits to the upper body muscles, such as pecs, arms, and abs as well,” he explains.
Check out more of the benefits of using a rowing machine:
- You get a full-body workout in a compact space
- The combination of strength and cardio means you’ll build power and boost endurance
- Rowing machines are effective even when used for short periods of exercise
- It’s a low-impact exercise that’s easy on joints
- Practicing proper rowing form my help with posture, as it engages the lats and encourages sitting upright
- You can workout at home
- It’s accessible to most fitness levels and abilities
- The cardio element is good for your heart and lungs
Can you lose weight by using a rowing machine?
Rowing machines a great calorie-burning exercise that strengthens your cardiovascular system—which means that yes, consistent exercise with a rowing machine may help with your weight loss goals, given that you’re pairing it with a proper healthy diet.
“The intensity of the workout mainly depends on the user, but performing the workout still burns a substantial amount of calories and adding this to your exercise routine along with maintaining a caloric deficit-based diet will certainly yield an increase in weight loss,” explains White.
What muscles does a rowing machine work?
Although rowing might appear to be mostly an upper-body workout, your legs and glutes are actually the main muscles driving your stroke. “Rowing is 80% legs and 20% upper body,” Karwoski says. “But it also forces you to engage your core and back, so you feel completely connected from your feet to your shoulders.
Unlike running and other high-impact exercises like HIIT, it’s a low-impact workout that goes easy on your joints, making rowers ideal for just about anyone, especially those recovering from an injury or who are newer to exercise.
Is it safe to row every day?
Though it may depend on the intensity with which you’re engaging in the exercise, you can generally use a rowing machine every day. But like with any other workout, it’s crucial that you don’t overexert yourself or push yourself over the limit, to avoid any potential injury.
If you’re aiming to row for weight loss, Hydrow recommends generally using a rowing machine for at least 30 minutes per day, anywhere from four to six times a week. However, the frequency and duration of your workout should depend on your own personal fitness goals, your fitness level, and your expertise level.
Jake Smith, an editorial fellow at Prevention, recently graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in magazine journalism and just started going to the gym. Let's be honest—he's probably scrolling through Twitter right now.
Ellen McAlpine is a commerce editor and writer at Hearst Magazines, covering tech, fitness, lifestyle, and beyond. In her time as a writer, she’s covered everything from top tech items like running watches and ring lights to phone cases and beauty tools.
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