Rowing engages 86 percent of your muscles, which helps it to rank highly among the most effective full-body workouts. Spend a few thousand meters on an indoor rowing machine and you’ll understand why.
“Rowing on the erg, just as on the water, uses a significant number of your largest muscles, with your core, legs and glutes doing a lot of work,” says Laura Simon, assistant coach for the women’s rowing team at Yale. “Rowing is truly a mainframe workout that uses all of the muscles that support your spine and strengthen your core. The arms contribute, but are more used a follow-though, such as in a golf swing or swimming stroke.”
Olympic rowers train in two ways: outdoors on the water and indoors on a rowing machine (or rowing ergometer). When (literally) going for the gold, they don’t mess around; they train on the best rowing machine you can buy.
“Over the course of the year, it averages out to a 60/40 split of outdoor to indoor rowing. Ultimately, we compete in boats on the water, so outdoor rowing tends to dominate the mileage and hours of training every week,” says Grace Luczak, an Olympic rower for Team USA. “That said, erging, or indoor rowing, is used as a tool to improve fitness; something to rely on when the weather goes south and temperatures slip to the single digits, and as a way to determine our individual fitness. It’s a tool to confirm our training plan is working or needs adjustment.”
What to look for in an at-home rowing machine
Luczak’s strict requirements for at-home rowing machines include good durability, low noise output, smooth operation, reasonable price, and—more recently—connected fitness.
“When the pandemic hit, and the Olympics were postponed a year, I was struck by the reality I had to train by myself at home. We do as much mileage in a week for a 6 to 7 minute race as a runner would for a marathon. That’s a lot of time on the rowing machine without teammates next to you,” she says. “No one wants to be isolated when working out, even Olympians. Having the connected fitness component was critical for keeping me engaged and getting me off the couch.”
The best at-home rowing machines, according to Olympic rowers
1. Concept2 Model D Rower, $900
There’s a general consensus among Olympic rowers (and their coaches) that the Concept2 rowing machine is the best at-home rowing machine. It’s compact and easy to store, budget-friendly, and measures your progress with a fuss-free performance monitor. “It’s the gold standard for competitive rowing in terms of measuring times and speeds,” says Gevvie Stone, an Olympic rower for Team USA. “It’s a relatively affordable piece of workout equipment, it’s durable, takes up a small amount of space when upright, it’s relatively easy to transport, and it provides plenty of data on its monitor.”
Concept2 makes several different models, but coach Simon prefers Model D or Model E. “We use this version, as then times can truly be compared across programs and across the global for recruiting and time standards for national teams,” she says. “It also releases workouts of the day, which are great for those just starting out.”
Shop now: Concept2 Model D Rower, $900; also available immediately from Amazon, $1,300
2. Hydrow Rower, $1,995
Hydrow provides an immersive experience that sort of makes you feel like you’re on the water. Aside from the touchscreen display and speakers that give you the view and sounds of the river, you also get a similar feel with its patented drag mechanism. “Its workouts are filmed live from an actual rowing boat, and you’re watching your trainer row on a body of water while you work out,” says Meghan Musnicki, a two-time Olympic gold medalist.
Shop now: Hydrow Rower, $1,995
3. RowPerfect3 Model T, $3,400
Luczak loves the feel of RowPerfect. The machine is unique in that both the seat and foot stretcher move, which mimics the feel of rowing on the water in a boat. It’s also said to be gentler on your body than static machines by reducing the force your lower back experiences with each stroke.
4. NordicTrack RW900 Rower, $1,600
Musnicki also likes NordicTrack for its interactive workout experience. “Similar to a Peloton bike, you can pick your workout and your trainer and get in a great sweat.” This model has a 22-inch rotating touchscreen, 26 resistance levels, and manual air resistance, but there’s also less expensive options available, like the NordicTrack RW600 Rower ($999).
Shop now: NordicTrack RW900 Rower, $999
5. WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine, $1,285
If you prefer the feel of water rowers, WaterRower makes the experience smooth and effective. Its WaterFlywheel design uses a specially-formed paddle, which cups the moving water and reducing slippage. The designs are beautiful, too. You can choose between wood construction or aluminum.
Shop now: WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine, $1,285
6. Ergatta Rower, $2,199
The Ergatta rower offers gaming-inspired content that’s meant to make fitness more fun and motivational with a 17-inch touchscreen. Like the WaterRower, it’s easily stored upright. It’s a beautiful machine handmade from American cherry wood that you won’t have to worry about hiding out of sight.
Shop now: Ergatta Rower, $2,199
Try this back and core resistance band workout:
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