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Looking to switch up your cardio routine? Consider swapping a bike or treadmill a water rower (a.k.a. a water rowing machine).
Although often overlooked, rowing is a fantastic workout with a number of benefits. The pulling motion of rowing trains both cardio and strength, activating a surprising number of muscles including those in the back, arms, shoulders, legs, glues and abs, among others. This full-body motion is also low-impact, ensuring healthy joints in the long run. Plus, rowing’s soft, regimented movement is meditative and even fun for many.
If you want to reap the full-body, low-impact benefits of rowing, water rowers are the best way to do it (besides actual open-water rowing). Compared to magnetic, air or hydraulic rowing machines, water rowers offer the best experience because you get the smooth, realistic feel of water resistance in a compact, streamlined machine. With water rowers, drag naturally increases as you paddle faster, meaning there’s no fiddling with settings — just natural movement
People also prefer water rowers for the satisfying, calming sound of splashing water that accompanies each stroke. With the best water rowers, that sound is quieter than most other types of rowing machines (something any roommates or family members will appreciate).
The Best Water Rower Machines
Like any piece of home gym equipment, it takes some shopping to find the best water rower machines. Here are a few things to consider before making a purchase.
Size: The best water rowers don’t take up nearly as much space as treadmills, for example, and most can be stashed upright when not in use. Still, it’s important to make sure that your new machine will fit in your home. Large machines require around nine by four feet, but this can vary depending on the machine. You also don’t need too much extra clearance (like you do with a treadmill) as movement happens within the machine’s footprint.
Build Quality: Some water rowers will last much longer than others without a problem. One way to gauge build quality is to look at the weight capacity of a machine. A machine with a 300-pound weight capacity should be solid, while something with, say, a 500-pound or 1,000-pound capacity will be even better.
Console: It’s always helpful to view stats while rowing, such as speed, time and calories burned. Speed is the most important because, unlike a treadmill, you decide how hard you want to go on water rowers. A speed monitor is therefore very helpful for keeping a steady pace.
Design: One of our favorite things about water rowers is that, for the most part, they look great. The best water rowers have a handsome wood build, although some have a more modern steel construction. Think about how a rower will look in your home, especially if it’ll be a common space.
And unlike those flimsy water mattresses of the past, you don’t have to worry about a water rower leaking or spilling everywhere; the latest water rowers are all built with leak-proof, secure, professional-grade materials that keep the water flowing for your workout — not all over your floor.
BEST OVERALL WORKOUT
The Ergatta isn’t just the best water rower — it’s also one of the best home gym machines, period.
Users are able to row freely on the Ergatta (as you would with any machine), but it offers way more than other machines through a 17.3-inch HD touchscreen monitor. By signing up for Ergatta’s membership program (which costs $29 a month), users can access the company’s game-based workout platform. This includes virtual races against other users, adaptive training programs based on your skill level, challenges and more.
These workout options are a great entry point for beginners but also help experienced rowers up their game. The workout program doesn’t have any live or trainer-guided workouts, but, for many, the game-based approach to fitness might be more effective — not to mention lots of fun.
Thanks to a cherry wood frame and premium craftsmanship, the Ergatta earns itself top marks in terms of build quality and design. It looks great — no matter where you put it — and supports up to 500 pounds. The machine is comfortable for anyone six-foot-eight or less and the seat permits a maximum 40-inch inseam. When in use, the Ergatta measure 86 by 23 by 40 inches. It can also be stored vertically (the monitor folds inwards) for a footprint of 23 by 22.5 by 86 inches.
2. WaterRower Classic
If you’re looking for a handsome, well-made machine that can deliver one of the best rowing workouts, check out this WaterRower classic. The best-seller’s focal point is a water flywheel which consists of two paddles in an enclosed tank. This yields a smooth, quiet experience that rowers of all levels will appreciate.
As far as build goes, the WaterRower is almost as good-looking as it is durable. The frame, which can support a whopping 1,000 pounds, is made of solid black walnut finished in Danish oil. The wood construction looks great and has the added benefit of shock absorption for a smoother feel. The machine takes up 84 by 22 inches when in use, and can be stored upright for a space-saving 22-inch footprint.
Although relatively simple compared to the Ergatta, the WaterRower offers plenty of workout information through a display mounted by the footplate. Here, you can monitor workout data including intensity, stroke rate, duration, and distance. The monitor is also compatible with WaterRower’s chest strap heart monitor (sold separately).
3. Mr. Captain Water Rowing Machine
This water rower from Mr. Captain is another great pick for rowers of any level. It’s made of genuine red walnut wood that not only looks great in any room but delivers a sturdy, smooth experience. Resistance comes from a front-mounted water tank that’s extra thick to keep noise to a minimum (although you still get a bit of that nice splashing sound).
We’re also fans of the onboard workout monitor fitted to the Mr. Captain rower. You can set it to three modes — manual, interval custom or target — which helps guide your workout as you please. The monitor is also Bluetooth compatible, allowing you to connect to a smartphone for more workout data.
The Mr. Captain rower measures about the same as our other picks with a footprint of 82 by 22 inches. It can also be stored upright, in which case it takes up 22 by 20 inches. The difference between the Mr. Captain and the other options is that this one weighs just 58 pounds — almost half what the above rowers’ weights. This makes the machine easier to store and move around, although slightly less sturdy with a weight capacity of 320 pounds.
4. Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge 500
We’re preferential to the look of wood water rowers, but this metal rower from Sunny Health & Fitness is also a great choice. It’s made of lightweight steel that lends a solid feel and supports up to 300 pounds. The rower is also fairly compact with a footprint of 80 by 22 inches when in use and 22 by 34 when stashed vertically.
The Sunny rower uses a 16-blade flywheel in the water tank which creates a very smooth stroke and adaptive resistance as you row slower or faster. We also like the machine’s supportive footplate which keeps your feet from falling or moving too much.
On top of the rower, you’ll find an LCD fitness monitor where you can track time, strokes per minute, calories, ambient temperature and more. This monitor is also compatible with ANT+ technology, allowing you to connect a heart rate monitor.