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No matter what it is that someone is looking for – a new car, a bicycle, even a new pair of tennis shoes if you’ve never purchased the item before, chances are that you have a lot of questions.
I get asked questions about my rowing machine all the time. Common questions such as, “Do you really only need to work out for 20 or 30 minutes a day?” or “Is your machine working? I don’t hear a sound!” and of course “I want to buy a rowing machine. What is the difference between them?”
All these questions made me realize that beginners need their own mini-guide to help them make a better and more informed buying decision.
Let’s face it, no one wants to spend their hard-earned cash only to discover that the machine they picked doesn’t really work for them.
So, Hello Beginners! Today’s article is just for you!
Let’s talk about the different types of rowing machines, which indoor rowing machine resistance type is better for your situation, and what the pros and cons of each machine are.
Let’s get started, friends, because we’ve got a lot of ground to cover!
Our Simple Guide for Beginners
Spending a few minutes going over this guide can save you tons of time, not to mention headaches. I want to tell you about the differences between them so you can make a better buying decision.
While there are a great many things to consider when buying a rowing machine, perhaps the biggest choice of all is the type of resistance.
Resistance gives you something to push or pull against so that you build new muscle. Resistance is like lifting weights. You can lift your arms up and down all day, but add just a couple of pounds of resistance (a dumbbell) and you’ve upped your game to a whole new level.
However, not all resistance types are the same, so that’s where we start.
What Are the Different Rowing Machine Resistance Types?
The majority of rowing machines are designed to simulate rowing outdoors in an actual boat. There are four resistance methods used in rowing machines, and all have their good and not-so-good points. These four resistance types are Air, Water, Magnetic, and Hydraulic, and we’ll take a more in-depth look at each of these types in the next few sections.
Air Resistance Rower
Air resistance rowing machines are quite popular for two reasons. One- air is free, and two- we have an unlimited amount of air available.
This type of rowing machine works using fan blades inside a cage or housing. Most models have a damper, which allows you to control the amount of air that enters the fan cage.
However, beginners often have a hard time understanding the damper and how to set it properly.
The harder you work (the faster you pull on the handle) the more resistance there is. Simply turning the knob on the damper will also allow more air to enter the cage and make your workout harder.
You will find air rowing machines a very popular choice due to their lower price, the limited number of moving parts, and how lightweight the machine is, which makes it easier to move around.
If you’ve ever used a rowing machine during CrossFit or at your local gym, chances are that it was an air rower.
Most air rowers only have a basic monitor, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a great workout.
Concept 2 rowing machines are perhaps the best-known type of air resistance rowers on the market today.
The Pros of Air Rowers
There are many reasons air rowers are so popular, including:
- Air rowers are lightweight since the cage and fan are often made of plastic
- Air rowers make HIIT rowing programs easy to do since you don’t need to change the settings
- The damper makes for easy resistance control
- Air rowers are often less expensive than other models
- Parts are usually readily available and are inexpensive
Learn more with our full video of the Concept2 Rower by Rowing Expert & YouTube Influencer Max Secunda:
The Cons of Air Resistance Rowers
While air rowers might sound really good right now, nothing is perfect. Some of the drawbacks to air rowers include:
- They can be incredibly noisy, especially for those who are very fit and tend to row at a faster, more intense rate
- Some models do not have dampers
- The drag factor can be affected by variables such as humidity, elevation, even dust
- Some rowers kick the air back into your face, which can be annoying
If noise is a problem, avoid air rowers. If you want a sturdy machine that will go for years without a hitch and noise is not an issue for you, you’ll be happy with an air rowing machine.
Magnetic Resistance Rowing Machines
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Do you remember as a kid in school being shown how magnets can attract metals but can also repel one other? Magnetic rowing machines work in a similar manner.
Magnetic rowers have a metal flywheel and magnets that are moved closer to or farther away from the flywheel to create resistance.
You will find a huge variety and price difference among magnetic rowing machines. Some of these differences are due to quality, others are due to the high-tech monitors.
Magnetic rowers are very popular since they are virtually silent. For anyone who lives in an apartment and has day-sleepers or small children, or if you share a living space with others, this type of rower is a good choice since it will not disturb other people in the next room.
Some magnetic resistance rowing machines can be heavy, but most have transport wheels that make rolling them into another room much easier.
The Hydrow is a top-selling, premium magnetic rower with a premium price, but you’ll definitely get what you pay for. I’ve had a Hydrow for a few years now, and I use it every single day, and I love, love, love it!
The Pros of a Magnetic Rowing Machine
A magnetic rower has a lot going for it, including:
- Virtually silent operation
- A wide range of prices and features
- Most models have preset workout programs
- Some models have high-tech HD touchscreens and programming
- A magnetic rower has variable resistance levels, usually by turning a knob
- A magnetic rower also offers very smooth operation, similar to outdoor rowing
The Cons of a Magnetic Rowing Machine
As nice as magnetic rowing machines are, they aren’t perfect.
- Magnetic rowers can be very heavy
- Some models have limited amounts of resistance
- Some models require you to change the resistance as you row, which can interrupt your rhythm and your workout
- Some magnetic rowers need electricity or even Wi-Fi to operate
If you’re very conscious about noise levels, then a magnetic rowing machine is the perfect answer.
Water Rowing Machines
As the name implies, water rowers use water as their source of resistance.
You will find fan blades inside a plastic tank that holds water on a water rower. As you try to force the fan to go faster and faster through the water, it creates resistance. Similar to what happens when you swim.
Water rowers are extremely popular for two reasons. One- they give the feeling of real rowing motion. You do feel as though you are sitting in a boat, rowing on the water. Second, the sound of the moving water is very soothing, completing the idea that you are actually rowing on the water.
The sound of the moving water in the tank isn’t very loud and won’t interfere with someone watching TV in the next room. I’ve found water rowers to sound about as loud as filling a bathtub.
Water rowing machines, like magnetic resistance machines, can be quite heavy, but most have wheels to make moving them easier.
You may have seen Kevin Spacey use a water rower in the series House of Cards.
A water rower also comes in many different price ranges and is made from all types of materials, with the most popular models being made from hardwood. This also gives one the feeling of sitting in a wooden boat or canoe.
Most water rowers are incredibly tough, being able to handle a maximum user weight capacity in the hundreds of pounds.
One of the most popular water rowing machines is Ergatta. Ergatta is made from cherry wood and it can handle users up to 500 pounds! It also comes with a cool 17.3 inch HD touchscreen that has video games and racing options that makes working out fun. Ergatta even offers programs just for beginners so that you learn not only how to row but also what all those data numbers mean!
I also love the smooth rowing motion Ergatta offers, but you’ll need to experience its super-smooth rowing action to fully understand what I’m saying.
The Pros of a Water Rowing Machine
Water rowers have so much going for them, it’s easy to see why so many people own one. Some of the pros to consider include:
- They’re some of the prettiest indoor rowing machines you can buy
- Holds up to heavy user weights
- The water makes zen-like sounds that many find soothing
- Mimics real-life rowing on the water
- There is a wide range of prices, materials, and other options
- Perfect for every fitness level, beginner to very advanced
The Cons of a Water Rowing Machine
While water rowers are probably one of the best rowing machines ever made, there are a few things to consider before buying one:
- Some models are very expensive
- Some models have very basic monitors
- The water in the tank needs chlorine tablets to prevent it from growing algae or becoming cloudy
- These indoor rowers can also be very heavy
If you want as close to real-life rowing as you can get, and you love the sound of water, then a water rower might be exactly what you need.
Hydraulic Rowing Machines
You may not see too many of these around, but they do have their good side.
Hydraulic rowers are the least expensive type of rowing machine you can buy. In fact, you may not even see them called hydraulic rowers but hydraulic fitness machines or something similar.
This is because the hydraulic motion doesn’t really simulate rowing, but it does offer some benefits.
Hydraulic rowing machines use hydraulic pistons, similar to the shock absorbers on your car. Most models have no way to set the resistance, and more advanced users will find them not very challenging.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find hydraulic rowers that will allow you to adjust the resistance by letting in more or less fluid into the pistons.
Some models use a single handle, single-piston mechanism, others use two pistons and two separate handles.
Hydraulic rowers make almost no noise, and they are very compact, which is great for those with a very limited amount of space and those who want to keep noise levels to a minimum.
Hydraulic resistance rowing machines are generally very inexpensive, which is also helpful for those who don’t have a lot of cash to invest – Click here if you would like to see our full list of Best Inexpensive Rowing Machines. Since the pistons on a hydraulic rower tend to get very hot, we recommend that you put a mat underneath just in case they start to leak oil. You should also not use one for more than 20 minutes at a time to prevent overheating. They can be moved quite easily, and some people buy them to use in places where their regular rowing machine cannot go- such as in an RV, in a cabin, or when they go camping.
The Pros of Hydraulic Rowers
While these machines don’t really come close to mimicking actual rowing motion, there are some benefits that most hydraulic rowers have, including:
- These are very lightweight and small enough to be used almost anywhere
- They are very inexpensive
- Some models fold as an extra space-saving design
- They do offer some exercise benefits, which is better than sitting on your sofa
- These indoor rowers are very quiet
- Perfect for the elderly or beginners
- They can be moved and used in out-of-the-way locations
The Cons of Hydraulic Rowers
There are some things you should consider before you purchase a hydraulic resistance rower, including:
- While hydraulic resistance rowers are inexpensive, they also wear out quickly
- These are for beginners or the elderly and won’t work well for even intermediate users
- The movement isn’t smooth
- The pistons can overheat and leak fluid
- Some models do not allow for resistance level changes
If you want a rowing machine for those out-of-the-way places, such as camping trips, or if you are elderly or aren’t sure whether you would even enjoy a rowing machine, a hydraulic rower might be a good choice to start with.
How Do I Choose a Rowing Machine?
First, you should consider which type of resistance will work for you.
- If Noise Is an Issue – Consider a water rower or magnetic rower
- If Price Is a Major Concern – Consider a magnetic rower
- If You Want a Rower with a High-Weight Capacity – Choose a water rower
Next, you might want to consider your pocketbook. Magnetic rowers come in a wide range of prices, as do water rowers. I suggest that you buy the best rowing machine that you can afford so that it lasts as long as possible.
You should also consider the amount of space you have. Some rowers, such as Concept 2, are very, very long. Other rowers, like Hydrow and Ergatta, aren’t as long, but they do require space to store them since they don’t fold or come apart as Concept 2 does. One good thing about these two are that you can store them upright.
If you still can’t make up your mind – may I suggest Hydrow or Ergatta? Both of these are top-notch, world-class machines that will keep you motivated and will last for decades.
Which Is Better, a Magnetic or Water Rower?
This is a really tough question because there are good reasons to buy both of these!
Both are excellent when it comes to a smooth rowing action, but I will say that water rowers tend to be even more so.
Water rowers are so soothing to listen to, but if you want a virtually noiseless machine, you will want to go with a magnetic rower.
You really can’t go wrong with either a magnetic or water rower. Much of your decision will be based on the price, your budget, and personal preferences.
By the way, when picking out a rowing machine, don’t think that those monitors and monthly subscriptions aren’t worth considering. Rowing can be very tedious unless you love it. Having a monitor with programs, whether they are instructor-led, game-based, or on-demand workouts, can make all the difference between skipping your workouts due to boredom and excitedly looking forward to winning the next race.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to choosing your first rowing machine, there are a lot of things to consider. Break things down by resistance type, price, and size, and you should have a better idea of which rowing machine will work best for you.
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Remember that all rowing machines will give you a full-body workout, improve your cardiovascular fitness, and help you grow new muscles, so it’s not so much “should you choose a rowing machine,” but “which rowing machine will work best for you.”
I hope you found this beginner’s guide helpful. Feel free to pass it on to friends and family.
Stay healthy and Happy Rowing!
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Written by Petra Amara – RowingCrazy.com
CEO & Founder of RowingCrazy, National Rower, Coxswain Womens Eight Team, Rowing Coach & Writer
Petra is a Mother of two and owner of Rowingcrazy.com. Petra lives and breathes rowing, she also has a passion for writing which lead her to start RowingCrazy.com to share her rowing experience and expertise with others.