Rowing machines create their resistance in a variety of different ways

Rowing Machines

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The rowing machine (also known as an Ergometer) was originally developed purely for simulating the rowing motion and to be used by rowing clubs to help measure and increase performance.

Since the original basic design, rowing machines have become much quieter, more commercial and more realistic in their rowing motion. There are now several different types of resistance available, from magnetic flywheels with adjustable resistance to those where the level of resistance is set by loading the front section with water.

Compared to the very early designs, modern rowing machines have been developed with the ability to provide you with as much information as possible about your workout on one easy to read screen at the front of the machine.

Some of the most common information to be displayed on these screens:

  • Distance
  • Heart rate
  • Total time spent rowing that session
  • Average time it takes you to row 500m
  • Watts – The amount of power you are generating
  • Stroke rate


Rowing machines are an excellent piece of exercise equipment for improving your overall fitness level

Differences in display unit measurements

For the information that is constantly varying depending on your stroke rate and resistance, the rowing machine will usually calculate this by measuring the speed of the flywheel during the stroke and then recording how quickly it decelerates during the recovery.

If you were to pick up a set of 10kg dumbbells in one gym, the chances are the 10kg gyms in another gym would feel exactly the same even if they were made by a different manufacturer.

With rowing machines, companies will often have their own unique algorithm for calculating various measurements such as how much power you are generating, so don’t be too worried if you buy a rowing machine and it reads a slightly different measurement to what you are used to on the machines you have used in the past or at the gym.

Types of motion

  1. The most common motion type is when the foot platform and flywheel are both fixed, with just the seat sliding along the guide rail
  2. Another option is where both the foot rest and the seat slide along the rail
  3. The third option is where the seat is fixed and only the foot plate slides along the rail

Types of resistance on rowing machines

Magnetic resistance

The basic design idea behind magnetic resistance flywheels is that the resistance is controlled by electromagnets that engage a brake with the flywheel.

This type of rowing machine is recommended if you are looking for a quieter machine for using at home.

This makes it easier to adjust the resistance, which is kept at an even level and helps you to accurately track your progress from session to session.

If you are used to the air or water resistance machines then the resistance being fixed may take some getting used to as the air and water type rowing machines tend to have their resistance vary depending on how quickly you are performing strokes and at what rate the flywheel is already moving.

Air resistance

In contrast to the electromagnets of the magnetic style rowing machines, with the air resistance design you will have air fins that rotate with the flywheel that generate the breaking resistance.

Although this type of machine is louder to use than the magnetic type due to the air rushing around the inside of the flywheel, many of these rowing machines also come with adjustable vents facing you, to allow the air flow from the fins to keep you cool.

An Infiniti R99 rowing machine uses air resistance

The fact that the level of resistance varies depending on the speed of your previous stroke, and depending on where in the stroke movement you are makes this a much more realistic rowing experience than the magnetic resistance style.

Water resistance

Often considered the most realistic rowing motion due to the fact that the resistance is generated by a paddle in the flywheel tank moving against water, rowing machines with water as the resistance are relatively new to the market but gaining in popularity.

With so many factors going into the development of the resistance systems and flywheel design it will be difficult to compare your performance from one rowing machine to the next.A WaterRower rowing machine creates resistance through a paddle moving through a tank of waterThis is one of the reasons why you should try to find a rowing machine that is produced by a trusted manufacturer and has plenty of good user reviews to make sure you will be able to use it for many years.

Effects of performing exercise using a rowing machine

The effectiveness of different types of cardio equipment on how many muscles you work and how many calories you can work off varies massively.

For example if you take a look at one of the less intensive pieces of cardio equipment, the recumbent exercise bike, you really only need to work your legs with a relatively low level of movement.

Compare this to a rowing machine, where you are working almost all the muscles in your body while still getting an effective cardio workout and you can see which is going to be most effective for improving your fitness level.

The pulling on the bar at the start of the movement works your forearms and biceps, then power comes from pressing through your legs and using your core for stability and finally your shoulders and back for the end part of the motion where you are pulling the bar closest to your chest.

Deciding which rowing machine is right for you

Although not as strenuous on the joints as a treadmill, and without as many setup and workout options as many exercise bikes, the rowing machine does put your body through one of the most complex multi-joint movements of any aerobic fitness machine.


The features and quality that come with a rowing machine are really dependent on how much you are willing to spend, which has to be weighed up against how often you will use it and how much of an impact it will have on your fitness.

If you are looking for a more basic rowing machine then you can pick one of these up for anywhere between £100 and £250.

If you were to take a look through the many different rowing machines available on a site like Amazon then you will see that most fall into the £250 to £500 category, with the most around £280 such as the Marcy Regatta folding rowing machine.

For the top end rowing machines such as the WaterRower range or higher quality Infiniti designs such as the R200 then you will be looking at spending anywhere between £1000 and £1500 depending on the exact model.

If you are looking for a rowing machine that you will only use once a week then the lower price models will be perfect and much more likely to last a longer period of time.

Infiniti R200 Rowing MachineIf you are looking to use a rowing machine 4 days a week or more, or just find the higher priced designs more aesthetically pleasing when setup in your home then perhaps this would be a better option for you.

Type of resistance

If noise isn’t an issue and you would prefer a rowing machine that has features such as air vents to help keep you cool when rowing then a machine that uses air resistance is probably best for you.

If you want a rowing machine that is quieter and often lighter, then a rowing machine with magnetic resistance would be the best choice.

If you want a more realistic rowing experience and aren’t looking to constantly change the resistance, then a rowing machine that generates resistance through water is probably the best choice.

Space available and how frequently you will use the rowing machine

Being relatively light compared to other exercise machines, thanks to the wide range of designs that are now available it has become much easier to find one that can fold to fit into quite a small space when not in use.

With the majority of designs now foldable, this still gives you two sets of dimensions for how much room a rowing machine will take up. One for when it is in use and one for when it is folded and stored out of the way.

If you have limited space but want to use the rowing machine on a regular basis, then you will probably need to move it around a lot and it would be best to choose a lighter design.

Storing your rowing machine and easy setup are key points to think about when choosing one for home use

There are even some models such as the WaterRower range that can be lifted onto a set of wheels that is built into the rowing machine at one end and simply store it flat against a wall.

This prevents any heavy lifting and the wheels make it easier to move between where you will use it and where it will be stored.

Compare Rowing Machines

If you are looking to buy a new rowing machine for using at home then there are many different manufacturers and models to choose from. The main areas these vary are in how they generate resistance, the display options and how compact they become if they can be folded.

Rowing Machines

With rowing machines now popular for home use as well as commercial gyms, companies are constantly coming up with better looking designs and interesting features.

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