The Best 5 Hydraulic Rowing Machines – Piston-Powered Rowers for Cost-Effective Workouts

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We decided to give this article on hydraulic rowing machines a bit of attention. So, we updated our guide and FAQ section, and replaced two models in our chart. The new additions both came from Stamina – the BodyTrac Glider 1050 and the 1205 Precision.

The winner after the latest chart update:
Body-Solid E300-01
  • Folding: Yes
  • Resistance Type: Hydraulic
  • Resistance Levels: 12 levels
  • Features: Steel frame, ball bearing rolling system, aluminum slide rail, multi-function LCD monitor, 250lb weight capacity

At Fitness Verve, it’s no secret that we are huge fans of a home rowing machine. The rower can provide as close to a perfect workout as you can imagine, combining both full-body muscle activation and cardiovascular conditioning.

In fact, you will be hard-pressed to find another piece of cardio equipment that is as effective and efficient as a good rowing machine.

However, there are limitations – in particular, space and cost. Traditional air, water and magnetic rowers may not be feasible for people living in smaller homes. In addition, rowing machines can also be expensive, so may not be cost effective for everybody, especially casual users.

Thankfully, there is one choice that can solve both problems – the hydraulic rowing machine. Hydraulic rowers are compact enough to fit into most apartments, condos and dorm rooms while remaining very affordable.

In today’s article, we are going to highlight five of the best hydraulic rowing machines, before guiding you through what to consider before buying one.

Top 5 Best Hydraulic Rowing Machines:

Pros

  • Long slide rail is great for taller users
  • Compact folded dimensions (46” x 23”)
  • Features 12 levels of resistance
  • Super-easy to assemble

Cons

  • Velcro foot strap can come loose at times
  • Resistance can drop during long rowing sessions

Folding: Yes
Resistance Type: Hydraulic
Resistance Levels: 12 levels
Features: Steel frame, ball bearing rolling system, aluminum slide rail, multi-function LCD monitor, 250lb weight capacity

The BodyTrack Glider 1050 from Stamina is one of the more affordable hydraulic rowing machines on the market. With its sturdy steel frame construction and long, aluminum sliding beam, the 1050 can support users up to 250lbs, as well as taller users (up to 6ft 2”).

Featuring 12 levels of resistance, the BodyTrac Glider 1050 will have you working up a sweat in no time! With an easy to read LCD monitor and a simple push button mechanism, this rower displays all the necessary data you need for a great workout, including speed, distance, workout duration, strokes and calories burned.

This lightweight rowing machine weighs in just 39lbs and folds to 46”, making it ideal for all kinds of small homes and apartments.

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Pros

  • Strong and sturdy frame
  • Small footprint with foldable oars
  • Good variation, with 12 levels of resistance
  • Quite a cool design

Cons

  • Not particularly well suited for tall users (over 6ft 1”)

Folding: Yes
Resistance Type: Hydraulic
Resistance Levels: 12 levels
Features: Steel frame, padded anti-slip seat, pivoting footplates, LCD monitor, easy assembly, 265lb weight capacity

Offering a whopping 12 levels of resistance – a surprising amount for an affordable hydraulic unit – this popular rowing machine from Harvil is an exciting choice that will challenge beginners and advanced users alike.

This strong and sturdy rower offers a smooth action and can support users up to 265lbs, although is compact enough to be used in just about any room in the house. When not in use, the oars of the rower can be folded and stored vertically, saving even more space.

At just 36lbs in total weight, the Harvil hydraulic rowing machine can be transported from room to room with very little difficulty. While it’s a small point, this rower is also pretty snazzy in its design – not bad for such a small price!

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Pros

  • Can be used as a multi-functioning home gym
  • Glide rails adjust to accommodate users of all sizes
  • Large and comfortable seat
  • Can be folded to save space

Cons

  • Unique design may not appeal to people wanting a traditional rower
  • Sits very low to the ground

Folding: Yes
Resistance Type: Hydraulic
Resistance Levels: 3 levels
Features: Multi-gym function capability, padded seat, foam handlebars, LCD monitor, adjustable gliding rails, 220lb weight capacity

The ProGear 750 is one of the more interesting hydraulic rowers on the market today. What sets this rower apart from others in its price range is its unique and innovative design. Not only can the 750 be used as a rower, but it can also be used as a multi-functioning gym!

With a few minor adjustments, the 750 can be turned into a full home gym, allowing you to perform pulldowns, bent over rows, biceps curls, flies, ab crunches and shoulder presses.

In addition, it uses adjustable gliding rails that can accommodate both short and tall users (4ft 9” to 6ft 1”). Using a thick cushioned seat and large non slip foot pedals, this rower provides you with comfort and stability for a decent full body workout.

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Pros

  • Strong and sturdy frame
  • Large and comfortable seat
  • Compact dimensions and foldable frame
  • Provides a smooth rowing workout

Cons

  • Only offers five levels of resistance
  • Not well-suited for taller users (over 6ft)

Folding: Yes
Resistance Type: Hydraulic
Resistance Levels: 5 levels
Features: Compact design, steel construction, ball bearing roller system, foam hand grips, padded seat, LCD monitor, 250lb weight capacity

The Stamina 1205 Precision rowing machine is one of the more stable and durable hydraulic rowers in its price range. At 47lbs in total weight, it’s a lightweight machine, yet is sturdy, stable and can support users up to 250lbs!

With its small 48” footprint, this rower is compact enough to be used in just about any size of room and can be folded for easy storage. Using a comfortable seat, foam-padded handles and non-slip pivoting pedals, the 1205 provides users with a stable and worry-free workout, with a nice sliding action thanks to the ball bearing rail system.

The included LCD monitor is very basic, but a handy addition, showing feedback including your speed, distance and time. A solid affordable option.

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Pros

  • Strong frame supporting weights up to 350lbs
  • Compact minimalist design
  • Features 12 levels of resistance
  • Comfortable handles and seat

Cons

  • Seat is very low to the ground
  • Resistance levels are geared towards beginners

Folding: Yes
Resistance Type: Hydraulic
Resistance Levels: 12 levels
Features: Compact build, sturdy frame, LCD monitor, wide foot rests, easy assembly, 350lb weight capacity

The SF-RW5639 is one of the more affordable hydraulic rowing machines on the market. However, don’t let the low price or the very basic design fool you into thinking that it can’t offer a good workout.

For starters, this well-made rowing machine is incredibly sturdy and can support users up to 350lbs – ideal if you are just starting out and need to lose some weight. In addition, it has 12 levels of resistance to offer good workout variation.

The performance is smooth and quiet, and allows you to find a natural rowing action. The SF-RW5639 features a simple LCD monitor, offering enough feedback including your time, stroke count and calories burned, as well as a scan feature.

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Shopping for a Hydraulic Rowing Machine

If you’re looking for the full-body workout benefits of a conventional rower minus the higher cost and size, then a hydraulic rowing machine may be the answer.

Conventional air, water and magnetic rowers can be pricey, not to mention a little cumbersome. This is not the case with the hydraulic rower. As well as being much lower in cost – with many under $100 – hydraulic rowers tend to be much more compact.

Mind you, the hydraulic rower won’t offer the same stability or feel as a rower with air, water or magnetic resistance, yet it does a pretty decent job at mimicking natural rowing for an effective, full body workout.

With the advantages out the way, what should you look out for when shopping for a hydraulic rower? The following sections offer everything you need to consider!

Design

Hydraulic rowers are designed to maximize space efficiently. This allows users who have limited space to reap the benefits of the rower without sacrificing too much of their living area.

Firstly, due to the inherently simple design, most hydraulic rowing machines are very compact to begin with. Adding to this, many have folding frames and/or foldable arms, and can be stored vertically for optimal space efficiency. If you are living in a very small home or apartment, a folding hydraulic rower can be ideal.

However, despite being more compact, you should still be aware of the exact measurements of your exercise space before buying one. Remember that you will need to factor in enough space to allow you to comfortably get on and off your rower – about 2 to 4 feet – in addition to the space the rower takes up.

Hydraulic rowers are also very durable and stable. Don’t let the compact size fool you – most hydraulic rowing machines can support between 220lb and 300lb of user weight, with some models going as high as 350lbs!

This is important – you should be aware of how heavy you are and how much weight the rower can handle before you make your purchase.

Another plus is that, since there is no heavy flywheel (as is the case with conventional air, water and magnetic rowers) the hydraulic rower is super light. This allows it to be easily transported from room to room, or in and out of storage.

You will also want to make sure your model offers both a comfortable seat and padded hand grips. If you plan on using the rowing machine for any longer than 15 minutes, contoured foam handles are preferable.

Finally, some more good news – because hydraulic rowers are so simple in their design, they are very easy to assemble!

Resistance

Hydraulic rowers rely on two types of resistance: liquid hydraulics and pistons (air hydraulics). In each case, liquid or air is compressed in varying levels to provide resistance depending on the user’s preference. On many hydraulic rowers, a dial is attached to the piston and this controls the resistance levels.

Compared to magnetic rowers, air rowers and water rowers, hydraulic rowers have some distinct advantages.

Firstly, hydraulic rowers are deadly silent. Air and water rowers on the other hand are much noisier. The hydraulic rower is therefore a great option for those who want to work out in peace – or while watching TV!

Another plus is that most hydraulic rowing machines feature two separate arms as opposed to one long handle attached to a cord. This allows the user to work each arm independently, making it ideal for rehab work, or to correct any muscle imbalances between the left and right arm.

However, there are a few issues with hydraulic resistance. Firstly, when the liquid inside the pistons gets too hot (from longer workouts) they can become too fluid and lose resistance. This is not great for consistency, as the end of a workout may feel easier than the start. This issue can lead to resistance imbalances between each rowing arm.

Secondly, the resistance just doesn’t feel as natural as air, water or magnetic resistance. Hydraulic rowers do a pretty good job at mimicking a rowing movement, but fail to capture the smooth and fluid action of something like a machine with water resistance.

Console

As we’ve said, hydraulic rowers are basic and affordable machines, and therefore you cannot expect big and detailed screens. However, most consoles on hydraulic rowers do provide basic readouts.

Most are equipped with small LCD screens that display metrics including strokes, total strokes, calories burned, time and distance. Scan is another useful feature, as the machine automatically scrolls through this data, allowing you to keep your hands on the handles.

Due to their low cost, most hydraulic rowers don’t come with built-in workout programs or heart rate monitors either. However, there are certain models that have media shelves or smart phone holders, allowing users to follow rowing workouts (via apps), watch videos or listen to music.

As for controls, resistance will not be controlled at the console level, but by a manual dial located on each piston.

Secondary Features

Now that we’ve covered the core features, let’s take a look at some of the secondary features that a hydraulic rower should offer.

Of course, due to the simple design and low cost of hydraulic rowers, there’s not a lot of scope to have super large screens, cooling fans or built-in speakers.

Still, you can expect things like a comfortable seat. Ultimately, rowing requires a lot of sitting, so make sure the seat isn’t going to cause you problems! Ideally you will want to choose a seat that is padded or, depending on how heavy you are, perhaps a double-padded seat.

However, this depends on how much you are willing to spend. In general, higher-end hydraulic rowers tend to have more comfortable seats.

Footplates are another consideration. You will want to ensure your feet are firmly in place while rowing so you may want to choose a rower that features an anti-slip design and that pivot (for a more natural feel).

Finally, handles are important. When choosing a hydraulic rowing machine, look for one that has comfortable handles. Since you’re going to be doing a lot of pulling, you will want a rower that offers handles that are foam padded for comfort and are anti-slip, so you don’t lose control when your grip gets sweaty.

Frequently Asked Questions

To use a hydraulic rower, start by sitting on the edge of the seat with the seat in the bottom position. Put one foot on the foot rest and securely attach the Velcro strap over the ball of your foot. Do the same for the other foot.

Next, adjust the resistance of your rower according to your desired intensity and activate your console monitor. Your monitor will track your performance such as calories burned, strokes per minute, time and distance.

Grab the handles using a loose grip. Use your legs to initiate the row – push them up then, when they are fully extended, lean back and pull your arms towards your body. To return to the start position, let your arms extend towards your feet, allow your body to come forward and bend at the knees to allow the seat to come forward.

This is the correct way to row, and you should repeat this sequence until you are finished exercising.

Remember to keep your core activated during the entire movement and to drive with your legs. The correct stoke sequence is as follows: legs, core and arms (to row towards your body), then arms, core and legs on the return sequence.

The answer to this very debatable question will depend on your current physical condition and goals. There are pros and cons to both forms of exercise, which will need to be considered before making a decision. Let’s look at some of the benefits and drawbacks for running and rowing.

Muscles Activation
In terms of muscle activation, rowing will activate more muscle tissue for better overall strength gains and muscle tone. Due to the nature of rowing, users can expect to activate their primary movers such as their back, legs, abs, biceps, shoulders and forearms.

Runners, on the other hand, can expect to activate their legs as the primary movers. Although some upper body movement is necessary to run, the muscle activation there will be minimal.

Certain rowing machines such as magnetic and hydraulic rowers have variable resistance levels, which allow users to increase the muscular intensity for each stroke. The end result is progressively better muscle activation and tone.

Running does not allow for progressive muscular contractions without the addition of added weight. Therefore, we declare rowing the winner of this round!

Calorie Burn
According to the American Council on Exercise, a 150lb person jogging at a moderate pace for 30 minutes will burn 181 calories. That same person rowing at a moderate pace for 30 minutes will burn 158 calories.

Therefore, running burns slightly more calories than rowing, although it depends on the intensity of each exercise. Still, for this section, running is the winner.

Impact
Due to the nature of the rowing movement, there is very little impact to your joints and connective tissues. In addition, rowing is considered a non-weight bearing exercise which greatly reduces the wear and tear to your ligaments and tendons.

Unlike rowing, running is considered a high-impact exercise that can place your joints and connective tissue at risk for overuse injuries. This is especially important if you are overweight or have connective tissue damage such as tendonitis, knee or hip arthritis, and/or other joint issues.

With all these considerations made, we conclude that rowing is an all-round better exercise for muscular and cardio activation. In addition, since it is a low impact, non-weight bearing exercise, it is a lot easier on the joints and connective tissues.

Your rowing speed is determined by how many rowing strokes can be completed per minute. The ideal rowing speed for you will depend on your fitness goals. Are you looking for burn fat? Gain strength? Build endurance?

You will have to remember that your rowing intensity isn’t dependent on how fast you row but how hard you are pulling. This is the key to an effective rowing workout. Slow, measured stokes require more strength, while faster stroke rates will require more stamina and endurance to maintain the stroke rate.

Finding the right combination of strength vs. endurance will depend heavily on your goals.

Most rowing machines will display strokes per minute on their LCD screen. Here are some rough guidelines that will help you decide how fast you should row to help achieve your fitness goals.

17 to 20 strokes per minute
Lower stroke rates will require more strength. If your goal is to build more strength, this stoke rate is an ideal range.

24 to 28 strokes per minute
These stroke rates are an ideal balance between muscle and endurance, allowing you to use a combination of strength and cardio.

30 to 36 strokes per minute
While easier to maintain, this stroke rate requires more stamina and endurance. It’s therefore a good range for sprint and interval training.

38 plus strokes per minute
This fast-paced stroke rate is ideal for HIIT and training for races.

Regardless of the speed you choose to use, the most important aspect to rowing is correct form. We cover this in another FAQ above, so make sure to digest that thoroughly!

Rowing isn’t bad for your back. Poor technique and bad form are bad for your back. Lower back pain from rowing is usually a symptom of poor form.

As with all exercise, correct form is critical. Using good form and technique will not only strengthen your abs, legs, shoulders, biceps and forearms but also your back.

The trick is to keep your core engaged throughout the entire movement and use your legs to push. Keep your back straight, puff your chest out and pull your shoulder blades back a bit.

It is important to get into the proper position first, and practice good form using slow measured strokes before working up to faster stroke rates.

Using proper form and technique, you can actually expect to strengthen and develop your back with rowing – not injure it.

The Ver(ve)dict!

As we have hopefully drilled home in our guide, hydraulic rowing machines provide all of the benefits of rowing minus the cost and size associated with traditional air, water and magnetic rowers.

Hydraulic rowers may not have the bells and whistles of higher-end and traditional rowers, but it’s safe to say that these machines still have their place in the fitness industry.

If you’re looking for the full-body workout power of a rower but don’t have the space or the money to spend on a traditional rower, the hydraulic rower may be the answer you’re looking for.

There are plenty of options to choose from, including the five in our chart. However, with a bit of research and help using the information in this guide, you will easily find the best model suited to your needs!

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