As we revisited this article, we noticed that our top seven chart needed a little attention to bring it up to date.
We therefore made two amendments. We removed a pair of older rowers and inserted the impressive MaxKare Air Rowing Machine and highly-rated hydraulic SF-RW5639 from Sunny Health & Fitness.
Think you have to spend a considerable amount to end up with a great rowing machine? Think again!
Table of Contents
Welcome to the world of budget rowers, where rowing at home is made accessible to everyone. Despite the reputation held by cheap cardio machines, entry-level rowers can actually offer a great performance – providing you know what to look for.
This is where Fitness Verve comes in. In this article, we are going to show you our picks for the top seven budget rowing machines that come in at under $300. There are mini reviews to accompany them, along with the pros and cons of each model.
We have also prepared a handy buyer’s guide and an FAQ section to help answer some of your issues and navigate you through the marketplaces.
Before you know it, you’ll be ready to go shopping for your first rowing machine!
Resistance Type: Magnetic
Resistance Levels: 14 levels
Weight Capacity: 250lbs
Features: 39” slide rail, nylon rowing belt, large ergonomic seat, foam-padded handlebar, anti-slip pivot foot pedals, 3.5” LCD screen, Bluetooth connectivity, transportation wheels
The 1000 Plus from Fitness Reality is one of a growing breed of budget rowing machines that include Bluetooth connectivity to take your workout tracking to the next level.
This allows the machine to connect to an accompanying smartphone app, giving you the ability to track your workouts and set goals. A welcome feature in this price range.
The rower itself features a relatively sturdy build and a foldable 39” slide rail that will accommodate users up to 6ft 6”. In action, you can select from 14 levels of magnetic resistance, which is more than many of its affordable peers. In addition, you can stand on the front foot pads and use the handle to perform upper-body movements, like triceps extensions, bicep curls, and presses!
Resistance Type: Magnetic
Resistance Levels: 8 levels
Weight Capacity: 300lbs
Features: 48” slide rail, foam-padded handlebar, Bluetooth LCD monitor, smartphone app, large media shelf
While the ShareVgo SRM1000 tends to come in at just over the $300 price cap, it’s close enough to justify its inclusion in this affordable list. That’s a good thing, because this smart magnetic rower has a lot going for it.
Starting with the basics, this compact rower features eight levels of magnetic resistance to provide an adequate challenge. It features a sturdy construction with a 48” slide rail that can be folded upwards after use for easier storage.
Fundamentals aside, this rower also has Bluetooth connectivity, allowing it to communicate with the accompanying smartphone app. This app lets you track your progress, set goals and compete against community members. A nice addition at this low price!
Resistance Type: Air
Resistance Levels: None
Features: Steel frame, twin drive belt system, padded seat, padded straight handle, pivoting pedals, LCD monitor, media shelf, transportation wheels
Shopping on a budget doesn’t mean you must stick to a magnetic machine. While less common, air rowers are certainly available in this price range, including this popular option from MaxKare.
For under $300, you can enjoy the natural feel of rowing against the drag of air. The steel frame – which folds for convenience – feels strong, while the twin drive belt system attached to the fan wheel offers smooth and challenging rowing.
This rower features a very basic LCD screen displaying a few stats, although this is nothing special. Above this is a media shelf to hold devices such as smartphones or tablets. It’s handy, although headphones are essential due to the noise of the fan wheel!
Resistance Type: Magnetic
Resistance Levels: 8 levels
Features: Padded seat, ergonomic hand grips, large anti-slip pedals, LCD monitor, transportation wheels, 250lb weight capacity
One of the most popular models on this chart is the SF-RW5515 from Sunny Health & Fitness. Like other budget rowers, it is quite a basic machine, yet offers everything you need to get in a good at-home rowing workout.
This includes a generous 48” slide rail length, large non-slip foot pedals, and padded handlebars, allowing users of most sizes to enjoy a session. Having eight levels of resistance is pretty standard for magnetic resistance rowers in this range, offering enough of a challenge for beginners.
It is fitted with a small LCD screen to provide feedback on your workout time and calorie burn, while a lightweight build (60lbs), transportation wheels and a folding design make it great for smaller spaces.
Resistance Type: Magnetic
Resistance Levels: 8 levels
Features: Lightweight build, double padded seat, large LCD readout, downward-tilted seat design, tension knob, transportation wheels, 264lb weight capacity
This adjustable rower from Merax is a popular choice thanks to its sleek minimalist design, smooth operation and affordability. For such a foldable and lightweight machine (coming in at just 74lbs) it is very stable and doesn’t feel like it is going to collapse during more intense sessions – which can’t be said for many budget rowers!
This machine offers eight levels of magnetic resistance, which makes it very quiet in use – perfect for using while watching TV at home. The 15-degree tilt on the seat rail enhances the comfort and smoothness of this model.
There’s not much to get excited about in terms of secondary features, with just a basic LCD screen to offer some workout feedback. Yet the simplicity and stability make this rower well worth the price tag.
Resistance Type: Hydraulic
Resistance Levels: 12 levels
Features: Steel frame, 40” slide rail, full-motion arms, padded seat, adjustable non-slip pedals, non-slip handles, digital monitor
It is easy to refer to the SF-RW5639 as ‘cheap and cheerful’, although perhaps this should be ‘economical and effective’, as this hydraulic rower provides a surprisingly good workout for the low-end price.
Sure, it’s a barebones machine, but one that delivers what you need. The steel frame is strong and capable of accommodating users up to 350lbs. It’s also very compact, which is ideal for small spaces. However, the rowing experience doesn’t feel particularly cramped, and the full motion arms give a wide range of movement – something that is missing on many belt-driven rowers.
Under the slide rail is the hydraulic cylinder that gives this rower its resistance. You can adjust the amount of friction up to 12 levels, which is another plus for this surprisingly good little rower.
Resistance Type: Hydraulic
Resistance Levels: 12 levels
Features: Steel frame, aluminum slide rail, wide seat, padded hand grips, pivoting foot plates, foldable arms, LCD screen, transportation wheels, 250lb weight capacity
If you are shopping on a strict budget, the Body Trac Glider 1050 from Stamina may be just what you are looking for – the very definition of an affordable rower! While it has its issues, it’s a no-nonsense rowing machine that performs surprisingly well.
Stamina keeps the price low by using a hydraulic rowing system, although this is at no detriment to a decent workout. The foldable arms produce a smooth and natural rowing stroke, with the resistance level selectable via a dial underneath the seat.
There’s a small LCD monitor at the front of the machine which offers your workout metrics including a scan mode. Ultimately this is a quiet and comfortable ride that is worth every penny of the low-end price.
As our chart above demonstrates, you don’t need to go shopping for a high-end rower to fulfil your rowing needs – there is a huge range of functional rowing machines out there for under $300.
However, there are also several lemons on the market – models you certainly don’t want to get stuck with!
To make sure this doesn’t happen, in the following sections we are taking a closer look at what you should keep your eyes open for when shopping in this entry-level range – from the core design to the secondary features.
While you will find different aesthetics and features depending on the price range and resistance type, the fundamental design of every rower is pretty much the same across the board.
You will find a central hub at the front of the machine which will contain the resistance mechanism, whether a flywheel, fan wheel or capsule of water (see below). To this a handle will be connected via a cord, rope or belt. There will also be a sliding seat fixed to a sturdy rail, as well as foot pedals to secure your feet.
The main consideration you must make is whether or not you have the space for a rowing machine in your home. If you have a dedicated home/garage gym, then chances are space is not an issue. However, if your rowing machine is to be used in your living room or bedroom, you have more to think about.
Compared to something like a good indoor bike, a rowing machine is much longer and more cumbersome. While some are more compact, a rowing machine is around 8ft long on average, while about 2ft wide.
You should also be aware of the space you need while using it, and while getting on and off. A few feet around the machine either side will suffice.
Of course, some budget rowing machines fold up. This is a godsend for a smaller home, as you can fold the rail upright and reduce the impact on the floorspace when the unit is not in use. Having said that, you must still have enough space to use the machine when it is unfolded.
Our advice – measure the space you are planning to use the machine in, then check out the dimensions of the machine (usually found on the Amazon page or manufacturer’s website). This will save you the headache of unpacking and assembling the rower then finding out it doesn’t fit!
Aside from the dimensions, note the materials the rower is made from. Most likely in this range the frame will be make from steel, while the slide rail will be made of steel or aluminum. The majority of budget rowers will also be pretty lightweight, which is good news for people who want to store it away after use.
Without resistance, a rowing machine would be pretty useless – you’d just be sliding around on the beam with nothing to raise your heart rate or burn calories.
The good news is that, like other cardio machines, there is plenty of choice when it comes to what resistance your rowing machine makes use of, even in this budget price range. Of course, spending under $300, you will not find water rowers, which are reserved for higher price ranges.
The next best thing – and something you will find present in this budget price range – is an air rower. While still pretty rare among entry-level models, air resistance is considered by many as the best system for a rower.
Of course, these will lack the same feel as a higher-end gym-grade rower, but these units feature the same concept – a fan wheel spins, with air creating resistance as it hits the blades. The harder you pull, the harder it becomes!
The main disadvantage of air resistance is that these machines can be a little noisy – a problem if you like to watch TV while you row. They are also more expensive than other systems in this range.
Air resistance aside, the majority of entry-level rowers will feature magnetic resistance. This system features a metal flywheel with a series of magnets acting on it to produce the resistance. The closer the magnets move to the flywheel, the tougher the resistance.
This form of resistance is very quiet, while the fact that you can select consistent resistance levels and stick to them for the entire session is a bonus. With that in mind, the negative is that magnetic resistance does not deliver the same authentic feel as something like water or air resistance would.
Hydraulic resistance is another system commonly found on entry-level models. These units are generally less admired, although have their uses. They feature hydraulic cylinders attached to the handles, with air and fluid (oil) acting against the user as they pull the handles.
The main advantage of a hydraulic system is that it is cheaper and doesn’t require a lot of room, while also being very quiet. However, they don’t always deliver the smoothest experience and can be quite inconsistent. See our FAQ section below for more on hydraulic rowers.
Finally, you may find one or two units featuring incline resistance. This is pretty rare and very primitive in the grand scheme of things. However, they still deliver a decent workout and are not a bad system to consider – especially if you are shopping on a very strict budget.
Rowing machines in general are not known for big central consoles, like you may find on a treadmill or elliptical. However, you will usually find a main hub area for things like the controls.
Of course, the controls you have for a rowing machine will depend solely on the resistance system. For example, on a budget machine with magnetic resistance you will find a resistance dial, allowing you to twist until you achieve your desired level.
If you are using a hydraulic or incline system, you may also find a dial or slider to adjust the resistance, but this is about it in terms of control.
What about secondary features? Compared to budget treadmills, there are a lot less features on a budget rower. This is more a comment about the general rowing machine market, where even higher-end rowers are relatively feature-free.
While you must spend more to acquire things like digital resistance and preset workout programs, you can expect some level of consideration from the manufacturer, who will include some comfort features even on a budget.
One of these is an LCD monitor. Most budget rowing machines will feature some sort of display screen that offers a glimpse at your workout. Data tracked usually comprises the time of your session, how far you have rowed, your speed and your calories burned.
A scan feature – which intermittently scrolls through each of the above metrics – is always a good feature, meaning you do not have to manually press buttons. Useful for a machine that requires your hands in use constantly!
Other things to look out for are transportation wheels. These may seem like a small inclusion, but they can be so handy after a session when you want to roll your rower into a different room or even a closet.
Regardless of how much you are spending, a rowing machine is a considerable investment for many people, so it’s sensible to ask if it’s worth buying one or not.
In our opinion, yes – buying a rowing machine for your home is worthwhile, providing you use it regularly enough to see the benefits.
The rower is one of those rare cardio machines that engage the entire body when used correctly. Exercise bikes and treadmills are great for working up a sweat, but nothing quite hits the spot like a rowing machine as far as total body work is concerned.
Even a budget rower will allow you to hit the quads, hamstrings and calves, as well as your back, biceps, shoulders and core. By involving your upper body, you are testing your cardiovascular system much more than you would on, say, an upright bike, while also burning more calories.
Buying a rowing machine can also be ideal if you are looking for a low-impact exercise. The rower is great if you suffer from knee issues or want to rebuild strength and endurance after illness or injury.
However, a rower does put more pressure on your back compared to other low-impact activities, so bear this in mind if you have back complaints.
If you feel you won’t make enough use of a home rowing machine, then don’t make a purchase you will regret. It may be better to pay for a one-off gym session when you are keen to row, then fill the rest of your fitness time with other activities – running, swimming or lifting weights for example.
You may have heard that a rowing machine delivers a full-body workout – and it’s true! To complete one stroke, you must use more than 80% of the muscles in your body.
In the starting portion of the stroke, known as ‘the catch’ (where you are leaning slightly forward, with your knees bent and arms straight), you are primarily using your hamstrings and calves, as well as your lower back.
However, as you start ‘the drive’ and pull back into ‘the finish’ you engage pretty much your entire body. Your leg muscles – including your quads and glutes – are heavily involved when pushing back from the catch.
As you begin to pull with your arms, your upper and lower back, shoulders, biceps, triceps and core are all engaged, until you complete the finish.
Of course, don’t forget that a good rowing workout will also thoroughly work your entire cardiovascular system!
Hydraulic rowers – often known as piston rowers – have a poor reputation when compared to rowers with air, water and magnetic resistance. However, they still have their place in the rowing machine market and are popular for good reason.
Due to the simple design of using hydraulic cylinders filled with oil instead of something more complex, hydraulic rowers tend to be the cheapest rowers on the market, with many coming in at under $300.
While they are good for users on a tighter budget, they are just as popular if space is an issue. Because they don’t require a flywheel, hydraulic rowing machines are often compact, streamlined and lightweight, making them easy to store post-workout.
Finally, good hydraulic rowers tend to make less noise than other resistance types, such as those that use air or water resistance. This makes them ideal if you don’t want to disturb your family or roommates, or simply want to watch TV while you exercise.
Of course, hydraulic rowers have their negative points too.
For example, some don’t make use of a sliding seat, which means you don’t get to work your legs or enjoy the benefits of a full-body workout. Also, the action is not as smooth or natural as using a rower with air resistance or water resistance.
Many hydraulic resistance rowers also don’t have any means to adjust the resistance, which limits their versatility.
Furthermore, when the oil in the cylinder heats up over the course of the workout its viscosity changes, making it more fluid – this results in less resistance and an easier workout. Not good if you are seeking consistency.
With all this in mind, we still say that, yes – hydraulic rowing machines are good, providing you are aware of their limitations.
However, if you have a bigger budget and ample space, looking towards a machine with a different resistance system wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Your diet is naturally the most important aspect when it comes to controlling calories and creating the deficit required to lose weight. Adding exercise to a good diet plan can boost your deficit, while conditioning your body.
The good news is that rowing is an excellent form of exercise to consider if you are looking to shift a few pounds. In fact, it’s touted as one of the best cardio machines out there for this purpose.
Because rowing is a smooth full-body movement, you incorporate the big muscles of your legs and back in every row, meaning you are likely to burn more calories than by just using your legs alone – as you would while running or cycling.
While the calorie-burn will differ depending on your intensity and current bodyweight, rowing for an hour is said to burn around 600 calories – potentially up to 800 calories.
The bonus is that rowing is a low-impact movement, so won’t affect your joints in the same way as running would. This is great for people who want to protect their joints, as well as seniors and people with pre-existing joint conditions.
Rowing machines are certainly great for helping you achieve your weight loss goals. However, you are only likely to see a change if you implement a good diet as well. Burning 600 calories over a rowing session is great, but putting them back into your body afterwards by eating a takeout isn’t going to give you the desired results!
Rowing machines are an awesome workout tool to have at your disposal – whether in the gym or at home.
As this article will have shown, spending less than $300 on a rowing machine doesn’t mean you have to endure a bad workout – you just have a make a few compromises.
These affordable rowers are a great way to get into rowing without committing too much money and are perfect for beginners.
The seven models we have featured are well worthy of your time, although by no means the only budget rowers on the market. Take our guidance and then go have a good browse – you may end up with an entry-level machine that gives you more than you bargained for.