We gave our article on the best sub-$500 rowers a major overhaul; completely dismantling our top seven chart to bring it up to date.
Four new rowing machines were added to the list. These comprised the MaxKare Water Rowing Machine, the SereneLife Smart Rowing Machine, the Circuit Fitness AMZ-986RW, and the SF-RW5864 from Sunny Health & Fitness.
Rowing is undoubtedly one of the best ways to engage your whole body and cardiovascular system in a single workout. Buying a rowing machine for your home is a smart move that is becoming more and more popular.
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Entry-level rowers are great at providing people a platform on which to row, but they certainly lack a little polish. However, spending up to $500 gives you a whole new level of performance, features and quality!
In today’s article we are highlighting seven of the best rowing machines under $500, with mini reviews, pros and cons for each. We include machines of all varieties, including water rowers, air rowers and magnetic rowers.
After that, we will discuss what this price range has to offer in terms of design, features and resistance, before tackling a few of your FAQs.
Ready to row? Let’s go!
Resistance Type: Water
Resistance Levels: Adjustable
Weight Capacity: 264lbs
Features: Steel frame, padded seat, foam-padded handles, adjustable footplates, height-adjustable LCD monitor, transportation wheels, water bottle holder
While this affordable price category is mainly populated by rowers with magnetic resistance, you will find a few water rowing machines that offer seriously good value – this unit from MaxKare being a fine example.
It features a sturdy steel frame with a large water tank that can be filled to meet your rowing ability. A padded seat, handlebar and adjustable footplates make it a comfortable ride. While it doesn’t fold like other rowers, you can flip it upright and wheel it into a corner for easier storage.
When it comes to secondary features, the star of the show is a large height-adjustable LCD screen that provides good workout feedback, although lacks a backlight. Still, for under $500, this water rower is a steal!
Resistance Type: Water
Resistance Levels: 6 levels
Features: Steel frame, dual aluminum slide rails, non-slip foot pedals, 16-blade fan wheel, LCD screen, transportation wheels, 250lb weight capacity
The SF-RW5713 from Sunny Health & Fitness is another popular midrange water rower, with a solid build and stealthy design. It features a sturdy steel frame capable of holding users up to 250lbs.
While it doesn’t fold, this frame can be moved into an upright position to save floor space after a workout. As for the resistance, the SF-RW5713 makes use of a 16-blade fan wheel submerged in the adjustable-level water tank, for a smooth and natural rowing feel.
The LCD screen is large and clear, offering workout feedback including time, distance, strokes per minute and calories burned. In addition, it’s also compatible with ANT+ heart rate units, so you can connect your chest strap or watch and view the feedback on the screen.
Resistance Type: Magnetic and Air
Resistance Levels: Adjustable
Weight Capacity: 250lbs
Features: Steel frame, dual aluminum slide rails, backlit LCD screen, heart rate chest strap, media shelf, transportation wheels, 220lb weight capacity
The SereneLife Smart rowing machine is a popular sub-$500 rower, boasting a best of both worlds approach to resistance – it features both air and magnetic resistance styles.
This means you can enjoy the silence and consistency of magnetic resistance (16 levels) for longer steady-state rowing sessions, as well as the responsive and natural feeling of air resistance for high-intensity training. The rower itself is made from steel, with a solid feel and weight capacity of 250lbs.
In terms of secondary features, this rower sports a large and clear backlit digital display screen offering a glimpse into your workout stats, as well as Bluetooth connectivity. This allows the rower to connect to the FitShow app to track your workouts over time.
Resistance Type: Magnetic
Resistance Levels: 8 levels
Weight Capacity: 300lbs
Features: Steel and aluminum build, 11lb flywheel, injection-molded seat, foam-padded handlebars, adjustable foot pedals, large LCD screen, transportation wheels
One of the biggest draws to this sub-$500 rowing machine is that the slide rail folds upwards, allowing it to be wheeled into a corner or storage when not in use – perfect for smaller homes.
However, this feature doesn’t detract from the performance of this popular rower. In action the AMZ-986RW is smooth and quiet, thanks to an 11lb flywheel with magnetic resistance acting on it – there are eight levels to choose.
Comfort is also a big part of this machine. It boasts an injection-molded seat with foam-padded handlebar and adjustable foot panels so you can find the right fit for you. It also features a clear LCD screen, with all the workout metrics you need. Overall, the AMZ-986RW is not as flashy as some other models on this list, but it gets the job done.
Resistance Type: Magnetic
Resistance Levels: 10 levels
Features: Aluminum slide rail, contoured seat, padded handlebars, pivoting anti-slip foot pedals, LCD monitor, media shelf, bottle holder, transportation wheels, 250lb weight capacity
If the sound of moving air and swishing water isn’t your idea of a good workout, a magnetic machine such as the MR35 from Joroto may be more up your street.
The MR35 features an aluminum flywheel with magnetic resistance, adjustable by ten levels via a twist dial, for a versatile workout and ample challenge. It’s a smooth ride, with the padded seat moving nicely up and down the angled aluminum slide rail.
The fact it folds up and can be moved for storage is a bonus. For an affordable machine, it’s also pretty well stocked with secondary features. In addition to the LCD monitor, the central console features a holder for your smartphone/tablet, as well as a holder for a water bottle.
Resistance Type: Magnetic
Resistance Levels: 8 levels
Weight Capacity: 265lbs
Features: 40” slide rail, multi-grip rowing arms, ergonomic seat, adjustable pivoting foot pedals, LCD screen, media shelf
The SF-RW5864 is one of many rowers in the wide-ranging Sunny Health & Fitness catalog, and is pretty unique compared to others on this page. This is down to the way you row.
As opposed to a T-bar system, the SF-RW5864 features separate rowing arms that move in all directions and can be both pulled and pushed. This dynamic movement gives you a natural feel, while allowing you to target different muscle groups.
Regardless of your movement choice, you have eight levels of magnetic resistance to play with, while rowing is comfortable thanks to a high ergonomic seat and easily-adjustable foot pedals. The onboard computer is pretty basic but does the job, and a media shelf is a welcome addition. When you’re done, it’s easy to fold and wheel into storage!
Resistance Type: Air
Resistance Levels: None
Features: Dual aluminum slide rails, padded seat, pivoting foot plates, nylon rowing belt, three LCD screens, transportation wheels, 250lb weight capacity
As the name suggests, the 1402 ATS Air Rower is another unit that makes good use of air resistance to provide the challenge, while remaining relatively quiet for a machine of this nature.
Stamina has also done a great job at keeping the footprint of this machine compact, which makes it suitable for those working with limited space. It is also easy to fold, so storage isn’t an issue either. This rower features a robust frame which inspires confidence and offers good stability during heavier workouts, while the angled aluminum rail helps with the seat return.
Monitoring your progress is easy thanks to the trio of built-in LCD screens, providing readouts for various metrics. A simple but solid system, which reflects this rowing machine perfectly.
No matter which kind of cardio machine you are shopping for, the midrange market is usually where you get the best bang for your buck. As you may have seen on our chart, this principle certainly applies to rowing machines!
Having such an abundance of options and features is great, but it also adds a level of confusion to the process of finding a good rower.
The key is to know what to look for. This is where the following few sections will help! We will guide you through what to consider in terms of design, resistance and features, to help you make an informed decision.
Whether you are buying a budget rowing machine or a high-end unit, most rowers will make use of a similar design.
This comprises a frame with a long slide rail leading to a central hub, where the resistance system is placed. Attached to this system via a cord is your handlebar. On the central rail, you will find a seat that slides back and forth, along with pedals to hold your feet in position.
There are slight variations on this theme – certainly in terms of aesthetics – yet this is the design of a rowing machine in a nutshell.
The main thing you should consider in terms of design is the dimensions of your potential rowing machine. Namely, will it fit you and will it fit your home? You could buy an awesome high-end rowing machine, but if you can’t fit on it, it’s not going to be much use!
Your height is an important factor in this. For example, if you are too tall for a machine, the experience will be too cramped. If you are too short, you may not be able to comfortably reach certain components.
Thankfully, if you are an average height (between around 5ft and 6ft), most midrange rowers should fit you. However, if you are considerably shorter or taller, you will need to be careful to check the measurements of the rowing machine in question.
The measurement you should pay the most attention to is the inseam length – the length of the inside of your leg. Measure yourself, then compare it to the listed inseam lengths of your target rowing machines. This should be listed on either the marketplace (such as Amazon) or the manufacturer’s website, although is not always available.
In addition to the height, you should also consider how heavy you are. You don’t want your machine collapsing on you because you are 300lbs and your rower only has a weight capacity of 250lbs! The closer you get to your weight limit, the less stable the experience will become.
Unlike height measurements, the majority of midrange rowing machines readily offer their weight capacity, so check our reviews or the marketplaces accordingly to ensure compatibility with your weight.
As for fitting your environment, you will want to ensure the rowing machine isn’t too big for your home. While they don’t demand much vertical space, a rowing machine can be pretty long, so check the dimensions of the machines and the room in which you are going to place it before you buy.
Also consider whether or not you want to leave the rowing machine out as a permanent fixture in your room, or store it away after use. Some models fold up and wheel away, allowing you to roll them into a storage cupboard after use.
Some models don’t fold, although do allow you to turn them vertically and move them into a corner, saving floorspace after your workout. Other models aren’t made to move at all – when they are in place, they tend to stay there.
Make sure you have all the measurements you need, then buy accordingly. What may seem like a bit of effort now can save a big headache down the line.
Now you know that you can fit on your rowing machine – and that your rower fits the room – it’s time to turn your attention to the resistance system.
The resistance is what determines how challenging your workout will be. With midrange rowing machines, you will find a handful of systems ready to test you.
For the first time, we start to see water rowers become available. As the name suggests, this system makes use of actual water contained in a tank. A fan wheel placed in the tank turns in the water to create resistance. The harder you row, the harder the resistance feels.
The main advantage of water resistance is that you can enjoy an unrivalled authentic rowing experience, with a genuine feel and sound as the water swishes around the tank. It’s the closest you will come to actually rowing without leaving your own home!
While higher-end rowers feature more sophisticated systems, you can still adjust the level of resistance on a midrange water resistance system by filling the tank to different levels. Of course, this isn’t something that can be done mid-workout as it takes a bit of time to either fill or siphon off water to the appropriate level.
Another system to consider is air resistance, which many people see as the king of rowing machine resistance.
It works on the same concept as a water rower, only with the blades of the fan wheel acting against the air instead of water. The challenge remains the same – as you increase the intensity of your row, the resistance becomes tougher.
Air resistance offers a similar smooth and responsive feel when rowing. They also tend to be able to record workout data (including speed, strokes and distance) slightly more accurately than water resistance.
The main disadvantage of using air resistance is that these machines can be a little noisy – a problem if you like to watch TV while you row.
Other machines in this midrange category will use magnetic resistance. These rowers make use of a metal flywheel, with a magnetic brake. The closer the magnets move to the wheel, the higher the resistance.
The prime benefit of magnetic resistance is that you have clearly-defined resistance levels. These will allow you to set your level then work consistently at that level until you stop, or change the level.
The downside is that the feel of magnetic resistance is slightly more clinical when compared to the responsive flowing movement of air or water, yet they still feel quite smooth in action. They are also much quieter, which is a bonus if you don’t want to disturb those around you (or yourself!).
Every rowing machine in this midrange market will have a central console of sorts, although it will depend on the manufacturer how big and extensive it is.
You will always find an LCD monitor, which will deliver feedback on your workout. This will often include basic details such as your workout time, distance, speed and calories burned, along with other metrics, such as RPM, stroke per minute, total strokes, 500m time, room temperature and heart rate.
Of course, your heart rate will only be shown if you have a machine compatible with an external heart rate monitor (usually in the form of a watch or chest strap). Occasionally you may find a chest strap monitor bundled in with the rower, but it’s not that common on these midrange models.
Finally, note that screen size and quality differ between brands, and not every screen will be adjustable or backlit. If you are planning on using the rower in a darker room or at night without any external lighting, a backlight is important.
The secondary features on midrange rowers are mainly geared towards comfort. Unlike running on a treadmill, you have not one but three points of contact with the rower – your hands, your feet and your butt! These should all be comfortable regardless of how long your workout session.
All rowing machines in this range should offer a comfortable cushioned seat which is wide and doesn’t need any external padding. The handles should also be foam-padded or at least feature a rubberized grip to avoid any slipping when your hands get sweaty.
As for your feet, a pair of flexible footplates with strong straps is essential to achieving a secure and comfortable fit. If they pivot to allow a more natural feel as you row back and forth, then all the better.
Aside from these features, rowers in general don’t tend to offer as many convenience-enhancing extras as, say, a midrange elliptical. You won’t find built-in speakers or cooling fans, for example.
You will, however, sometimes find things like a bottle holder or a media shelf. This will allow you to prop up a tablet or smartphone, which is handy if you want to follow along to rowing workout apps or watch movies and other entertainment.
Providing you are shopping in the midrange rower market and above, you will find rowing machines with both air resistance and water resistance available to you. But which is the best?
Both styles make use of a handle and cord attached to a fan wheel, with one placed horizontally in a tank of water, and the other placed vertically and using air as the resistance.
For this reason, both styles are similar in terms of size and functionality. They both work on the principle that the harder you row, the tougher the rowing feels as the drag increases.
They are also both very similar when it comes to the feel, offering a smooth and authentic rowing experience. Water resistance naturally feels the most genuine – especially as you can see and hear the water sloshing around in the container – but air is very similar.
On that note, both are pretty noisy machines, so aren’t ideal if you want to work out late at night or while watching TV (a magnetic resistance rower is your best bet for this).
They are similar, but air and water resistance also have their differences, which may help us determine which is better.
Starting with water resistance and these machines can be quite distinctive as they often use wooden frames, which – truth be told – look pretty awesome! This means they can’t usually be folded, although it is often simple enough to stand the machine up to reduce the floor footprint after a workout. Just don’t try to move it too far, as these machines can be heavy with a full tank of water attached!
Air resistance rowers may not look as cool, yet their frames are usually lightweight and can fold, making them easier to store.
In terms of noise, while both are loud, the sound of a water rower is slightly quieter and can be more soothing than an air rower.
Looking at the versatility of resistance in water rowers, you can usually adjust the drag by changing the water level in the tank. Because it involves physically adding or removing water from the capsule, this is not as easy to do mid-workout when compared to the drag sliders often found on air rowers.
Finally, be aware that the onboard monitors on an air resistance rowing machine tend to be more advanced and accurate than the typical monitors on a water rower costing the same price.
Confused? Let’s summarize:
Water rowers often come with wooden frames – which look awesome!
Water rowers can be heavier with a full tank
Water levels are less convenient to adjust on the fly
Water rowers are slightly quieter and more soothing than air rowers
Water rowers tend to have less accurate monitors
Water rowers are generally more expensive
Air rowers are easier to fold and store
Air rowers tend to be lighter machines
Air resistance makes it easy to adjust the drag
Air resistance is a bit louder than water
Air rowers tend to have more advanced monitors
Air rowers are slightly cheaper in general
So, which is best? That’s up to you to decide! Whether you want the most advanced monitor, the coolest aesthetics or a lighter-weight machine, your needs and wants will determine which is best for you.
Both rowing and running are seen as excellent forms of cardio, whether you are out on the track or out on the water. Of course, these days, many people prefer to run or row in the gym or in their living rooms, on treadmills and rowing machines.
We are big advocates of using a rowing machine for its full-body muscle activation and cardio benefits – but is a rowing machine better than a treadmill?
As with anything in the world of fitness, the answer depends on YOU and your goals.
In terms of working your muscles, you can achieve better muscle activation on a rowing machine, where your back, legs, abs, biceps, shoulders and forearms are all in action throughout the movement. On a treadmill you will use a little of your upper body, but it’s primarily your legs that do the work.
A rowing machine is also much better for your joints than a treadmill. As rowing is a non-weight bearing exercise, there is much less impact on your joints and connective tissues when compared to running.
This is why rowing is ideal for overweight users, seniors and people returning from injury, as well as those nursing current joint issues. Of course, if you are considering either rowing or running and have any health concerns, chat with a physician before starting anything new.
Finally in this head to head, let’s look at losing weight. If burning calories is your main goal, you still may want to consider a good treadmill instead of a rower.
While every person is different, the American Council on Exercise states that a 150lb person running at a moderate pace will burn 181 calories over 30 minutes. That same person rowing at a moderate pace for the same time will burn 158 calories.
Ultimately, both machines have their benefits and it would be beneficial to incorporate both into your weekly exercise routine if possible.
You’ve just purchased a shiny new rowing machine and are enjoying using it to get into shape. You love it so much you want to use it every day – but can you?
Ultimately, it depends on your current fitness level and how you are using your rower.
If you have just started a fitness journey, your body will need some time to recover in between sessions. While it’s considered a low-impact activity, rowing can be quite demanding on your muscles, especially your lower back.
Start slowly – one 15-minute session every other day should be enough for complete beginners, although you can start incorporating rowing into your day-to-day cardio workouts when you get the feel for it.
Of course, the most important thing is to ensure you warm up properly before you start rowing and use the correct technique when doing so. There are multiple instructional videos online offering the ins and outs of ideal rowing form, so be sure to look up a few before you get started.
If you are more advanced, then you know your own body. You will know whether or not you can cope with daily rowing sessions. More often than not, daily rowing will be fine, providing you are mixing higher intensity sessions with lighter recovery sessions.
However, if you feel particularly sore, sick, grouchy or injured, then you probably need to have a day or two rest.
Many people desire the ‘ripped’ look – in other words, a muscular appearance with low body fat and plenty of vascularity. There’s no secret – achieving the ripped look is a combination of discipline in the kitchen and hard work in the gym.
In the kitchen you must be eating enough protein (whether meat, dairy or plant-based) to build muscle, while simultaneously keeping yourself in a slight caloric deficit to lose fat.
In the gym, you must aim to complement your diet by incorporating cardio work to burn fat, while also building muscle through strength and hypertrophy training, so that you have a muscular appearance to reveal when the fat melts away.
Of course, a rowing machine is an ideal way to incorporate cardio into your weekly routine. You can obviously enjoy longer steady-state sessions, but if fat-burning is your goal, some HIIT on an air or water rower is the perfect full-body calorie blitz.
Entire books have been written on achieving the ripped look – for a more in-depth guide, you may want to check some of them out.
In short, a daily rowing session alone probably won’t get you the ripped look you want. However, combining it with a proper weightlifting program and a good diet will get you much closer.
Of course, nobody said it would be easy – the hard work begins here!
Spending up to $500 on a rowing machine isn’t a life-changing amount, yet it’s certainly enough to justify your desire for not ending up with a lemon!
The models we have highlighted all fall into this price range and are solid pieces of fitness gear for the price – units that will provide a great rowing experience and will last for a long time.
While our seven models offer a good cross section of what is available, there are hundreds of models on the market. We recommend you take the information in this guide, then go shopping – you may find something you love!