9 Rowing Machine Pros and Cons to Consider Before You Buy

Hydrow Marketing Team

Starting a new at-home fitness journey? Great! Now comes the hard part: deciding which piece of fitness equipment is right for you.

Historically, treadmills, exercise bikes, and ellipticals have been front-runners for home fitness equipment, but rowing machines have been making their way into more homes in recent years — and for good reason!

Indoor rowing machines have proven to be one of the best workout machines for increasing strength and stamina. Whether you're a beginner just starting your fitness journey or a fitness enthusiast looking to switch things up, rowing is a great option to consider.

Before deciding whether an indoor rowing machine is right for you, it's important to understand a couple of rowing machines pros and cons.

The Pros of Using a Rowing Machine

The benefits of rowing are substantial. People who have consistently rowed for weeks, months, or even years will often share how much rowing has benefited their health and well-being. This form of exercise goes beyond getting in your sweat session for the day and provides a new level of connecting to your body—and community.

Weighing the pros and cons of using a rowing machine? Be sure to keep these five key benefits in mind:

1. Total-Body Workout

Rowing is one of the most efficient ways to achieve a total-body workout. Because rowing engages 86% of your body's muscles, a rowing workout packs an impressive punch in a short amount of time. You can achieve a higher calorie burn in a shorter duration when compared to running or cycling.

Rowing is a great option for those with a limited amount of time on their hands for exercise. For example, in a short 10- or 15-minute workout, you can effectively work your arms, legs while simultaneously reaping the benefits of cardio and strength training.

2. Low-Impact Cardio

Especially when it comes to cardio workouts, continuous repetition of high-impact movements can wreak havoc on your joints. Opting for a lower-impact exercise can have both immediate and long-term health benefits.

Rowing can hold reduced recovery times compared to higher-impact options. Because low-impact workouts put less stress on your joints, you can work out more consistently with fewer rest days needed to allow your body to recover.

Low-impact workouts are also very beginner-friendly. If you're new to exercising regularly or are coming off a hiatus from consistent workouts, easing your way in with low-impact options will allow your body to get stronger with fewer risks of joint pain flare-ups or injury.

The risk of injury is much lower with low-impact exercises like rowing when compared to high-impact exercises like running, where twists, sprains, and fractures are much more common.

This rowing "pro" is particularly beneficial for those with arthritis or past joint or bone injuries. It can also be a great option for exercising during pregnancy or as a cross-training supplement for high-impact workouts. Please consult your doctor on their recommendations for your specific medical situation.

3. Effective Calorie Burn

If you're looking for an efficient calorie burn, rowing is a great go-to workout. While factors like weight, workout duration, and workout intensity will affect exactly how many calories you'll burn while you row, you can safely say rowing does efficiently burn calories with each and every stroke.

Your calorie burn while rowing will be affected by the structure of your rowing workout and your fitness goals. HIIT rowing workouts, for example, will bring lasting calorie burn, even hours after your workout is complete. Steady-state rowing — rowing with a consistently moderate intensity — helps build your endurance and stamina as you burn calories and fat in the process.

If your goal is to burn calories and/or lose weight, we recommend focusing on keeping your stroke rate at 24 to 30 strokes per minute.

4. Excellent Option for Cross-Training

While cross-training was originally introduced as a way to reduce risk of injury, its vast benefits have made it increasingly popular. Cross-training encourages strength and bodily awareness, providing a way to work out without burning out.

Because of its efficiency and low-impact structure, rowing is an incredible option for cross-training (regardless of what your primary discipline is). Whether you're a CrossFit athlete, runner, cyclist, yoga instructor, or football fanatic, rowing's benefits will help you improve your craft.

5. A Supportive Community of Fellow Rowers

If you decide on a Hydrow as your rowing machine of choice, you’ll have access to an amazing group of supportive Hydrow Members. Because of the prioritization of connection and synchronicity, rowing has a way of bringing people together. 

Our Facebook group, Hydrow Training Camp, is a supportive community of people who share their wins and achievements, hold each other accountable, get vulnerable with their struggles, and celebrate their victories together. Some have called this “the best group of people you’ll find on the internet,” and we can’t disagree!

The supportive culture of Hydrow Members is contagious. As you share your wins and struggles, you’ll see Hydrow Members from across the globe coming together to support and encourage one another. 

The Cons of Using a Rowing Machine

While rowing can be pretty incredible, weighing the pros and cons of a rowing machine does require you to dig into some of the drawbacks. Keep these four cons in mind as you figure out whether this piece of fitness equipment is right for you:

1. Proper Form Is Essential

Most people can hop on a stationary bike and ride without thinking too much about it. You can step on a treadmill and start walking or running without much instruction and still get the workout you expect. Rowing, on the other hand, does place a higher emphasis on proper form. 

Proper rowing form is important — not only to prevent injury, but also to provide the full-body workout that you’re looking for. While learning proper rowing form isn’t hard, it is crucial. 

Poor form can cause unnecessary fatigue on muscle groups if you’re overcompensating with certain muscle groups over others. Improper posture can also prevent you from delivering the power in each stroke that makes rowing a great workout. 

If you’re just beginning your Hydrow rowing machine journey, we suggest kicking off with our Learn to Row series, three introductory workouts to start you on your way.

2. Repetitive Motion

Like most cardio machines, rowing machines have one primary function. Rowing consists of a very consistent, repetitive motion: legs, core, arms, arms, core, legs. Repeating this motion might seem boring for some. But there are ways to combat this “con” to prevent it from being something that  turns you away from rowing. 

Hydrow’s Live Outdoor Reality™ workouts bring more variety to your workouts than you’d expect. Because these workouts are filmed on the water and are designed to make you feel like you’re right there with the Athlete leading the workout, you can prevent boredom quite easily. 

3. Lower Back Strain

Improper rowing form can cause a strain on your lower back due to the need to “pivot” at the hip during each stroke. If you’re not keeping a strong core and arching your back (rather than pivoting from the hip), you can cause unwanted strain on your back. 

Proper form does help alleviate this risk. While some “pain” is expected when you’re exercising to strengthen your body, there is a difference between good pain and bad pain. Prioritizing proper form and listening to your body will support healthy rowing exercise. It’s also important to make your post-workout recovery a priority, too.

4. Rowers Can Be Loud

Most cardio equipment makes noise. Treadmills can have a winding sound as the belt rotates, along with the sound of the impact as your foot hits the belt. Exercise bikes and ellipticals are typically quieter due to their low-impact nature but can still create noise depending on the type of machine you choose.

Rowing machines can be loud — but not all are! Traditional rowing machines with fans, chains, or water tanks in their resistance mechanism can be quite noisy. But modern technology advances have provided great alternatives to these loud resistance mechanisms. 

Hydrow’s patented electromagnetic drag technology is a quiet alternative to traditional machines. While rowing is not a silent experience (even on a Hydrow), the electromagnetic resistance is much quieter than fans or water tanks. 

Rowing does not have to be loud and disruptive. Hydrow’s rowing machines will give you the quieter experience you’re looking for.

Is Rowing Right for You?

Generally speaking, the pros of rowing typically outweigh the cons. Rowing is a great option for those looking for a low-impact, total-body workout with a high calorie burn. Rowing has a way of connecting you with your body and with other rowing enthusiasts and athletes that makes it attractive to many. 

If you’re committed to learning proper form and enjoy keeping rowing workouts engaging by rowing along with Hydrow Athletes in scenic locations around the world, rowing is an excellent choice.  If you’re still not quite sold that rowing is the best option for you, take the time to try a rower at your local gym or hotel to see how it feels. You might be surprised how quickly you get hooked!