The Best Home Rowing Machines

Shelby Fanning

Our aim with this guide is to provide you with an in-depth understanding between different types of rowing machines, along with comparisons to actually using them and explaining what a beginner to an advanced rower should consider when purchasing. 

We compared resistance mechanisms, since they are an easily distinguishable feature between rowing machines, and some of the top rowing machines on the market so you can feel confident in your final decision.

This will likely be a much more detailed view on rowing machines than what the average person will be looking for, but we hope this may serve as a helpful foundation for anyone trying to do their research before investing in a rowing machine.

But First: Let us preface all of this with a quote from our CEO and Founder, Bruce Smith, from his interview with Forbes: “We have an enormous respect for Concept 2 rowers and the water rowers that came before us. Hydrow is a radical step forward because those machines were built in the 1980s,”.

Disclaimer: We would like to acknowledge our inherent bias as we sell the Hydrow Rower and the Hydrow Wave Rower.


Hydrow vs Traditional Electromagnetic Resistance

Traditionally, electromagnetic resistance (which uses an eddy current braking system) doesn’t always feel like rowing on the water. Hydrow sought out to change that perception and based on a tremendous amount of feedback, we are humbled to say that we’ve achieved that.

We spoke with Hydrow’s Principal Firmware Engineer, Ryan Mullen, who has led the team in producing our patented resistance. The following feedback sourced from Ryan is his personal opinion based on his extensive experience in researching rowing machines and their different resistance mechanisms. 

“Unlike other rowers using traditional electromagnetic resistance mechanisms, we are able to manipulate the Hydrow resistance to determine a precise feel at any given moment based on the athlete input, thanks to our sophisticated electronics, sensors, and control algorithms. Without this type of control, competing machines may be able to produce their machines more cheaply, but they are also limited to a resistance that doesn’t feel [like rowing on water].”

Bottom line? According to Ryan, “Hydrow rowers are able to overcome the limitations of traditional electromagnetic resistance mechanisms, and faithfully reproduce a resistance that actually feels like rowing on the water, through their sophisticated electronics, sensors, and algorithms.” That, coupled with “the smooth, quiet, and low-maintenance aspects of electromagnetic rowers create an uncompromising and modern rowing experience.” 

Hydrow’s Electromagnetic Resistance: Athlete Perspective

Why is an elite Athlete’s perspective helpful in your search for the best rowing machine? They are experts when it comes to the feel and experience of working out on a machine and rowing out on the actual water. 

You can trust that their opinion is informed by using some of the top training tools available for the sport of rowing. 

Please note that these are their personal opinions as elite Athletes in the sport of rowing and what they would be looking for when choosing a rowing machine to train with for the highest levels of competition. 

According to a few of our Athletes (Paralympian, Dani Hansen and Olympian, Aquil Abdullah), there are a lot of things to admire about Hydrow’s electromagnetic resistance. 

A main takeaway from Aquil and Dani is that consistency is king. Dani says the notes below are her main consistency needs when considering a training tool at an elite level:

  • Throughout a single stroke

  • Throughout the entire workout

  • From workout to workout

  • From machine to machine

She says the only two machines she would trust to give that kind of consistency would be a Hydrow or an RP3 with minimal maintenance (she mentioned in her experience, Concept 2’s often had to be recalibrated to offer assured consistency). 

I want my output to be the only contributing factor to my scores. I can’t have an inconsistent machine adding bias to my workout stats. With this in mind, I would choose Hydrow every time.” 

Aquil agrees that variability between rowing machines could be an issue when training at an elite level. With a Hydrow rower, “we’ve provided an opportunity for a more consistent experience that allows you to track your progress much better.” 

Beyond consistency, they both note how quiet Hydrow is compared to any other rowing machine using air or water, and how notably smooth the stroke is thanks to the resistance (as well as the effortless glide of the seat and the smooth handle strap) that provides a “feel like blades moving through the water.”

Bottom line?

When it comes to the Hydrow Rowers, you can expect a markedly smooth and quiet row that transports you to glass-like water, while being able to rely on consistent stats which are automatically saved in your profile. 

Air Resistance

We’re going to get very technical for a bit while we look at our great predecessor: air resistance.


“Air rowing machines are definitely popular for a number of good reasons. They produce resistance that is proportional to what a boat in the water would produce,” says Ryan.

“They’re rugged and simple mechanical machines which can tolerate a level of abuse that exceeds a normal home setting. This leads to less downtime, expense, and headache when a university or gym needs to maintain a fleet of ergs.” Hydrow Athlete and Olympian, Aisyah Rafaee, confirmed that cleaning an air rower can be “relatively easy if you know how to do it”.

We’d like to note that there is almost no maintenance required for a Hydrow beyond an occasional wipe of the seat rail to remove any debris built up over time and use.


Ryan notes that “while the machines are simple, they can produce a lot of data and offer modern connectivity [with the help of] third-party devices, apps, software, etc.” This would be compared to a connected fitness machine like Hydrow that will automatically track all of these metrics and display the relevant information to our users in a more accessible manner.

Setting Drag

“Air rowers support much easier drag reconfiguration than rowing machines using water—you just need to adjust the damper to allow more or less air in and out”. 

  • They won't leak like a water rower could (Aisyah even noted that she’s seen videos of water rower tanks bursting). 

  • They're light enough where many of them can be stored and deployed without too much struggle and do not require a power source (if you aren’t using any of those previously mentioned third-party devices/apps/etc.

Air vs Hydrow

Though our drag mechanism is able to mimic the feel of rowing on the water similarly to an air rower, our system has several advantages over a basic damped flywheel:

  • Hydrow’s resistance mechanism can produce any specific drag setting exactly.

    • Air rower users might need to guess and check several times in order to make sure their drag factor is set correctly.

  • If the rowing machine’s system properties change (due to time, temperature, or rowing pattern), Hydrow is able to see these changes and react to them, keeping the drag consistent and the stats on point. 

    • Air rower users might notice that their drag may change slightly at lower or higher intensities, over the duration of longer workouts, when the fan box collects dust or is near obstacles, etc.

  • Electromagnetic rowers in general can be much quieter than fluid drag systems (like air or water rowers), since there is no contact between the electromagnet and the flywheel, and there is no churning fluid being forced through small holes. 

    • This makes them more suitable for home or apartment use.

  • Hydrow has created an unmatched experience in how smooth each stroke feels with our consistent resistance and features like the flat strap connected to the handle [instead of a chain], and the easy glide of the seat.

This is true for both the Hydrow Rower and the Hydrow Wave Rower.

Bottom line?

We have great respect for machines that use air resistance—they feel good and can offer a lot for experienced rowers. 

Ryan notes that in comparison, Hydrow “modernizes the erging experience. We preserve the attributes that make the air rowing machines great while refining the design—making it more accessible for new or experienced rowers [with Athlete-led workouts], and building a platform worthy of hosting those world-class Athletes.”

Water Resistance 

Rowing on a water rower, and having that water so disturbed in the tank with each stroke, is like constantly rowing through someone’s puddles, or their wake.” says Dani. 

She describes the resistance during the drive (the power application phase of the stroke where you are pushing away from the monitor) as “one short chunk” rather than a sustained and continuous resistance that would allow for optimal power application throughout the entire stroke. 

Aisyah agrees with Dani adding that a water rower “feels nothing like rowing on water.” She noted that while training with a water rower, you will experience “hard stops and heavy catches [which can be] terrible on [the] back if form is not good”. 

Aquil expanded further to explain exactly what is happening when you’re rowing on the water vs on a water rower:

When you place the blade in the water at the catch (the start of the drive where the blade enters and “catches” the water) you are then moving the boat through the water. Other than accounting for some slippage here or there, your blade isn’t the thing moving (when you’re thinking about what is moving to create resistance). With a water rower, the fan is what is moving so it definitely isn’t an exact parallel to rowing in a boat on the water.

Technical Review of water resistance

Ryan notes that “a water rower could hypothetically feel like rowing on the water since it uses a fluid as its drag mechanism. However, there are a number of practical challenges with water rower-like systems: 

  • One major issue is that the drag is not easily adjustable since it requires the tank to be filled or drained. 

    • This makes it impractical to fine tune the feel of the rower to make it well-suited to the biomechanics and fitness goals of the athlete. 

  • Additionally, since the water rower has no means of modulating its own resistance, it is unable to compensate for changes that might creep in over the life of the machine, such as component wear, changes in temperature, etc.

Ryan reminds us that “with Hydrow, the drag is easily adjustable over a wide range to suit any user, and our system continually monitors the dynamics to compensate as needed to ensure you get resistance that stays faithful to the drag setting you've selected.”

Bottom Line?

Dani says “It might be using water as the medium for resistance, but that doesn’t mean it is the best to approximate the feel of rowing on the water in a boat.

Beyond the Resistance

Aisyah, Dani, and Aquil agree that Hydrow offered some important advantages: 

  • Entertaining 

    • The majority of our workouts feature beautiful scenery.

    • The Athletes help pass the time in the workouts with fun workout plans, stories, and cues to remember as you do the work with them. It’s like a virtual workout buddy!

      • These are important factors that result in less burnout from rowing workouts.

  • Efficient workouts

    • Each workout layout is created using special tools to increase the efficiency of your allotted workout time. From 10 minutes to 45, you can expect an efficient use of your time as the Athletes put special care and consideration into every workout they lead. 

  • Expert rowers

    • Our elite Athletes can give important technical insight, cues, drills, etc. and pass down the expert coaching that they have received throughout their rowing careers.

  • Distance-based workouts 

    • Good for people training for teams and need to row specific distances if you are already on a rowing team and looking to train at home.

  • Community

    • Members and Athletes are able to offer support and camaraderie.

    • You can share this with your family and friends. 

      • Aquil noted that his mom had been to so many regattas over the years, but it really wasn’t until she started rowing on Hydrow when she gained a new appreciation for the sport.

  • Other workout styles 

    • Hydrow offers Pilates, strength, mobility, and yoga workouts.

  • Sleek design

To Sum it all up

You want to choose a rowing machine that will best support your fitness journey. It should be something that makes you excited to add some movement and activity to your daily routine.

We urge anyone who is looking to buy the best rowing machine to consider the following:

  1. Choose a company that specializes in creating rowing machines, rather than a company that boasts a wide variety of exercise equipment.

  2. Visualize what you would like your workout experience to look like. 

    1. Do you want to watch numbers or an Athlete rowing on a beautiful waterway?

    2. Do you want only rowing workouts or a variety that includes strength, Pilates, yoga, and mobility?

    3. Will a bumpy resistance bother you or will smooth resistance be ideal?

    4. Will you stick with self-motivation or will challenges, programs, and rewards help you achieve your goals?

    5. Will you come up with your workout layouts or would you prefer a layout created by an expert who knows how to optimize output efficiency?

    6. Will you enjoy the fact that every row will also do some good in the world by donating to a charity?

The Hydrow rowers are created by rowers but are for everyone. Our singular focus is on perfecting the rowing machine and creating an immersive workout experience since the company was founded.

You can trust that the Hydrow rowers are built with the utmost care and attention to detail, that every workout is reviewed closely to best support your fitness goals, and we do that all with stunning scenery as our ‘studio’. It also doesn’t look too shabby if someone stumbles upon it when getting the home tour. 

With all that in mind, we hope this article provided some helpful insight as you make your final decision! We would love to have you join our community, but however you decide, we can't wait for you to enjoy this great sport and everything it has to offer!

Supplemental FAQs

Here are some answers to common questions we get when we have a chance to talk to potential Hydrow Members. 


  • Wouldn’t a water rower feel more like rowing on water since it is actually using water as resistance? 

    • According to Aisyah, who has a lot of experience coaching with water rowers, rowing on a rowing machine with water resistance “feels nothing like rowing on water.” 

    • Rowing on a water rower, and having that water so disturbed in the tank with each stroke, is like constantly rowing through someone’s puddles, or their wake, which is something you avoid at all costs when actually rowing on the water,” says Dani. 

      • She describes the resistance during the drive (the power application phase of the stroke where you are pushing away from the monitor) as “one short chunk” rather than a sustained and continuous resistance that would allow for optimal power application throughout the entire stroke. 

      • It might be using water as the medium for resistance, but that doesn’t mean it is the best to approximate the feel of rowing on the water in a boat.

  • Why do universities/national teams use air fans if this is so much more like rowing on water?

    • It requires work and testing to determine what rowing machines can be used for individual erg tests. We would argue with Hydrow’s consistency from machine to machine, we could actually offer an extremely equalized playing field for testing. 

      • Aquil, Dani, and Aisyah agree that Concept 2 is absolutely the standard when it comes to what universities and national teams use to conduct erg tests on. 

      • Ryan further expanded on this: “Air rowers have been around for a long time, which means that coaches and athletes are able to rely on consistent baselines for fitness testing. At the top level, the returns are diminishing, and small differences in results are much harder to come by. Thus, the noise that would be introduced by using several different types of ergs from several manufacturers each with their own implementation would be very difficult for users to tolerate as they try to analyze their results, design programs, and implement test protocols.

  • If my child is training for a team with an at-home rowing machine, what should I get?

    • “No matter what you train on, you will pull the score that you are going to pull. If you train on Hydrow and then test on an air rower, you will still pull what you’re going to pull. We have had Members do exactly that for indoor rowing competitions where they resulted in top place for their respective divisions.” - Aquil Abdullah

      • At some point, your strength and fitness are the main things that will affect your ultimate stats. You can train on something that is more engaging and educational like Hydrow, and still perform well on an erg test that uses a different type of rowing machine. Using an exact machine to train on for indoor rowing tests will most likely not make enough of a difference (in most cases).