Getting into the home workout scene with a rowing machine is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is a famously effective way of getting a near whole body workout. But on the other hand, it can be a daunting prospect parting with a chunky sum of money in return for a piece of equipment you aren’t sure about, or familiar with.
We want to address this understandable tentativeness and assure you that a good rowing machine for under £500 can be had. It is tricky, we won’t deny that. Budget rowing machines often make large claims with lots of bells and whistles, but few live up to the hype, thanks to their cheap and nasty parts.
There are well-made budget rowers out there, the ones that don’t come packed with features, but rather, quality components. The real challenge comes in finding the ones still available because a lot of people are jumping on this bandwagon at present.
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Buying advice: shop smart
Make yourself familiar with what components really matter on a rowing machine. If you’re a beginner, it isn’t overly important about how many programs and functions a rowing machine has. What you want is a machine that is ergonomic to use and is built well. For example, taller people over six foot will need to make sure the slide rail is long enough for them to row comfortably. A great way to do this is to read buyers’ reviews.
Presumably, if you're on the hunt for a rowing machine, you have earmarked space in your house for it already. If you haven’t, best you pop off and do that now. Many rowing machines fold up for compact storage, but you won’t want to be doing this after every use because it becomes a chore. It’s best you have a dedicated zone for a rowing machine, with about half a metre of free space on all sides so you can row with the proper technique. We've included dimensions in the product descriptions below.
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The best budget rowing machines:
Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine
Best rowing machine for small spaces
A user-friendly rower at its most basic. Unlike most rowing machines, this uses a hydraulic cylinder to generate resistance.
Resistance levels: 12
Dimensions: 137cm x 50cm
Max user weight: 100kg
Not ideal for 6ft+ people
Bodytrain Gb-Kh101a Magnetic Rowing Machine
Best rowing machine for adjustable resistance
Magnetic rowing machines offer a smooth and near-silent workout. The lack of a fan or water container makes this model more compact too, as it folds away easily for storage. Footplates are ergonomically designed for comfort and the adjustable foot strap ensures the perfect fit for users of all sizes. The easy-to-read computer details your Time, Stroke Count, Total Stroke Count, Calories Used & Scan readouts during your workout.
Resistance levels: 16
Dimensions: 211cm x 47.5cm
Max user weight: 120kg
Smooth and silent
Good length for taller people
Folds away easily for storage
Bulkier model when in use, requires more free space
Pro Fitness Air and Magnetic Rowing Machine
Best rowing machine for tall users
The air and magnetic resistance on this rowing machine gives you eight levels of resistance to choose from by adjusting the air outlet. Though not as quiet as a magnetic machine, it isnu2019t too bad. It's worth having in a closed-off dedicated space, however. Itu2019s almost two metres long which is noticeably more than those above, but it does allow for users up to about 6ft 4. It comes with a one-year manufactureru2019s guarantee.
Resistance levels: 8
Dimensions: 196cm x 45cm
Max user weight: 100kg
Well made, basic unit
Good for most heights
No AAA batteries supplied for the screen
Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5801 Magnetic Rowing Machine
Best value rowing machine
A highly-rated magnetic rowing machine for under £200, this is arguably the best value of the lot. It's basic but sturdy, and that is exactly what you want. The frame is alloy steel and is suitable for taller users thanks to the generous slide rail inseam. The display monitor sits just below the bar holder. Itu2019s foldable too, which helps when tidying it away.
Resistance levels: 16
Dimensions: 196cm x 58cm
Max user weight: 113kg
Higher user weight
No mention of a warranty
Reebok ZJET Rowing Machine
Best rowing machine for durability and ergonomics
This is a price jump from the products above, but you know what you get with Reebok: a track record of proven quality. This is a rowing machine with air resistance. It is louder than the magnetic models, but the simple air resistance is very effective and very reliable. The Reebok rower is extremely ergonomic to use, and storage is made easy because it can fold. Comes with a two-year manufactureru2019s parts and labour guarantee.
Resistance levels: 16 with 19 programs
Dimensions: 181cm x 54cm
Max user weight: 120kg
Quality of build
Air resistance is louder than magnetic
GymboPro Water Resistance Rowing Machine
Best rowing machine for comfort
Magnetic machines are smooth but rowers that use water resistance give the most realistic simulation of rowing. Like air machines, itu2019s also very reliable. On this unit, the screen is adjustable to suit your height, and the wide seat is very comfortable. Just be aware that this is also a larger unit thanks to the water barrel, but it does have wheels at the end to make it easier to move. Comes with a one-year retail warranty.
Resistance levels: adjusted by water volume (between 12 and 18 litres); the harder you row, the more resistance you have
Dimensions: 205cm x 40cm
Max user weight: 135kg
Fits taller people
Best rowing simulation
Not as compact as some of the others
Benefits of using rowing machines
The benefits of using a rowing machine occur all over your body. Different muscles are used throughout different stages of each stroke (see the diagram below). But because the action of rowing is simultaneously aerobic and anaerobic, rowing machines help build cardio and stamina, as well as muscle strength. Rowing machines are also kinder on your joints than weights, because of the smooth action and absence of severe weight resistance. Therefore, rowing machines are great for injury recovery, too.
This diagram also helps to show you how to use a rowing machine. You begin with bent knees, your back as straight as you can, and grip the handle with palms down. As you drive, you simultaneously straighten your legs and pull the bar in a smooth action. Your finishing position consists of fully extended legs, shoulders back, and the bar pulled to your stomach/upper abs. In the recovery, your arms straighten, your legs bend, and the seat slides down the rail to the catch position.
It’s advisable to keep to lower resistance settings, particularly in the early stages of using a rowing machine while your muscles tone and strengthen as they get used to the exercise. It’s also crucial to stretch beforehand. Too much resistance and failing to warm-up prior to a workout can very easily result in muscle strains and injuries. Take it easy, focus on technique, and enjoy the fitness benefits!