What Type Of Rowing Machine Should I Choose?

Rowing machines are wonderfully versatile pieces of fitness equipment that offer a whole body workout that most machines don’t provide. They’re great for torching fat and building strength in the legs, core and upper body all at once simply by just rowing. But which rower should you go for? Modern day rowing consists of 3 main types: Magnetic Rowers, Air Rowers or Water Rowers. But which one should you pick?


Before we talk through the differences in rowers we’ll go through how each rowing machine works

Air Based

Air based rowing machines work by using a fan that rotates when you row. The idea behind this is that the blades on the fan draw in and battle the air as the fan goes around providing resistance as you row.

Magnet Based

Magnet based rowing machines contain a weighted flywheel (usually between 5kg-15kg) that spins as you row. A magnet is placed by this flywheel which provides resistance. The higher resistance level the user chooses, the more resistance will be provided.

Water Based

Water based rowing machines do exactly what it says on the tin! They are fitted with a large tank on the front of the machine that is filled with water. Inside the tank there are paddles that spin as the user rows meaning the paddles have to battle against the water which in turn creates the resistance.


The largest difference between all three rowers is the resistance and the type of resistance it provides. Air based and water based rowers are similar in the sense that they don’t provide different resistance levels but in fact resistance is determined by how quickly and hard you row. This is based on the amount of drag provided when you row. Think about running with a parachute on your back. The faster you run, the more drag will be generated from the parachute. This is the same concept as the air resistance and water resistance provided on the two rowers. What these two rowers do provide though is ‘damper’ settings. These are settings than can be set on rowers and dictate how much air or water is allowed to react with the blades/paddle. This affects how the rowing ‘feels’ rather than providing resistance. Think of it like gears on a bike; lighter damper settings make rowing feel lighter and easier. However, you’ll still feel more resistance by rowing faster.

Magnet resistance is an entirely different concept. These rowers provide different resistance levels so you have the same amount of resistance no matter how fast or hard you work. The magnet inside of the rower is adjusted depending on what level of resistance the user chooses. So if a higher resistance level is chosen then the magnet gets placed closer to the flywheel so it’s harder to spin.


Noisy rowing machine can a big issue for many people. This is especially the case when considering a rowing machine for home use. As you can image, water based rowing machines provide a loud ‘splashing’ sound as the water rotates around the tank which can be very loud. This is either a pro or a con depending on your perception of splashing water sounds. While some may find this soothing or therapeutic, others may find this annoying as they have to turn their music or TV louder to drown out the sounds.

Air rowers are quieter than water rowers but still provide a noise as air gets sucked into the blades. Again, this can get louder the harder you row but still isn’t as loud as a water rower. Magnet based rowers are the quietest of the three. As the resistance depends upon a stationary magnet, there is very little movement inside of the rower meaning there is less noise which results in a quiet rowing action…which your neighbours may thank you for!


The difference in stroke is quite large between the three different types of rowers. If we break the rowing motion into two parts, you have the start and finish of the rowing motion. The start of the rowing motion on a water rower requires more work and then provides a lighter finish. This is due to the momentum needed to start the rowing process required to move stationary water. This is the complete opposite with air rowers as the start is lighter and has a harder finish. This is because there is no resistance when moving the blades, but as they pick up speed they catch more air particles which results in a harder finish. Magnet rowers need exactly the same amount of work in the start and finish of the rowing motion. The only thing that will determine the difficulty of the motion will be the amount of resistance set by the user.

It would be impossible to say which stroke is better as this is purely a personal preference based decision. It would be wise to try and compare the different feels of each stoke on the machines before deciding which one you prefer. One thing I will point out is that a lot of people prefer the feel of a water rowing machine as it gives you sense of realism and authenticity as you row against water, much like you would in a real rowing boat.



The readings given from the monitors can differ depending on the type of rowing machine. Air and magnetic rowers provide more accurate readings than water based rowers. This is why a lot of rowing competitions or professional rowers opt for these types of rowers as they give more precise readings which allow for more strict training regimes.


This is quite a big factor when deciding upon a rowing machine considering that if you’re going to buy a rower, then it’s likely it’ll be for home use. Generally, magnetic and air rowers are smaller and most have folding capabilities. This makes them ideal for keeping around the house as they can be stored away when not in use. They also have smaller components such as bases and slide ways making them lighter and easier to move about. This alone makes them ideal home use machines. Water rowing machine are large and have big, heavy water tanks attached to the front. This makes them unpractical to move around as the water would need to be drained and the large frames makes them heavy to move. Only consider a water based rower if you have the dedicated space in the form of a garage or home gym.


This is probably the deciding factor among most people when choosing a rowing machine. By far the most expensive rowing machine are water based which range in price from £600 – £1,500. Air rowers are cheaper depending on the quality of the rower but they can be picked up from £300 – £600. Magnetic rowers are the cheapest and start from as little as £150. Of course with anything it’s a case of you get what you pay for, but a lot has to be considered when purchasing a rowing machine. It’s not just a case of the cheapest rowing machine will be the worst.


The goals you want to achieve with your rower ultimately depend on which one you should pick. If you’re looking to improve your cardio health and conditioning then it would be best to go for rower where you can set a low resistance where you can row for a long period of time. It may be wise to stay away from a water or air rower as the resistance will constantly be changing depending upon your rowing speed. Because of this, magnetic rowers would also be ideal for fat burning. If you’re looking to build strength and tone muscles then it would be a good idea to go for a rower with a lot of resistance. This is where water and air rowers come into their own as you can get a lot of resistance from them by rowing hard and fast. If you’re set on a magnetic rower, then try and choose one with a difficult high resistance level.

There’s a lot to consider when deciding upon which type of rowing machine to choose. Hopefully this article has helped and you’ll take these factors into consideration. It largely depends upon personal preference and personal goals. Remember, the ideal rowing machine for you won’t be the one for somebody else.

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