Adding a rowing machine to your home gym could be one of the best decisions you’ve made regarding your overall health and fitness, as it offers a serious cardiovascular and resistance workout. However, this piece of gym equipment has a large footprint that not many people have room for in their home. That’s why I’ve decided to search the market looking specifically for compact rowing machines; keep reading to learn more about the best models I’ve discovered.
Top Five Compact Rowing Machines Available on the Market in 2017
1. Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399 – The Variable Resistance Rower
This wind resistance type of rowing machine is both a high-quality and affordable model made, which is why it made its way to the top of my list. The fact that it’s an air-rower means that there’s no knobs or buttons that will allow you to change resistance; the intensity of your workout is determined solely by how hard you row. That’s why it’s often said that this type of rower has variable resistance; for this reason, I recommend it to users of all fitness levels.
Since you won’t be using it all the time, storage is something that you should consider. The manufacturer made it easy by creating a unit with a frame that you can fold in a matter of seconds.
Comfort is another thing I’d like to talk about; this model is designed to give its users a satisfying workout experience. The seat is padded and upholstered, and the handles will feel pleasant in your hands as they have a textured grip; all of this is important during longer workouts.
It is also equipped with a single-button monitor that will show you the basic workout stats throughout your session – speed, distance, time and calories burned (based off an average user). After a period of inactivity, it turns off automatically.
- Optional folding for storage
- It has built-in wheels for portability
- Comfortable padded, upholstered seat
- Easy to set up
- Enough room for leg extension
- Heavy-duty steel frame
- The fan gets moderately loud
- Some users reported it slides on smooth floors
2. Stamina 1215 Orbital Rowing Machine with Free Motion Arms – The Realistic Rowing Experience
For a slightly lower price, but with an entirely different design than my Editor’s Pick, you can get this hydraulic resistance compact rowing machine. The workout experience will be different because of the Free Motion Arms feature; the movements will give you a more realistic feeling of rowing in water. Also, it will give your upper body a serious workout; instead of pulling, your arms will go through a full orbital motion.
Because it’s only 4 feet long, this model will surely fit in almost any workout space, no matter how small. On top of that, storing it when it’s not in use will also be a breeze, since the arms can be folded to take up as little space as possible.
Comfort-wise, the thickly padded seat will support you during your workout sessions. Another thing I want to mention is that it has pivoting foot plates, which is not always the case in the lower-end price range.
The fundamental workout data – speed, distance, row count, time and calories burned – are shown on a simple, single-button LCD. If put in scan mode, it will show data points one at a time, rotating them automatically every 6 seconds.
- Incline control, which is rare on rowing machines
- It doesn't make a lot of noise
- Compact size and folding option for easier storage
- Comfortable, padded seat
- Free Motion Arms will make you use major upper body muscles
- It's not for all user heights
- Assembly might be complicated
3. Stamina InMotion Rower – The Lowest Price on the Market
The Stamina InMotion Rower might just be the most affordable rowing machine on the market ever, so normally I had to include it on my list. This model shows that gym equipment doesn’t always have to be complicated and expensive to give you results.
As with any gym machine intended for home use, dimensions and storage are something that you need to consider; this model has that covered. It’s not enough to just say it’s compact; when unfolded, this unit has a footprint around 2 feet shorter than an average rowing machine. Also, it’s lightweight and has a standing frame, so when you’re done with your workout, you can easily stand it on its ends and store it in a closet or the corner of the room.
The machine is equipped with a simple LCD monitor, which will show you the basic workout stats – time, strokes per minute, distance and calories burned. The resistance is set manually using a knob; it offers five different levels of intensity, which may not sound like much, but you can’t expect it to have as many options as some higher-end products.
- Solid steel frame
- Extremely budget-friendly
- Pivoting foot plates
- It doesn't make a lot of noise
- Lightweight (only 27 pounds)
- Doesn’t fit people over 6 feet tall
- Offers only light to moderate workout – only five levels of resistance
4. Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 – Not For Those with a Tight Budget
This model is an air resistance rower; that means your rowing will determine the resistance level. However, you can always adjust the damper settings, which controls the amount of air that will go into the flywheel – this doesn’t affect resistance, but it changes the „feel“ of the stroke. Keep in mind that, since it’s an air resistance type, it will make some noise.
One of the most amazing features of this rowing machine is its monitor that will act as your „training partner.“ In the top half it will show total time, strokes per minute, distance and 500m split time; it’s up to you to choose what you want it to display in the bottom section. It also gives you the option of selecting one of the pre-set workouts or customizing an exercise routine. It could act as a heart rate monitor, too, but for that, you need to buy a compatible chest strap and heart rate attachment.
When it comes to comfort, the seat is padded and contoured, which makes it comfortable for most users. If you find it to be too hard for you, I suggest folding a towel and placing it over the seat.
- Separates into two pieces for efficient storage
- It has built-in wheels for portability
- PM5 monitor with a wide variety of features
- USB drive for saving and storing workout data
- Up to 500 pounds weight capacity
- Easy assembly
- Takes up a lot of space when in use
- The seat is uncomfortable for some users
5. Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1410 Rowing Machine Rower – The Rowing Machine for Beginners
This one is a model with hydraulic resistance, which makes it not only lightweight but affordable, too. Another characteristic of the hydraulic type is that they make very little noise, which makes them ideal for home use. It offers twelve resistance levels, giving you the opportunity to decide how strenuous you want your workout to be. However, it doesn’t have a resistance high enough for serious rowers; I’d recommend this unit to those who are entering the world of indoor rowing for the first time.
When it comes to comfort, the key features that should be mentioned are the padded seat, large pedals with velcro straps that are adjustable and the non-slip grip handlebars.
The unit has a simple LCD monitor, which is to be expected at a price this low. It still allows you to keep track of the standard workout data, such as time, calories burned (based on an average user), stroke count during your workout session and the overall or total stroke count. The package includes the batteries that power the monitor.
Storage shouldn’t be an issue, even though it seems like a rather large piece of equipment. It can be placed against a wall and in case you want to store it for a longer period, you can easily fold the parts by removing a few screws.
- Twelve adjustable levels of resistance
- Solid steel frame
- Full-motion arm movement
- Easy to assemble
- The seat is a bit stiff and uncomfortable
- The resistance level isn’t high enough for experienced rowers
- Weight capacity is only 220 pounds
What is a Rowing Machine?
A rowing machine also called an indoor rower, is a piece of gym equipment made to simulate actual rowing. It is used to either help rowers train or as a type of cardio workout suitable for a broad range of users, because it’s a low-impact exercise (unlike the treadmill, for example). They come with four different types of resistance systems – magnetic, air, hydraulic and water, but more on that later on in the article.
Benefits of Using a Rowing Machine
- They offer a low-impact workout, meaning they will keep joint pressure to a minimum; this significantly reduces any chance of injury.
- It burns insane amounts of calories – rowing burns up to 1000 calories per hour (an average being around 600 calories) and is proven to be highly effective regarding weight loss.
- They provide an astounding workout for your upper, as well as your lower body, including all larger muscle groups in the process.
- They deliver a great cardiovascular workout, which is a known contributor to overall health, especially when it comes to strengthening your heart and improving circulation.
- Rowing machines also increase stamina – they offer an outstanding endurance training.
- They are one of the more quiet pieces of gym equipment, which makes them ideal for home gyms.
Important Features and Factors to Consider before Buying a Compact Rowing Machine
1. Resistance Mechanism
That should be one of the main things to take into consideration when you decide to purchase a rowing machine. There are four different resistance types to choose from, and they all have their distinct advantages; you should, therefore, make the final decision following personal preferences and budget limitations.
- Magnetic – When it comes to home gyms, these are becoming more and more popular. They offer many levels of resistance (adjusted manually or through a console) and are quiet, which does make them ideal for home use.
- Water – A paddle inside a water-filled tank that turns as you row is how these models work. They are quieter than air resistance rowers, except for the sound of water, which can be very pleasant.
- Air – This type is the oldest one around and is a standard piece of equipment for every serious rower. The principle is simple – the harder you row, the greater the resistance. However, they tend to get noisy, especially during faster rowing exercises.
- Hydraulic – These tend to be the cheapest of the four types of rowing machines are usually very quiet and more compact, while still offering a decent cardiovascular workout – these may be their leading qualities.
2. Space and Optional Folding for Storage
Rowing machines don’t take up as much room overall as some other pieces of gym equipment, but they do tend to be longer. I advise you to take measurements of your workout space so you can compare those to the dimensions of the actual machine you plan on buying. Another thing to pay attention to is the folding feature; this will save you a lot of storage space. Keep in mind that hydraulic rower machines are usually more compact and shorter than others.
3. Comfort-Related Features
Comfort is something I always advise you to look for in gym equipment, so the seat, footplates, and handlebar shouldn’t be disregarded when you’re about to buy a rowing machine. A padded seat and, preferably, handlebar, is a feature you want.
4. Monitor Control
In this day and age, monitors are practically a must when it comes to gym equipment. However, don’t get too focused on how advanced the display is, especially if you don’t plan on using all the features it offers. A simple monitor will show you basic workout data such as time, distance and speed. As you go higher up the price range, additional options will appear – for example, preset programs, a heart rate monitor, and a calorie counter.
Price is always something you should take into consideration; I recommend you determine how much you’re able to spend on a rowing machine before you start looking at models. That way you’ll narrow down your choice and be able to focus on the best product in your preferred price range. The higher price might guarantee quality regarding materials used in manufacturing and technology (monitors, for example), but if your primary goal is to get a good cardio workout out of it, you shouldn’t worry about not being able to afford the more expensive models.
Every single one of the models I’ve picked out to include on my list has its pros and cons, so making the decision wasn’t exactly easy for me. I had to carefully consider every single factor, weigh in on which features I consider a must in rowing machines and which I should treat as deal breakers. I’ve decided that the Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399 deserved the first place and the title of the best compact rowing machine on the market. The second place goes to a model from the same manufacturer, but with an entirely different design – the Stamina 1215 Orbital Rowing Machine with Free Motion Arms.
In the end, though, the choice is on you – consider all the factors I’ve included in the buying guide section of this article to make your decision-making process a lot easier.