Trying to find the best budget rowing machine today has been a bit of an uphill climb.
For starters (and my girlfriend can attest to this), I have a bit of a habit to “over research” when I’m looking to make a big purchase.
For the past six months or so, I’ve been combing through all of the reviews out there regarding the best budget rowing machines – spending hours and hours pouring over all of the options to find out where my money would be best spent.
It’s a little crazy and maybe (just maybe) a little overboard.
But it’s what I do, and it’s what I have to do to feel totally confident spending the kind of money that a new rowing machine is going to set my back.
There’s a silver lining here, though, and that’s that you get the benefit of all my research and all the inside info I’ve been able to find throughout this hunt.
I’ve put together what I think is the most complete breakdown of the best budget rowing machines on the market today. I did another breakdown of the best heavy duty rowers and also compared the NordicTrack RW500 to the RW900, the RW900 to the Concept 2 Model D & E, and the RW200 to the Concept 2 Model D so I know my way around rowers.
By the time you’re done with this guide below you’ll know (almost) everything there is to know about rowing machines, the top 15 options out there that won’t break your bank account, and which one is likely to be right for you.
You should also know that I didn’t just research these options online – but I actually ponied up my own hard-earned money and bought three different options to try them out myself.
I highlight how that shook out below, too!
Ready to jump right in?
Let’s do this!
- Stamina ATS Air Rower
- JOROTO Magnetic Rower Rowing Machine
FITNESS REALITY 1000 PLUS Bluetooth Magnetic Rower
Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine
Merax Magnetic Rowing Machine
Sunny Health ; Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine
ShareVgo Smart Rower
Sunny Health ; Fitness Compact Folding Magnetic Rowing Machine
XTERRA Fitness ERG200 Folding Magnetic Resistance Rower
MaxKare Magnetic Rowing Machine
ProGear 750 Rower
MaxKare Water Rowing Machine Water Rower
Sunny Health ; Fitness Obsidian Surge 500 Water Rowing Machine
Mr. Captain Rowing Machine for Home Use
SereneLife Home Rowing Machine
Best Budget Rowing Machine Breakdown
Let’s get into the meat and potatoes of these notes – my quick reviews of the best budget rowing machines money can buy in 2020 (and beyond).
Remember, I actually bought a couple of these different machines to try them out in my own home.
Those reviews specifically are going to be slightly more in depth. I actually have hands-on experience with them, but I’ll let you know which ones I’ve tried personally when you get into the breakdown.
Let’s get into it.
Best Bang for the Buck - Stamina ATS Air Rower
Stamina ATS Air Rower Review
This is one of the rowing machines that I bought, so I can tell you what my first-hand experience was like.
Relatively inexpensive, very obviously well-made, and engineered for those that want to get right into a rowing workout without a lot of bells and whistles, there’s tremendous value right here.
Sure, this particular rowing machine is a little bit light on “special features” and other options that some of the (always more expensive) other rowers on this list include. But if you want some of the best bang for your buck and to know that your hard-earned money has been well spent, this is a great choice for sure.
As a nice little bonus, you can also convert the rowing machine into a bicep curl, tricep kickback, and modified benchpress machine with just a little bit of imagination and repositioning of your body.
That’s pretty cool!
Best Value Overall - JOROTO Magnetic Rower Rowing Machine
JOROTO Magnetic Rower Rowing Machine Review
This is another of the rowing machines that I spent money on, and I liked it just a little bit more than the Stamina option above – if only because it was so much quieter.
Another great value option, you won’t have to spend a pile of money to get your hands on a solid rowing machine when you go in this direction.
Lightweight (it feels like everything is made out of aluminum), setup was pretty simple and straightforward. There weren’t a lot of parts I had to chase and I didn’t even need a second set of hands to get up and running.
The coolest thing about this rowing machine, though, was the “no touch” magnetic resistance.
10 individual levels let me dial in my workout (from fat burning to strength building and everything in between) without a lot of headache or hassle.
The control center and data feedback set up is a little limited (tracks your time, your row count, and your calories), but other than that this is fantastic.
Solid Alternative for Tight Budgets - FITNESS REALITY 1000 PLUS Bluetooth Magnetic Rower
FITNESS REALITY 1000 PLUS Bluetooth Magnetic Rower Review
This was actually the first of these treadmills that I bought, and I mostly scooped it up because of its rock-bottom price point – and I’m glad I did.
A solid, though not necessarily spectacular, rowing machine that works well for those on a tight budget (and I definitely was operating on a tight budget at the time), this rowing machine also uses magnetic resistance like the one above.
The cool thing here, though, is that it has 14 individual levels of resistance that you can configure perfectly. The resistance is consistent throughout the draw which is nice to see on a budget rowing machine, that’s for sure.
Best of all, you can also modify your sitting position and how this machine works to turn it into an all-in-one workout system. You’ll be able to knock out curls, upright rows, front raises, shrugs, tricep kickbacks and extensions, standing shoulder presses, and more with this machine.
My Favorite (Not the Cheapest, But Amazing Value) - Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine
Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine Review
This is the last of the rowing machines that I purchased, and it actually ended up being the last one that I tried and the one that I have decided to keep!
Slick, modern looking, and a dream to use, there was a lot to fall in love with when it came to this affordable (but not the cheapest) budget rowing machine.
For starters, the whole system comes together in absolutely no time whatsoever. It ships directly to your door in two separate pieces designed to slap together, the same configuration you’ll used to break it down for easy storage.
That took about three seconds to get used to.
Secondly, the air resistance flywheel has obviously been fined tuned to deliver exactly the kind of workout you are looking for every time out.
10 different resistance levels, a super smooth pull, and next to no noise (especially for an air resistance rowing machine) made this a real pleasure to use.
The best thing about this rowing machine, though, is its tight integration with your smart phone or tablet and all popular fitness apps out there. You’ll be able to run through unique workouts, track all of your progress, and get granular workout data when you hook this machine up to your phone.
If there’s just one budget rowing machine you’re going to spend your money on it (probably) should be this one.
I know it’s my favorite!
Most User Friendly - Merax Magnetic Rowing Machine
Merax Magnetic Rowing Machine Review
If you need a rowing machine that is almost foolproof, one that you don’t have to think about using at all – you just jump on top and start rowing – this is probably going to be the one you’ll want to pick up.
Eight different levels of magnetic resistance allow you to switch your work out on-the-fly, a unique setting for most budget rowing machines.
The rotary design is super compact, the sled part of the rowing machine glides effortlessly, and there’s a little bit of extra cushion that makes this one of the more ergonomic options around, too.
The LCD command center is a little bit dull and a little bit basic, and the foot pedals themselves can be a little “sticky” when you first start using this machine, but other than that it’s quite popular and a very user-friendly option.
Best Compact Rowing Machine - Sunny Health ; Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine
Sunny Health Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine Review
If it’s a compact rowing machine you are after then this is the ticket!
The whole setup is almost unbelievably compact, with a (relatively) small magnetic resistance module upfront, a really narrow sled slide, and a tiny little footprint.
You don’t need a whole lot of real estate to get rocking and rolling with this compact machine, either!
Even though it is diminutive you’re still going to be able to get great workouts in with this machine.
Eight variable resistance levels, nonslip footpads, and a sled that rolls back and forth without a lot of effort all add up to a really nice feeling machine. You can also track your calorie count, your time, and your rows in the onboard command center.
Top Smart Rowing Machine - ShareVgo Smart Rower
ShareVgo Smart Rower Review
Technology has totally transformed the way we workout and train, and those looking for a heavy tech focused rowing machine that won’t cost an arm and a leg will want to zero in their attention here.
Designed, engineered, and tested in Silicon Valley, California, everything about this going machine screams “high tech”!
For starters, the entire unit is engineered to work in conjunction with your smart phone or your tablet over the latest Bluetooth 4.2 wireless connection.
You’ll be able to download the free application on your Android or iOS device and immediately choose resistance levels, training programs, music, and more – all while tracking your progress through the application, too.
A Bluetooth LCD monitor upfront gives you real-time information about your work out as well, helping you to stay motivated as you push through the burn and get in a couple more repetitions.
Assembly is easy, the price tag is (surprisingly) affordable, and the overall experience is a lot of fun.
Simple and Straightforward - Sunny Health ; Fitness Compact Folding Magnetic Rowing Machine
Sunny Health Fitness Compact Folding Magnetic Rowing Machine Review
Another great compact rowing machine from the folks at Sunny Health ; Fitness, this rowing machine is even more pared down than the one that we highlighted above.
Stripping away all of the most essential features, you basically get a bare-bones compact folding magnetic rowing machine here without a lot of bells and whistles – perfect for those that want more Spartan equipment, allowing them to focus on their workout more than anything else.
The bonus here is that you’ll spend even less money on this machine than a lot of other equipment while still being able to get in a top-tier workout all the same.
That’s tough to beat!
An Online Favorite - XTERRA Fitness ERG200 Folding Magnetic Resistance Rower
XTERRA Fitness ERG200 Folding Magnetic Resistance Rower Review
It’s hard to search for budget going machines online and not come across dozens and dozens of reviews for this particular model!
A little bigger and a little bulkier than most of the rowing machines in the budget focused price point, the oversized unit upfront not only holds the magnetic resistance technology but also makes room for an oversized LCD monitor and a couple of other “creature features”, too.
The magnetic resistance technology has eight different levels dialed in, with a resistance “knob” that you can turn one way or another to dial in your workout – even in the middle of a training session!
The extruded aluminum seat slide rails are mounted directly to a steel frame that increases the stability and the smoothness of your “ride” in a way that pure aluminum options can’t. A lot of people love the way this feels when they start rowing.
Even though the front end of this machine is kind of chunky it still folds up into a compact little unit. That’s nice for easy storage!
Easy to Setup - MaxKare Magnetic Rowing Machine
MaxKare Magnetic Rowing Machine Review
Another great magnetic resistance rowing machine, this setup is foolishly easy to get built and to start working out on – it takes about 30 minutes from start to finish and then you are off to the races!
16 different levels of magnetic resistance help to separate this option from the rest of the budget rowing machines we have highlighted above.
That means you’re going to have nearly doubled the amount of resistance settings to run through compared to most of the other options, helping you get a really custom workout in a way that might not have been possible before.
Compact, comfortable, and really easy to control, it’s not hard to “find your groove” when you are rocking and rolling with this rowing machine.
Before you know it you’ll be banging out more reps than you thought possible – and getting really fit along the way!
Absolute Cheapest Rower Out There - ProGear 750 Rower
ProGear 750 Rower Review
If your budget is (really) limited – and I’ve been there, believe me – but you still want to get a solid performing rowing machine, this is the way to go.
The whole thing has a unique “operation system” compared to most of the other budget rowing machines on this list, in that there is no flywheel configuration here.
This unit takes advantage of independent hydraulic cylinders to provide tension and resistance, with three different levels that you can configure yourself.
On one hand, this is going to take a little bit of time to get used to if you have been using traditional rowing machines in the past.
On the other hand, though, it’s definitely going to help you save space (and money) while still getting in a fantastic workout.
You also be able to do 10 other types of workouts with this machine – upper body and lower body workouts. Just know that it does have a 220 pound weight capacity, though.
Best Budget Water Rowing Machines
Listed below are the best budget water rower machines for those looking to save a few bucks.
Best Bang for the Buck Option – MaxKare Water Rowing Machine Water Rower
MaxKare Water Rowing Machine Water Rower Review
Water resistance rowing machines are (relatively) new technology, but they have caught on like wildfire – with people really liking the way that they run, the way they operate, and the way they feel when you are working out.
It’s as close to popping in a boat and actually rowing as most of us are going to get (especially indoors!).
This option is probably the best value for your money, one of the better rowing machines that use water for resistance today.
Not only is filling up the water tank simple and straightforward with this, but dialing in the right level of resistance for your workout is really straightforward, too.
Another cool thing about this is how stable it feels when you get rocking and rolling.
Some of the water based options out there get a little “wiggly” when you start to really workout, mostly because all of the water in the tank starts to slosh around as well.
I’m not sure how this company pulled it off, but this one stays nice and solid unless you really try and rock the boat.
The Most Popular Choice – Sunny Health ; Fitness Obsidian Surge 500 Water Rowing Machine
Sunny Health Fitness Obsidian Surge 500 Water Rowing Machine Review
Another of the top water rowing machine options that won’t blow tiny little holes in your savings account, this one is a little more polished and a little more “refined” than the water rowing machine mentioned a moment ago.
It also has more creature features and technology that you’ll be able to leverage when you are working out.
We are talking about a little extra cushion on the seat, adjustable foot pegs so that you can find something really ergonomic for you, and tracking systems that highlight your row count, your time, your calories, and more.
On top of all of that, it’s a Sunny Health ; Fitness is of equipment so you know it’s going to be well-made and protected with a top-of-the-line warranty. This isn’t a rowing machine you’ll have to worry about wasting your money on.
Best Throwback Choice – Mr. Captain Rowing Machine for Home Use
Mr. Captain Rowing Machine for Home Use Review
If you’re looking for an old-school kind of rowing machine – at least as far as looks are concerned – this is where you are going to want to spend your money.
This rowing machine looks like it was pulled off of the decks of some pirate ship or hauled out of a 1940s high school gymnasium. It doesn’t look anything like the space-age budget rowing machines we’ve been highlighting all along, that’s for sure.
Underneath that vintage aesthetic, though, is a really top-of-the-line water rowing system.
It’s a bit more expensive than other options, but it comes with a Bluetooth enabled monitor system, a up storage configuration, and a build quality that is probably going to outlast you and your children!
If you want a rowing experience that feels like you are back in the water, this is the option that you’ll want to check out most!
Best Air Rowing Machines
If you are looking for an air rowing machine, we got your back. Here is a list of the best air rowing machines
Best Overall Air Rower - SereneLife Home Rowing Machine
SereneLife Home Rowing Machine Review
Air power rowing machines get a little bit of a bad reputation these days, if only because magnetic and water resistance technology has come such a far away, but if you’re looking to spend a little bit of money on a quality machine you could do worse than this!
A bit of a hybrid between air and magnetic resistance technology, you’re going to get the best of all worlds when you use this rowing system.
Designed to provide full body workouts that blast your upper, lower, and core muscle groups all at the same time, you’re going to be able to flip through a couple of different workout configurations to get the kind of training system you are after.
Variable resistance is easy to configure with a simple knob on the front of the machine. You can change the resistance on-the-fly, too.
Well-built, well-designed, and comfortable it is a little bit on the larger side of things compared to some of the other options – but that’s because of the air resistance technology upfront.
Buying a Rowing Machine? – Here’s What to Look For!
Now that we have covered my favorite 15 budget rowing machines on the market today together, let’s take a little bit deeper into the ins and outs of what you should be looking for before you pull the trigger on this kind of purchase.
Yes, the overwhelming majority of the machines highlighted above aren’t too terribly expensive – but they are still a decent financial commitment all the same.
On top of that, the last thing you want to do is throw your money away on a rowing machine you aren’t going to use just because it doesn’t really suit your needs for your training style as much as you thought it might.
Below I go over a couple of key criteria that I thought long and hard about before I bought any rowing machines (or any fitness equipment, really).
If you’re trying to navigate the options above, use this breakdown to help you out. It made my life a whole lot easier!
Size and Storage
Straight out of the gate, I knew that I didn’t have a ton of real estate available to dedicate to an oversized or commercial sized rowing machine.
The unit I needed was going to have to be more compact, easy to fold up and store, and pretty simple and straightforward to snap into place, train with, and then tuck away again when I was done.
That limited my options (somewhat).
Luckily, though, because I understood this – and because I knew I need something that was portable, foldable, and easy to store – it whittled down my choices quite a bit.
Maybe you aren’t in that situation, though.
Maybe you have plenty of room in the basement or a garage to dedicate to a rowing machine permanently, and size and storage aren’t that big of a factor.
It’s still a good idea to know what you’re working with before you jump right in.
Ease of Use
Even if you have a lot experience training with rowing machines it’s still not a bad idea to find equipment that is pretty simple and straightforward to use, especially if you’re going to be working out with newbies the house that might not be quite as experienced as you.
The overwhelming majority of the best budget rowing machines out there today are super easy to use.
We are talking sit down, grab the pull bar, and get to work!
It doesn’t get a whole lot easier than that.
Some of them, though, have intricate resistance configuration systems that you’re going to figure out ASAP.
Most of the options I highlighted above aren’t going to cause you any headache or hassle, but still something to keep in the back of your mind all the same.
Nothing is going to stop from using your new rowing machine more than it being uncomfortable while you train.
Most folks (myself included) really don’t need any extra obstacles in our way when it comes to working out.
Even though I want to train more, I want to be healthier, and I want to be more fit it really doesn’t take all that much to knock me off my routine – especially if I’m dreading working out because my equipment is a nightmare to use.
Find equipment that can fall in love with, equipment that is comfortable, and equipment that is ergonomically designed to help you squeeze every drop of performance from your training sessions.
It’s absolutely impossible to have too many resistance levels to pick and choose from when you are using a rowing machine.
The more the merrier (for sure), even if you never expect or anticipate working your way up into the really high levels of resistance anytime soon.
More resistance levels mean you have more options when it comes time to train, and that means you’re going to have plenty of opportunity to tailor your workouts to your specific needs and your fitness goals.
If you only have a handful of resistance levels to work through you’re not going to have anywhere near as much fun using your equipment, especially months (or years) later down the line.
This is (admittedly) a little bit of a nitpicky issue, but it’s an issue all the same – especially for me.
I absolutely hate the sound that most fitness equipment makes when you are really rocking and rolling.
I’m talking about the machine grinding sound, the whining of metal on metal, and the sound of cables and pulleys moving all over the place.
I just don’t love it. It’s really distracting.
I can usually drown it out with some music (so that’s no big deal), but some machines are a lot louder than others.
The options I highlighted above usually aren’t all that loud, and maybe this is even all that big a deal to you.
But it was to me (and other people I know), so I thought I’d share it with you all the same!
Top Rowing Machine for Beginners
If you are brand-new to the world of rowing machines, and aren’t quite sure of where to start – only when it comes to finding the right equipment but actually using it, too – it’s not a bad idea to start with the FITNESS REALITY 1000 PLUS Bluetooth Magnetic Rower.
The FITNESS REALITY 1000 PLUS Bluetooth Magnetic Rower is a quality piece of equipment through them through, obviously well designed, but it’s also very user-friendly for beginners.
There aren’t a lot of buttons, a lot of controls, or a lot of “bells and whistles” you have to fiddle with to get in a great workout here.
On top of that, the price point is low enough that you won’t feel like you are spending a fortune on a piece of fitness equipment you might not fall in love with going forward.
Are there better, more complete, and more feature-rich rowing machines available on the market today?
But do you need those “super systems” straight out of the box as a brand-new rower?
Nope. Not even close.
Best of all, because of how high quality the FITNESS REALITY 1000 PLUS Bluetooth Magnetic Rower is you can turn around a couple of months (or are you or more) from now and sell it on the secondary market with no trouble – getting back almost all of your money at the same time.
That kind of value is tough to beat!
Top Rowing Machine for Those Serious About Training
Those that take rowing very seriously (like I do now) are going to want to check out the Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine ASAP.
This is a rowers rowing machine, make no bones about that.
Everything about this piece of equipment has been finely tuned to give serious rowing enthusiasts and athletes the kind of training experience they are looking for.
Well designed, well-built, and with rock solid components throughout, you are going to be able to really get after your training sessions with this piece of fitness equipment in a way that some of the other (cheaper) options might not have been able to handle.
I mentioned earlier that it’s critically important to find a rowing machine that has a lot of extra stability built right in, especially if you are going to be pushing your training sessions to the limit.
The foundation of this unit is unbeatable.
There are a lot of other reasons to go with the Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine as the top rowing machine for serious athletes and fitness enthusiasts, too. It’s got all of the bells and whistles you’d look for in a high-end rowing machine without the high-end price point, as well as a pile of glowingly positive reviews online to backup it’s reliability.
Check this one out for sure.
Important Things to Think of Before Buying a New Rowing Machine
Here are a few questions that come to mind when searching for a rowing machine.
What Are the Biggest Benefits of Rowing?
There are a bunch of big benefits to indoor rowing, but the biggest ones (by far) have to be:
- The ability to get in a full body workout in a hurry – Rowing machines blast your upper body, your core, your lower body, and all of your major muscle groups and their supporting muscles, too They are great full body workout machines.
- The ability to burn a lot of calories very efficiently – That total body approach to working out with a rowing machine melts fat faster by turning you into a fat destroying furnace on a 24/7 basis, even when you aren’t working out
- The chance to significantly improve your cardiovascular health – A lot of people that workout with weights are sorely deficient in the cardio world, and that crushes their heart health, their lung health, and their overall well-being. A rowing machine changes that completely.
… And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
What Muscles Get Worked out With a Rowing Machine?
It might be easier to answer “what muscles WON’T get worked out with a rowing machine?” than to try and answer this.
Like I just highlighted a second ago, rowing is a legitimate full-body workout in every possible way.
You are going to be activated all of your major muscle groups (in your chest, and your shoulders, in your arms, in your back, your legs) but you’re also going to be activating all of your support muscles as well – throughout your core and up and down your body from head to toe.
These muscles, sometimes called “stabilizing muscles” are often smaller than the major muscle groups we all love to workout – our beach muscles – but are important for building real strength, real flexibility, and for melting fact a lot faster.
The right rowing workouts let you blast your body in ways you wouldn’t have been able to with other pieces of fitness equipment.
What Type of Rowing Resistance Mechanism Works Best?
It’s impossible to say that there is one resistance mechanism in rowing machines better than others, and I would know – I’ve done all of the research to figure this out myself!
I can tell you, though, that magnetic resistance is very much the most popular option on the market today for a couple of different reasons.
For one thing, these kinds of machines are super compact and run almost silently. That’s a whole lot different than the budget rowing machines that use air or water for resistance.
Secondly, magnetic resistance machines are a lot more stable – especially when you are really getting after an intense workout.
You’re not going to be throwing all kinds of air or water around when you are using a magnetic resistance system, and that means you’re not going to be throwing your own balance or the stability of the machine itself out of whack.
Finally, magnetic resistance is a little more predictable than air resistance or water resistance.
Magnetic resistance stays consistent no matter what where is your going to have a little less resistance in the early stages of each pull with air and water, but you’re also going to find it more efficient once you start to rock and roll with these resistance mechanisms, too.
Is a Rowing Machine Bad for Your Back?
The exact opposite is true, actually!
There may not be a better piece of fitness equipment to help you dial in your back than this.
Sure, it’s going to blast all of your major muscle groups equally when you are training consistently with this equipment. But your back is going to get a heckuva workout every single time out, that’s for sure.
Plenty of people have used these pieces of equipment to fine tune back problems, to eliminate back pain, and even to future proof their back – building a stronger back before problems take hold – or that they don’t have to worry about back pain moving forward.
Are Rowing Machines Any Good for Losing Weight?
A big part of why I wanted to get my hands on a rowing machine in the first place was to lose a little bit of extra weight around the middle (if you know what I mean).
Rowing machines aren’t just great cardio exercise machines to help you burn fat while you are working out, they also help you blast your muscles – building a bigger and stronger along the way – so that you burn fat on a 24/7 basis (even while you sleep).
It’s tough not to lose weight when you are using a rowing machine, truth be told.
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