Rowing machines, or ergometers when referring to crew training, provide one of the best full-body workouts. And, unlike an excellent treadmill session, rowing provides strength training in addition to an intense cardiovascular workout. Upper body, lower body, core: all covered. Worried about the toll on your knees and joints from running? Try rowing. Whether you are a competitive rower or you simply enjoy the benefits of a superb workout from the comfort of your own home, it is imperative that you choose the right rowing machine for your needs. This guide will show you how.
How to Choose
You should first assess your fitness goals and ability level. The novice and moderate exerciser won't need to spend large amounts of money on a machine, unless you really want to, of course. There are many well built models that cost under $1000 and that work perfectly in the home gym. For training off season, a top of the line rower that emulates the feeling of rowing in water is a must-have, and that means spending a good deal of money. However, when you consider the benefits of being able to train year-round, there is no price too high for having the luxury of a sturdy, reliable, and versatile machine. Expect to spend $1000 or more for the best models.
What next? As you can see below there are four main types of rowing machines, each of which employs a different resistance type. The resistance will create a different feel -- and call for a different price tag. Starting on the left side you have the least expensive models which use piston and magnetic resistance. The rowing mechanism itself consists either of two arms that you pull simultaneously or a T-bar pulley sytem. The main drawback is that they don't feel as much like rowing as their more expensive counterparts. Air and water rowers are a bit pricier (shown right). You feel like you are really rowing as you pull the T-bar handle, which adapts to your body and its path of movement. The resistance mechanism automatically adapts as you increase or decrease your speed, making these types of rowers ideal for training and getting an intense, versatile workout.
Give It A Test Row
Unfortunately, there is yet to be a way to virtually test home exercise equipment over the Internet. Nevertheless, testing exercise equipment before buying it is the best way to know whether you like that particular model or not. If you get the chance, either by going to a gym, using a friends, or finding a local retailer in your neighborhood that sells them, trying rowing machines for yourself is a good idea.
Things to look for when testing them out:
* '''A comfortable seat'''. To get a good cardiovascular workout you need to spend at least half an hour with your heart rate elevated. If the seat is uncomfortable you won't be as likely to continue using the machine.
* '''A smooth ride'''. The seat should slide smoothly along the rail without sticking or stopping. Bearings usually make for a smooth ride as do low friction materials.
* '''Big, solid foot rests'''. They should be large and sturdy with well placed straps or to keep your feet in place securely.
Other Points to Consider
** Steel construction tends to last the longest.
** Piston style models wear quicker than the other rower types.
** The more you spend, the more durable the rower will be, and the longer the warranty will be. Longer warranties are a good sign that the rowing machine is built to last and that you won't have to spend a lot of time or money in the future on repairs and maintenance.
** Consider everyone who will be using the machine. If it's just you, that's one thing. However, if several household members will all be using it, opt for a rower that can support those who weigh the most.
* '''Control Display'''
** Even the most basic models will include onboard computers that are useful for measuring distance, speed, and calories burned. If you want pre-programmed workouts or a "pace boat" feature you will need to invest in something a little more advanced. You may, on the other hand, prefer to use your own heart rate monitor.
** When comparing models, be sure to look at the size of the monitor. If it's too small, you may not be able to read it.
** Look for bright, easy to read LCD screens with simple graphs and data displays.
** The buttons should be easy to press and simple to navigate through the control display's different features.
* '''Size and Space'''
** Rowing machines are by no means small. Make sure that you have adequate room for the machine and room to move on it when fully flexed.
** You might want to look at folding options if you don't have space to leave the rowing machine out 24/7. Keep in mind though that folding models are generally less stable and sturdy than standard rowers.
** Consider all potential exercisers when looking at machine size.
* '''Fine Print'''
** Installation of your new rowing machine can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour depending on the model and its complexity. Check with the manufacturer beforehand to make sure they give you all the assembly details in case you need to buy any tools in advance.
** Get a good warranty. If there is an option to get an extended warranty with in home service, it would be beneficial (not to mention more convenient) to invest the extra money. It will save you trouble in the long run, and it will also ensure that you get the best possible use out of your rower.