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The Ultimate Guide to Rowers

The Ultimate Guide to Rowers

Rowers have been a consistently popular feature in home gyms for decades, and for good reason: they’re one of the most efficient and versatile pieces of workout equipment!

Rowers are primarily cardio machines, of course, and they do a great job of elevating your heart rate, strengthening your lung power, and burning calories. However, rowers also effectively strengthen almost every major muscle group in the body, including your legs, core, shoulders, and arms.

If you’re interested in adding a rower to your home gym, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’ll let you in on everything you need to know to choose the right rowing machine for your personal fitness needs.

How Rowers Work

As you probably know, rowing machines effectively simulate the action of rowing a boat.

 From a seated position, you push off a set of foot plates with the full strength of your legs, then you use your core and arms to pull the “oar” (usually a single central handlebar) toward you. Finally, you slide back to the starting position and repeat. 

The seat usually slides back and forth on a frame as the user “rows.” With most types of rowers, the harder you row, the more resistance is created due to the laws of fluid dynamics — essentially, it takes more energy from you to move a greater number of air or water particles. (Magnetic rowers are the one exception to this, as we’ll discuss in a later section.)

The rowing exercise has four stages, each of which engages slightly different muscle groups.

  • The Catch: You start the exercise with your legs bent 90 degrees, your torso angled slightly forward, and your arms outstretched in front of you holding the handlebar.
  • The Drive: This is the power portion of the exercise, in which you drive forward with your legs and begin to pull your torso back. When your legs are almost completely outstretched, start to pull the handlebar toward you, keeping your elbows up.
  • The Finish: You’ll finish each stroke with your torso angled back about 45 degrees and the handlebar pulled just below your chest. 
  • The Recovery: Keeping hold of the handlebar, you release your arms, then your legs, and relax as you roll back to the catch position.

The key to a solid workout on a rowing machine is to drive quickly, then relax your muscles as much as possible during the recovery step. 

The Fitness Benefits of Rowers

Perhaps the biggest benefit of using rowers is just how comprehensive the workout is, as we already mentioned. In fact,  one Healthline article cites a study that estimates that rowers exercise about 86% of their muscles. Your legs are responsible for most of the work, including your calves, hamstrings, and quads. But your core and upper body — including the glutes and shoulders — also get in on the action.

Besides providing an effective cardio and strengthening workout, rowers also offer these unique advantages:

  • Low impact - Rowers can be great for people who want to get a good cardio workout that minimizes strain on joints and bones. 
  • Accessible - Most rowers can accommodate a wide variety of sizes and ability levels. They’re also a good workout option for people who are visually impaired.
  • Meditative - Many users report a special mind-body connection when they’re working out on a rower due to the soothing, rhythmic motion and the sound of the machine strokes — especially when the machine uses water for resistance, as we’ll discuss next. 

Types of Rowing Machines

Rowing machines have taken many forms over the years. 

Hydraulic rowers use pistons to create pressure. Although these models are relatively quiet, lightweight, and inexpensive, they generally provide less reliable data and are more likely to break down over time because they have more moving parts, many of which aren’t made with high-quality materials.

Air rowers are the most common type of rowing machine and are among the most affordable. The resistance is created by a fan moving through the air, and the exercise data is the most accurate of all rower types.

Magnetic rowers create resistance with magnets. The closer the machine’s metal flywheel moves to an internal magnet, the more energy it takes to row. These rowers tend to be a little more expensive than air rowers, and they’re almost completely silent. They’re the only rower in which resistance doesn’t increase naturally with the speed of the rowing. 

Fluid rowers are the latest type of rower on the market today. They use a tank of water to create resistance. Fluid rowing machines are heavier than air rowers (as you can imagine, a large water tank weighs more than one that uses magnets or air) and typically require a larger frame. However, they are durable, low-maintenance, and the sound of water creates a more authentic and pleasant experience that feels close to rowing an actual boat.

How to Choose a Rowing Machine 

When it comes to choosing a particular model of rowing machine for your home gym, you may want to consider the following factors:


Rowers can take up a decent amount of space. If you’re locating the rowing machine in an area of the house where you spend time outside of workouts or occasionally host guests, the aesthetics of the machine may factor into your decision. Most fluid rowers are constructed from wood and look more like a piece of furniture than a piece of workout equipment, making them a better choice for living areas.


Rowing machines generally take up more floor space compared to other pieces of workout equipment. Non-fluid rowers with metal frames tend to be easier to move, and some even fold in half or can be stored in an upright position to reduce the floor space required for them. Rowers that are battery-powered or self-powered can be located more conveniently and eliminate the need to worry about cords. 


Most rowers come with a computer console that can track workout data. Rower consoles may display stats like total time rowed, total distance rowed, strokes per minute, total strokes, and calories burned. Some models even allow you to pre-program and customize interval training programs. As we mentioned, air rowers are generally able to provide more precise data than fluid rowers, so they’re the favorite choice for serious athletes trying to shave seconds off their times. Some rowers also come with heart rate monitor features.


Hydraulic and magnetic rowers are mostly silent, and, as we mentioned, the sound of water rowers is quiet and somewhat soothing. The sound from air rowers, on the other hand, can be loud enough to annoy other members of the household or apartment neighbors.

Ergonomics and Comfort

Depending on your unique needs, you’ll need to check on factors like the rower’s seat height and weight limit to make sure that the machine will accommodate someone of your height and weight.

Upkeep and Maintenance

Rowers (especially fluid rowers) are relatively low maintenance. Because they don’t have a lot of electronics or an internal motor, most of their maintenance involves occasionally checking that straps stay aligned and bolts stay tight. You may need to occasionally replace a belt or bungee cord after years of use.

One regular maintenance task that’s unique to fluid rowers is making sure that the water in the tank stays clear. In most cases, all that’s required is an occasional water purification tablet, but you can empty and refill the tank if you need to.

Before you make a final selection on your rowing machine, make sure that your purchase is protected by checking for warranty information. Check what you’ll have to do to return the rower, if necessary, and how the retailer or manufacturer will handle things if the rower arrives damaged or defective. You may also want to invest in professional delivery and installation, especially if you end up choosing a larger or heavier model.

Before you invest in any large piece of fitness equipment, make sure you understand the warranty and return policy. 

At Strength Warehouse USA, we’re committed to supporting our customers throughout each purchase they make. We guarantee our products and offer delivery and installation services, even for the largest pieces of equipment.

Suggested Follow Up

Previous article The Ultimate Guide to Treadmills
Next article The Beginner's Guide to Cardio Equipment

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