Budget rowing machine vs. high-end rowing machine

Fitness Equipment

Chain oil can help a traditionally designed rowing machine run smoothly, no matter how old the machine.

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Is a budget or high-end rowing machine best?

As home gyms become more popular, choosing the right high-quality, low-impact cardio machine comes down to a few options. One of the best is a rowing machine, which mimics rowing a boat in water to give users a full-body workout that’s easy on the knees while still maintaining a high heart rate and caloric burn. 

Rowing machines come in high-end, expensive models and more affordable, budget options. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

What kinds of rowing machines are available?

There are four basic types of rowing machines at both budget and high-end levels: water, air or flywheel, magnetic resistance and hydraulic. Each provides resistance and a comparable workout feel. However, while most types of rowing machines offer resistance levels you can adjust, air or flywheel rowing machines increase resistance simply through how hard the user rows. 

Budget rowing machines are available in all types and can be bought at major retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Amazon. They generally cost between $200-$500, with the highest level being around $600.

High-end rowing machines are also available at Dick’s Sporting Goods and Amazon, but many are also exclusively sold on company websites. Their prices can go well above $2,000.

Budget rowing machines

Budget rowing machine pros

The obvious benefit to any budget rowing machine in comparison to a high-end machine is the price. While lacking some features that come with high-end rowing machines, budget rowing machines still serve the basic functions and provide a comparable workout.

Additionally, budget rowing machines are usually slightly smaller, so they’re easier to set up at home and require no additional work to function properly.

Budget rowing machine cons

The major drawback many budget rowing machines have is a lack both of durability and additional features. While some budget options will last for years without issues, the likelihood of damage due to cheaper materials and construction is still higher than with a more expensive rowing machine. And while most high-end rowing machines come with large LED or liquid crystal display screens that offer music, specific workouts, tracked data or even live classes, few, if any, budget rowing machines will come with these.

Best budget rowing machines

Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine Rower

Solid options for budget rowing machines include the Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine Rower. It’s incredibly affordable, with multiple levels of resistance and a small screen that tracks time, meters rowed and calories burned. The machine does lack a certain level of durability and may break after extended use.

XTerra ERG220 Rowe

Another option is the XTerra ERG220 Rower, which has a foldable design and magnetic resistance. The machine comes with a basic LCD screen and eight levels of resistance. The foldable design helps fit it in smaller spaces. 

High-end rowing machines

High-end rowing machines usually have more features than budget machines, though you pay for the advantages. 

High-end rowing machine pros

High-end rowing machines generally use higher-quality materials and offer better longevity. Many models have smoother tracks, more comfortable seats and gripped handles for a better user experience. 

The largest difference, however, usually comes from the display. High-end machines have HD screens that come preloaded with workouts and visuals. Some can connect to music or streaming services for watching movies and TV shows. A few even come with subscription-based live workouts with trainers to help motivate users. 

High-end rowing machine cons

The biggest con for a high-end model is the price. With the best options costing over $2,000, buying a high-end rowing machine isn’t affordable for some potential buyers. And some companies charge a monthly fee for live classes despite the large initial cost of buying the machine. Without a membership, users will not have full access to some of the rowing machine’s features.

Finally, several high-end water-rowing models are prone to leaking, despite costing several hundred dollars more than budget water-rowing machines.

Best high-end rowing machines

Hydrow Rowing Machine

The Hydrow Rowing Machine goes above and beyond, with a large HD screen, live classes and electromagnetic, computer-controlled resistance. The product also has Bluetooth connectivity and a virtually silent functionality. 

NordicTrack RW900 Rower

A somewhat more affordable option is the NordicTrack RW900 Rower. This machine also comes with an HD screen and a virtual training membership. It has a near-silent operation and can be folded in the middle for easier storage, though you may not figure out the folding on your first try. 

Should you get a budget rowing machine or a high-end rowing machine?

Choosing between a budget rowing machine and a high-end rowing machine ultimately comes down to how valuable live, guided workouts are to you. While there will be differences in experience and sound, the motion of rowing remains rather consistent. Especially with affordable options for every type of rowing machine, there is no significant difference in the workout.

High-end rowing machines can offer several features that make the rowing workout easier to track and perhaps to perform, but beyond the workouts they lack any advantage large enough to be worth the significantly higher price tag. 

Unless live classes and screens for streaming shows or movies remain a deal-breaking feature, budget rowing machines offer all the same functionality at a fraction of the cost. Purchasing a budget rowing machine is the better decision for the average fitness enthusiast that does not require all the bells and whistles higher-end models offer. 


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Tom Price writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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