Lightweight but sturdy options that are just as effective as your gym’s machines.
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Compact fitness equipment that you can easily store, fold upright, or move around with wheels makes it easy to get a gym-worthy workout at home when you don’t have a whole lot of space. If you’re looking for small-space-friendly gear that can really deliver a full-body workout, look no further than an upright or foldable rowing machine. Indoor rowing has grown in popularity, fueled in part by scenic virtual classes found in smart rowers like the Ergatta, Hydrow, Peloton Row, and more. To help you pick the best options out there, we reached out to fitness experts to learn more.
Types of rowing machines
There are four main types of rowing machines, air, water, hydraulic, and magnetic. All will have some sort of console or screen that allows you to track your most important stats—namely pace, distance, calories, and time—for the duration of your workout. This is equally important for beginners trying to get a handle on their technique and experienced rowers hoping to improve their speed or power.
Air: If you’ve ever used a rower at your gym, chances are it was an air rower. The handle in an air rower machine is attached to a flywheel that acts like a fan, Alicia Jamison, NASM-CPT, a certified coach at Body Space Fitness in NYC tells SELF. That fan helps to create air resistance, which increases as you increase the force, or power, you’re producing. In other words, the faster and harder you pull the handle, the greater the air resistance you create. In this way, the air resistance automatically adjusts the speed and power as you’re rowing, Lucy Glendinning, senior coach for Row New York, tells SELF. Some, like the Concept 2 will allow you to adjust the airflow with a lever, typically numbered one to 10, which adjusts the resistance, though this isn’t present in every air model. These machines are usually smaller than water rowers, but they can get pretty noisy.
Water: This type of machine uses, you guessed it, water. The flywheel paddle creates resistance and similar to the air rower, the more powerful your stroke is, the greater the resistance. With some of these machines, you can fill and empty the water tank, so you can adjust resistance with the amount of water as well. “These machines will give you the closest feeling to being out on the water”, says Glendinning, “but they also tend to be the most expensive”. If you live in an apartment, these also tend to be a great choice as they’re pretty quiet, making a soft whooshing sound.
Hydraulic: Think of these machines as the “fun-sized” version of rowing. Unlike the first two models, which utilize a single handle and chain to row, hydraulic rowers have one or two steel bars that move in a set rowing motion. Though you may not be able to get quite as intense of a workout as you can on an air or water model, hydraulic machines definitely have their perks. They’re compact and can often be folded down to fit under a bed or in a closet, and they’re more affordable, usually not reaching over the $400 range. These machines use pistons (that slide through a cylinder) as resistance. Since these have foldable rails, the pivot points will require some occasional lubrication to keep them moving smoothly and silently.
Magnetic: A magnetic rower is in many ways similar to an air model, but it has the addition of magnetic force which allows you to adjust the resistance levels. “As a metal flywheel spins, a magnet can be moved closer or farther away to create more or less resistance,” says Glendinning. “Magnetic resistance produces no friction and is virtually silent, which makes them great for apartment living.”
How to choose the right rower for you
After you’ve given some thought to a type of rower, consider the additional features that you may (or may not) want on your machine. Rowing machines come either with an LCD screen that displays basic workout stats (like distance, pace, and time) or an interactive touch screen that gives you the option to follow along with classes, or do virtual rows and workouts.
Workout subscriptions vary, but most involve a monthly or annual commitment, with prices ranging from $44 a month for the All-Access Peloton Membership, which includes a library of over a hundred rowing workouts plus thousands of other types of workouts; to $30 a month for a CityRow subscription, which focuses exclusively on rowing workouts, and can be paired with most rowing machines.
Finally, you’ll want to measure the area where the rower will be in use to ensure it fits. While most of these are true folding models, a few are only able to be stored upright (with most measuring just over seven feet when folded). If you have a truly tiny space, your best option will be the hydraulic resistance rower as they are significantly smaller than air or water rowers, and can typically be stored under a bed or couch.
The best foldable rowing machine
Whether you’re a post-collegiate crew member or you’re a beginner to the ergometer—you’ll find plenty of options below. We chose these machines based on the opinions of experts, customer reviews, and the standards set in our rowing machine buying guide. Per our guide, this means all of these rowers have an ergonomic seat and adjustable foot straps; plus they are quiet, easy to maintain, and easy to store.
1. NordicTrack RW500 Rower
Nordictrack RW500 Rower
If you’re a beginner, or just looking for a no-frills model to get the job done, this NordicTrack should serve you well. It’s under $900 which is reasonable for a large cardio machine, has a 250-lb. weight limit, and it folds easily for storage. Its large, comfortable seat and oversized footplates mean your feet aren’t at risk of slipping off. The resistance levels are quick and easy to change with the touch of a button thanks to its built-in Silent Magnetic Resistance—and you can even adjust the amount of air you feel to help cool you down. The console is large, bright, and easy to read stats such as strokes, time, watts, and calories. And you can place your smartphone or tablet into the rower’s device holder.
Membership and app options: The NordicTrack is compatible with the iFit app, which is $39 a month for the family plan or $15 for an individual. This includes global workouts, live training sessions (on and off your rowing machine), and more.
2. Sunny Health and Fitness SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine
Sunny Health & Fitness Rowing Machine Rower
Budget and small-space friendly, this is a truly compact rowing machine. Instead of the traditional belt system that most rowers use, this one has a steel bar connected to a hydraulic cylinder. This mimics the feel of a traditional rower—minus some range of motion—while allowing the machine to be significantly smaller, lighter, and more portable. It has 12 levels of resistance, a 220-lb. weight limit, grippy handlebars, and a wide, padded seat—plus a digital tracker for your workout stats including time, count, count total, calories, and scan function.
Membership and app options: This rower works with the SunnyFit Home Fitness app, which is free and can be used with or without the machine. It includes training videos, workouts, and World Tour workouts that offer views of different locations around the world.
3. Concept2 RowErg
Concept2 Rowerg Rowing Machine
Whether you are an experienced rower or a newbie, this model can be a great fit for you. Its old-school design makes it incredibly intuitive and allows you to effectively just sit down and row, but it also offers in-depth and accurate workout data like pace, watts, stroke rate, and calories.
Maggi Gao, NASM-CPT, a kettlebell coach, is particularly fond of this model. “This is the rower I learned how to row on, and because it uses a fan to give air resistance, it makes it lighter and more portable than some other models,” she says. “It’s standard in many commercial gyms and it’s a great model to get started on.” The Concept2 has a 500-lb. weight limit, but comes equipped with wheels, so a single person can move it around fairly easily.
Membership and app options: This rower pairs with ErgData, which is free and lets you track progress, set interval workouts, and sync with Strava, Garmin, and Apple Watch. The app also tracks your workout data in the Concept2 Logbook so you can share it with the Concept 2 community. This rowing machine is also compatible with Asensei, which is $20 per month and includes a growing library of coaches and workout programs.
4. Echelon Smart Rower
Echelon Smart Rowing Machine + 30-Day Free Echelon Membership
For a truly interactive experience, this rower by Echelon has a rotating, 22-inch HD touch screen that can display everything from basic stats to trainer-led on-demand classes to virtual rows in scenic locations. The rower has 32 magnetic resistance levels, 300-lb. weight limit, and a comfortable smooth-glide seat. This model folds in half, has built-in transport wheels which make it easy to move, and can be safely stored upright.
Membership and app options: The Echelon Fit app works with this rower. It’s free for the first 30 days, and then $35 a month, and can hold up to five separate profiles. The Echelon membership offers thousands of on-demand classes, daily live classes, and access to workouts that don’t require the machine.
5. Peloton Row Basics
Peleton Row Basics
Sleek, sophisticated, and completely kitted out, the Peloton Row is the peak of luxury when it comes to high-end rowing. While you’ll definitely be paying for both the design and the features, this machine has great smart features. The Peloton Row, which has a 300-lb. weight limit, provides visual feedback during your workout to help adjust your form in real-time, followed by a breakdown of what you can improve at the end of each session. It’s super quiet and features a leaderboard (found in other Peloton machines) to show how you stack up against other Peloton users. While this is not a true folding rowing machine, it is designed to be stored upright, so it’s still a great option if you want something that you can keep out of the way when not in use.
Membership and app options: Peloton machines all work with the Peloton app. An All-Access Peloton Membership is $44 a month, and includes classes for Bike+, Tread, and Row. It includes on-demand classes, training programs, scenic classes, and more.
6. Lanos Hydraulic Rowing Machine
Lanos Hydraulic Rowing Machine
Another affordable option, this compact rowing machine folds up super flat, and, like others on this list, it’s light enough to move by yourself. It has two handlebars connected to hydraulic cylinders which are designed to mimic the feeling of two oars, plus a small LCD screen that tracks and displays speed, distance, and time. According to reviewers, it is also easy to assemble and has a smooth, quiet ride.
Membership and app options: This barebones rower does not have a corresponding app, plus there is no Bluetooth connectivity with this machine.
7. Avari Conversion II Rower
Avari Conversion II Rower and Recumbent Bike
Unlike other rowers on this list, this model has a full, adjustable seat and doubles as a recumbent bike. The rower has eight levels of magnetic resistance and even features heart rate monitors on the handles. For rowing, you’ll use the closer footplates and allow the seat to slide forward and back. For cycling, simply lock the seat in place, and use the front set of moving pedals. The LCD tracks your stats for both types of workouts including speed, distance, time, odometer, heart rate, and calories.
Membership and app options: This rower is compatible with the Müüv app, which is free and includes audio coaching that offers feedback in real-time.
8. Xterra Fitness ERG Water Rowing Machine
Xterra Fitness ERG Water Rowing Machine
At under $400, this water-resistance rower is fairly affordable and sleek. It has six resistance levels, which you can control by how much you fill the water tank, and comes with seven built-in workout programs that display on the LCD screen. While the Xterra does not fold, it stands upright when not in use and has a 300-lb weight limit.
Membership and app options: There’s no app for this rower, plus there is no Bluetooth connectivity.
9. Hydrow Wave Rower
Hydrow Wave Rower
With more than 9,000 glowing reviews, and a 4.75-star rating, it’s safe to say this rower is a customer favorite. A lightweight version of the original Hydrow, the Hydrow Wave Rower is a good option for small spaces because it can be stored upright. And while this model is on the pricier side, it’s a worthwhile purchase if you are a devoted rower because of the features it comes loaded with. The Wave Rower, which has a 375-pound weight capacity, has a large touchscreen with Journey-type classes with graphics for virtual rows on a boat with a scenic view. The Hydrow membership gives you access to over 4,000 workouts, including rowing, plus other routines to do off the machine, like yoga and strength training.
Membership and app options: You can get an all-inclusive Hydrow membership for $44 a month. It includes live and on-demand classes for rowing, strength training, yoga, and more.
10. Ergatta Rower
If aesthetics are your top priority, the Ergatta rowing machine is for you. Instead of a steel frame, this rower is made from high-quality, dark-stained wood. It has a large, HD touchscreen which allows you to follow along on personalized workouts, virtual races, and even lets you enter virtual competitions. The workouts are designed to be gamified so they are engaging, but they don’t have trainer-led classes like some of the other options. It offers a variety of beginner intro classes that help you perfect your form in real-time. The machine has a 500-lb. weight limit and while it doesn’t fold, it can be stored upright when not in use.
Membership and app options: An Ergatta membership is $29 a month and offers thousands of live and on-demand classes, game-based workouts, scenic workouts, and more.
Gabrielle began her writing career in 2019 with a fellowship for Runner’s World Magazine and she was the Commerce Editor for the publication until 2023. She is now freelancing full-time and specializes in everything health, wellness, and fitness. She ran track and cross country at Muhlenberg College, and is in… Read more
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