Air vs Magnetic vs Water Rowing Machine: Which is for me?


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In the past couple of years, indoor rowing has gained so much popularity that many different companies are coming up with different rowing machines. When it comes to popular rowing machines, you’ll see that are four basic types available in the market based on resistance mechanism. These fitness equipment offer a full-body workout that includes arm, legs, back, stomach, and heart muscles. Resistance is provided in rowing machines in the following ways; air, magnetic, fluid, or hydraulic.

Air Rowing Machine

The most popular and common type is air rower. Moreover, an air rowing machine is also considered the best type. Resistance is provided by air blowing through the flywheel; the harder you pull, the faster the fans move around, and the more resistance it provides. This is why rowing clubs tend to use air rowers as they give real rowing feel and sound. 

Rowing with air resistance use over 80% of your body’s skeletal muscles with no impact on the body that reduces stress on joints. It targets your muscles in your core, back, shoulders, and legs. Plus, it improves your cardiovascular endurance as air rower uses a smooth belt-drive mechanism with a metal chain to produce a powerful stroke. Some models come with Mag-Air resistance that includes both magnets and fans for linear resistance. Rowing machines featuring floor protectors safeguard your workout area floor and prevent slipping. 

Is it for me?

If you want authentic rowing experience, air rower is definitely your type of rowing machine. It is a perfect machine for serious rowers for training during the off-season because it mimics the rowing action on the water. However, it is a little noisy, so maybe not be a perfect choice if you live in an apartment. 

  • Automatic resistance adjustment
  • Replicates real rowing action
  • A smooth and balanced workout
  • Suited for regular home use
  • Noisy operation

Air Rowing Machines


Concept2 Model D

Provides one of the more comprehensive, full-body workouts of any fitness machine. Engineered to last a lifetime.

Official Page: Roguefitness

NordicTrack RW Rower

Interactive Personal Training at Home powered by iFit; 1 year iFit membership included with your rower;

Official Page: Nordictrack

Magnetic Rowing Machine 

A magnetic rower is another common type of rowing machine. As the name suggests, magnets provide resistance with two strong magnets moving past other, so there’s no friction. This means that the resistance is quiet, consistent, and smooth action throughout your exercise. Magnetic resistance can make workouts more fun and satisfying.

By being more compact and quiet in operation than other rowing machines types, a magnetic rowing machine is ideal for home-usage. The handle features an attached spinning flywheel (a large metal wheel inside the housing) via a chain. This type of rowing machine has got multiple levels of resistance from easy to a hard workout. Larger the flywheel, smoother is the resistance. 

The machine not only gives you excellent cardiovascular workout but also tones your muscles. Some machines have 8, 16, or 32 magnetic resistance levels. The level can easily be adjusted according to your workout need by digital console controls or mechanical sliders. 

Is it for me?

A magnetic rowing machine is a great in-home fitness solution as its compact with efficient footprint design and completely noiseless; best for your little apartment. Plus, some models also have a foldable design for easy compact storage.

  • Wide range of adjustable resistance
  • Noiseless operation
  • Compact size
  • Less maintenance required
  • Doesn’t mimic authentic rowing on water

Water Rowing Machine

The innovation in the technology of the rowing machine is creating resistance by paddles and water. Water rowing machine feels and sounds like rowing on the water. Although some people still prefer air rowers over this technology, many serious rowers like the quieter and smooth operation of water rower. Plus, real water means infinite levels of resistance. The harder you row, the more intense resistance will be.

The only setup you have to do with water rower is to adjust your foot height (the paddles); water flywheel is immersed in a water tank attached to the belt-driven chain and handle. The steel rowing beam on the machine offers smooth glide to enhance your rowing experience. The paddle spins in the water tank when you pull back the handle, and moving water produces pull against the paddles which generate resistance.

This fluid technology workout delivers a smooth, realistic, and natural-feeling actual rowing motion. The fluid mechanism immediately catches and applies resistance throughout your stroke; this smooth stroke limits pressure and potential strains on joints, back, and hip flexors. 

Is it for me?

If you want to design a row-club quality gym at home, a water rower is best for you. If a space-saving design is your preference, an air rower might not be for you as it tends to a larger size than other rowing machine types.

  • Low-impact full-body workout
  • Quiet and smooth operation
  • Real-life rowing action
  • Require less maintenance
  • No ‘flat-spot.’
  • Bit pricey

Hydraulic rowing machine

Though this rowing machine type is considered outdated, there are some benefits of hydraulic resistance rowing machines. The reason why some people still prefer this type is its low cost than other rower machines, compact smaller size, and quiet operation.

The machine handles have attached pistons that produce the required resistance when they are pulled against fluid or air in cylindrical metal chambers. Though hydraulic rowing machines offer full-body efficient workout utilizing all major muscle groups, many rowers don’t suggest this type because motion is not smooth. 

Is it for me?

Hydraulic resistance rower machine is an excellent choice if your budget is limited or you have less space. It fits easily in your home workout area. 

  • Compact foldable design
  • Economical
  • Quiet operation
  • Regular maintenance required
  • No smooth rowing motion
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