Studies show that rowing is one of the most effective exercises today because of its ability to engage practically all parts of the body with each stroke. Not surprising, more and more manufacturers are releasing different types of rowing machines in the market today – but which one should you choose?

In terms of resistance, there are currently 4 different types of rowing machines. To make the most out of your rowing workouts, it’s important to understand these types how they can best benefit you.

In this article, we’ll talk about rowing machine types and how to choose one that works best for your fitness goals.

Rowing Machine Types Based On Resistance

1. Water Rower

The Water Rowing Machine is as close as you can get to outdoor rowing. Those who participate in rowing games outdoors prefer the water tower type because it copies the movement of the boat on water; specifically, the resistance of the flywheel coming from water moving within the tank. You’ll notice that this creates a rough drag with each stroke as if you’re actually slicing through water using a real paddle.

The plus side of water rowers is that they’re perfectly silent. In fact, they’re quieter than magnetic resistance types which will be discussed later. They also require very little maintenance; just make sure you change the water on a regular basis and the rowing machine should function perfectly for years.

The main downside of water rowing machines is the price – it’s more expensive than most. Due to the unique build of the machine, it also tends to be bulkier than other models. You’ll find that water rowers are typically made from wood, creating that authentic “boat rowing” feel to replicate the experience of rowing outdoors. However, some models are made of metal or a combination of wood and metal.

2. Air Flywheel

Resistance in rowing typically comes from the water but air rowing machines use something different. Specifically, they use air as the main drag source by forcing it to pass through a flywheel incorporated in the equipment. Think of an electric fan that you’re powering with each stroke.

The beauty of air resistance is that it is very flexible. You have the chance to quickly change the intensity of the strokes for a more personalised workout. Because you’re basically rowing through the air, air resistance rowing machines also produce a beautifully smooth flow that makes you feel as though you’re just slicing the wind.

An added bonus? The air flywheel produces a bit of wind with each stroke so you’re actually fanning yourself even as you start working out a sweat.

Of course, there are some downsides to this. For one thing, it can be quite noisy so if you live in an apartment, you might want to choose a different type. Air rowing machines are best used outdoors so their noise can easily blend with the surrounding environment.

They’re also pretty sturdy and because of their inherent mechanism, air rowers tend to last longer with very little maintenance. Just make sure to keep it away from extreme weather and the rower should serve you for years!

Serious rowers who are training during the off-season typically choose air rowing machines instead of the water type. Note that with some manufacturers, rowing machines incorporate both air and magnetic resistance in their build.

3. Hydraulic Resistance

Hydraulic resistance rowing machines are ideal for beginners who want something simple, inexpensive, and effective. Most rowers of this type are made of metal and are fairly small, making them perfect for homes with little space. A hydraulic rower is also quiet so you can use one even when indoors.

The downside to hydraulic rowing machines is in the performance of their function. The strokes aren’t as smooth compared with air or magnetic resistance so you might encounter some jarring or locks as you move. Since they’re also pretty small, you might have to compromise on posture and have fewer chances to really stretch out during the release.

This shouldn’t discourage you from buying rowers however as there are various brands available on the market. Checking your options carefully should lead you to reasonably-priced hydraulic rowers that offer decent workouts. As you learn to love the exercise, you can upgrade to smoother rowing machines like magnetic or air resistance.

4. Magnetic Resistance

Finally, there are magnetic rowing machines. As the name suggests, this type of rower uses a magnetic brake to create resistance with each stroke. Magnetic resistance is pretty common in many exercise equipment today because it is both cheap and low maintenance. To keep it in good working order, you only have to remove the dust and put some lubricant on the moving parts.

The magnet exerts a force on the flywheel so you can make it harder or easier to pull, depending on the intensity of your workout. Since the magnetic brakes do not touch, there’s very little friction between the wheels. Each stroke in a magnetic rower produces this beautiful pulling glide while still maintaining sufficient resistance to keep things interesting.

An added advantage of low friction is that magnetic rowing machines produce very little sound with each stroke. If you live in an apartment or have thin walls, this might be the better choice for indoor rowing machines.

You can also find rowers made with a combination of magnetic and air resistance which provides better control and natural motion with each stroke. The combination of these two resistance methods also means you get the benefits of both methods in one machine. This model type might be more expensive than others but worth it.

Other Factors to Consider When Buying a Rower

Of course, the type of resistance used is just one of the factors you need to consider when buying a rower. Like treadmills, rowers are available in multiple brands and models in the market with modern features to make your use more effective.

Here are just some factors to consider:

  • Think about your space availability.

Imagine where you’ll be putting the rowing machine and measure that area so you have a definite size to consider when buying. For small spaces, hydraulic rowing machine types are usually the best option.

  • Consider the amount of noise you’ll be making.

Hydraulic and magnetic rowers are perfect if you want to keep the sound minimal.

  • Feel the stroke.

If you’re in the position to actually sit on the rower and perform a few strokes, do it! This will give a better insight into how the rowing machine moves. Does it glide across the platform or can you feel jarring friction as you pull? You want your rowing machine to have these smooth and fluid strokes that let you just focus on the movement instead of the vibration.

  • Comfort is another matter to consider.

Is the seat plush? Does it give you enough support? Remember that you’ll be sitting for long periods on the rower. The last thing you want is to have sore glutes at the end of the workout.

  • Check the rower’s length.

This is especially true if you’re taller than average. Ideally, you should be able to extend your legs with each stroke. Adjustable leg platforms can be helpful if two or more people will be using the rowing machine.

  • Think about your budget.

Remember that expensive doesn’t always mean high quality. Make comparisons between models and different rowing machine types by looking through the reviews. The goal is to find a unit that fits your budget while still giving you good results. Most beginners opt for hydraulic rowers because they’re the cheapest. However, if you have the money to spare, consider buying good quality rowers like magnetic or air resistance rowers.

  • Consider pre-set programs.

Some rowers come with workout programs that help you achieve specific goals in your fitness journey. For example, there are settings for weight loss, cardiovascular health, or strength. This is an extra feature and some rowers don’t have this so figure out if it’s something you actually need.

  • Of course, don’t forget to look into the performance monitor of the rowing machine.

Ideally, it comes with a dashboard that tells you how long you’ve been in the machine, distance covered, intensity, resistance, heartbeat per minute, calories burned, and so on. Although some of these numbers are just estimates, they should at least give you some idea about your performance.


To wrap it up – rowing is an excellent option for people who want to maximise their full-body workout. Compared with running or cycling, rowing exercises promote a fitter physique that’s both low impact and high-intensity. With multiple rowing machine options in the market, the only concern you have is finding the type that best fits your needs. 

1. Does rowing tone your arms?

Yes. Rowing is a full-body workout and targets several large muscle groups. It’s primarily an aerobic exercise that forces your heart to beat fast and blood to pump through your veins. However, the repetitive muscle movement can also help tone and tighten the muscles of your arms and core.

2. What is a better workout – rowing or biking?

Both workouts are great for cardio but rowing definitely comes out better in terms of full-body exercise. Rowing engages the whole body while cycling is more focused on the lower body. Rowing also burns 16% more calories than cycling.