Wouldn’t it be fantastic to lose weight and get fitter at home?
Rowing is one of the most effective, gruelling, rewarding forms of cardio. However, commercial rowers like the last concept model can cost thousands of dollars.
Getting all the benefits from rowing at home is entirely possible – which is why we’ve put together this buying guide to rowing machines at home. We’re going to discuss affordable rowing machines, under $300, so you can get the best cardio workout at home.
Read on if you want high-performance weight-loss and fitness training at a low cost!
- Best Budget Rowing Machines – Quick Picks
- What Makes the Best Affordable Rowing Machine?
- Best Budget & Inexpensive Rowing Machine Reviews
Best Budget Rowing Machines – Quick Picks
|Stamina 35-1402 ATS Air Rower||Buy at Amazon|
|Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 Magnetic Rowing...||Buy at Amazon|
|Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399||Buy at Amazon|
|XTERRA Fitness ERG200 Folding Magnetic Resistance Rower||Buy at Amazon|
What Makes the Best Affordable Rowing Machine?
Here’s a rundown of our criteria for judging the best budget rowing machines. These are categories we’ll discuss in our reviews, but they’re also key for you to understand
The resistance that your rowing machine uses is important for the workout you get. It affects how difficult the movement feels, when it is toughest, and the specific strength you develop.
The source of resistance is key to what it feels like, which is a huge factor in your workout. The main types of resistance you’re likely to run into are air-compressed resistance and multiple-magnet resistance.
These have their own advantages and drawbacks. Air resistance tends to be more similar to the commercial erg, such as the Concept rower, which is also more specific to the way it feels rowing on a river.
Magnetic resistance has far less moving parts and tends to be quiet. These also include a huge amount of variety, however, with far more difference between individual examples of magnetic rowers.
The curve of the resistance along the length of the stroke will depend on the type of resistance and the specific build.
You want to look for a smooth, consistent process. This will produce the most reliable workout and ensures that you’re never pulling the slack out, which can harm your technique.
Strength adaptations are specific to the movement, so if you’re doing it wrong, you’ll see a very different training response. Good rowing technique is essential for the best performance and to reduce the strain placed on the elbows and lower back.
Having the ability to select your amount of resistance and change it as you get better or fatigued is key.
This allows you to progress your workouts’ intensity as you become stronger and fitter, rather than just doing the same for more time. This is also important if you’re pushing yourself and need to scale down when tired, the option to change resistance is key.
This is likely for all the models on the market, but the amount of overall resistance that can be provided and the difference between settings. These can make a significant difference to the usefulness of a budget rowing machine.
You want consistent, manageable jumps in resistance and a good range from the bottom to the top setting. This makes for great value and many options on the distance and duration of your rowing.
There are many 8-resistance options on this list, but the actual difference between resistance settings is going to be important.
You’re going to get a lot of movement on a cheapr rowing machine. You can reduce the risk of “hopping” with good technique, but you still want the rower to stay attached to the floor during high power training.
At-home rowers vary on stability. Often, it’s necessary to get a grippy mat (such as a yoga mat or some simple studio mats) to reduce overall movement. This can be a great choice, but you want the most stable build possible either way.
A good rower for a cardio workout at home needs to be stable enough to get a good workout, but also needs to not scratch your floors or hop during the stroke!
✓ Angles and Similarity to an Erg
When you’re trying to row at home, you want a product that simulates an expensive erg as well as possible. This isn’t about becoming a world-class rower but getting the best possible benefits.
The first key here is the length of the stroke. This will make it as real as possible but is also crucial for good technique and training the hips, legs, and lower back safely and effectively.
Rowing is an amazing form of cardio and conditioning because it’s a long, resisted full-body movement. If your rower is too short, you’ll develop poor technique and workouts will cut out important glute training.
You also want to find a rower with a good angle. We’ve seen problems with rowers that are angled upwards through the stroke, where a good erg is relatively straight. The more level/even your rowing machine, the better it will train the legs and hips, as well as improving technique.
This is also great if you do want to get into rowing, since this is more similar to a real boat, and provides a great training stimulus. If you’re trying to get the Concept or “on the river” experience at home, the angles and stroke-length are key.
✓Durability and quality
You’re going to be putting a lot of miles into a home rower. Even though they’re under $300, you still want to get the absolute best quality possible.
The durability of your home rowing machine is going to be key to how much you can use it and, as a result, how long it lasts. Normal wear and tear is to be expected but you want a product that continues to work for years to come.
The quality of basic parts and construction are key to your experience. This is even more true for a home gym since it’s your money going into the product and you want to get the best bang for your buck.
✓ Customer service, support, and assurances
The company you buy your rower from is responsible for the quality of your product and solving any problems you might experience.
Knowing that they have a reputation for excellence and good customer service is important. It’s a peace of mind that you don’t get in the box but makes for a significant change to your overall buying patterns.
Obviously, you should be looking at customer satisfaction and reviews (like this one!), but also the brand’s guarantees. A good warranty/returns policy can save you a serious headache in the future if you’re shopping for a budget rowing machine that costs $$$!
Best Budget & Inexpensive Rowing Machine Reviews
1. Stamina ATS Air Rower
As the first rower on our list, the Stamina ATS is a cautionary tale about low-balling your own needs. This is an economical and cheap rowing machine, but it comes with the problems that you might expect.
The actual build quality is a concern for users, where the guarantee for parts is absolutely necessary. Reports of this rower responding badly to even the most basic use can be found easily, and there are concerns for the reliability of the fan and fan belt.
This is a problem because air rowers actually tend to provide really smooth, consistent, elite-level resistance. This is one of the big pros about the stamina ATS, but it seems that this particular model struggles with implementing it properly.
There are also some concerns for the length of the stroke, with individuals over 6 foot struggling to reach full extension at the end. This is a common problem for home rowers, but with all the potential for a good air rower, it’s sad to see these simple problems marring the Stamina ATS.
Overall, we think this is an attempt to be too affordable. Price is important, but only if the product lives up to the main function it is bought for. There are areas where saving money is good, but when it comes to a home gym you need to ensure that you’re getting a piece of equipment that can keep up with your training and long-term fitness goals!
The stamina ATS is a decent piece of equipment if you’re smaller, or you’re trying to get into home fitness for the first time. However, you’re going to want to keep your eye on the return policy and ensure you’re fitting the year part’s guarantee, since it seems like you’ll need it!
2. Stamina 1402 ATS Air Rower
This is Stamina’s second entry on this list, and we think it’s a great contender for our number one spot right off the bat.
With a little more expense than the ATS, the 1402 is a fantastic approach to affordable air-resisted rowing at home. It has a much better durability profile than the previous product and has a much better overall performance.
The balance of economy and performance here is what shows. The build quality is far better than the previous model and, while there are some quality assurance problems sometimes, these are far less significant and common.
The actual build of this product does still run into regular home-rower problems. The rail can be a little short, though this is less of a problem than with the cheaper ATS model. The price is a little higher, but we feel like you’re getting what you pay for.
As mentioned, the resistance on an air-rower is great and can scale effectively, all at less than half the price of a concept model. We’d like to see a more vertical rail, but this comes in as a solid, top-value & affordable rowing machine.
3. Sunny Health and Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine
This is a good beginner’s rowing machine for smaller humans. The overall resistance and how its scales may not be as effective for larger, stronger humans who would suit the previous 1402 air-rower.
However, for general fitness and weight loss, this product is a good choice. As a magnetic rower its clearly different from the Stamina products. The magnetic resistance is less likely to break since there’s no fan, but it’s also not as high-performance.
The monitor system with this product does run into some problems since it doesn’t gauge distance well and is often unhelpful. The easy, intuitive, quiet build makes up for this if you’re just trying to get your time in on the rower for better cardio, however.
We think this is a great product if you’re looking for a simple and effective way of adding some cardio to your home workout. It’s not going to be a good alternative to rowing on an air-rower if you want serious performance, but that’s clearly not what this product is for.
We think this is a good example of a beginner’s rowing machine for fitness, especially in shorter, lighter, or weaker people. It’s a fantastic piece of kit to have in your house, but you should be sure it’s matched to your body and your goals!
4. GoPlus Magnetic Adjustable Resistance Rowing Machine
This is a worse example of the same niche that the previous product fit. It’s a home magnetic-resistance rower but with a lot more concerns for customer service.
In build and performance, the GoPlus magnetic rower is similar to the Sunny Health, but customer experiences speak of a significant customer service problem. This is a concern because these horror stories tend to center around returns policies and quality assurance issues.
The magnetic resistance is quiet, but it does lead to a less-consistent resistance. This is clear in other products, but this particular build tends to have serious concerns with the amount of resistance provided and some customers are concerned that the range from resistance setting 1 to 8 is too small.
Again, this is clearly a product designed for smaller humans, which can really limit its usefulness to anyone at 6 foot tall, or simply strong people. Definitely not the best choice for adding cardio to your heavy lifting, so buy with caution!
The monitor system is equally hit-and-miss compared to the Sunny Health rower. They provide some basics, but the measurements of calories are flat-out useless (calories depend on so many variables) and the distance gauge is very inconsistent.
For a simple magnetic rower, we think that the GoPlus approach is inferior to Sunny Health’s customer satisfaction, which is enough to put it as the second place magnetic rower of two, so far!
5. XTERRA Fitness ERG200 Folding Magnetic Resistance Rower
This is another magnetic rower that ticks many of the same boxes as sunny health and GoPlus but fails to provide some of the more important areas like customer service/quality assurance. It also has some concerns for resistance.
The resistance comes in 8 settings, but users consistently suggest that there’s a lack of real difference between the settings. This is a concern since it’s already a relatively low-resistance magnetic resistance rower.
The resistance is often too low for larger/stronger humans (as we’ve explained with previous products) and the overall experience is tailored towards smaller people. This is fine, but it is clearly a trend that makes long-stroke rowers difficult to get for home workouts.
The quality assurance is the real problem that trips Xterra Fitness up. There are some historical problems with the rails and the seat-carriage being asymmetrical which produces an uncomfortable and legitimately-dangerous imbalance on the stroke itself. This can easily lead to pain and discomfort in the hips and lower back.
This firmly places this product at the bottom of our list. It’s one thing to be unreliable and has questionable product quality but putting your actual health at risk is unacceptable and there are too many examples of this for price or ease-of-use to make up for these basic issues!
6. EFITMENT Magnetic Rowing Machine for Home Exercise
The EFitment rower is a simple and effective magnetic rower that has more in common with Sunny Health, our current favorite magnetic rower, than any others.
It is competitive with other magnetic rowers on the best parts – such as volume and ease of use – though it has less problems than we see with many others. There are less problems with rails and the seat tends to be reliably balanced.
The magnetic resistance is still weak and inconsistent compared to the air rower, but this is no worse here than in any other product. The only real concern is a relatively lacking stability (this rower tends to shift at the end of a stroke), and the foot-paddles can be quite uncomfortable to use.
This is a small and inconsistent problem, but it can make a difference if you’re performing a lot of time on the rower. Pain in the soles of the feet can progress to real problems and, with enough time, plantar fasciitis may occur.
Keeping your feet safe is important so, despite the otherwise-good balance of this product, it’s easy to avoid this problem with Sunny Health’s rower. There’s not much point needlessly risking your health when there are safer alternatives, so this product is our #2 magnetic rower, and #3 overall.
There are significant differences between rowers on this list – air and magnetic rowers have their own niche. Thus, we’re coming out with two suggestions: our favorite air rower and our favorite mag-rower.
These products are both great for different reasons.
Firstly, the Stamina 1402 is our overall winner and the best air rower on this list. It’s a far-upgraded version of the ATS standard and provides great versatility, durability, and basic function. Doing the basics really well is key to getting the most out of your product.
On the other hand, the Sunny Health magnetic rower is a great approach to the niche of cheap, effective, smaller rower for fitness. It’s a relatively low-resistance, accessible approaching to home rowing machines that provides an effective workout if you’re small enough for it to work.
Overall, we can say that the air rower is still king. Stamina stumbled with the ATS, but their 1402 model provides a great product at a great price and definitely gets as close to Concept as you can expect for any product that costs less than half the price!
Last update on 2020-07-09 UTC -5 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API - Details