It’s the time of year when we all strive to put our best, healthiest foot forward by making fitness resolutions. If yours involves improving your cardiovascular health, becoming stronger, and working on flexibility, a rowing machine is a trainer favorite when it comes to a total body workout.
What do you need to know if you’re considering adding a rowing machine to your home gym, how should you shop for one and what kind of smart features can you find on rowing machines? We tackle those questions below.
What is a smart rowing machine?
Let’s back up for a quick second. A basic rowing machine is akin to a small sled with a handle and a wheel. You sit on the seat, which slides back and forth on a short track, grasp the handle, then pull on the cable which is attached between the handle and flywheel. Tension on the cable makes it easier or harder to pull, and simulates the motion of rowing a boat with oars.
Putting the word “smart” in front of “rowing machine” may mean different things depending on the brand, so it pays to read the fine print on the model you’re considering. Some of the simplest rowing machines may have a tiny digital readout, and the manufacturer may call that smart. Others may add in a kind of 8-bit gaming system where you can move around a digital screen depending on the force of your pulls (think Frogger). The more impressive smart models use HD touchscreens and can share immersive videos so that if you try hard, you can feel like you’re in a water-skimming regatta. At the top of the smart scale, you can get interactive videos, online workouts, and classes akin to Peloton.
What to know about smart rowing machines
Not unlike joining Peloton’s club-style atmosphere, you’ll need to pay a monthly membership fee to access videos and updated workouts on most smart rowing machines, so prepare to pay for play (some of these memberships cost as much as a gym membership). And in some cases, the machine won’t do much without a paid membership.
Other considerations? Is there Bluetooth connectivity so you can listen to workouts or music without disturbing others. Does the machine fold up for easy storage out of sight like under a bed? Is the mechanism that adjusts the machine’s tension noisy? Can it sync with fitness services like Strava to monitor your heart rate, or does it have support for that kind of health monitoring built-in?
If you’ve already got a fitness tracker you like and you’re not keen on paying monthly fees for workout videos and interactive classes, you might be better off with a non-connected rowing machine, and an iPad or TV.
Are rowing machines any good?
Rowing machines (not unlike actual rowing) have been popular for decades because they work out your entire body, not just your arms like you may think. They can improve cardiovascular heath by strengthening your heart. It’s a low-impact workout and protects your joints. Plus, it’s one of the rare workouts where you can kind of zone out and just get into the grove of pulling rhythmically.
Which are the best smart rowing machines?
Choosing a smart rowing machine is about more than just finding the cheapest model, or the one that folds the flattest. You’ll want a model with a variety of workouts, a big screen so you can lose yourself in your row, and one that can also monitor your vitals to keep track of your pace, heart rate, and more. Here are our top picks for a smart rowing machine.
Hydrow smart rower
With a 22-inch HD video screen and over 3,000 workouts, the cleverly named Hydrow lets your workouts span the globe. Row in London, Scotland, Miami, and Boston with what Hydrow calls an “immersive experience of sights and sounds … with both live and on-demand workouts from the water.” With support for Strava, you can use your Apple Watch to keep tabs on your heart rate, too.
Not unlike Peloton, with Hydrow you’re meant to feel like part of the crew, looking your leader in the face, while getting encouragement and instructions. Hydrow says it can even match your mood offering workouts that will make your muscles burn, or just take you on a lazy paddle. There are also workouts that don’t even use the Hydrow, but take place on a mat for stretching and strength training.
Ergatta smart rowing machine
The wood construction of this model hides its smart tech, which most notably is data-based, not people-based. The smart Android-powered touchscreen on this model clocks in at 17.3-inches. Plus, it’s got Bluetooth for using both heart-rate monitors and audio.
Ergatta doesn’t want to dazzle you with sexy instructors with enviable abs. Instead, the rowing machine provides a mostly graphic interface that encourages you to take part in competitions or go for a new best-of with goal-oriented workouts. To gamify the system, you need to hit milestones to unlock new workouts and challenges.
Echelon smart rowing machine
Depending on which model of rower you choose, you’ll either use your smartphone for guidance, or with the Row-S version the Echelon comes with a 21.5-inch rotating touchscreen that guides you through strokes, or swivels so you can take your workout off the water. Watch live or on-demand classes, or choose a scenic video-based workout too.
NordicTrack RW900 smart rowing machine
Many of us remember NordicTrack from late-night infomercials. NordicTrack also uses a 22-inch adjustable HD touchscreen (but smaller screen versions are available, too) to deliver either studio-based or on-the-water workouts. NordicTrack also offers streamed workouts where instructors can control your resistance and you just need to try to keep up. A built-in speaker means no need for headphones, unless you want to use them.