A guide to rowing machines

Rowing machines are designed to simulate the action of rowing a boat. They're one of the best fat-burning and body-building workouts you can have, and they’re also really low impact, putting minimal stress on your hips, knees and ankle joints. They’re a great choice, whether you’re looking to tone up, build strength, or stay supple as you get older.

Choosing the right rowing machine

Before choosing a rowing machine, think about your fitness goals:

  • Lose weight – a low cost rowing machine with light resistance will help get you started.
  • Strength building – go for models with more tension levels, providing a great intensity to your workout.
  • Train for an event – look for a range of resistance and programmes to give you an all round workout.

The main types of resistance systems are as following:-

  • Magnetic – gives a smooth action that makes you feel like you’re rowing across water.
  • Hydraulic – less realistic rowing action, but provides excellent value for money.
  • Sculling - use a swinging lever (or two) rather than a bar and cable. They're easier to get the hang of, but less interesting to use!

LCD screens

The display is an LCD digital readout giving you useful information – rowing speed, distance travelled and so on.  The console controls let you switch to the information you’re most interested in tracking.

The right rowing position

If you’re going to enjoy a comfortable workout and avoid injuries, a good rowing position is a must. A rowing machine with adjustable positions (e.g. the distance the seat and bars move during a stroke) will help you make sure you’re not hurting yourself. 

Making space for your rowing machine

Rowing machines are surprisingly compact, and because many are light in weight you can easily lean them against a wall or inside a cupboard when you’re not using them. Some are even designed to fold, so you don’t need a lot of space to get started.

Jargon buster

Rowing machine terms explained.


Bar or handle The part you grip and pull back on to create the rowing movement. It's attached to the rower by a cable
Cable The ‘string’ connecting the bar to the machine’s frame
Console The controls on the front panel of the rowing machine
Flywheel Creates resistance inside the machine. As you push and pull it creates momentum to let you build up pace and slow down smoothly
Frame The structure, that all the moving parts of the rowing machine attach to.
Heart rate monitor Detects your pulse, usually through the hand grips
Programmes A planned rowing workout featuring a variety of resistance settings over a set distance, time or stroke rate. Choices include training row, coxed workout, and timed tempo rowing
Saddle or seat Where you sit, facing forward. The seat moves backwards as you 'pull' the bars towards you, making it feel as if you're moving across the water, then slides forward again as you release.
Stroke A stroke is one complete rowing movement, involving a pull on the bars or levers, plus the release, where they move away from you ready for the next pull.
Stroke rate The number of strokes you're rowing at per minute.
Speed The speed you’d be moving at if you were putting in the same effort on a real rowing boat.
Tempo The 'beat' of your strokes, for example 20 strokes/minute. Some machines let you set the tempo you're aiming for and sound a regular 'beep' for you to keep pace with.


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