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Published Apr 13, 2022 8:57 AM

A rowing machine is a great way to get a full-body workout without a lot of impact, but like any big piece of exercise equipment, it can be expensive. While there are plenty of solid options for rowing machines if you’re willing to spend thousands of dollars, what if you don’t want to or just can’t afford it? Don’t worry, we got you covered. Check out the best rowing machines for under $500.

Best Overall

It really shouldn’t be surprising that the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 magnetic rower is the best overall pick under $500. This rower is a sleek and foldable rower that offers eight levels of magnetic resistance with the turn of a dial. A great feature that sets this rower apart is the 48-inch long slide rail, which is great for tall folks, that also folds up for convenient storing. Tracking progress is done with the digital monitor that can be set to display one metric or scan through all metrics. This rower sports a non-slip handle and textured foot pedals that nicely complement the cushioned seat. Built into the frame are transport wheels and stabilizers, so you can place it anywhere you need to.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Sunny Health & Fitness
  • Resistance: Magnetic
  • Max user weight: 250 pounds
  • Slide rail length: 48 inches
PROS

Simple, easy-to-read digital monitor

8 levels of resistance

Extra-long slide rail

Non-slip grip and footpads

CONS

Max user weight of 250 pounds

Magnetic resistance not as fluid

No stranger to fitness equipment, Marcy offers a great magnetic rower under $500 with the NS-6002RE magnetic rower. Unlike most foldable rowers, this one really is space-saving with folded dimensions of 24 x 18.5 x 53.5 inches. This is because the folding point is butted up against the turbine section. It is on par with other magnetic rowers there are eight levels of resistance. The handle is covered in foam to protect your hands and the footpads are oversized with adjustable straps for extra security during your workout. At eye level is an LCD single metric display that has a large tech holder for your phone or tablet. With a steel frame that can hold up to 300 pounds, this rower is designed for everyone.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Marcy
  • Resistance: Magnetic
  • Max user weight: 300 pounds
  • Slide rail length: unlisted
PROS

Affordably priced

Steel construction

8 levels of resistance

Large tech holder

CONS

Single metric display

Best for Guided Workouts

Rowing is a simple exercise that requires repetition after repetition after repetition, and can become boring quickly. Fitness Reality offers the 3000D dual resistance rower for this reason. Not only does it offer 14 levels of resistance, but it’s also Bluetooth-capable and works with the MyCloudFitness app for guided workouts to keep you blasting through plateaus. The handle and foot pedals are non-slip with a Velcro retention strap to keep your feet in place. Tracking your workout is done easily with the 3.5-inch display that also has a convenient smartphone holder for watching the guided workouts.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Fitness Reality
  • Resistance: Dual-magnetic/air
  • Max user weight: 300 pounds
  • Slide rail length: 38 inches
PROS

14 levels of resistance

Bluetooth compatible

Works with AppleHeath and GoogleFit

Foldable design

CONS

It will challenge your ideas of fitness

Velcro straps can wear out easily

Finding an affordable rower that isn’t an actual dinghy is much easier with the Xterra ERG220 magnetic rower. You may laugh at the price, but the eight levels of resistance will be laughing at you before your workout is over. One of the nicest features is the 16-inch seat height, which allows easy on and off access. The handle and footpads are pretty standard non-slip and adjustable for every rower. With a max user weight of 300 pounds, it might surprise you to know the frame is made from aluminum. Not only is it ideal for heavy rowers, but the full length slide rail accommodates rowers up to six-foot-four. Lastly, the display uses a 3.5-inch LCD monitor to track your metrics and workout.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Xterra Fitness
  • Resistance: Magnetic
  • Max user weight: 300 pounds
  • Slide rail length: Unlisted
PROS

Full-length slide rail

3.5-inch display

8 resistance levels

Pivoting footplates

CONS

Not very compact

Best Water Rower

It isn’t easy to find a water rower under $500, but the Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge 500 just barely makes the cut. This is a big win for you since it was our top pick for the Best Water Rowing Machine for its premium features and realistic performance. The water tank is clearly marked to fill to your desired resistance level. Unlike other types of rowers, water rowers use flywheels and fan blades to push water in the most realistic rowing workout you’ll ever have. Like many other rowers, the Obsidian Surge 500 rower sports a non-slip handle, foot pedals with adjustable straps, and a wide cushioned seat. At eye level is the R2 fitness meter which is a top-of-the-line multi-metric display.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Sunny Health & Fitness
  • Resistance: Water
  • Max user weight: 300 pounds
  • Slide rail length: 38 inches
PROS

Can be stored vertically

High weight capacity

R2 fitness meter

Compatible with ANT+ tech

CONS

Not foldable

Heavier than other rowers

Best Hydraulic Rower

Looking at the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205 hydraulic rower reminds me of the 1980s and awkward infomercial exercise equipment. Goofy as it may be, hydraulic rowers are a cost-effective option for those wanting to step up their fitness levels. The resistance comes from a hydraulic cylinder that connects to the rowing arm and features an adjustable dial with 12 levels of difficulty. Because this design doesn’t require turbines, flywheels, or magnets, this rower is the lightest on our list at only 21 pounds. The lightweight and small dimensions allow you to easily store or transport the rower as needed. As with other styles, Sunny has included adjustable footpads and a contoured seat for safety and comfort during your workout.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Sunny Health & Fitness
  • Resistance: Hydraulics
  • Max user weight: 220 pounds
  • Slide rail length: 29 inches
PROS

12 levels of resistance

Digital monitor

Minimal footprint

Lightweight

CONS

Unlike water rowing

No transportation wheels

Best Air Rower

Not everyone wants to spend $1,200 on an air rower, which is why the Stamina ATS air rower is an excellent choice for the frugal rowers. This carbon steel-framed rower uses a fan and air to create resistance depending on how hard you pull. It features a standard non-slip handle but has textured footplates that pivot for extra comfort with adjustable hook-and-loop straps. There is a basic padded seat that offers comfort on even long sessions. At the top is a large and easy-to-read LCD display that tracks five metrics and displays two at a time with the option to scan through them all. To save space, this rower also conveniently folds up.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Stamina
  • Resistance: Air
  • Max user weight: 250 pounds
  • Slide rail length: unlisted
PROS

Foldable

Pivoting footplates

CONS

Limited tracking metrics

No mechanical resistance adjustment

Best Bluetooth Compatible

A byproduct of the information age is the intense desire to track all metrics and data of every workout. The Fitness Reality 1000 Plus is a great example of integrating this desire to track with Bluetooth capabilities. Specifically designed to connect with the MyCloudFitness App, the 1000 Plus rower also works with Apple Health and Google Fit. It uses magnets to offer 14 levels of resistance, sure to challenge your idea of fit. The alloy steel frame features an extra-long 48-inch slide rail for tall rowers and is capable of a max user weight of 250 pounds. One nice feature is the deep ankle pockets on the foot pedals, which will keep you secured nicely when combined with the hook-and-loop adjustable strap. If you’re looking to save some space, you can easily fold the slide rail up, too.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Fitness Reality
  • Resistance: Magnetic
  • Max user weight: 250 pounds
  • Slide rail length: 48 inches
PROS

Quiet enough to watch videos

Connects to MyCloudFitness App

14 resistance levels

48-inch slide rail

CONS

Heavy unit

Folded dimensions still bulky

Why you should trust us

My background for the past 20 years has been in sports, the military, and fitness. My first-hand experiences and those of fellow fitness junkies have taught me what to look for in good rowers. I’ve taken these experiences and have combined them with reviews from experts and customers to give the best analysis available. This review is an extension of the work and research from my previous article on the best water rowing machines.

Types of rowing machines under $500

To understand the differences in rowers we must talk about the resistance used. This is the heart of any rower and will affect other features and designs. 

Air

One of the more common types of rowers is the air rower. This machine uses a fan to create resistance by pushing air. These tend to be noisy, but also offer a neat breeze that can keep you cool during your workout. Unlike other types of rowers, air rowers don’t offer the ability to adjust the resistance. More or less difficulty is achieved by how hard you pull the handle. The rowing movement can be rather smooth and realistic depending on the manufacturer. 

Magnetic

This is probably the most common type of rower because of how quiet it is and because it offers several difficulty levels. These rowers will have a dial to change the level of resistance, which is created by magnets within a front housing unit. Magnetic rowers are probably the least realistic rowing workout though as they don’t offer as smooth of a rowing motion. 

Water

Offering the most realistic rowing workout, water rowers are a niche type of rower. These use water tanks that have a flywheel and blades to push water around the tank. Resistance is adjusted by the amount of water in the tank. This type of rower tends to be the most expensive, but affordable options can be found. 

Hydraulic

As the name implies, hydraulic rowers utilize a cylinder with pressurized liquid to create resistance. This design is rather simple and allows the rowers to be lighter in weight and less bulky in design. The cylinder is normally connected to a shaft and handle for you to row with. Because of the simple design, these tend to be the most affordable rowers. 

Dual resistance

None of the names of these rowers should be surprising. Dual resistance rowers utilize at least two different types of resistance to offer a wider range of difficulty. This is found most commonly in the form of air and magnets, but other types are possible. 

Key features of rowing machines under $500

Display

The vast majority of rowers will have a digital monitor to display workout metrics. Typically, these are going to be duration, speed, distance, and calories. Premium models will have other metrics or connect to apps for better tracking.  

Slide rail 

The slide rail is the length of frame that the seat rolls or slides along. Traditionally, it’s a single-piece frame, but a more functional feature is the ability to fold. This is normally done to help you save space when not using your rower. 

Footplates and straps

There is nothing worse than crumby footplates during a rowing workout. These flat plates are positioned to keep your feet in place during the workout and often use an adjustable strap. The footplates typically don’t move, however, some rowers have pivoting plates that prevent extra strain on the ankle. Hook-and-loop Velcro is common for strapping in, but it can wear out over time. Another commonly used strap is nylon with a tension loop, but these too can wear out or come loose. Ultimately, you’ll have to find the one that you like best. 

Benefits of rowing machines under $500

Cardiovascular health

Rowing is easily recognized as a low-impact form of cardio. This lightweight, high repetition exercise is an excellent alternative to running since it doesn’t require jarring the knees or back. The intensity and duration easily get your heart pumping and can improve heart health when combined with a smart diet. 

Strength

This may not be what most people think of when they talk about rowing, but strength is another benefit of rowing workouts. By increasing the resistance, you can step up the intensity of your workouts. This will help build functional strength as well as aesthetically pleasing results. 

Mental health

I’m a huge proponent of positive mental health and mental fitness. Physical exercise has been proven to directly impact our mindset and mental health. Even renowned researcher Roy Baumeister wrote in his book Willpower that physical exercise can improve one’s ability to remain disciplined and exert willpower. 

Pricing considerations for rowing machines under $500

For this article, we specifically looked for rowers under $500. This targeted range is typically in the budget pricing range for all rowers. Machines here will have fewer features, simpler displays, and be manufactured with cost-saving materials. 

How we chose our top picks

Our biggest criteria for rowers in this review was that they had to be priced below $500. To give you the best variety, we looked for water, air, magnetic, hydraulic, and dual resistance rowers with a known history of reliability and performance. We avoided looking at anything priced above $500 that had unrealistic claims or unnecessary features.

FAQs on rowing machines under $500

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q: Can you lose belly fat on a rowing machine?

A: Yes, along with any other fat you want to see gone, especially when combined with a proper diet.  

Q: Does rowing tone your arms?

A: Absolutely. While the proper rowing exercise works the whole body, the arm and back muscles are the heavy lifters and get the most work.

Q: How many minutes should I row at a time?

A: If you’re looking for cardio-based results, you’ll need to row for 30-60 minutes at a time. However, if you’re looking for strength, conditioning, or intense fat burning it is best to do interval training or row for 20 minutes at a time. 

Q: What’s the best type of rower?

A: This is purely subjective, but water rowers offer the most realistic rowing workout, while dual resistance rowers offer the most challenging workouts.