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Published Feb 15, 2022 11:56 AM

One of the more interesting niches in the fitness world is that of water rowing machines, or hydro rowers. Anyone who has done CrossFit has become intimate with rowing machines and knows how intense a rowing workout can be. Rowing is a full-body strength exercise that has a cardio aspect, too. That’s what makes rowing a great addition to any workout regimen. It can even help with arthritic back pain, as a low resistance workout in the mornings can help grease the gears and loosen everything up. 

Picking a water rower for your gym is about adding a different type of resistance to your workouts. Like air and magnetic rowers, water rowers have pros and cons depending on what you’re looking to add to your gym. Let’s take a look at some of the best water rowers on the market so you can make an informed decision.

Sunny Health & Fitness has done a great job at making easy-to-use and effective workout equipment. The Obsidian Surge 500 water rower is no exception. This is a sleek rowing machine designed to give you the ultimate workouts.

Percentage-wise, this is one strong machine, as the maximum rider weight is 300 pounds despite the whole thing weighing just shy of 92 pounds when empty. The flat tank design allows this machine to be stored vertically, cutting down on storage space when not in use. An interesting feature is the end cap levelers, which are simple rotating dials that allow you to get a stable and level rower on uneven ground.

Sunny chose the R2 fitness meter for this rower for the convenient navigable interface and modes. The footpads are anti-slip with an adjustable foot strap that compliments the slip-resistant handlebar. When you take into account the ergonomically designed seat, it’s easy to see why the Obsidian Surge is our top pick.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Sunny Health & Fitness
  • Dimensions: 80 inches x 22 inches x 34 inches
  • Weight: 91.9 pounds empty
  • Weight capacity: 300 pounds
PROS

High weight capacity

Easy-to-use interface

Endcap levelers

Can be stored vertically

CONS

Heavy even when empty

Does not fold up

Water rowers are a specialty style of rowing machines, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a whole paycheck to get a good rower. Merax makes an awesome inclined tank water rower that has fill marks for the different levels of resistance. Because of the angled design, this rower is a little bulkier than flat tank rowers, but that seems to add to the aesthetics as well as the function.

The smart digital monitor has multiple functions that track the intensity of your workouts through distance, time, strokes, and more. There’s a large ergonomic seat that sits on a 43-inch slide rail and 12-inch footpads with Velcro straps. At the center is a 19-inch handlebar with non-slip rubber grips for you to row away.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Merax
  • Dimensions: 78 inches x 20 inches x 25.5 inches
  • Weight: 72 pounds empty
  • Weight capacity: 330 pounds
PROS

Inclined tank for extra resistance

Stores vertically

Smart digital monitor for workout tracking

Large contoured seat

CONS

Shape is bulkier than other designs

Purchasing a water rower for your home gym is stressful enough without having to worry about it leaking all over your floors. This water rower by Xterra features a pressure-tested tank, which means that it won’t leak from normal usage, and it sits at a 45-degree angle. While most water rowers say they won’t leak, few can say they’ve been pressure-tested. That alone is worth paying extra in my humble opinion, but the rower itself is a great machine.

On the tank is an easy fill valve and six fill marks to set your personal resistance. The easy-to-read digital monitor sits on an adjustable arm and has over 15 programmed workouts installed. Gripping the rowing handle, you’ll feel the textured rubber offering a secure connection, just like the dual adjusting flexing footpads. Your rump will sit on a contoured seat and glide along the rails on rollers.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Xterra Fitness
  • Dimensions: 79.5 inches x 20.7 inches x 33.9 inches
  • Weight: 76 pounds empty
  • Weight capacity: 350 pounds
PROS

High weight capacity

Pressure-tested tank

Over 15 programmed workouts

Stores vertically

CONS

Higher price point

Another great entry by Sunny Health & Fitness is this inclined tank water rower. It is a little more expensive than the Obsidian Surge, but still an affordable option. The tank is set at 60 degrees and features 16 hydro blades to offer the most realistic resistance. Its heavy-duty frame can withstand users weighing up to 300 pounds. The interface is an R2 monitor that is attached to a swivel arm, so you can adjust it where you want it. There are even built-in stabilizers for you to screw up or down when on uneven surfaces. What’s really unique about this model is that it can fold up for a smaller storage footprint.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Sunny Health & Fitness
  • Dimensions: 81.5 inches x 21 inches x 39.5 inches
  • Weight: 88.2 pounds empty
  • Weight capacity: 300 pounds
PROS

Inclined tank for extra resistance

Foldable design

11 pre-installed workout programs

Two-way adjustable footpads

CONS

Heavy empty weight

Shape is bulkier than flat tank designs

Best Compact Water Rowing Machine

At first glance, this water rower by Stamina X may seem awkward. However, the compact design is great for smaller areas. By placing the tank under the rowing seat, the overall footprint is about 20 inches shorter than other designs. This also means the seat is higher than other models out there, which is great for taller folks or people with knee or back issues. On the tank are fill marks for you to find your ideal resistance level. You can track your workout stats with the multi-function digital monitor. This works with the wireless heart rate monitor that is included with your rower.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Stamina X
  • Dimensions: 63 inches x 20inches x 37.5 inches
  • Weight: 96 pounds empty
  • Weight capacity: 300 pounds
PROS

Multi-function monitor

Fill marks on the tank for resistance levels

Wireless heart rate monitor included

CONS

Does not fold or store vertically

It doesn’t appear to have adjustable stabilizers

Best High-End Water Rowing Machine

Weighing in at 117 pounds empty, this is the heaviest rower on our list. It isn’t too surprising since this rower is made from a solid ash wood frame that gives it an incredible aesthetic. It’s more than just a pretty rower, though, as it features a horizontal tank and internal flywheel. This specific model was designed for high-traffic areas, so you don’t have to worry about wearing it out. You can monitor your workouts using the built-in Series 4 monitor that has six information and program windows. The footpads adjust to the size of your foot and have an adjustable strap to keep your feet locked in. Rowing is easy with the non-slip handlebar.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Water Rowing Club
  • Dimensions: 83 inches x 24 inches x 21 inches
  • Weight: 117 pounds empty
  • Weight capacity: 1,000 pounds
PROS

Highest weight capacity

Stores upright

Series 4 digital monitor

Solid ash wood frame

CONS

Sits very low to the ground

High price point

Why you should trust us

My background for the past 20 years has been in sports, the military, and fitness. I’ve sweated my bacon off several times on the seat of a rower. 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. 

Types of water rowing machines

The interesting thing about water rowers is that they are a subcategory of rowing machines. This means that there aren’t many variations of water rowers, specifically. However, the position of the flywheel/tank is the biggest variation that can change performance. Let’s take a closer look at water rowing machines. 

Flat tank

One of the reasons most people purchase water rowers is for the “life-like” feel of water resistance. A flat tank sits parallel to the floor and offers a feeling that is similar to rowing in a boat. Because the tank is flat, this style tends to appear sleeker and less bulky. Many flat tank designs can even be stood up on end to preserve space when not in use. 

Inclined tank

Unlike other types of rowers, water rowers get their resistance from the amount of water in the tank. This is especially true for flat tanks. Inclining the tank to something like a 45-degree angle changes the resistance by incorporating gravity. With these models, the gravity is wanting to keep the water at the bottom of the tank, which requires more effort on your part to turn the flywheel. The difference isn’t drastic, but it is enough to break through or prevent plateaus. 

Key features of water rowing machines 

Tank

The most prolific feature on water rowing machines is the water tank, also known as the flywheel. This is a round, generally see-through container that stores the water. It can be flat or inclined depending on the model. Inside of the tank will be an impeller, a bladed device to push the water. You’ll want to make sure it’s easy to fill or empty the tank, and this will vary by model. 

Interface

Having a good interface is key to a successful rowing workout and program. There are many types, as each manufacturer uses its own style of interface. What you’ll want to look for is an easy-to-see, easy-to-use interface. Most are going to be battery-powered, so you’ll want to identify the type of battery and get some spares to keep on hand. 

Seat 

Any good rower has a good seat. While the small seat itself is important, so are the beam and rollers that allow the seat to move back and forth. You’ll want to make sure that the seat is comfortable enough that you can see yourself rowing for any length of time. The rollers will need to glide easily without catching, grinding, or squeaking. Nothing ruins a good row like a jerky seat. 

Grip/footpad

Every rower needs something to row with and something to hold your feet in place. These are generally located at the front of the rower. The grip typically is a flat bar with a cable or flat strap that goes into the tank. Many grips are covered with thin rubber coatings to maximize gripping when sweaty, but some can be soft foam padding as well. The footpads are commonly flat pieces of plastic on either side of the beam. Nice models will have adjustable extensions on the footpad to allow for varied size feet. All footpads should have an adjustable strap to keep your foot on the pad while rowing. 

Benefits 

Physical health

The list of physical health benefits one gets from rowing is quite extensive and exhausting. Most notably is heart health. Because rowing is an aerobic exercise, it works your heart and lungs the most. This creates a high burn rate for calories, which is great for fatties like me who want to lose fat. Rowing can also be an anaerobic exercise, though, if you adjust the resistance and rate of rowing. Aerobic workouts help build muscle at the expense of fat and are ideal for those looking to cut. A personal benefit I have experienced from rowing is that it reduces the pain in my back. Any simple five- to 10-minute workout is enough for my back to feel ready to do more dumb stuff. All of this can help your posture as keeping proper rowing form will strengthen your posture and prevent future injuries. 

Mental health

A commonly explored, but rarely examined, benefit of exercise is the effect it has on mental health. There are tons of books, articles, podcasts, and movies about how working out helps one’s state of mind. I feel that many of these miss the scientific reasoning behind that, but they are still great resources. Aside from the hormone creation that gives you a great feeling, there are a few other mental health aspects to consider. Confidence is built by doing something and proving to yourself you can, which has a vital role in overall mental health. Building the discipline of rowing will boost your confidence and give you a double dose of “wow, I feel like a badass!” The other aspect is that long rows can be meditative. Scientists like Roy Baumeister and Kelly McGonigal have proven that meditation can increase willpower and self-discipline, thus increasing one’s happiness. 

Pricing considerations for water rowing machines

Budget

Because water rowers are a niche market, the pricing categories are pretty tight. If you find a water rower under $500, you can consider that a bargain price. You can easily find some quality rowers in this category, but they will generally be basic designs without a lot of features. These will work for home gyms and are ideal for those who want basic water rowers. 

Mid-range

Water rowers priced between $500 to $700 are considered mid-range. This is where you see the blend of extra features, fancy designs, and special materials at more affordable prices. These are ideal for home gyms and those looking to have variable rowing workouts. 

Premium

Any rower that is over $700 fits this category. Rowers in this price range will have proprietary features, be made from special materials, or come from a prestigious brand. These rowers are best suited for professional athletes, rowers who need the realistic feel for training, or commercial gyms or fitness centers.  

How we chose our top picks

The selection of water rowers was based on comparing personal experience with in-depth research. Each rower had to be priced appropriately, and we avoided rowers with unrealistic pricing or exaggerated claims. The machines also had to be functional with dimensions that would allow them to be used in most spaces. We did not consider brands or rowers with known reliability issues.

FAQs on water rowing machines

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

Q. What’s the difference between normal rowers and water rowers?

A. There are four types of rowers based on what they use to create resistance: magnetic, air, hydraulic, and water. Water rowers utilize water in a tank with an impeller to create resistance for your workouts. 

Q. How long do water rowers last?

A. According to some manufacturers, these machines can last up to five years of continuous use without maintenance. As with anything, if you use it properly and get routine maintenance, it can last much longer.

Q. Are water rowers better?

A. This is a subjective question. They’re just different from other rowers, which offer a different form of resistance for your workouts. 

Q. How often do you need to change the water? 

A. You can probably go up to six months before changing the water in the tank. That being said, most tanks are clear and you can see if there are any bacteria forming inside of them. Read your owner’s manual to see if there are any recommendations or approved treatments for keeping your tank clean. 

Q. Will a water rower freeze? 

A. Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If your rower is subjected to this type of weather, then it could possibly freeze. 

Q. Can I get fit with just rowing? 

A. Yes. Rowing is a great full-body workout that is also a form of cardio.

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Scott Whisler is a Marine Corps veteran and family man. He’s an avid student of philosophy who strives for self-growth and challenge, both found in his outdoor adventures.  As a new Okie, his focus is on exploring the South Central region. His lifetime goal is to have excursions in all of the National Parks.

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