Types of Rowing Machines

Rowing machines offer the best full-body workout and help to burn more calories compared to other fitness equipment. Plus they are low impact and can be handled by almost everyone.

Types of Rowing Machine

Finding the right rowing machine can be completely difficult. Having to choose from numerous different brands, varying price tags, and warranties, the process can actually cause a headache.

Rowing machines come with distinctive types of resistance, and knowing the mechanisms in which the machine generate the resistance is vital. The resistance system can typically determine the cost, build quality, monitor functionality, and even the size of the rowing machine.

Knowing which type of resistance you like most will ultimately help to narrow down your options in the most effective way. In other terms, determining the resistance type is a significant decision when buying a rower.

Types of Rowing Machine – Resistance

Rowing machines often seek to stimulate indoor workouts. Most indoor rowing machines generate resistance using four distinct resistance types, namely; air, hydraulic-piston, water, and magnetic. There is another new type of strength that uses both air and magnetic.

Types of Rowing Machine in More Detail

Air Resistance

All rowing machines that have an air resistance system generate their resistance using a spinning fan flywheel. After pulling the handle, the flywheel will spin and create the wind.

The harder you pull the handle, the spinning flywheel creates more wind. As more wind is created, the harder it gets to draw the grip handle, and hence the more resistance you’ll feel.

Therefore the tension level in air resistance systems is variable and is determined by how hard you row.

An air rowing machine allows you to increase or decrease your rowing pace while rowing without having to stop to make any adjustments. The resistance levels will adjust accordingly.

This makes air resistance rowing machines to be very popular for high-intensity interval training and CrossFit workouts. They are often preferred by Olympic athletes when rowing off the water due to their intense resistance levels and realistic feel.

They also come with a large footprint as supported by the extended seat rail, thereby providing a smooth, natural rowing motion.

The only drawback with air resistance systems is that every time you pull the handle, the spinning flywheel makes a ‘whooshing’ sound. This might irritate some users who want to row and watch TV at a moderate volume.

Types of rowing machine

Benefits of Air Rowers

  •   Multiple resistance levels to replicate rowing on water.
  •   The resistance automatically adjusts to your stroke
  •   Smooth action
  •   Ideal for all fitness levels
  •   Minimal maintenance.


The air resistance system can be noisy especially for indoor use

Magnetic Resistance

Rowers with magnetic resistance use a magnetic brake system to generate resistance. Magnetic resistance creates no friction and is relatively silent compared to air resistance.

As you whirl the metal flywheel, the magnet moves closer or farther away from the wheel, thereby creating a more or less resistance depending on your rowing intensity.

The resistance levels are adjustable, and usually, they come with a relatively large footprint. The size is the same as that of an air resistance rower.

Most users prefer these rowers due to their ability to offer quiet performance and provide smooth rowing motion similar to that of air rowers.

Comparing air and magnetic, magnetic rowers are typically much more silent, but their rowing motion isn’t as natural/smooth as that of air rowers. That means you can row while watching TV, but you won’t feel that excellent quality resistance offered by air rowers.

Benefits of Magnetic Rowers

  •   Super quiet operation (The best ones are almost silent)
  •   A broad range of resistance
  •   Suitable for most users
  •   Usually more compact than air and water rowers
  •   Minimal maintenance required


The rowing action not so aesthetic (although not an issue if you just want to exercise)

Water Resistance

Rowing machines with water resistance systems use paddles whirled in a tank of water, to generate resistance. When you pull the handle, the paddles inside the tank spins, creating a resistance that mimics the experience felt by rowing a boat.

As you row harder, the paddles spin faster, and the faster they spin, the harder it gets to row, and therefore, you’ll feel more resistance.

The description is more like that of air-resistance. The main difference is that water is used instead of air to generate resistance.

Similar to air rowers, the resistance level is variable and is determined by how hard you row. More to that, you can alter the rowing experience by managing the level of the water in the tank — the less the water, the less the resistance.

Water rowers come with a large footprint and are typically bulky due to the presence of the water tank. Even though water rowers make some noise, most users often like the sound saying that it’s soothing and relaxing.

There are some reports that water resistance offers the smoothest rowing motion among all other resistance types. Besides, most water rowers come with a beautiful wood that portrays a great antique similar to that of home decor.

However, water rowers are typically pricier in comparison to other types.

Benefits of water rowers

  •   Quiet in operation
  •   Smooth, sustainable resistance throughout the workout
  •   Some users like the ‘whooshing’ sound created by the water in the tank
  •   Very little maintenance required- you just have to change the water or add purification pills occasionally.


  •   There relatively large compared to other rowing machines with other forms of resistance.
  •   The range starts at a quite higher price

Types of Rowing Machine

Hydraulic Piston Resistance

Unmistakably, hydraulic piston rowing machines generate their resistance using the hydraulic pistons. Most of them come with two pistons, both attached to the two arms of the handlebar. Others come with a centered piston.

The resistance systems of these rowers are adjustable and can be controlled by adjusting the knob mounted on the piston. Hydraulic piston resistance levels start from 1-8. They regulate the number of runnings moving in-and-out of the piston, therefore controlling the resistance.

Hydraulic-piston resistance works pretty well for rehab and improving the muscle imbalances.

The major fore deal of hydraulic-piston rowing machines is that they are absolutely quiet and affordable compared to other models with different resistance mechanisms.

They are associated with very minimal noise, and you can row while watching TV at a low volume. They are also very compact and can be easily stored even in sophisticated rooms.

However, despite being compact and super quiet, they are not the best choice for tall and heavy users. Their built quality may be a tad lower than models utilizing other forms of resistance.

Benefits of Hydraulic-piston Rowers


  •   Most of this models don’t offer smooth rowing motion
  •   Resistance levels tend to change as the oil burns up
  •   Calls for regular maintenance


Every resistance model provides the user with a unique rowing experience and comes with a list of distinct features and characteristics attached to them.

These traits can range from price, noise level, size, capacity, and storage capabilities. Some of your most preferred characteristics may reflect a particular rowing machine and resistance type.

After figuring out the kind of resistance you want to along with, the research becomes much more relaxed and efficient. You can ideally rule out rowers that aren’t in your preferred form of resistance and vastly narrow down the whole process.

You can go further and decide on a price range, which will ultimately leave you with one or two choices — that’s how you contrive your search quickly and prolifically.

About Gaurav Dhir

Gaurav Dhir, B. Tech, PGDCM is an engineer and MBA by training. A fitness aficionado, Gaurav follows a strict diet and exercise regimen to keep himself vigorously active. He loves playing sports and being outdoors. Gaurav is responsible for the health and wellness of 4 generations including his son, elderly parents and very elderly grandparents.