If you want a home rowing machine that is used by the professionals, then you’re looking in the right place.
In this article I will give you my personal choice of the best air rowing machine on the market. In addition, I’ll explain the workings behind these machines and the benefits they provide.
What Is an Air Rowing Machine?
Also known as ergometers, ergos or just “ergs”, air rowing machines have been around since the early 1980s, when a patent was granted to Peter and Richard Dreissigacker. (1)
What distinguishes them from other rowing machines is the way that resistance is created. Prior to their invention, tension on the flywheel was adjusted by a braking mechanism which applied pressure onto the wheel. Very similar to that on a bicycle.
With an air mechanism, there are no friction parts to wear out. All resistance is controlled by air flow.
How Does an Air Rowing Machine Work?
As the handle on an air rowing machine is pulled, an attached cord powers the flywheel to spin. The flywheel itself has “vanes,” similar to a windmill. As the wheel turns, these vanes create resistance in the air.
This increases the amount of work required to move the flywheel. Here’s an example.
If you move your hand slowly through the air, you feel little resistance. However, if you were to put your hand through an open car window, air pushes your hand hard. In the same way, the faster your pull on an air machine rower, the more resistance is created.
Some air rowing machines have dampers. These are vents that allow either more or less air to hit the vanes on the flywheel. If more air is allowed to enter the flywheel housing, air resistance increases, making the stroke feel harder.
What Are the Benefits of Air Rowers?
Air rowers are the machine of choice for the professional rower. In the off-season, or for additional training, these are the machines that the men or women usually seen on the river will use.
This is due to the following benefits specific to the air rower.
Replicates Real Rowing
There is a little debate here. Some people consider that water rowing machines are the most similar to actual rowing, due to paddles being pushed through a water reservoir.
However, the professionals use air rowers for a reason. Although pushing through fluid may give the impression of being on the water, many rowers consider that an air rower provides a better recreation of the full-stroke.
There are three stages of the rowing position:
- Catch—start of the stroke with knees bent, thighs near chest.
- Drive—legs begin to extend pushing the seat backwards.
- Finish—when the legs are fully extended.
In “real” rowing, it’s agreed that the catch starts with “light” resistance, followed by an increase in pressure until the finish. This is an aspect mirrored in air rowing machines. Water rowers are the opposite way round—hard resistance through to lighter.
In hydraulic and magnetic rowing machines, the resistance control has to be manually altered. That is, unless you are completing a pre-programmed workout.
In some machines, this requires you to stop your exercise in order to adjust. With an air rower, you simply speed up the stroke rate and resistance is increased. If you are feeling fatigued, but still want to carry on exercising, just slow down.
Due to the simplicity of the mechanism, this allows more accurate information to be sent to the electronic monitor.
This is another reason why they are favored among athletes. Air rowers are able to provide more workout feedback than any of the other machines.
Are There Any Disadvantages to Air Rowers?
Generally speaking, there is only one main downside to air rowers—the noise.
With every stroke, the flywheel creates a distinctive “whoosh” sound as the vanes strike the air. Think of it as a cooling fan on its highest setting.
Air rowers are the loudest of all rowing machines. Although this may not be important to you personally, it may be a consideration if you are using it in a room where others are trying to watch the TV.
What to Look for in an Air Rower
Checking for the following factors will help you find an air rower that is more relevant to your personal requirements.
If you want to change the feel and “hardness” of each stroke, look for a machine that has dampers, as mentioned earlier in this article.
Furthermore, consider how many damper settings the air rowing machine has. The more settings, the more customizable it will be for your needs.
This part of the air rowing machines stores and relays information about your workout. The detail provided depends on the monitor itself.
It is, therefore, worth considering what you need to know from your machine. You may just be content with strokes, time and calories burned. At the other end of the spectrum you may want to check other elements, such as multi-intervals, heart rate or communication with other electronic devices.
Size, Weight and Portability
By their very nature, air rowing machines are quite long. This may be an issue if you are short of space in your home, and/or it needs to be moved when not in use.
If this is the case, consider the size of the machine and whether you have the available space to use it. In addition, if it is to be stored or moved, is it light enough or does it have transport wheels?
The Best Air Rowing Machines Reviewed (Our Choices)
Here are my choices for the best air rowing machines available today.
Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine PM5
The manufacturers claim that the Model D is the best-selling rowing machine in the world. This rower is often found in professional gyms.
This air machine features 10 levels of damper settings. I suggest that this would suit those who want to adapt their strokes to their own particular level—making it applicable to beginners and experienced rowers alike.
The PM5 monitor offers a whole host of information. In addition to the usual time, stroke and calorie counters, it can also hold numerous interval details. Furthermore, it wirelessly connects to apps and heart monitors, with its Bluetooth capability.
A USB drive can be attached to the monitor, allowing your workouts to be downloaded and reviewed post-workout. In my opinion, these factors would make it appealing to those who love both tech and massive detail.
The Concept2 Model D weighs 57 pounds and measures 96 inches by 24 inches by 44.5 inches. Although it is not foldable, it can be separated into two pieces for storage. In addition, caster wheels allow for easy relocation.
- The rowing machine of choice for professional gyms.
- Monitor packed with information that can be downloaded or sent wirelessly.
- Separates into two pieces for storage.
- Monitor may provide “information overload” for some people.
Stamina ATS Air Rower
In my opinion, the Stamina ATS could be a good choice for people who don’t want too many additional features, but just want to bring things back to basics.
Resistance on this machine is purely controlled by the speed of the stroke. There are no dampers to allow increased air flow into the flywheel vanes.
In addition, the monitor has simple functions too. It provides information on stroke count, time, speed and calories used. With “one-button” operation, I would suggest that this is an ideal machine for those uncomfortable with tech and who don’t want the confusion of numerous controls.
The Stamina ATS is portable and foldable, with transport wheels. This, together with its weight of just 54 pounds, may make it ideal for people who need to put the machine into storage or another room after use.
Much of the comfort features on this rower are oversized—large foot-plates, heavily cushioned seat and padded handle. If you are someone who finds sitting in one position for a while uncomfortable, this could encourage you to remain on the rower longer and therefore receive greater benefits.
This machine measures 77 inches by 18 inches by 22 inches.
- A back-to-basics air rower for those who desire simplicity.
- Designed for comfort during use.
- The LCD screen is small, dark and with no backlight.
Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5623 Air Rowing Machine Rower
An air rower which has a slightly different take on resistance. In air rowers, resistance is increased with the speed of the stroke. Unusually for an air rowing machine, the resistance of the drive belt can be controlled by a dial.
This offers eight further levels of resistance, in addition to that provided by the fan. Perhaps this feature could appeal if you want to have your own bespoke levels to use during workouts.
The LCD monitor includes time, stroke, speed and calories burned. In addition, a scan function enables the machine to refresh the screen with each of these counters individually. I would recommend this for people who demand all the information, all of the time.
The Sunny Health & Fitness has wheels for easy transportation, but does not fold. As the machine measures 86 inches by 19 inches by 28 inches, you will either require this amount of floor space or this vertical closet height for storage. It weighs 59 pounds.
A nice feature is a vent on the front of the flywheel casing. As you pull, air is pushed through this space and directed onto your face, cooling you down. There are no air dampers.
- Novel belt resistance feature.
- Scan feature on LCD monitor.
- Cooling vent design.
- Does not fold.
- Some people may find self-assembly difficult.
Concept2 Model E Indoor Rowing Machine PM5
Another air rower from Concept2. Like the Model D, the Model E has the same PM5 monitor with identical functions—it’s feature packed as detailed above.
Dampers are included on this machine. They are adjusted by turning a disc on the flywheel housing and there are 10 different settings. This allows you to choose the stroke “feel” of your choice.
A “quick-release” mechanism means that the Model E can easily be separated into two pieces, for either storage or transportation. There are no screws to remove.
There is one particular “stand-out” feature of this air rower. The seat is 20 inches above the ground, four inches more than the Model D and higher than any other rowing machine reviewed here.
In my opinion, this would suit people who have mobility issues or struggle to raise themselves off the ground. In particular, I feel it would suit those of more mature years.
The Model E measures 96 inches by 24 inches by 20 inches and weighs 65 pounds.
- Standard “chair height” of 20 inches means easy mounting and dismounting.
- Feature packed PM5 monitor.
- Adjustable damper settings.
- Some users may feel unstable operating the machine with the high seat position.
XTERRA Fitness ERG500 Air Turbine Rower, Silver/Black
The Xterra ERG500 rowing machine allows the dampers to be adjusted from a seated position, with the control mechanism between the legs. Unlike the Concept2 models, you don’t have to dismount or reach a long distance to change.
The LCD monitor is clear and easy to read. Depending on your height, it can be tilted forwards or backwards for the best possible view.
It uses five oversized buttons for ease of use. This may be a worthwhile feature for either those with little dexterity or who struggle controlling buttons with damp hands.
Extra features on the monitor include pulse, intervals and a visual graphic. This displays a “virtual” rower, moving on the screen and matching your strokes, for added motivation.
The ERG500 measures 72 inches by 19 inches by 33 inches, weighs 79.4 pounds and is foldable with wheels for transport.
For added stability, this air rower has a middle “foot”, providing three points of contact with the ground in total (front, middle and rear). This could appeal to those who feel a little unstable sitting on a rowing machine, or are heavier than average.
- Adjustable dampers without moving from the seat.
- Large monitor buttons.
- Third foot for stability.
- Damper settings are sometimes unreliable for accuracy.
As the choice of the professionals, and able to offer a full-body workout, air rowers can be a good option.
In my opinion, the best air rowing machine is the Concept2 Model D. This is because it provides everything I believe you need in your machine.
It has a monitor that supplies detailed information in real time and can be connected to other devices wirelessly, for post-workout examination. Stroke pressure can be adjusted through 10 levels, allowing the exact “feel” you require. Furthermore, it separates easily into two parts for storage.
I would like to mention some other highlights of this review too. The high seat position of the Model E, the easy damper adjustment of the ERG500 and the face-cooling feature of the Sunny Health & Fitness. All of these are valuable features.
But, for the best air rowing machine available, the Concept2 Model D has the edge.