Rowing machines are one of the best pieces of cardio equipment money can buy. They are great for performing relatively easy, low impact steady state cardio, for building muscular strength, size and endurance, and for going with higher intensity routines like sprints or HIIT (high intensity interval training). This means that you can use them in conjunction with pretty much any fitness goal going.
However, top-spec rowing machines can prove pretty costly… that is if you don’t know where to look or what you’re looking for.
Luckily, we know both and we like to share. We will be looking at some of the best budget rowing machines you can buy for your home or home gym, and there is no way that we’re sacrificing quality just to save a few pounds. Everything on our list will give you the workout you want, with the quality and comfort you want, all without breaking the bank.
The benefits of a Home Rowing Machine
First off, let’s look through why you would want to plump for a rowing machine rather than any other form of fitness apparatus. After all, there are some far more compact, easily stored options out there.
The main reason – in fact, the only overarching reason – is the sheer quality of workout you can get from a rowing machine. This breaks down into three distinct areas:
Strength and Cardio In One
If you buy a treadmill, elliptical or bike, you’re committing to an improvement in your cardiovascular fitness and will likely benefit from gaining a great weight-loss aid. This is also the case with a rowing machine: your heart and lungs will get a hell of a workout and, as we will see, you will be able to lose weight fairly easily.
However, rowing machines give you the added advantage of possessing a strong strength and hypertrophy (muscle building) element. Your legs, mid back, upper back, shoulders (specifically posterior deltoids and traps) and arms (specifically biceps and forearms) will all benefit from this. Essentially, anything used in your posterior chain will benefit.
Rowing to any degree will build these muscle groups. Add some sprints or high resistance work and they’ll build at a greater rate.
Full Body Workout
With the exception of the elliptical, most cardio machines focus on your legs. Even the elliptical uses mostly legs. The rowing machine, however, uses the full posterior chain, as mentioned above. This means that everything from the glutes and hamstrings of your lower body to the back, arms and shoulders of your upper body will be recruited, alongside a myriad of stabiliser, support and antagonistic muscle groups.
This brings a couple of benefits aside from the strength and hypertrophy mentioned above.
Firstly, it will improve blood circulation and mobility through a range of joints. The improved synovial fluid and blood flow into soft tissue and joints through the body will be a relief to those who suffer with aches and pains.
Secondly, the recruitment of so much muscle mass equates to a high caloric burn – the more you use, the more you burn, simply put. This makes rowing a great aid to weight loss. For most people, a caloric deficit of 500 calories/day means a weekly weight loss of 1lb (0.5kg). Though this should mostly be achieved through diet and nutrition (eating less) – exercise plays its part. You can burn half of this quite easily in just 30 minutes of moderately intense rowing.
Running is often the default when people look to begin cardio and a weight loss regime. Whilst it’s accessible and often enjoyable, it’s really quite atrocious on the joints. Rowing machines offer very little impact on the joints.
If you suffer with any kind of joint or mobility problems, or if you’re just looking out for your future self, wanting to ward off old age arthritis, rowing is a safe bet. You will get full intensity without being beaten up by it.
Our Top 5 Budget Rowing Machines
So, now you know why you should consider getting a rowing machine, let’s take a look at some of the best, more economically viable rowers on the market.
When it comes to rowing machines – or cardio machines more generally- the sky can be the limit price-wise. You could easily go out and spend a grand or more on a rowing machine. Obviously, this is what we’re trying to avoid in this budget rower roundup. With this in mind, we’re keeping all of these selections around or below the £400 mark, with some considerably less than that.
1: JLL R200 Home Rowing Machine
The JLL R200 is the best budget rowing machine by quite some margin, coming it at around a couple of hundred pounds. There may be better models available, and there may be cheaper ones available, but this represents the absolute best when it comes to balancing economy and performance.
The JLL R200 gives you ten different levels of magnetic resistance, meaning that you can use it for the full range of uses mentioned above – go high for intense sprints or mid-low for steady state cardio. It also allows room for progression as you get stronger, meaning that you can start around 2-3 and gradually raise the intensity.
You get a pretty well built, well-designed and easily navigable LCD display with the JLL R200. This will give you all the data you would usually expect- distance travelled, revs performed, calories burned, and so forth- in an accessibly format. Digits are a little on the small side, but this is a relatively minor gripe.
The machine itself is quite small, at just 180cm long and 52cm wide. Though taller people may struggle slightly with it, being on the smaller size means that it will obviously fit better into your home, making it relatively unobtrusive. It has a top weight limit of 100kg, which should suffice for most people. If you’re taller than 6 foot, or built on the heavier side, consider looking elsewhere. Otherwise, the JLL R200 should work well for you.
The JLL R200 is also very comfortable, which is of course a must with any machine that you may be using for longer stretches. The seat is nicely cushioned, keeping that posterior comfortable as you row, and the handles come with some decent padding, so you won’t have to worry too much about callouses. The foot pads are well-designed and comfortable, with pretty decent straps to keep you in place.
It’s also a very quiet machine. Considering you’ll likely be using this at home, this is a big plus. You’ll be able to hear your music or the TV over it and you won’t be annoying the rest of the family as you use it. The movement flows, the flywheel is smooth and the whole ride is very secure and fluid.
All in all, the JLL R200 is a fantastic cheap rowing machine, especially for the price. To use a better word – it’s affordable rather than cheap, gives you everything you need for a comfortable, challenging workout, and doesn’t intrude as much as some of its competitors.
2: ProForm R600 Rowing Machine
The R600 is ProForm’s entry level rowing machine. They make and sell a much wider range, meaning that they’re experts at making a good machine, no matter the cost, however. Though the R600 is generally more expensive than the JLL R200 – justifying the latter’s place at the top of this list – there is good reason for this.
Firstly, you get air resistance with the R600. This may not sound like a big deal, but long-time rowing machine users will know how much more comfortable and user-friendly air resistance can be. Air resistance is generally more customisable – as is the case with the R600 – and will increase with the power of your row, making it perfect for those looking to train sprints or intervals.
The resistance level itself is changed using a lever over the fan, positioned within reach for ease of access. Because you adjust the air resistance manually, the levels of resistance are pretty much infinite between top and bottom – you can make the increments as large or small as you want.
The R600 is also completely foldable. When you’re not using it, simply fold it up and put it in the cupboard, out of sight (though, hopefully, never entirely out of mind.) When unfolded, it’s a little wider and a lot longer than the R200, making it better suited to taller athletes. The seat rail is plenty long enough to accommodate most heights and runs incredibly smoothly. There is a generous top weight limit of 115kg, once more catering to those on the larger side.
Coupled with an ergonomically designed seat cushion, this all results in an incredibly comfortable ride. The handles are well padded and comfortable, and the handles’ resting position is close enough that you don’t have to be a contortionist to reach them (often a concern with even the priciest of rowing machines).
The LCD monitor is large and clear, allowing you to easily read your stats as you go, and contains all the usual suspects of speed, time, calories etc.
If it weren’t for the JLL R200’s incredibly reasonable price, the R600 would blow it out the water.
3: V-Fit Tornado Air Rower
The V-Fit Tornado Air Rower is incredibly well-built for its price… actually, it’s incredibly well-built, full stop. It feels very sturdy and reliable even when you’re pushing hard, with every facet of the machine feeling like care and attention has gone into its crafting.
As you may have guessed from its name, the Tornado uses an air resistance drive chain, much like you get with the R600. As with the R600, this makes a big difference in the feel of the machine and in its resistance customisation. You get a smooth row and operation with the Tornado.
It’s an incredibly comfortable machine as a result of this build quality and design, even more so than many of its competitors. The contoured rubber seat will stay comfy even after extended use (which cannot be said for seats on many cardio machines!) and is built to accommodate athletes up to 115kg, and features a long frame, making the V-Fit Tornado Air Rower appropriate for larger and/or taller athletes.
The footpads feature dual configurations: you can adjust them between two different angles for options on foot positioning. It’s a small thing but it makes a big difference in user comfort and athletic optimisation.
Similarly, you get ergonomically designed handlebars with the Tornado. They feel perfect in your hand and give a good, solid yet remarkably relaxed feeling grip as you train. They are wider than you get on many machines. Again, small things, but they stack up: this wider grip allows you to really get into the width of your lats and upper back muscles as you train (rhomboids and posterior deltoids, in particular).
The Tornado gives you three separate LCD screens, all attached to the centre console. They are well positioned, easy to use and very easily read as you train. They offer the standard array of training data you should expect from any modern rowing machine.
The Tornado can be on the pricey side. However, if you can find a vendor selling them for less, or wait until they are on sale, you can snag one at a decent budget price.
4: JTX Freedom Air Rower V2
The JTX Freedom Air Rower is about as good as it gets for a budget rower. It brings a lot of extra bits and pieces to the table for a pretty modest price, giving some of the more expensive models on the market and, indeed, on this list – a run for their money.
JTX have been working hard on their V2, bringing in some stellar improvements over its baby brother. The frame, made from reinforced aluminium, is incredibly light and elegant but sturdy as anything. In fact, it can handle a whopping top weight of 135kg, making it by far the toughest machine we looked at for this list. If you try it out at the same time as a few more expensive models, you will be surprised at just how well-built it is in comparison.
It’s not just tough, however: the V2 is nifty in its design. Though the frame is on the larger side, it folds in half for storage. The machine itself is self-powered, so you don’t have to worry about setting up near a plug socket and spending extra on the energy meter. You get a full 16 levels of magnetic resistance with the V2, all of which are electronically controlled from a really nicely designed and put together LCD display.
These 16 levels are decently varied – you really can feel the difference as you hop from one to another. This means that you get to perform varied resistance programs on the V2 easily and effectively, making it perfect for HIIT, sprints and so forth. You can progress linearly with a similar ease, always finding somewhere tough to push yourself as you adapt to the rigours of each successive level.
The LCD screen also gives you 8 pre-set programmes to work through, keeping things fresh and giving beginners a good idea of how to structure workouts beyond simple steady state cardio training. With all the usual metrics available on its readout, the LCD screen also gives you the option of a good manual workout, as well. As a really quite incredible bonus, the V2 comes with a chest strap heart rate monitor that it flashes up on the screen for you (perfect for heart rate-based training programmes like Orange Theory and so on).
The seat is as smooth and as comfortable as many of the other machines on this list. The foot pads are secure and well positioned, angled to give you a comfortable foot placement and ride, with good quality adjustable straps.
Overall, it’s a hell of a machine. Though not as cheap as some of the rowing machines you can find, it balances modest pricing with extremely good design very much in the buyer’s favour.
5: Body Sculpture BR1000
The Body Sculpture BR1000 is the cheapest rower on this list. Though you get few frills with it, and though it may seem slightly foolish to compare it to some of the other entries on this list, the price tag alone makes it worth looking at. It can be less than a quarter of the price of some of the pricier items we’ve looked at here!
Therefore, of course, it should be no surprise that you lose out a little on functionality, comfort and utility. I’m not going to flag this as a downside, however. For the price, Body Sculpture have come out with an incredible product.
The BR1000 uses a hydraulic resistance mechanism on its flywheel, rather than air or magnetic resistance, marking it out as pretty distinct from some of its competitors. This brings 12 different resistance levels. Though this is numerically quite standard- many models give around 12 resistance levels- it’s not actually that impressive. Level 1 and level 12 don’t feel anywhere near as different as levels 1 and 12 on comparable models- the range of resistance just isn’t there.
However, you can get around this in a pinch. The BR1000 gives you another option for changing up the resistance. You can adjust the incline to give yourself a more variable cardiovascular challenge. Though this doesn’t mark the BR1000 out for greatness with sprinters and strength-focussed athletes, it makes it a solid option for endurance and heart health.
You would expect the ride quality to be impaired in such a cheap model. This isn’t the case. It’s smooth and comfortable, with a reasonably nice seat and handlebar. Though extended use won’t be as comfortable as on something like the Tornado, it is still far, far better than the BR1000’s price tag would suggest.
The LCD screen is basic but functional. It does its job pretty well. The machine itself is lightweight, at a mere 11kg so will be easily stored. The frame is well-built and sturdy, despite this lightness and, though it won’t give you the most challenging workout, it will give you enough of a push to make it worth the investment.
Overall, a really decent little machine, well worth its price tag and more.
Hopefully, there will be something for you on this list. If you want to spend a bare minimum but still come home with a really well designed, good-quality rowing machine, you have a couple of options, most notably the BR1000 by Body Sculpture. If you want state of the art at a price tag that will still let you pay your rent on time, the JTX Freedom Air Rower is the pick for you. If you want to balance it all, getting value for money whilst maximising workout utility, comfort and high-end design, go for our top pick: the JLL R200 is really quite impressive.
James is a full time personal trainer and an award winning writer with over 10 years of experience behind him. So far, he has helped hundreds of people with their health and fitness through his career.