Think of smart home gyms, and there’s one brand name most likely to come to mind: Peloton. Now think of the pieces of equipment you associate most with smart fitness at home, and odds are, you’ll think of bikes, treadmills – and that’s possibly about it?
There’s another station “traditional” home gyms usually incorporate, however, and that’s the good ol’ rowing machine, that reliable staple someone always told you is the best full-body workout you’ll get from any of the three.
Peloton does those first two machines better than anyone (that’s why the brand is so popular). But Peloton doesn’t make a rower – and, depending on who and what you believe, one is either likely to be on the way or nowhere on the horizon.
The competition is already on it, though, and rowers are particularly suited to connected technology. Here’s why you shouldn’t overlook them as an option for your home workouts.
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Why a rowing machine?
Many home-gym owners swear by their rowing machines.
Unlike treadmills and stationary bikes, rowers provide a full-body workout – utilizing your legs, arms, and pendulum movement that engages your back and core. And unlike treadmills and ellipticals, rowers are non-weight-bearing, so even longer workouts spare you heavy impact on the joints.
Rowing also suits HIIT (high-intensity interval training). As a cardio workout, the benefits most users can get from the activity are impressive, from both performance and general fitness standpoints.
Rowing only burns slightly fewer calories on average than running while being low-impact on your joints and working out your whole body instead of just your legs. It promotes weight loss and muscle gain, and evidence suggests it also promotes heart health.
And for the many among us who exercise at least in part to keep a trim figure or to lose some of the weight that places a burden on our joints and bodies, clinical studies show that the use of a rowing machine “significantly decreases… fat mass and total body fat,” including belly fat, by kicking up your heart rate and providing a high-interval workout most users can undergo for longer periods than alternatives that take a higher impact on the joints and system.
Rowers are relatively quiet and take up less space – some even fold up – and they’re safe for users of all fitness levels.
With that in mind, let’s look at the best-connected rowers out there – all of them excellent alternatives to consider while Peloton makes up their minds.
NORDICTRACK RW900 ROWER
NordicTrack, arguably Peloton’s leading competitor in the field, already makes a smart rower of their own.
The RW900 uses a combined air-and-magnetic drag mechanism (rather than the old-fashioned flywheel) and live adjustable resistance control. Users can choose one of 26 resistance levels to tailor the difficulty and intensity of their workouts.
It moves smoothly, beautifully designed, and its obvious selling point is NordicTrack’s usual iFit membership integration (individual and family memberships available at different price points.)
Using the rower’s 22” fully-rotating HD touchscreen, iFit members can access a massive library of classes and programs for all fitness levels, led by professional trainers, both rower-specific workouts and other training.
Purchasing this rower includes a 30-Day iFIT Family Membership. Once that complementary membership lapses, you can renew it or use it in manual mode without an iFit subscription—the subscription is not required.
Automatic Trainer Control even means your trainer can adjust your rower’s digital resistance to tailor the intensity of your workout even further, just like being with your personal trainer in the gym, and customized daily sessions are suggested to guide you in tailoring the right fitness plan for you.
The stat-tracking tech is top-notch, too, and fully automated.
- 30-Day iFIT Family Membership Included; Stream live & on-demand workouts on your equipment with...
- 22” HD Interactive Touchscreen Display streams on-demand iFIT workouts into your home directly on...
- Luxurious design along with high comfort
- Unparalleled smart HD touchscreen
- Fully adjustable resistance settings
- iFit training app subscription (free for the first 30 days)
- It can be folded vertically for storage
- A full 10-Year Frame warranty, 2-Year Parts warranty, and 1-Year Labor warranty
- Integrates with Apple Health and a variety of other apps, including Garmin Connect, Google Fit, and Strava
- Can you without iFit membership in manual mode
- Some purchasers found that their rower did not include the code for the complementary iFit membership and needed to contact iFit customer support to get that information when they provided proof of purchase
NORDICTRACK RW600 ROWER
The RW600 is NordicTrack’s affordable sibling to the RW900, at essentially half the price (the RW600 currently retails directly from NordicTrack for $999, including threshold delivery).
A slightly older model, the RW500, is also on sale at $799 at the time of writing, though it is unclear how long stock of this one lasts.
The RW600 has a small touchscreen than the RW900 (10 inches compared to 22 inches), and, unlike the RW900’s screen, it doesn’t rotate.
But the rowing experience isn’t all that different: both machines offer 26 resistance levels over two forms of resistance, both come with a free 30-Day iFIT Family Membership, both fold, both offer Bluetooth audio, and both come with resistance controls and automatic trainer control during classes.
Hydrow’s machine rivals NordicTrack’s in nearly every way. It’s beautifully designed, and its electromagnetic drag mechanism is even more sensitive than Nordic’s: it can be adjusted on a scale from 1 to 300.
Setting 104 is what rowing on real water would be like, and the Hydrow, as its name suggests, takes pride in making the rower feel like it is, actually, on the water, reproducing the mechanisms of the real thing.
Part of feeling like you’re on the water is an immersive experience, and Hydrow delivers here too.
It also comes with a 22” touchscreen with fantastic speakers. The Hydrow App provides users with access to scenic on-the-water workouts, live real-time workouts with leading rowing athletes, and further yoga, pilates, and strength training classes, similar to iFit’s offerings.
Another cool little thing about the Hydrow?
Since it’s obsessed with water, it also has an in-built feature that adds up your strokes – and counts them towards contributions to Water.org, a non-profit that provides safe water to the developing world. Not a key feature, but it’s a positive, ingenious bit of extra motivation.
- HIGH-ENERGY & LOW IMPACT: Engage more than 86% of major muscle groups in full-body, low-impact...
- IMMERSIVE WORKOUTS: The Hydrow Rower features a 22" HD rotating touchscreen display and front-facing...
- Luxurious design
- High comfort
- Smart HD touchscreen
- It mimics the feel of being on the water
- Live and scenic on-the-water workouts via the Hydrow app
- It can be stored upright (with an additional $69.99 kit), so good for those with a bit less space
- Five-year structural warranty and one year warranty on everything else (components) with paid options to extend your warranty on everything else to two or three years
- Membership includes unlimited profiles for your whole family
- Can connect and sync to Strava
- At $2,245, considerably more expensive than even NordicTrack’s comparable rower
- Membership is required upon activation of your Hydrow to access workouts on the Hydrow and via the Hydrow App. Without membership, only Just Row mode works, and rower functionality is limited
- Hydrow membership is more expensive than the iFit membership, does not offer a complimentary trial, and also offers a less impressive library of offerings than iFit
- It does not integrate with Apple Health but does integrate with Strava
The Ergatta is gorgeous: it’s uniquely hand-built to each order out of oiled cherry wood and designed as much with interior design in mind as anything else.
It uses a traditional water resistance mechanism rather than a computer-controlled system, which may feel less customizable, but a) looks great, b) actually sounds like rowing with each stroke, and c) still adjusts to your lead since the water resistance adapts naturally to the strength of each stroke.
It stores easily, too: it can be folded upright into the space “of a barstool.”
So if you don’t have a dedicated home gym, and if you don’t want part of your living space to look like a sad little sort-of-gym, the Ergatta is a winner on that front already. It’s the only machine here beautiful enough to sit by your coffee table.
Ergatta’s membership stands out also: instead of trainer-led classes, Ergata’s sessions are conceived to feel like competitive gaming.
You’ll get virtual races with users of similar fitness, goal-based games, monthly challenges, and even global leaderboards.
It’s a great idea if you’re one of the many people who exercise best when distracted or having fun, rather than being pushed by a personal trainer or left to your self-motivation.
Ergatta also has regular philanthropic challenges, whereby Ergatta donates a small sum to a certain non-profit for every user who completes the challenge. Just another way to stay motivated.
Purchase an Ergatta directly from the manufacturer.
- Aesthetically beautiful
- High comfort
- Hand-made in the USA
- Smaller touchscreen (17.3”) than the competition
- Can be stored upright
- Limited one year warranty upgradable to 3 years
- You get a unique gaming-style membership program at a discounted rate for the first year with one month free. Membership includes unlimited profiles for the whole family, with each profile calibrated to that user
- Integrates and syncs with Strava
- Expensive at $2,199. Membership costs an additional $29/month or $348/year
- No off-rower workouts, no trainer workouts, no instruction on rowing form or technique
- The gaming-style graphics of the workout sessions won’t be for everybody
- To get a three-year warranty, you must upgrade for an additional fee
- Membership is not required to use Ergatta but does limit features
- It does not integrate with Apple Health but does connect to Strava. There are plans to connect to Apple Health in the future
The Echelon Row is the most traditional of the machines on this list.
It’s built with an electronically-controlled flywheel design that is less eye-catching than its rivals’ patented drag mechanisms. Other than for the rotating 22” HD screen (not touch), it looks pretty much like your standard rower.
But it packs a punch all the same due to a handful of smart design components that elevate it for performance.
The seat movement is smooth, and the handlebar comes with a resistance toggle, so you can easily adjust the resistance as you row.
It collapses for storage without the need for any add-ons, even if it takes up a bit more space when folded than the Hydrow or the Ergatta.
The Row-S’s real weak point has been Echelon’s United membership program. It’s more expensive than the competition, and users complained that many workout videos were simply recordings of trainers on mats in front of white walls. But things are improving.
For folks that like integrating with their wearables, the Echelon is the one machine on the list that syncs with Apple, Strava, and Fitbit with metrics like distance, speed, time, and calories.
- Echelon Premier Membership: Join Echelon Premier to get free access for 30 days to over 3,000 live...
- Multiple Features: This rowing machine workout has a 22" Rotating HD screen for interactive workout...
- 22” rotating HD screen
- Smooth and comfortable
- It can be folded for storage
- Membership is for the family and allows up to 5 total users
- Apple Health, Strava, and Fitbit integration
- Pricey, both the machine at $1,999.99 and the Echelon United membership at $40/mo
- 12-month limited parts and labor warranty
- Expensive membership offering, though you get discounts if signing up for a year or two-year membership
- Generally less wow than the competition: no touchscreen, no computer-controlled resistance adjustments
The RowErg, by Concept2, is the first of several notable smart rower options you can find in a lower price band than those offered by NordicTrack and other higher-profile brand names.
Concept2 is a name well-known to rowers themselves, however. Founded in the 1970s by Olympic rower Dick Dreissigacker and his brother Peter, also a competitive rower, the company’s Indoor Rower is the best-selling traditional rowing machine in the world.
Accordingly, the RowErg is designed to closely emulate the feeling of real competitive club rowing, with minimal seat movement but a free-to-move footrest, recreating the feeling of sitting in a set position on a boat with your feet free.
Add the Concept2 Slide for an on-water feel and connect multiple RowErgs for group or team training.
This rower does not include a fancy color screen or a monthly membership subscription, unlike our other picks. But you can easily connect your own mobile tablet or phone to the rower via its integrated device holder for a large screen experience!
The company’s Dynamic Link accessory, sold separately for $60, enables multiple users to connect their rowers – up to eight of them in total, requiring a Link for every connection – to practice as a team boat. This is a machine that holds serious club rowers in mind first and foremost.
It’s a substantial baseline standard. For everyday users, the machine folds, though, into a bulkier shape than most of the other rowers on this list, and its PM5 monitor is compatible with third-party apps, including Zwift and Regatta.
Although the Concept2 Indoor Rower does not connect directly with Apple Health, you can use their free app, ErgData, and a Logbook account to sync your workout data to Strava and Garmin Connect.
The seat, though ergonomically designed, is flatter and narrower and not as comfortable for all body types as those on some of Concep2’s rivals. Plus, the Concept2 RowErg is now available with either standard or tall legs, so it fits more body types and sizes.
- Indoor rowing is an effective full-body and low-impact workout; flywheel design minimizes noise...
- Includes the performance monitor 5, giving you accurate, comparable data for every row; Adjustable...
- The closest experience to real club rowing
- Only $900 ($1,050 for the model with elevated seat and tall legs) and no membership needed
- Designed for the club, gym, and commercial use and made for durability
- Backed by a limited 2-year and 5-year warranty
- No dedicated membership offering other than the RowErg app, which is more of an old-school log and performance monitor
- Limited third-party app integration
- Quite loud when in use
- It does not integrate with Apple Health but does sync with Strava and Garmin Connect
- At the time of writing, supply times for Concept2’s rowers are reported to be slow and erratic
In conclusion, rowers are an underestimated choice for the home-gym user, especially now that it’s possible to row at home and receive personal training, guidance on form, and technique with the advent of smart technology and fitness memberships that maximize the machine for your objectives.
These rowers may sound pricey, but if you need one machine to work your entire body, nothing else compares.
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