Water rowing machines vs magnetic vs air-based models: pros and cons

Deciding between water rowing machines vs magnetic vs air-based models? We're here to help

Water rowing machines vs magnetic vs air-based models
(Image credit: Lee Bell)


It can be hard to know where to start comparing water rowing machines vs magnetic vs air-based models. Although they all offer indoor rowing workouts, the way you train will be different for each. 

If you're looking for a full-body workout, then adding any of the best rowing machines to your home gym is a great idea. But with so many options out there, it’s hard to know which model to go for. 

Of course, these machines don't come cheap, but with all the Cyber Monday rowing machine deals, you can pick up home workout equipment at a considerable discount. There are even deals on premium machines from Hydrow, NordicTrack, and ProForm.

Now that price isn't a blocker, you can focus on the merits of water rowing machines vs magnetic vs air-based models. Whether you're an experienced rower or a relative newcomer, let's take a look at the different types of rowing machine and help you decide.

Cyber Monday rowing machine deals: US quick links

Cyber Monday rowing machine deals: UK quick links

Rowing machines on sale now

Hydrow Connected Rower | was $2,294.99, now $1,794.99 at Best Buy

Hydrow Connected Rower | was $2,294.99, now $1,794.99 at Best Buy

This magnetic rowing machine integrates with Hydrow's virtual workout membership, making on-demand and live training programs just a tap away. The 22-inch screen combines workout stats and video streams. Save an incredible $500 on this premium machine right now!

ProForm 750R Smart Rowing Machine with Digital Resistance | was $999.99, now $497.00 at Walmart

ProForm 750R Smart Rowing Machine with Digital Resistance | was $999.99, now $497.00 at Walmart

This foldable rowing machine is half price right now! It comes with a 30-day membership to the iFit digital workout service, 24 magnetic resistance levels, and a 5-year frame warranty for peace of mind. Save a massive $502 right now before the deal ends!

Bluefin Fitness Blade Aqua | was £899, now £809 at Amazon

Bluefin Fitness Blade Aqua | was £899, now £809 at Amazon
Deals on water rowers are rare so this £90 saving is a great discount right now at Amazon. This stunner rower is designed with water resistance in mind, and it's made of sustainable materials. Grab it now while you can!

Stamina DT Pro Rower | was $1,199.99, now $898.99 at Dick's Sporting Goods

Stamina DT Pro Rower | was $1,199.99, now $898.99 at Dick's Sporting Goods

This rowing machine blends magnetic and air resistance to recreate a water-based experience. It has 12 built-in routines, heart rate monitoring, and a durable steel frame with aluminum beams. Get it today for $300 less right now.

NordicTrack RW500 Rower | was $999.99, now $799.99 at Best Buy

NordicTrack RW500 Rower | was $999.99, now $799.99 at Best Buy

If you're after a space-saving foldable rowing machine, this NordicTrack model is ideal. It has 26 levels of magnetic resistance and adjustable pedals to change up your exercise. Get 20% off the NordicTrack rowing machine today before the deal ends.

Air-driven rowing machine

(Image credit: Lee Bell)

 Air-driven rowing machines

The most popular and common type of rowing machine is an air-driven, or fan-based rower. These devices provide resistance by blowing air through a flywheel. Essentially, the harder you pull, the faster the fans will spin and the more resistance you’ll get. 

Most of these machines also feature damper settings, which is essentially a lever that allows more air into the flywheel housing. The more air, the more work it takes to spin the flywheel.

By lowering the damper setting, less air will be let into the flywheel housing, making it easier to spin the flywheel. It’s this mechanism that allows you to control the resistance of your workout, in the same way gears impact the feel of peddling on a bike.

Fan-based rowing machines are probably the best in terms of value and customisation, which is probably why you see them at most commercial gyms. Anyway, here are the main pros and cons of an air-driven rower:

Pros:

  • Air-based rowers are generally smooth, providing a nice balanced rowing experience 
  • Good at replicating real rowing action
  • More accessible in terms of price - generally around the $500-plus range
  • Offer a customisable and wide range of resistances

Cons:

  •  Noisy operation - as you’ve probably witnessed in the gym, air-driven rowers are super loud and will require you to SHOUT LOUDLY to someone else while you're using one!

Magnetic rowing machine

(Image credit: Lee Bell)

Magnetic rowing machines 

As you probably already guessed, a magnetic rower does what an air-driven rower does, but uses magnetism instead. These types of rowers are also very common, although probably not as much as air rowers, which you see everywhere. 

As the name suggests, two strong magnets moving past one another provide the resistance, so there’s no friction. This means that the resistance is noy only quiet, but consistently smooth throughout a workout. These machines can also be pretty cheap to get a hold of, with some budget models starting fairly cheap.

Here are the main pros and cons of a magnetic rower:

Pros:

  • Extremely quietly, almost silent - the quietest kind of rower you can get
  • Generally smaller and more compact than other types of rower
  • Don’t require much maintenance to keep them in good nick
  • Often foldable and lightweight, making them easy to store when it not in use

Cons:

  • Don’t mimic the authentic rowing-on-water feel - those looking to close their eyes and envision rowing for gold in the olympics will be disappointed with this type of machine.

Water rowing machine

(Image credit: Lee Bell)

Water rowing machine

Water rowers are a more modern type of rowing machine, known for their minimal aesthetic and sexy design that makes them more desirable, almost as pieces of art that you can show off with on Instagram. They're just as good when it comes to rowing for weight loss as the other two kinds, but they have a unique attraction all their own.

What makes these machines unique is that they function via a transparent drum full of water that sits just under the footrests. Resistance is created by paddles and water that turn as you row. This fluid mechanism applies resistance throughout your stroke, meaning the harder you row, the more intense the resistance will be.

Here are the main pros and cons of a water rower:

Pros:

  • Unique looking and generally beautiful to look at
  • Quiet and smooth operation
  • Real-life rowing action that feels somewhat mesmerising to both watch and listen to
  • Smooth stroke action limits pressure and potential strains on joints, back, and hip flexors

Cons:

  • Price - these types of machines are by far the most expensive, and often retail in the thousands. Gulp. Still, worth it if you’re a budding rower looking for a decent, all-round machine that looks the part, too.

Water rowing machines vs magnetic vs air-based models: which is right for you?

There’s no “one for all” when it comes to rowing machines, it all depends on your needs. While an air-driven machine is the most common and also most all-rounded in terms of features and accessibility, a magnetic model might be a better purchase if noise (and price) is a big issue for you. 

However, if money is no object then it’s fair to say that water rowers are generally the best people-pleasers of the lot thanks to their ability to mimic the real feel of rowing through water, a generally more stylish appearance, and not sounding like you’ve ignited a jet engine in your living room when you’re using one. The choice is yours.