Best Compact Rowing Machine - The Ultimate Buyer's Guide

​Compact rowing machines are among the most highly recommended types of equipment for taking your home gym to the next level. Whether you are a complete beginner or have always have dreams of leading your local rowing team to the next championship, owning a rowing machine is the perfect way to train at home. Rowing machines give your body a complete workout without all of the jumping or jarring. Plus, a home rowing machine lets your train at your own pace and then store it away until your next workout session. With plenty of options available on the market, selecting the right rower can feel challenging at first. The following guide to the best compact rowing machines takes the mystery out of choosing the perfect rower so that you can get a fantastic full-body workout every time.

Our Top Rated Compact Rowing Machines

#1st Rated

Concept2 Model D 

#2nd Rated

Fitness Reality 1000

#3rd Rated

Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515

Choosing the Best Compact Rowing Machine - The Ultimate Buyer's Guide
The use of compact rowing machines has exploded in popularity among U.S. households. According to the Consumer Expenditure Survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of compact rowing machines on the market have doubled in the last decade alone. Once associated mainly with varsity crew, rowing is now popular among most exercise enthusiasts as a great way to get a total-body workout.

Compact rowing workouts are low impact by design. However, the steady exertion required to use a rower is still enough effectively reach your target heart rate in order to build cardiovascular endurance. In this way, rowing is a great alternative to other cardio workouts (such as jogging) that are otherwise harder on the joints, ankles, or knees. Individuals with joint pain or in other rehabilitative states can appreciate completing a full-body cardio exercises while remaining seated throughout the workout.

In addition to cardio endurance, the natural motion of operating a rower is a great way to sculpt and strengthen all of the major muscle groups (such as quadriceps, hamstrings, buttocks, lower abdominal muscles, upper back, shoulders, and arm muscles). Whereas a treadmill might be great for aerobic exercise, a compact rowing machine combines elements of aerobics, sculpting, resistance training, and toning for an efficient workout without negatively impacting your joints. Using a rowing machine is an easy way to design a complete workout regimen without ever needing to leave the house.

Choosing the Best Compact Rowing Machine - The Most Important Criteria
The best compact rowing machines support cardiovascular strength and fitness from the privacy and convenience of home. But what are the most important factors for choosing your home workout equipment? Keep in mind the following criteria to save yourself the time and expense of trips to the gym.

When purchasing your compact rower machine, it is important to ensure that it has the capacity to support your workout goals and lifestyle needs. For example, if you are currently overweight or very tall, make a note of the manufacturer recommended capacity to verify that the machine accommodates your needs. You should also make sure that the build quality to withstand the amount of time you plan to use the machine. For instance, a family of four that plans to work out multiple times a week may need a much more durable machine than a single apartment-dweller who plans to use the machine only once weekly.

Space-efficiency is one of the top benefits of compact rowing machines. Unlike traditional clunky equipment that takes up a lot of room, these compact machines are usually easy to set up, move, and store. However, you will still need to decide on the right type of storage method depending on whether you live in an apartment, condominium, or house. The top brands tend to include options such as stationary rowing machines, portable rowing machines, folding rowing machines, or upright rowing machines. Many portable rowing machines even include transport wheels for easy mobility. Be sure to select the best option regardless of whether you plan to keep the machine under the bed, in the closet, or conveniently transported from room to room.

Now the fun begins. Selecting the resistance type is one of the most important factors in choosing a home rowing machine. Resistance determines the intensity of the workout, and the type of resistance also helps simulate the conditions of rowing or crew that would take place outdoors. There are four major rowing machine resistance types: air resistance, water resistance, magnetic resistance, and hydraulic-piston resistance.

Air Resistance - Air-resistance machines use a spinning-fan flywheel mechanism to produce just the right amount of resistance. To operate this type of rowing machine, the rower pulls the machine handle to make the flywheel to spin and produce air or wind. The amount of air produced depends on how hard the rower can pull the handle, and any increase in air means it is more difficult to pull the handle. As a result, there is a direct relationship between how hard you can pull the handle and how much resistance you can achieve in your workout.

Because resistance is manual and depends entirely on the user, air rowers are popular for HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts, CrossFit workouts, and Olympic training. Many beginners also like that air rowers have sturdy and secure footing for smooth rowing. Finally, air rowers are consistently the most popular option for people interested in weight loss or a full-body workout. The downside? Flywheels are mechanical and make a "whooshing" sound, so some air rowers can make quite a bit of noise.

Water Resistance - As the name implies, water-resistance rowing machines use paddles suspended in a tank of water to create resistance. To operate this type of machine, the rower pulls the handle to make the paddle spin in the water tank. The harder the rower pulls the handle, the faster the paddles spin and the tougher the resistance. You can think of this process as very similar to using paddles to row a boat. The harder you paddle, the faster you can go - but you will also have to overcome a lot of resistance due to the drag of the water.

Like the air-resistance machines, a water-resistance machine is manual/variable and depends entirely on the user. The primary difference is the machine uses water instead of air to create the drag or resistance. However, you can further customize the experience by adjusting the amount of water in the tank. Using less water can make you feel as if you are rowing on a stream. In contrast, using more water can simulate rivers or rapids. This type of rower is popular among people of all fitness levels who enjoy the comfort of outdoor simulation.

Magnetic Resistance - Magnetic rowers use a metal flywheel and magnetic brake to streamline resistance. The rower pulls the handle to cause the metal to spin. As the metal flywheel spins, the opposing magnetic moves closer and further away to produce resistance. Since resistance is magnetic instead of manual, it produces no friction and results in a much quieter machine.

This type of rowing machine is popular among people of every fitness level since it combines the flywheel-resistance of an air rower with the quietness of a hydraulic-piston rower. It tends to be a popular option for people who like to work out while watching television or reading a magazine, and since magnetism creates a smooth glide, it is also a great choice for beginners. However, very advanced or professional athletes might prefer a different type of machine that requires 100-percent manual resistance.

Hydraulic-Piston Resistance - Hydraulic-piston rowing machines use a cylinder attached to the handlebar to create resistance. The machine can have two pistons (one attached to each handle) or one central piston (meaning the rower just holds on to either side of the giant handle). A rower operates the machine by turning a knob on the piston. For most machines, levels can range from 1.0 to 8.0 as fluid moves in and out of the piston. This motion creates resistance.

Since hydraulic-piston machines allow you to work either side of the body, these machines are popular for targeted workouts and rehabilitative exercises. The machines also tend to be quiet, making them a convenient choice for those who share apartments and homes. Many fitness experts recommend using these rowers approximately 20 minutes at a time, so the hydraulic-piston option is an appropriate choice for those who want to commit to completing at least one quick cardio workout every day.

Some brands have combined the best qualities of air-resistance machines and magnetic-resistance machines to produce a fifth category known as the hybrid or combination Air-Magnetic Resistance rower. Users can find this new style by searching for an amazon rowing machine and selecting from a range of prices. Most fold up for easy storage, so this is a viable option for exercisers who want the best of both worlds in resistance styles.

Monitor Function
The monitor functionality is another factor you should consider when looking at a compact rowing machine. If you plan to track your own timing and data, then you would probably be okay with a small rowing machine that does not provide timer or statistics. However, if you need to connect to a monitor or record 2K and 5K race times, you may need to choose the best compact rowing machine with a full display screen for tracking data accuracy. Keep in mind that even if you have your heart set on a portable rowing machine that does not feature a display screen, you can also use a wearable fitness app to monitor your stats without giving up on the rowing machine that you want.

The 10 Best Compact Rowing Machines for Home Use:

1. Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine for Home Use

Best Features: With thousands of positive reviews and a coveted seal of approval from Olympic athletes, the Concept2 Model D has a solid reputation as the best compact rowing machine. Featuring high-quality air resistance, this compact rowing machine is a popular fixture in training facilities for CrossFit, UFC, Motorcross, and professional U.S. rowing athletics. But since the Model D uses a lightweight plastic fan and easy-assembly pieces, it is the ideal portable rowing machine for home use as well.

Use the Concept2 Model D to get a low-impact workout that engages the legs, arms, and core in the privacy of your own home. Plus, the built-in Performance Monitor 5 (PM5) lets you track your data in real time. The compact rower machine also features a 14-inch high seat, adjustable footrests, and caster wheels for transport from room to room.


  • One of the best-loved compact portable rowing machines on the market
  • Suitable for everyone from beginners to professional athletes
  • Facilitates low-impact workout for arms, legs, and core conditioning
  • Includes Performance Monitor 5 (PM5) display for tracking real-time data; LCD display screen is also wireless-compatible
  • Features 14-inch high seat and adjustable footrests
  • Includes caster wheels for easy assembly
  • Easy assembly with only eight screws required; stores easily by separating into two smaller units
  • 500-pound user capacity; great for taller or heavier users
  • Minimal noise (relative to other air-resistance rowing machines)
  • Includes illustrated manual and instructions


  • N/A

2. Fitness Reality 1000 Magnetic Rower Compact Rowing Machine for Home Use

Best Features: Those looking for a vetted fold up rowing machine can rest assured that Fitness Reality 1000 meets even the most stringent of requirements. Because it is a streamlined magnetic rowing machine, it is an excellent choice for beginner and intermediate users.

The Fitness Reality 1000 magnetic rowing machine facilitates a low-impact workout for your forearms, biceps, triceps, shoulders, legs, and thighs. With a slide rail length of 39 inches and additional exercises included, this machine can help you achieve a great workout from hip to toe.

The compact rower machine includes a large LCD display screen that records distance, time, and calories burned. In addition, the rower machine is Bluetooth compatible with a free Android or iOS fitness app included. A cushioned seat, foam-grip handlebars, and patent-pending foot stabilizer pads complete the package.


  • Highly popular fold up rowing machine that enables easy storage
  • Magnetic rowing machine that facilitates a low-impact workout for forearms, biceps, triceps, shoulders, legs, and thighs
  • Slide rail length of 39 inches and patent-pending foot stabilizer pads for additional workouts like upright rows, triceps extensions, or standing shoulder presses
  • Large LCD display screen that show istance, time, and calories burned
  • Bluetooth-smart fitness with free app available for Android and iOS
  • Includes comfortable cushioned seat and foam-grip handlebars
  • 350-lb user capacity
  • Low noise level


  • May not provide enough tension beyond beginner and intermediate levels

3. Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 Magnetic Rowing Machine for Home Use 

Best Features: The Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 model is a portable rowing machine with adjustable magnetic resistance for every fitness level. This magnetic rowing machine features eight settings to match each stage of your fitness journey. With its extra-long slide rail length of 48 inches and non-slip foot pedals, this rower is also suitable for users of nearly every height.

The rowing machine includes a large LCD console display for tracking time and total calories. Finally, these portable rowing machines include built-in transportation wheels for moving and storing the machine without heavy lifting or excess muscle strain.


  • Portable rowing machine with built-in transport wheels for easy mobility and storage
  • Magnetic resistance rowing machine adjustable to eight levelsExtra-long slide rail perfect for taller users
  • Includes large LCD console display for tracking time and total calories
  • Foam-grip handlebars and non-slip foot pedals for security
  • 250-lb capacity


  • Not as quiet as other magnetic resistance machines

4. JOROTO Magnetic Rower Rowing Machine for Home Use

Best Features: If you are in search of a noiseless rowing machine, the JOROTO rower famously fits the bill. Featuring an aluminum flywheel, seamless aluminum slide rail, and no-touch magnetic resistance mechanism, this is a quiet rower machine ideal for indoor noise levels. The resistance also adjusts higher than average at 10 levels, so you can always bring additional challenge to your workouts.

This small rowing machine takes up less storage space by standing upright when not in use, and it also includes two caster wheels for easy transport and mobility. It also includes a digital monitor to track calories and time as well as a phone holder for watching fitness classes or movies during your workout session.


  • Quiet indoor rowing machine featuring aluminum flywheel, aluminum slide rail, and no-touch magnetic resistance
  • 10 levels of adjustable resistance
  • Features upright storage for minimal use of space; includes two caster wheels for transport
  • Includes digital monitor for time and calorie count
  • Wide cushioned seat and foam handlebars for comfortable grip
  • 250-lb weight capacity


  • Display monitor does not measure distance

5. Stamina ATS Air Compact Rower Machine for Home Use

Best Features: Those interested in the dynamic qualities of the best air-resistance rowing machines need look no further than the Stamina ATS Air compact rower machine. This compact rowing machine features a manual design so that resistance is variable and always matches your unique pace. In this way, you can train as lightly or intensely as you need to from the privacy of your home.

Even though it is a small rowing machine, the efficient design works up to 86-percent of the muscular system. A large LCD display monitor tracks speed, distance, time, and calories. The upholstered seat and handles ensure comfort throughout your workout, and the folding style ensures easy storage.


  • Small, folding rowing machine for simple and convenient storage
  • Air-resistance rowing machine means that you control the intensity of the workout
  • Compact design works up to 86-percent of the muscular system
  • Large LCD display monitor tracks speed, distance, time, and calories
  • Upholstered seat and padded handles for a comfortable workout
  • 250-lb weight capacity


  • Pulley system is noisier than other models

6. MaxKare Water Rowing Machine for Home Use

Best Features: If you need a machine that simulates the reality of rowing on water, then the MaxKare folding rowing machine is an excellent option for you. This water-resistance rowing machine features an ergonomic design that matches the feel of real strokes on water, making your rowing experience both challenging and realistic. It features a large LCD monitor that displays time and calories as well as distance and SPM (stroke per minute). 

After your workout, the fold up rowing machine includes a safety mode for storing the rower upright in any location.


  • High-quality folding rowing machine for easy storage
  • Water-resistance rower machine with ergonomic design that simulates real strokes on water
  • Large LCD monitor tracks time, calories, distances, and strokes per minute
  • Fold up rowing machine with safety lock for upright storage
  • 264-lb weight capacity


  • Must drain water after use to ensure product lifespan

7. Merax Water Rowing Machine for Home Use

Best Features: The Merax Water Rowing Machine is another great option for individuals who want a water-resistance rowing machine with the flavor and feel of the great outdoors. This rowing machine features an elegant upright water tank that offers powerful resistance for fitness and sports enthusiasts.

The smooth glide simulates the feel of rowing on open water while keeping the machine much quieter than similar models. A large LCD monitor displays duration, strokes, calories, distance, and heart rate, and the rower also includes built-in wheels for easy mobility and storage.


  • Best compact rowing machine for high water-resistance
  • Inclined water tank provides more resistance than many flat models
  • Smooth glide keeps machine quieter than comparable models
  • LCD monitor displays duration, strokes, calories, distance, and heart rate
  • Built-in wheels for easy transport and storage
  • Contoured seat and footrests ensure a comfortable workout
  • 330-lb weight capacity


  • Handlebar style may block additional movements

8. Circuit Fitness Rowing Machine for Home Use

Best Features: If you have ever been interested in circuit training, the aptly named Circuit Fitness rowing machine is a great option. It features adjustable resistance settings of up to eight levels, allowing you to control the intensity of your own workout. The highly advanced LCD monitor displays speed, distance, time, date, calories, SPM (strokes per minute), and ambient temperature so that you can keep track important workout data.

This rowing machine's heavy-duty steel and aluminum frame keeps you steady at the highest intensity levels, and padded seating and handlebars ensure comfort during exercise. As a folding rowing machine, the rower stores easily in the location of your choosing.


  • Circuit-training rowing machine with resistance settings up to eight levels
  • Advanced LCD monitor displays speed, distance, time, date, calories, SPM (strokes per minute), and ambient temperature
  • Made of heavy-duty steel and aluminum for durability
  • Padded seating and handlebars for comfort during exercise
  • Folding rowing machine with transport wheels for easy and convenient storage
  • 300-lb weight capacity


  • Rail length may be shorter than ideal for individuals who are well over 6 feet tall

9. Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine for Home Use

Best Features: The Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 has consistently ranked among the best hydraulic-piston rowing machines. It features two handlebars for the full range-of-motion sensation of rowing over water. The small rowing machine allows you to adjust resistance to match your fitness level, and electronic monitor display provides stats to keep you focused and motivated.

 In addition, the contoured seat and textured footplates place this model among the most comfortable portable rowing machines. As a recommended fold up rowing machine, this rower's arms tuck in nicely after use for convenient storage in any location.


  • High-quality small rowing machine for home use
  • Hydraulic-piston resistance mechanism that you can adjust to match your natural fitness level
  • Electronic monitor display keeps you focused and motivated
  • Contoured seat, textured footplates, and padded handles ensure a comfortable workout
  • Folds easily for convenient storage
  • 250-lb. weight capacity


  • Machine may be louder at the highest resistance levels

10. Lanos Hydraulic Rowing Machine for Home Use

Best Features: The Lanos is a top-rated portable rowing machine for individuals who love the self-empowerment of adjustable resistance. It features a hydraulic-piston resistance operation that simulates the full-motion action of rowing on water. The hydraulic-piston mechanism also lets you control the intensity level of your own workout with the simple turn of a knob. 

You can also use the inclined handlebars to exercise your arms and chest while getting a low-impact workout for your lower body. This rowing machine has a large LCD monitor that displays time, strokes, and calories, and the smart function automatically updates workout metrics every six seconds. The contoured seat, pivoting footplates, and safety straps ensure a comfortable workout every time.


  • Top-rated hydraulic-piston rowing machine
  • Adjustable intensity levels with the turn of a knob
  • LCD monitor displays time, strokes, and calories; smart function automatically updates workout metrics every six seconds.
  • Contoured seat, pivoting footplates, and safety straps for a secure workout
  • 250-lb weight capacity


  • Batteries not included

The Bottom Line
Compact rowing machines are some of the most popular options available for low-impact cardio workouts. In addition to the aerobic benefits, the natural rowing action can help sculpt and tone muscles without excess strain on the body's joints. While using a great rowing machine once required a visit to a fitness center or gym, the availability of small, portable options means that you can always keep this equipment at home and ready to use.

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