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The Best Water Rowing Machine for 2021

Nov 1, 2021 Homethletic

If I could only choose one single piece of exercise equipment, then without question I'd go for a water rowing machine. The reason being that most exercise machines will target one or two muscle groups. A rowing machine, on the other hand, targets multiple muscle groups, estimated to be 65-75% leg and 25-35% upper body.

That means with a rowing machine, you get a complete, full-body, cardio workout. One study showed that basic fitness and muscle strength were significantly improved by using a rowing machine 3 days a week for just 8 weeks.

So you only need that one machine, to increase your level of physical fitness, burn those calories, build that lean muscle – and get the body you always wanted.

All good rowing machines will do that, but if you want the same resistance that you’d get if you were actually rowing through water, coupled with the most authentic audio and sensory rowing in-water experience you could get, then you need to get a water rowing machine above any other type of rowing machine.

With that in mind, I’ve narrowed our search down from the myriad of water rowing machines out to find and review the best water rowing machine according to each of the categories listed below. I’ve put together this quick guide to help you find the perfect one according to your budget and needs.

Who is it ForProduct
Best Water Rowing MachineSunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge Water Rowing Machine
Best Mid-Price Range Water Rower
Sunny Health & Fitness Phantom
Best Budget Water Rowing Machine
MaxKare Water Rowing Machine
Premium Pick - Best Wooden Water Rowing Machine
WaterRower Blanc Rowing Machine
Another Water Rowing Machine to Consider
Mr Rudolf Water Rowing Machine

The Best Water Rowing Machines Reviewed

Best Water Rowing Machine: Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge Water Rowing Machine

For an under $500 machine, the Obsidian Surge without a doubt is the best one to go for, hitting that sweet spot where you get high-quality at an affordable price.

Built like a tank, with a maximum weight capacity of 300lbs, this machine’s sturdy steel construction, and adjustable floor stabilizers keep this machine stable, (even on an uneven floor) to give you a solid wobble-free workout.

A flywheel and 16 corrosion-resistant fan blades are designed to simulate the resistance (or fluid drag) that you’d get with competitive rowing.

Adding or reducing the amount of water in the tank lets you set six levels of resistance. And to give you a challenge, the Obsidian has an additional mode to “manual” called “race“. There’s even a “recovery” mode to help you cool down.

What I especially love about the Obsidian Surge is that it makes it so easy to keep tabs on your physical fitness. The machine is compatible with any ANT+ heart rate technology, so it works with your own heart monitor to give you a fitness readout at the end of your workout.

Plus you get a wide range of data, the Digital R2 Fitness Meter monitor displays your time, average time per 500M, strokes per minute, distance, strokes, total strokes, calories burned, pulse, calendar, ambient temperature, and clock.

The Obsidian’s sleek design, looks the part for the modern home gym, it’s not foldable, but you can store it upright against a wall if you the space.

One thing the Obsidian doesn’t have, that the Sunny Health & Fitness Phantom does, is an inclined tank. But that’s really just icing on the cake.

What I Like:

  • Compatible with any ANT+ heart rate technology
  • Equipped with a Digital R2 Fitness Meter Monitor | Which displays time, time/500M, strokes per minute, distance, strokes, total strokes, calories burned, pulse, calendar, ambient temperature, and clock.
  • Provides Six Levels of Water Resistance
  • Has a Well- Built Strong Construction | Steel frame.
  • Can Be Stored Upright | Even with water in the tank.
  • Comes with a Pack of Water Purifiers | For easy water maintenance.
  • Comes with a Race Mode Option | To present you with a bit of a challenge.

Best Mid Price Range Water Rower: Sunny Health & Fitness Phantom

The inclined water tank on this rower takes this machine a step higher in price than the Obsidian.

The one major difference between this one and the Obsidian (and basically what you get at this next price level) is a 60-degree angled water bell.

Now, apart from the advantage of being more space-efficient, which could also be a buying factor if you are limited on space, the incline of the water tank is specifically designed to give the machine a much more authentic rowing experience by more closely simulating the rowing action of oars moving through water.

You see the angle of the tank uses gravity to provide more resistance than you’d get with a horizontal tank. The blades need more force to lift the water, as opposed to just push through it. It replicates more closely what actually happens to the oars when competitive rowing in a real-life situation.

The readout on the monitor (which swivels) gives you all the stats you’ll need. It displays your time, time/500M, stroke per minute, distance, strokes, total strokes, calories, pulse, calendar, temperature, and clock.

Like the Obsidian, you get the “race” mode in addition to the manual mode, and there’s also a “recovery” mode – for use with your own chest strap.

The Phantom is a great option if you don't have much space and need to store the machine away. Unlike the Obsidian Surge which can only be stored upright, the Phantom is actually foldable.

Looks-wise, this one doesn’t give off quite the same contemporary vibe as the Obsidian, that might be because the Obsidian Surge's all-black look, makes it look sleeker, but Phantom the looks like a serious piece of home gym equipment and it is. A nice little touch is the convenient water bottle holder.

What I Like:

  • This Model is Foldable | For easy storage. Though if saving space is paramount for you the Merax does have a smaller footprint.
  • Comes with a 60 Degree Angled Water Tank | For a highly authentic rowing in-water experience. The water tank is also designed to provide additional water resistance.
  • Equipped with Good Display Monitor | Which displays time, time/500M, strokes per minute, distance, strokes, total strokes, calories burned, pulse, calendar, ambient temperature, and clock.
  • Comes with a Race Mode Option | To present you with a bit of a challenge.

Best Budget Water Rowing Machine: MaxKare Water Rowing Machine

Here’s a great little budget water rowing machine – an ideal entry-level machine to get you hooked on rowing.

I particularly like the large (and adjustable) LCD display.

The machine’s display shows you time, SPM (Strokers per minute), distance, strokes, and calories burned.

Reading your pulse on the display (apparently you need a 5hz unit) is a bit hit and miss, but it’s easy just to use a Fitbit or Apple watch instead, or, you can just go old school and take things at your own pace.

This is a well-built, sturdy machine. A little more basic than our last two options, but it does have a nice little touch – it also comes with a competition mode to give you a bit of a challenge.

Our Premium Pick – Best Wooden Water Rowing Machine: WaterRower Blanc Rowing Machine

What the Concept 2 is to air rowers, (and “gold standard” pretty much sums them up) this, handcrafted, from American sourced hardwood ash wood, rowing machine by WaterRower is the water rowing machine to aspire to.

Above the $1000 mark, it is pricey, but compare it to the cost of a gym membership and it will practically, (sooner or later, depending on your gym membership) pay for itself. Not to mention the added benefit you get of being able to use it whenever you want to.

Unrivaled with its patented WaterFlywheel technology, this one by far beats every other brand of water rowing machine on how closely it’s able to replicate the feel of resistance you get with real in-water competative rowing.

Compare this one with popular brands like Sunny Health and Fitness, the MaxKare or the numerous WaterRower replicas out the like the Mr Rudolf, Mr Right, and Mr Captain, and this one is streets ahead. The catch, drive, finish, and recovery of this machine far surpass anything else out there, it’s silky smooth and an absolute dream to row.

Looks-wise, this one is more comparable to a high-end piece of furniture than to other pieces of gym equipment.

As nautical and rustic-chic looking as it is, there’s also a practical advantage to the real wood frame – not only does it make a good solid and sturdy base, but wood also provides much better sound absorption. So there’s nothing to detract from that natural whooshing sound of rowing through water.

Whether you want to store it vertically or leave it flat, you definitely want to keep it somewhere on full display. Not that’s not something that can be said for almost any other piece of home gym equipment.

As you’d expect, the WaterRower comes with a high-end S4 Monitor, designed to be user-friendly while providing you with advanced functionality.

The monitor displays your time, distance, speed/intensity, stroke rate, and heart rate (for the heart rate feature you will need a separate chest belt and a receiver plug-in connector).

But you can also track your fitness goals with the advanced Series 4 workout plans provided. There are 9 of them in total.

What I Like:

  • A Stunning Piece of High-Quality Equipment that Combines Functionality with Style | Not so of most home fitness equipment. High-end under desk treadmills like the iMovR may be the equivalent to this one for their own category, but they’re particularly big and ugly. This is not a water rower you’d want to hide away.
  • It comes with a High-End S4 Monitor | Providing advanced functionality including (approximately to my count, 9) series 4 workout plans.
  • Offers Patented WaterFlywheel Technology | This technology helps to more closely replicate the feeling of resistance you get when rowing on water.
  • Hand Crafted in the US from American Sourced Hardwood Ash Wood | Made in the coastal New England town of Warren, Rhode Island.

Another Worthy Mention: Mr Rudolf Water Rowing Machine

If you’d like a wooden water rowing machine but aren’t quite ready to invest in a the high-end WaterRower brand just yet, this wooden water rowing machine by Mr Rudolf is a remarkably close version of the real thing.

…At around half the price.

Now you can find this same machine under three different (but remarkably similar brand names, Mr Rudolf, Mr Right, and Mr Captain, but, with the exception of an uncountable price variation, there’s really no discernible difference between any of them. The Mr Captain one does have a different wood finish.

Unlike the high-end WaterRower these are not made here in the US. And you are not going to find them in a luxury hotel.

They are, as you’ve probably already guessed, made in China – but they are distributed in the US.

And they are also made of real wood – they have solid oak wood dual rails.

All three water rowing machines, have 3 modes, to choose from, Manual, Interval Custom and Target to help you set yourself some fitness goals.

They are also Bluetooth compatible, and connectable the app iC+ Training.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do water rowers last?

Generally speaking, a good water rowing machine should last you several years. They are easily maintained. The water won't go moldy - you just drop in a water purifying tablet every six months.

How much water should I put in my WaterRower?

The manufacturer states that you will need approximately 3½ gallons to fill the tank to the desired water level.

Are water rowers better than magnetic?

While magnetic water rowers do have some features that some users like. The fact that they are very quiet, is one. It's also easier to set a measurable resistance level on them.

However, you can't beat the sensory experience you get with a water rowing machine. The resistance can't be set, as such, but the harder you row, plus the amount of water in the tank, will determine the level of resistance you feel.

Are water rowers loud?

They are generally louder than magnetic rowers, but quieter than air rowing machines. They make a soft natural swooshing sound very similar to how it would sound if you were to actually row in a boat on water.

Resources: "Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights"
PubMed. "Effect of Rowing Ergometer Compliance on Biomechanical and Physiological Indicators during Simulated 2,000-metre Race"
PubMed. "Effect of Rowing Ergometer Compliance on Biomechanical and Physiological Indicators during Simulated 2,000-metre Race"
PubMed. "Investigating the Effects of Typical Rowing Strength Training Practices on Strength and Power Development and 2,000 m Rowing Performance"
IOS Press Content Library. "Comparative analysis of basal physical fitness and muscle function in relation to muscle balance pattern using rowing machines"
American Fitness Professionals & Associates.

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