Top Picks for Most Realistic Rowing Machine of 2021

A Realistic Rowing Experience

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Rowing machines are wonderful pieces of workout equipment. They provide the perfect balance of strength and cardio. But if you have ever truly rowed on the water, you probably are obsessed with the feeling. 

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A true-to-life rowing experience isn’t easy to replicate indoors. However, our lineup of the most realistic rowing machines includes rowers that come pretty darn close to the real thing! 

A Quick Glance of the Most Realistic Rowing Machines 

Best Overall: WaterRower Vintage Oak Rowing Machine

Best Rower With Games: Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine

Best Without Subscription: Merax Water Rowing Machine

Best For Beginners: Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine Rower

Best With Screen: MaxKare Water Rowing Machine Water Rower

Our Recommendations for the Most Realistic Rowing Machine

Best Overall: WaterRower Vintage Oak Rowing Machine with S4


  • The water tank provides realistic ambiance
  • Monitor to keep track of stats
  • Smooth and beautiful wood design


  • May want to consider expert assembly
  • Heavy

The sound of the water rushing makes the WaterRower Vintage Oak Rowing Machine extremely realistic. That is why it receives our pick as the best rowing machine with a water tank. 

This gorgeous wooden rower uses the water tank to provide resistance as well as ambiance. You can customize your workout by varying how much water you add to the tank. It is also virtually silent, meaning you won’t disturb your friends and family. 

Make no mistake, this is a premium rower that allows the user to have a smooth non-mechanical connection with the machine. Just man or woman vs water;  like rowing should be.

The gentle swish makes you feel as if you are rowing outdoors. Its natural oak design is paired with great convenience features. Such as dolly wheels that let you easily move and store the machine. 

The high-performance monitor keeps you informed on all your stats. Track your stroke rate, heart rate, workout intensity and more. If you want the most realistic rowing machine like the show House of Cards used by the character Frank Underwood, this is the one.

⇰Check Price or View on Amazon: WaterRower Vintage Oak Rowing Machine

Best Rower With Games: Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine


  • User-friendly interface includes games and preset workouts
  • Can be stored in two pieces
  • Flywheel features 10 levels of resistance


  • Seat is firm
  • Rail prone to squeaking if not maintained regularly

Rowing is awesome, but it can be a little repetitive. Thankfully, the Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine has an interactive feature! It is our top choice for the best rowing machine with games. 

That’s right, you can play darts, fish, target training, and biathlon style apps as you work out. The interface includes these games as well as your data, preset workouts, and rowing history. It is equipped with wireless connectivity, Bluetooth, and ANT+ for an effortless pairing experience to a myriad of devices.

The machine itself is designed for comfort and convenience and is the best-selling rowing machine in the world for over 40 years!  The smooth-rolling seat with 14-inch height suits most users. 

You can store the unit as one piece or two, making it ideal for compact spaces like basements or apartments. The air resistance flywheel keeps your workout efficient yet quiet so you won’t wake up your family or roommates. 

⇰Check Price or View on Amazon: Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine

Best Without Subscription: Merax Water Rowing Machine 


  • Upright water tank offers more resistance and saves space
  • Sturdy steel frame
  • Multi-feature large LCD interface


  • Altering resistance requires draining/filling tank
  • No way to manually turn LCD off 

Searching for the best rowing machine without subscription? Our pick is the Merax Water Rowing Machine. You can achieve a great workout on your terms! 

This compact rower offers steel construction in a sleek design. Its upright water tank has two benefits, it saves space and offers increased resistance when compared to flat tanks. Moving the rower from its upright storage position is simple thanks to the non-marking rubber wheels. 

The digital LCD display is clear and easy to read. One-touch buttons allow you to view everything from your heart rate to your stroke count. You can also choose to participate in a pre-programmed workout or a virtual competitive race when you feel like really getting your sweat on!  

The long ergonomic handle is comfortable for most users. The contoured seat allows you to get in a lengthy rowing session without experiencing pain or discomfort. This effective rower is durable and user-friendly. 

⇰Check Price or View on Amazon: Merax Water Rowing Machine

Best For Beginners: Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine Rower 


  • Easy-read digital monitor with scan mode
  • Compact footprint
  • Budget-friendly


  • Handlebar stop too close to foot pedals
  • Foot pedals rotate, impairing form

New to rowing and hoping not to make a major investment just yet? Consider our pick for the best rowing machine for beginners, the Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine Rower.

This affordable rower makes it painless to get started on your rowing journey. The digital monitor isn’t complicated and clearly shows basic stats that matter the most. With scan mode, you can cycle through your strokes, duration, and more without having to press a button. 

The magnetic resistance uses a dial that offers eight different levels so you can build strength as you progress. Non-slip foot pedals and a wide cushioned seat make for a gentle first foray into rowing that won’t leave you sore. 

This rower has a small footprint which is perfect for tight spaces. You can effortlessly fold it and store it in a standing position to keep it out of the way when not in use. Rowing doesn’t have to be costly or intimidating with this friendly rower. 

⇰Check Price or View on Amazon: Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine Rower

Best With Screen: MaxKare Water Rowing Machine Water Rower


  • Giant LCD monitor with one-touch buttons
  • Affordable
  • The powder-coated steel frame is smooth and strong
  • Water tank offers realistic stroke feel and resistance


  • Monitor goes through batteries quickly
  • The display may be susceptible to a short lifespan

If you are workout details obsessed, you will love the display on the MaxKare Water Rowing Machine. It’s our pick for the best rowing machine with a screen. The large LCD screen can tell you your distance, time, calories and so much more. It includes a competitive mode so you can challenge your personal best. 

The water tank lets you choose your ideal resistance by adding or removing liquid. It is uniquely designed to make the rowing stroke more realistic. The tough steel frame features powder-coated paint, keeping your movements both quiet and smooth. 

This rower is convenient when in use and not in use. Transporting it from storage or to another room is a cinch thanks to its wheels and pulleys. When you are ready to tackle your workout the ergonomic handles and cushioned seat help to ensure both comfort and proper form. 

⇰Check Price or View on Amazon: MaxKare Water Rowing Machine

How Do Rowing Machines Work?

Rowing machines are based on resistance. They can provide you with a complete workout that combines both strength and cardio. They do this with a resistance mechanism that makes it challenging for the user to complete the rowing motion.

Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 Performance Monitor, Black

There are three primary types of resistance mechanisms:

  • Air, which uses a chamber and a flywheel. The Concept2 Model D Indoor Rower pictured above is a great example of this type and is the world’s best selling rowing machine for over 4o years.

  • Water that relies on a water tank for resistance. The WaterRower Rowing Machine is considered to be the most premium rower on the market that uses a water resistance mechanism.

  • Magnetic, that uses magnets and a flywheel. These are generally more economical such as the Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rower. But they will still provide you with a quality workout

  • Hydraulic; a less common rower is a hydraulic rower that provides resistance from hydraulic pistons.  

A rowing machine consists of a frame, a sliding seat, handles, and footrests in addition to a resistance mechanism. When you pull the handles of a rower the resistance mechanism places force on the paddles or flywheel, making it tougher for you to drawback the handles. 

The sliding seat allows you to fully extend your legs, increasing the distance you can pull back the handlebars. When you incorporate these two movements, it appears as if you are rowing on the water. 

The more resistance, the more difficult it is to pull the handles and slide the seat, ultimately burning more calories. 

Benefits of Using Rowing Machines 

There are many benefits to using a rowing machine. Here are a few of the top advantages: 

  • Full body workout
  • Combines aerobic exercise and strength
  • Gentle on joints
  • Builds lower body strength
  • Less risk of injury
  • It Burns a lot of calories
  • Can improve posture

CIRCUIT FITNESS Circuit Fitness Deluxe Foldable Magnetic Rowing Machine with 8 Resistance Settings & Transport Wheels (AMZ-986RW)

What To Consider When Choosing the Most Realistic Rowing Machine

Before settling on your perfect rowing machine, here are a few considerations.

Type of Resistance Mechanism

There are a handful of different resistance mechanisms on the market. Namely, magnetic, air flywheel, water, and hydraulic. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages. 

For example, adjusting the resistance of a water tank rower can be cumbersome as you need to add or remove liquid. However, these machines may provide the most realistic stroke feeling and near-constant resistance. Be sure you know the pros and cons of each before you decide on a rower. 


The seat shape and level of comfort are important. You may be less likely to use the rower if the seat causes you pain.

The Merax Water Rowing Machine comes at a great price and has an ample-sized comfortable seat. Be sure to check out the level of cushion, if the seat is contoured and ergonomic, and dimensions if you want an extra-wide or long seat. 


Some individuals love long handles so they can adjust their grip. Others find that longer handles can get in the way and be awkward. 

Additionally, handles can have various levels of cushion. Check out the handle specifications including grip material and size before you make your decision. 

Tech Options

Nearly all rowers have some sort of monitor. Although, they can vary in the stats they tell you, their display, offerings, and connectivity. Some are very basic and just scroll through general data. 

Others have games, workouts, and pair with mobile apps. Be advised, you usually get what you pay for when it comes to tech options. 


Almost every rower has wheels so you can maneuver them around your space. But some rowers are more portable than others. Do you want a machine that breaks down into two pieces for compact storage? Or do you want one with pulleys so you can effortlessly move it about? These are important considerations. 

Which Realistic Rower is Right For You? 

The best realistic rower for you depends on your preferences and experience. More advanced rowers may have higher expectations and know what they want in a machine. However, if you truly want to experience the real feel of rowing in a machine, you can’t go wrong with the WaterRower Brand Rowing Machines.

If you are just getting started you may not want to spend a fortune before you experience rowing. Thankfully, there are a plethora of awesome rowers on the market so you are likely to find one that suits your style and budget.