Looking for the best inexpensive rowing machines? The best one is the MaxKare Magnetic Rower. It has 16 levels of magnetic resistance, 45 inch inseam and a solid build quality.
Rowing works 86% of the muscles in your body.
But there are too many options to choose from.
This guide will help you pick the right one.
Best Inexpensive Rowing Machine Reviews 2020
Maxkare Magnetic Rowing Machine
Stamina ATS Air Rower
Sunny SF-RW 5515 Rower
Harvil Hydraulic Rowing Machine
Sunny SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine
Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050
1. MaxKare Magnetic Rower
MaxKare Magnetic is our #1 pick. Here is what you should know about it:
It has 16 levels of magnetic resistance. So whether you are a beginner or an intermediate, it will give you a decent challenge. This rower gives a consistent resistance that doesn’t change when you row faster or slower. This may be good for beginners, but professionals like the natural dynamic response they get from rowing hard.
Note that although there are 16 resistance levels, it doesn’t provide enough resistance to challenge professional athletes.
Build and Design
The build quality is good and you will be satisfied for the value you get at the price. It is built from steel and has a long inseam measuring 45 inches. As such, it is suitable for taller people too, those with height up to 6’5”. This is great since many budget rowers can’t accommodate tall people since they have a short inseam. The overall build quality keeps it stable while rowing.
The seat is padded and contoured for optimal comfort. However, there is one drawback. The seating position is so low on this machine that people with knee issues or back issues will struggle to get off and on. People with conditions such as arthritis may find it hard to squat down and mount the seat.
The seat rail can fold up for easy storage. There is a locking knob, which you can unscrew to fold the rail up. When folded, the length of the machine reduces to sixty percent.
The display monitor tracks basic workout data such as stroke count per minute, total strokes, time, and calories. However, like better equipped consoles, it cannot indicate distance or read your pulse.
The display shows the numbers large and clear. There are two sections to the display. At the top, it always shows the count. At the bottom, you can see time, total strokes and calories.
It also has a scan mode which lets you check all metrics automatically. In the scan mode, all metrics are displayed after a few seconds of interval, so you don’t have to check them manually.
However, some users have problems with the display not functioning properly. While the display ran out of battery within a couple days for some users, it never started working for others.
The foot plates are sturdy and the velcro straps keep your feet in place. The surface of the foot plates is textured for stability.
To get a closer look at the MaxKare Magnetic rower, watch this video:
The MaxKare Magnetic is for those who want something reliable on a budget. It even accommodates taller people and provides an invigorating full-body workout in as little as 15 minutes. Whether you want to quit being lazy, or get shredded, it will turn your physique around.
- 16 resistance levels
- Stable rowing experience
- Solid build quality
- Works for taller people
- Foot plates keep feet in place
- The frame can be folded up
- Low seating position, bad for people with knee/back problems
2. Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399 with LCD Monitor
Stamina ATS is a sleek-looking beast at an affordable price. It has a balanced set of features along with a modern design. It has a padded handle and is built meticulously to provide a smooth rowing experience.
Air resistance is what professional athletes go for when buying their Concept2 rowers. So it has to be good. To increase the resistance, you have to row harder. Air resistance is great because it gives you the natural feeling of rowing on a river. In natural rowing, there is no knob available to adjust resistance, you just row harder or softer to adjust resistance.
To watch it in action, check out this video:
I really liked the resistance mechanism on Stamina ATS. It is as smooth as butter while giving enough tension. Another aspect here is that the seat rail is inclined toward the front, so as you push your legs on the pedals, there is greater resistance.
It provides a wide range of resistance for everyone except professional athletes or seasoned rowers. For beginner to intermediate levels, it has enough challenges to make things interesting.
Build and Design
The Stamina ATS Air has a good build quality. The steel frame makes it stable and sturdy. The nylon strap attached to the handle seems robust as well and will last a long time. However, it isn’t completely quiet. The harder you row, the louder its flywheel gets. But it isn’t overly loud either. It just sounds like a box fan or a treadmill.
Although, build quality is impressive, there are certain plastic parts that feel a bit flimsy – such as the plastic housing on the flywheel, rollers and pins that hold the bar in place. This is a big let down for an otherwise solid product.
The display monitor tracks several workout parameters such as speed (miles/hour), time, distance (miles) and calories. There is a scan mode too where all metrics are displayed in rotation for a duration of six seconds each. There is no backlit, so it would be hard to read in dim lights.
However, don’t expect any frills from this monitor. The speed is updated rather slowly and the calories burnt metric isn’t accurate since you can’t enter your weight, height or gender – crucial factors to its calculation.
Foot plates are comfortable and the velcro straps do a good job of keeping your feet planted. This is good since similar products lack in this area.
The seat is comfortable if you are not on the bigger or heavier side. People reported that it is a bit small for bigger buttocks. A comfortable seat is important since you don’t want to be sore in the back or your buttocks after each workout.
Note that the machine isn’t as quiet as magnetic rowers such as the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515. But it isn’t loud either. It makes as much noise as an old box fan.
If you are 6 feet tall or above, the inseam won’t be long enough for you and you won’t be able to extend your legs fully. So it is not meant for taller people.
Also, the warranty isn’t assuring. Although the frame is covered under a 3-year warranty, there is only a 90-day warranty on parts. This is a concern since it has some plastic parts that may not last long.
The seat rail can be folded up to save space. When folded, it reduces to almost half its size. Folding is easy and quick. You just have to take a bolt out, fold the seat rail up and then re-insert the bolt.
The Stamina ATS has a balanced set of features. The air resistance gives you the feeling of rowing on actual water and its resistance gives enough challenge for each workout. If you are looking for a smooth rowing experience, the Stamina ATS is a compelling contender.
- Air resistance
- Good build quality
- Folds up
- Rubber floor pads
- Easy assembly
- Assembly tools in package
- Only three months warranty on parts
- Not completely quiet
- Seat isn’t wide enough for bigger people
3. Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 Inexpensive Rower
The Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 is a great budget rower that also happens to be an Amazon bestseller. If you need a full-body workout, it can be a great addition to your home gym.
The SF-RW5515 has 8 levels of magnetic resistance. You can adjust the resistance with a handy knob without having to get off the machine in the middle of a workout. Most customers reported that they were able to get a solid workout even at resistance levels 4 or 5. It is amazing how it has enough tension even at lower resistance levels.
Magnetic rowers maintain a constant level of tension, unlike air or water rowers, in which the harder you row, the more resistance there is. The rower is also quiet as a mouse, so you can listen to music or workout at odd hours without disturbing anyone else.
Build and Design
It has a decent build quality at an impressive price. The steel frame is solid and the parts feel sturdy. The nylon strap used to pull the handle is also durable. Even though this rower can accommodate bigger people, it is still compact enough to fit in a small space. However, the machine has some reliability issues, which I have mentioned below.
Seat and Handle
There are many features that promote comfort. The seat is well-padded and has an angular ridge at the back so that you don’t slip off while rowing. Seat movement is smooth and quiet. Although the handle is smooth, taller people may find it positioned low. This may result in a not-so-good form while rowing.
The foot plates are wide but the straps can’t hold your feet in place. Foot pedals aren’t of high quality and may hurt bare feet. A noteworthy design flaw is that the handle stops right above the foot plates when you’re rowing. So you don’t enjoy a full range of motion as in Concept2 or other machines.
Storage and Moving
Storage is easy as this rower has a minimal footprint. With the seat folded up, it takes little space. Folding takes just one minute but you do have to unscrew a bolt. It has built-in caster wheels for moving it around.
The monitor shows stroke count, time, calories burnt and total count. It also has the scan mode that toggles and shows different metrics with an interval of six seconds. This means you don’t have to check metrics manually while rowing.
The monitor is basic. It doesn’t record distance which may matter to some rowers. It isn’t backlit either. Another issue with basic monitors is that they don’t report accurate calorie count, since they don’t factor-in important data such as weight or height. However, you can still measure relative performance by comparing metrics from two workouts.
Inseam and Capacity
What makes this rower stand out is its long inseam. It can accommodate people as tall as 6’7” and still leave room to spare, which is a miracle in the budget segment. The rower can accommodate up to 250 lbs of weight, which is the standard in the budget segment. If you weigh more, look for other rowers such as the SF-RW5623 rower with 300 lbs capacity or SF-RW5639 with 350 lbs capacity.
To see what an experienced rower thinks of the SF-Rw5515, watch this video:
While buying an affordable rower, pay extra attention to its durability. Some customers mentioned how it broke after a few months of use. This is a huge let down for such a high-performing rower, since reliability can be a deal breaker. It comes with just 90-days warranty on parts and 1-year warranty on the frame.
If you decide to buy this, research well about the warranty first. A user has mentioned that the warranty is not applicable in Canada.
The SF-RW5515 is an excellent product under $300. It accommodates taller people unlike its counterparts and offers enough magnetic resistance for a solid workout. It is as smooth as it is quiet. Where it lacks though, is in ensuring long-term reliability.
- Smooth and quiet
- Strong resistance
- Folds for compact storage
- Caster wheels for moving
- 8 levels of adjustable magnetic resistance
- Long enough for taller people
- Comfortable seat
- May break after a few months or one year
- No backlit
- Foot straps aren’t effective
4. Harvil Hydraulic RM-1 Inexpensive Rowing Machine
The Harvil Hydraulic is a compelling and affordable option. The RM-1 is built with user experience in mind. This is perfect for a small apartment or home gym.
You can adjust the hydraulic resistance with a control knob located under the seat. So you don’t have to get up in between rowing sessions to increase or decrease the intensity. It is worth noting that adjustable resistance is great to have in this budget.
There is only one piston. Rowers with two pistons offer higher resistance. However, the resistance stays consistent once you set it at a particular level. It is not like air rowing machines where you have to row harder to increase the resistance.
Build and Design
Built with a steel frame, the RM-1 rower is quite sturdy for a budget product. It can accommodate 250 lbs of weight, which is good for a hydraulic rower. It weighs just 34 lbs, so moving it around the house is easy.
Assembly is a breeze and can be done in under 30 minutes. The steel frame is long enough to accommodate people up to 6 feet of height. Any taller, and you will have problems with full extension.
The rower is very quiet, so you can workout without disturbing anyone in the house or watch movies and listen to the audio clearly.
Full Range of Motion
Instead of a singular horizontal bar for the handle, the Harvil RM-1 has two large side arm bars with which you get to row in a large circular pattern and use the full range of motion. This makes it feel like rowing on real water.
However, you don’t necessarily need to use the large circular range of motion. You can hold the arm bars with your hands positioned closer. The arm bars are positioned at such angles that you can do upper-body workout only, or full-body by choosing different angles.
Folding and Storage
When the machine is idle, the arms fold toward the frame, making it compact enough to be stored in a small space in your home. When not in use, you can store it under a bed or place it vertically in an unused corner.
Seat and Footplates
Unlike many other counterparts, the Harvil RM-1 has a sliding seat. A sliding seat makes workouts smooth and comfortable. As you glide along the steel frame, the 11-inch foot plates pivot to give your ankle more flexibility.
Those with ankle issues and limited ankle flexibility should always go for pivoting foot plates in their rowers. The velcro straps can be adjusted in two locations to provide stability.
LCD Performance Monitor
The Harvil RM-1 Hydraulic comes with a basic LCD monitor to track workout data. The monitor uses 1 AA battery, which is not included. You can track the following metrics with this LCD monitor:
- Row Count
Scan Monitor Function
The scan function toggles through these metrics every six seconds. The display monitor needs to be “reset” or cleared out before you can turn it off. As expected, it doesn’t have a backlit. Overall, the monitor does the job with no frills.
What’s funny is that the company sends the LCD monitor in a white box that mixes up with the foam packing. As a result, many customers have a hard time finding the monitor.
Our tests showed that the footplates can’t hold the feet in place. Some customers reported that they threaded the straps diagonally to solve the issue. You will most likely have to buy an extra set of velcro straps, especially if your shoe size is small.
Also, the warranty is six months long. It is okay but not comparable to the 3-year warranties on medium or high priced rowers.
As with all hydraulic rowers, the piston can get hot after a workout of 15-20 minutes and may need replacement after it takes some wear and tear.
If you want a budget rowing machine that is reliable and not flimsy, go for the Harvil Hydraulic RM-1. It is great for a low-impact workout, lets you track performance data and can be tucked under your bed.
- Good build quality – Not flimsy as you’d expect
- Great design
- Control knob for hydraulic resistance
- Easy to assemble
- Sliding seat
- Full range of motion
- LCD monitor to track workout data
- Compact and foldable
- Arms fold to the frame
- Velcro straps don’t work
- Short warranty
- Not for people very tall or heavy
5. Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205 Inexpensive Rowing Machine
Sunny Health & Fitness makes great machines that give you a smooth workout experience. The SF-RW1205 is one of their best.
12-Levels of Resistance
It has 12 levels of hydraulic resistance. There is a piston underneath the seat which comes in handy when you want to up or lower the resistance during workouts. There is only one piston, which is not as good as having two. Two pistons give more resistance and stimulate the feeling of rowing with two oars.
There is a drawback to hydraulic pistons, though. They heat up within 15-20 minutes of use, which makes resistance adjustment difficult and you end up stopping your workout.
The resistance is good enough to give you a complete workout. You will feel the burn in all muscle groups within 15-20 minutes of workout.
Build and Design
Some budget rowing machines aren’t well built. Their seats wobble and they make a creaking noise when used. But the RW1205 is different.
It is built with a solid steel frame and will last a long time. You’ll most likely be impressed with how the build quality exceeds customer expectations. On the bottom, there are rubber caps on either side that protect your floor from scratches. The rower can hold up to 220 lbs. of weight, as advertised. However, many users 250 lbs. and up also reported having no issues with it.
Assembling the rower is easy. Most buyers were able to assemble it in 10-15 minutes. All you have to do is put three bolts in place. It doesn’t even require reading an instruction manual.
The only thing that may become a problem after months or years of use is the piston. All hydraulic pistons wear out and often start to leak. Some customers reported this issue and said the company readily replaces the piston if this happens.
Seat and Foot Plates
The seat is padded and comfortable, but if you don’t center yourself, it may start to wiggle. The handle has a soft grip with enough cushioning to make prolonged workouts smooth and sore-free.
The foot plates are large in size and pivot as you row. As mentioned earlier, pivoting helps people with low ankle flexibility or ankle issues. The Velcro straps help keep your feet in place.
The rower comes with a display monitor that helps you track workout stats. The stats include:
- Stroke count
- Total count
- Calories burned
The scan function toggles through different stats every few seconds so that you stay on top of things. A couple users reported concerns regarding the accuracy of the stroke count. But overall, the monitor can help you track your performance relative to previous workouts quite effectively.
Storing and Moving
Storing and moving it around is easy. You can tuck it under the bed by folding it flat. But that will take some work. You will have to undo the handle bolts and take the rear support knob apart.
The easy way is to place it vertically and it will be just 4.5’ high standing up.
Concern for Taller People
Hydraulic rowers are cheap but also compact, so there is always a concern for taller people. If you are 6’2” or above, the SF-RW1205 will not be good enough for you. Taller people won’t get the full range of motion and without full extension, it won’t be fun.
The SF-RW1205 is a great option that doesn’t compromise on quality. It offers 12 levels of resistance and gives you a solid, low-impact workout. If you aren’t very strongly built or taller than 6’2”, this machine will be a good full-body workout machine for your home gym.
- Compact, can be stored vertically
- 12 resistance levels
- Performance monitor
- 15-minute assembly
- Good customer service
- Hydraulic pistons tend to get hot after a short workout
- Hydraulic pistons tend to leak and cause issues
- Resistance weak for strong people
- Not for taller people
If you want an alernative other than the RW1205 rower, Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5639 Full Motion is another option on a budget. It can carry up to 350 lbs. of weight, so heavier users will find it especially useful.
6. Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Inexpensive Rowing Machine
The Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 is a great buy under $300. It uses hydraulic resistance and is more compact than any other machine you will see on this list.
As with all hydraulic rowers, there is a knob to let you adjust resistance easily. The knob is located right under the seat, so you don’t even have to get up to change resistance while working out. It has 12 different levels of hydraulic resistance, so you can row at a range of difficulty and achieve precise fitness goals. This hydraulic resistance is also amazingly quiet, so you can workout without disturbing your family members.
Although hydraulic resistance has many resistance levels, you can’t have a strenuous workout on a hydraulic rower. It simply doesn’t have enough tension. So professional athletes and seasoned rowers would find the resistance too weak. However, beginner and intermediate rowers can have a solid workout if they practice the right form.
The Glider 1050 has a basic display monitor that tracks workout time, stroke count, calories burned and total strokes. It has the scan mode also, that toggles between these parameters every few seconds, so you don’t have to find them manually. However, it is not backlit and the calorie count isn’t quite accurate since it doesn’t input your weight or height. Also, the monitor plastic isn’t high quality, which requires one to be careful while moving it around.
Build and Design
The Stamina Glider 1050 is made from a robust steel frame and aluminium center beam. No wonder, it has a great build quality even at a budget price. Even with its solid build, the machine weighs just 40 lbs. Some customers reported getting a squeaky noise from the roller seat, but suggested that the WD40 lubricant fixed this issue easily.
The rower has a small footprint, as all hydraulic rowers do. Even though it looks like a ‘small’ beginner’s rower, it is strong enough to last many years. It can support a weight of 250 lbs. Also, the pivoting mechanisms aren’t as solidly built as in other more expensive rowers.
Here’s the Stamina 1050 in action:
The LCD monitor lets you track time, count, total count and calories. However, as it is with most budget rowers, the calorie count isn’t accurate. It has the ‘scan’ mode that toggles through the different workout metrics so that you can see each metric with an interval of six seconds. The monitor is basic and doesn’t have backlit. It is also made from average plastic.
Seat and Foot Pedals
Seat isn’t as comfortable as you would expect. One would most likely need extra padding for it to be comfortable in the long run. Foot pedals are comfortable to put feet on, but the straps can’t keep the feet in place. So you’d need to buy new velcro straps to solve this issue.
Storage and Moving
This is perfect for small spaces. With just two screws, the arms can be folded back up and the rower can stand vertically taking little space. It won’t fit under your bed, but can be kept in a closet. There are no caster wheels to help you move the rower. So it is best to keep near your workout space in your home.
The Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 is one of the best. It is compact, offers 12 levels of adjustable resistance and comes with a unique design that gives you full range of motion. If you are a beginner who needs a full body workout, this will be especially good for you.
- Good build quality – steel and aluminium
- 12 resistance levels
- Full range of motion unlike most t-bar rowers
- Handy resistance knob
- Performance monitor
- Amazingly quiet
- Full body workout
- Seat makes squeaky noise
- Seat is hard
- Foot straps can’t hold feet in place
- Not enough resistance for experienced rowers
- Hydraulic pistons come with durability issues
- No backlit
- Pivoting mechanisms are not strongly built
Buying Guide: How to Pick the Best Inexpensive Rowing Machine
A. Type of Resistance
There are multiple resistance types in indoor rowing. Each type has their own benefits and drawbacks. Here is what you should know:
1. Hydraulic Resistance
Rowers with hydraulic resistance operate with a piston that tends to get hot and leaks. But hydraulic resistance is easy to adjust and stays consistent. In other words, in air and water rowers, resistance is dependent on your speed, but in hydraulic rowers, resistance level stays consistent.
2. Water Resistance
Rowers with water resistance simulates the natural feeling of rowing on water. Their sound is pleasant and they offer a smooth workout experience. If you want a water rower, check out the #2 MaxKare Water Rower in this guide.
3. Air Resistance
Air resistance is considered the best type of resistance and used by professional athletes in their rowers. Air rowers are considered smooth, but they make more noise than water rowers.
Air rowers function by spinning the flywheel, creating wind across the flywheel to build resistance. To increase resistance, you just have to row harder. And as a result, there are infinite resistance levels to your disposal.
4. Magnetic Resistance
Magnetic resistance is ‘whisper’ quiet since there is no wind created or no water moved to build resistance. When a magnet moves closer or farther from the metal flywheel, magnetic resistance is created. The closer the magnet is to the flywheel, the more resistance there is.
Resistance stays consistent on magnetic rowers. If you adjust it to level 5, the resistance will stay at level 5 for the entire workout unless you change it.
Not everyone has the space to store a large rower in their home. So when buying one, note whether it can be folded and placed vertically. Note down the dimensions and check against the dimensions of the space which you will use for storage.
C. Weight Capacity
You want a rower that can support your weight without any risk of breaking down. Most budget rowers are made to carry around 250 lbs of weight. But if you want a more robust one, check out the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5639 rower as it can support 350 lbs. of weight.
D. Inseam Length
Whether or not you will be able to extend your legs fully on the rower depends on the inseam length. Most hydraulic budget rowers don’t have long enough inseam to accommodate taller people (6’ and above). However, if you are tall, the MaxCare Water Rower, reviewed above, will suit you the best.
E. Console Features
Top athletes know that performance measured is performance improved. Check whether the rower lets you track data such as stroke count, time, distance and calories burned. This data can help you set goals and push yourself with each workout.
Note that some rowers come with the scan function in their monitor. The scan function toggles through the various workout stats one by one, so that you don’t have to manually press buttons to check your performance in real time.
Frequently Asked Questions for Rowing Machines Under $300
Q. Which is the best inexpensive rowing machine?
It depends on what you prefer in terms of resistance type, comfort and other features. It also matters how tall you are.
Q. What muscles does a rowing machine work?
Rowing works the muscles in both your upper body and lower body. It gives a cardiovascular workout, strengthening your heart and lungs. And when you push your legs and move yourself back and forth, it works your lower body.
The following picture shows the muscle groups involved.
Q. Which is the best budget water rowing machine?
Many people say that you can’t buy a water rower on a budget. But this could not be further from the truth. The MaxCare Water Rower, our #2 pick, has everything you need from a rower.
Q. Which is the best budget rowing machine?
This guide answers all your questions. However, if you are short on time, close your eyes and buy the Maxkare Magnetic Rower.
Rowing can transform your body within a few months.
When selecting the best inexpensive rowing machine, know what you want in a rower, whether it is high weight capacity, a certain type of resistance or long inseam.
Read the reviews above and go through the pros and cons to find the right one for you.