Water vs. Magnetic vs, Air Rowing Machines | What to Choose

By Sayed Hamed Hosseiny

Rowing is a full-body workout and a must-try for people of all fitness levels. A major plus is that you don’t have to go to a water body to enjoy the merits of rowing exercise.

Several rowing machines are designed to satisfy your budget. Oh, and your space requirements as well. Advancements in technology allow you to introduce this popular watersport into your home/space.

The common types of rowing machines offer resistance through magnets, air, water, or hydraulics, and in this article, we’re taking you on a trip to look at all the available rowing machine options!

Differences between the resistance rowing machines offer

The key distinction between the various rowing machine options is their mechanism of generating resistance. All indoor rowers have merits and demerits, and whichever one you settle for will be largely dependent on your demands and needs. However, here are some tips to guide your choice.

The air, as well as water rowers, are characterized by their relatively high noise levels. And they are expensive when compared to the other rowing machines because they provide a more natural rowing feel than let’s say, magnetic rowers.

If noise will be an issue for you, then you should consider a hydraulic or magnetic rower as they’re your best options, although their distinct mechanisms affect their rowing motion which may not be natural or realistic. Many users have described this as slightly discomforting.

So, if you’re an avid athlete who isn’t bothered by noise and looking to invest in a rowing machine, then you should check out the air rowers. If you prefer that exhilarating experience of water rowing, the water rower will best suit your needs.

Magnetic rowers are perfect if you’re searching for a first-rate machine with little to no noise, and, if constrained by budget, the hydraulic machine has got you covered! For more informations, you can read my full guide on how to choose a rowing machine for your home.

Selecting the right Rowing Machine; What to consider.

Not many people consider the resistance of a rower when looking to buy a rowing machine, but it’s a very important factor. Most rowers employ the same movement and muscles, but there are slight variations that can influence your selection. Considering the factors listed below are a good place to start:


Replicating the feel while rowing is the experience many people are looking for. Therefore, you should consider the feel before deciding on which to buy. If you are looking for the thrill of rowing on an actual water body, buy a water or air rower. They offer resistance that’s influenced by speed and gives you that natural experience. The hydraulic and magnetic types operate on a fixed resistance level which wouldn’t give you the same natural feeling.


If you’re limited by space or living in a neighborhood with neighbors who would be offended by noise from rowing machines, you should definitely go with the “silent” options like magnetic and hydraulic rowers. The air and water rowers make a lot of noise and would not be your best pick in this situation.

Floor Type

A rowing machine can be pretty harsh on floors and detrimental to certain floor types. Rowing at high intensity can cause your machine to move, and this can damage floors, especially at home. Gym floors can handle this kind of impact compared to your home floors. So when purchasing a rower, search for a type with grips underneath that can help you control movements or slips that lead to damage.

Accurate Data

Data accuracy wouldn’t be a priority for you if you’re just involved in rowing as a leisurely activity. However, if you’re a serious athlete training for a competition or event, you would need accurate data measurements. Air rowers are the best in this category.


Rowing machines are huge investments, so it is important to settle for one that fits your budget. Air, magnetic, and water rowers have comparable features and are similar in quality.

High-end types will cost you tens of thousands, while you’re looking at hundreds of dollars with the regular rowers. Hydraulic rowers are the cheapest type but incur extra costs for certain features and quality. With that out of the way, let’s look at the types of rowing machines.

Types of Rowing Machines

Magnetic Rowing Machines

Best magnetic rowing machines

These types, as the name implies, create resistance with the aid of magnets. The mechanism of resistance is characterized by the movement of one magnet closer to or further from the flywheel, which is usually made with metal. The proximity of the magnet to the flywheel determines the level of resistance.

You can control the resistance manually by adjusting the lever. As a result, if not adjusted, you will have a fixed resistance irrespective of your rowing speed.

There isn’t contact between the magnets, which is the reason for its silence. This lack of contact between parts also accounts for the smooth and consistent movements. The majority of magnetic rowers are foldable and have detachable parts. So if space is an issue for you, this would work best with what little space you have!

But they also require power which can influence where you put them. Lastly, if you’re concerned about noisy rowers, then these suit you as they’re almost silent.

Pro Tip: If you’re looking to build your muscle, ramp up your resistance. Focused on cardiovascular fitness? Reduce the resistance. You should note, however, that this type doesn’t offer the natural experience of water rowing.

Check Out The Best Magnetic Rowing Machines

Water Rowing Machine

Best Water Rowing Machines

These definitely give you that natural experience of rowing on water. How? Water Rowers are designed in a way that the fan blades are positioned in a pool of water. So, during a rowing session, the blades move through the water, causing resistance. The two major ways of adjusting the resistance are speed and volume. How? You ask?

Well, an increased rowing speed leads to a greater level of resistance. Also, the volume of the water can be reduced or increased, and the more you increase the water level, the higher the resistance as well. This speed and volume combination offers an endless limit to the resistance of these machines.

One main disadvantage of water rowers is the noise, but it’s not an unpleasant sound. You can hear the breaking sound of the water as with an actual rowing boat. However, the merit is that it is gentle on your joints and minimizes pressure as well as potential strain.

Pro Tip: If you’re looking to simulate the real-life rowing experience right at home, then you should get yourself a water rowing machine.

Check Out The Best Water Rowing Machines

Air Rowing Machine

Best air rowing machines Canada

They’re super common and the types you’ll come across in public gyms. Resistance is generated similarly to the water rowers. However, the water in the latter is replaced with air. The handle of the rower is fastened to the fan flywheel. And when you pull on the handle, the flywheel pushes air outwards and spins.

The faster the rowing speed, the higher the resistance as a result of more air being pushed out. There is also no limit to the resistance of this type as it is regulated by rowing speed.

The data accuracy of air rowers such as watts, pace boats, 500m split times, and force curves also make it a popular option.

Pro Tip: If you’re a serious athlete or a trained rower looking to track your rowing records, have access to accurate data analytics, follow a particular training plan, or you’re training to compete, then this type is best for you.

Check Out The Best Air Rowing Machines

Hydraulic Rowing Machine

Hydraulic rowing machines are pretty basic and regular when compared to the other types. They don’t have fancy details, but they’re really good options budget-wise. They’re also suitable if you’re noise-conscious.

Resistance is generated from hydraulic cylinders (can contain air or fluid) fastened to the handle of the rowing machines. When the rower pulls the handle, they pull against the air or fluid in the cylinder, and this is what generates the resistance.

The drawback to this type is that they don’t give you the smooth movement offered by other types, and this can be unpleasant. The hydraulic machine gives you a feeling of tugging on a weighted rope. However, this is good exercise for the upper and lower parts of the body.

Pro Tip: If you’re looking to invest in rowing as a pastime, looking to purchase a cheap and silent option, and provide you with a good workout as a bonus, then you should settle for this type.

Elastic Cord Rowing Machine

These types are similar in simplicity to the hydraulic rower. Resistance is created by an elastic cord with the propensity to recoil to its original length. They are a cheaper option for purchase as they cannot entirely simulate the natural rowing experience. Although, a plus is that they make almost no noise at all and are good options for apartment users with neighbors.

Bottom line

Rowing is an amazing sport, and recently has gotten even better. Now, there are rowing machines to help you replicate the real rowing experience in your homes or any space of your choosing.

Many options are available for purchase, and your needs will determine the right option for you. The main factors to consider, however, have been outlined for you above. So, now that you’ve read that, off you go to the store to get that rower! Also, bear in mind that rowing is more pleasant when done with proper rowing machine clothing.