If there is one piece of home gym equipment that ticks the muscle building and cardio boxes then it is the rowing machine. Unfortunately, these all body focused machines can also be pretty costly so we thought we’d round up the best of the best cheap rowing machines in our exclusive buying guide. Just because you are opting for a budget rowing machine doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice too much in other areas and our top picks should have you hitting those back, shoulder, arm and leg muscles in no time at all.
Before we get in to our full budget rowing machine reviews, let’s consider some of the benefits to buying a rower in the first place – after all, they’re not the most compact of gym apparatus and as we have already stated they can be pretty costly.
The first thing we love about rowing machines (budget or otherwise) is that they have very minimal impact on your joints. This makes rowing one of the most accessible types of exercise possible and opens it up as an option to those with mobility problems, joint or muscle pains, those prone to impact based injuries and also people recovering from injury. The smooth pulling nature of the exercise is also less likely to lead to new injuries.
The rowing machine affords a full body workout and will work a range of muscle groups including your back, shoulder and arm muscles in the upper body and the glutes and hamstrings for your lower body. There are additional stabiliser and supporting muscles being used on each stroke and there is a good balance between the recruitment of upper and lower body muscles throughout the exercise. Most rowers include some form of resistance modification too which means it can also be used to some extent as a way of gradually increasing the tension placed on the muscles.
Strength and Cardio Focused
Many forms of exercise will force you to focus on either a cardio or strength based workout. Rowing actually allows you to focus on both the muscular and cardiovascular systems in the body at the same time. Incorporating rowing in to your regime 3 times per week should start to bring about an improvement in your cardiovascular and muscular performance over time.
High Calorie Burn
If losing weight is your focus then rowing is also a great exercise to perform thanks to its high calorie burn rate. The recruitment of so many muscles and the continuous nature of the exercise means that you get a lot of bang for your buck when it comes to energy expenditure. It is quite feasible to burn 600 calories in an hour when rowing – not something that can be said for most forms of exercise.
Best Budget Rowing Machines
Let’s take a look at the cheap rowing machines that we think are the best on the UK market right now. For the purposes of this buying guide we are assuming budget means anything under £500 but most are significantly less than half that amount. Given that there are some pretty good machines in the £750 to £1000 price bracket, under £300 seems to fit the budget end of the price spectrum pretty well.
Dripex Magnetic Rowing Machine
We recently came across this incredibly good value for money rowing machine (that is in stock) and decided to take it for a spin. As soon as we did, we all agreed it had to make it on this list and so here it is – right up in top spot. It is a smidge pricier than the R200 but it is either on a par or cheaper than most of the other rowers on this list – and crucially – it performs incredibly well!
The dimensions of this rower when it is in use are 178cm (l) x 76cm (h) x 53cm (w) which is pretty comparable to the budget rowers on this page (although smaller that the Freedom Air Rower) and will suffice for all but the very tallest of users. Anyone 6’0″ and under should be fine on this machine and even those who are taller will still get a good workout but perhaps with a little less comfort. There is a maximum user weight of 120kg which is more than enough for most users and this compares well with the other models we tested. It is also fully foldable which reduces the length right down.
The first thing that strikes you about this model from Dripex is that it is pretty substantial. It is well made and feels incredibly secure even when you are pulling and sliding away with great intensity. There are 15 levels of magnetic resistance and these are all controlled by a familiar dial just under the handlebars. This is conveniently positioned and the range between level 1 and 15 is impressive – plenty for beginners and more advanced athletes alike.
The screen is impressive. In fact, compared to all other rowers the screen is much larger and easier to see and of course displays all the usual data you would expect – with large oversized buttons that make it easy to cycle through the various settings. The monitor can be tilted up or down which makes it easy to view from all angles and the display works well in dimly lit and brightly lit spaces.
When it comes to comfort the Dripex rower excels. The seat is very well padded, the feet pads are of a good size and feel comfortable when placing your feet inside them and the handlebar is equally easy to grip and soft to the touch. The rail is designed with double aluminium and features suspension which makes for a very smooth and stress free experience.
All in all, the Dripex rower is a great budget option that will provide you with one of the best cardio/strength workouts you can do at home.
JTX Freedom Air Rower – V2
It’s fair to say that when it comes to home gym equipment you pretty much get what you pay for. So it is hardly surprising that the rowing machine that the final rower that makes our top 3 is the most expensive one we reviewed. The JTX Freedom Air Rower is about as good a budget priced rowing machine as you are going to get – in fact, it comes feature packed and has a build quality to rival the higher priced machines.
The new V2 model is currently available for pre-order and has a much improved design, a more slimline but robust frame and an open metal fan. The new model is also self powered so there is no need to plug it in like you had to with the previous model.
Made with reinforced aluminium, the frame of the JTX Freedom can hold up to 135kg of user weight and was without a doubt the sturdiest of the bunch that we tested. In fact, we would go as far to say that it gives the much pricier Concept 2 Rower a run for its money in terms of build quality. The JTX is more than just a cheaper alternative though and we would argue there are some reasons why you might want to opt for this budget rower instead of a more premium priced model. This rower has 16 levels of resistance that are controlled electronically from the pretty snazzy looking blue LCD display. It might be a simple difference, but it really does look a little more inspiring than the dull green that accompanies the Concept 2.
We found the 16 levels of magnetic resistance were actually quite varied and it certainly leaves you somewhere to progress to rather than just cranking it straight up to the highest setting from the off. The seat moves smoothly and feels very comfortable and the feet pads are well positioned, well angled and feature adjustable straps. The LCD screen is powered by a computer that features 8 pre-set programmes for you to work through and of course you can also perform manual workouts too. You have all the key data available at a glance of the screen including speed, distance, rate of strokes, heart rate (with the included chest strap heart rate monitor), split times and calories.
In terms of the floor space that this rower takes up, it measures up at 225cm in length by 58cm width, however it also folds up which halves the length down to 112cm which is pretty impressive. The JTX Freedom Air Rower might be at the high end of our budget rowers but it is certainly worthy of its place as the best of the bunch and it has won some highly prestigious awards too being voted ‘best home rower’ by The Independent and having a review score of 9.4 on Trust Pilot.
JLL R200 Home Rowing Machine
The JLL R200 is probably the best true budget rowing machine on the market. Coming in at just over the £200 mark, this rower offers exceptional value and although you will definitely have to make a few compromises when compared to our more expensive top pick, this is as good as it gets at this price level and for the amateur rower looking for a good home workout this will more than suffice.
Measuring up at 180cm in total length when in use and with a width of 52cm it is slightly smaller than the JTX. This is fine for most people and of course helps in terms of space saving although anyone over 6’1″ might struggle to get a full stretch due to the smaller overall length. The JLL R200 is also foldable and takes up considerably less floorspace than the JTX with a length of just 71cm when folded.
With 10 levels of magnetic resistance, the R200 affords a good degree of flexibility in the level of challenge provided. The resistance level is adjustable via a dial on the conveniently located centre console and the range of difficulty is actually quite expansive from difficulty level 1 to 10 – meaning that although it has only 10 levels of resistance this rower is just as usable for complete beginners as it is for more experienced users.
The seat pad and handle bars are pretty comfortable with the handles deserving a special mention thanks to some pretty well padded cushioning. The feet pads are also well made and comfortable to use with adjustable straps that do a good enough job of keeping your feet secure. One of our favourite aspects of the R200 is how quiet it is during use. The movement is pretty fluid and the flywheel and cable operate very quietly – something that most users find important for a home based machine. Maximum user weight is 100kg which should be fine for most people.
There is an LCD screen attached to the centre console and although this offers all the usual data you would expect to see (including distance, revs, calorie count, time etc.) we would prefer the display to be angled slightly more towards the user and with bigger digits as it often hard to see during your workout.
Overall, the R200 is an excellent cheap rower that will help anyone looking to introduce a good all body workout at home along with a good cardio hit. For anyone tight on space or tight on budget then this is probably the best pick of the bunch.
V-Fit Tornado Air Rower
At the time of writing this review, the V-Fit Tornado Air Rower had a significant discount which made it a very attractive proposition indeed. Even at full price, this rower still enters the budget territory and it is one to rival the more premium models such as the Concept 2 and the JTX Freedom Air Rower. The first point to make with the Tornado is that it is incredibly well made and feels extremely stable even when being used rigorously. Every element of this rower feels well made from the main base to the feet pads and seat and it has a maximum user weight of 115kg.
When it comes to comfort, V-Fit have ensured that this rower ticks all the boxes. The seat is made from a contoured rubber that is still comfortable even after a long period of time. One feature that we absolutely love is that the feet pads can be configured at two different angles so no matter how you prefer your foot position to sit you can ensure you are in an optimum position for you. This means that this rower is fit for taller and shorter users alike.
The Tornado operates from an air resistance drive chain similar to the Concept 2 rower and this really makes a difference to the feel of the rower when in use. It has a really smooth and fluid operation and the handle bars that are connected to the drive chain are ergonomically designed and feel perfect to grip and are wider than most which is ideal for changing up your workout to target slightly different back muscles if you so wish.
There are three LCD screens attached to the centre console and these are easy to read and well positioned. These feature all of the real time data you could need from your workout.
Overall, the V-Fit Tornado is an exceptional rower and if available at anywhere near the £300 mark is an excellent option. It is also well suited to taller users so for anyone over 6 feet tall this is one of the top budget choices – it is also fine for shorter users too.
ProForm R600 Rower
ProForm Fitness manufacture and supply a range of rowing machines and the R600 is their entry level model and as such is available at a pretty budget price. It is more expensive than the JLL R200 but it does have air resistance and a really good overall spec to justify the higher cost compared to its budget rival.
The R600 is completely foldable and as such is an ideal piece of home cardio equipment as it can be folded in to a really compact shape for ideal storage. When in use it measures up at 220cm (l) x 56cm (w) x 65cm (h) and has a seat rail that has ample length no matter how tall you are – a significant plus over the R200.
You can control the level of resistance on the R600 which is easy to do with a forward facing handle over the fan which is positioned for ease of access. You will find the levels of resistance almost infinite thanks to the air resistance as the resistance increases along with the power of your stroke and that makes this rower ideal for all levels of user – and especially those looking for plenty of challenge.
The aluminium seat rail is very smooth in action and the ergonomically designed seat cushion is very comfortable and is adjustable to allow for the perfect angle and ultimate comfort. This is actually one of the most comfortable rowers we have sat on at this price point. The handles are also well padded and comfortable to use and the resting position for the handles is not too far away that you have to overly stretch to reach them when starting or finishing your workout.
The LCD monitor is larger than average and makes it easy to see your vital stats at a glance. The display includes everything you would expect to find including speed, time, calories burned and revolutions per minute.
The R600 has a maximum user weight of 115kg which means it will be ideal for most users and as budget home rowers go it is a really good effort from ProForm and as such makes our top 3 easily.
Body Sculpture BR1000
The BR1000 from Body Sculpture is our cheapest rower that makes the guide and is well worthy of position 3 on our top 5 list of budget rowing machines. It would perhaps be unfair to compare this model to those that are £500 or more and at a fifth of that price you are getting exceptional value for money with the BR1000 but with a little less functionality and comfort.
The BR1000 operates in a slightly different manner to more traditional rowing machines with a hydraulic resistance rather than using air resistance or a banded flywheel with magnetic resistance. There are 12 levels of resistance however it is worth pointing out that although there is a difference between setting 1 and setting 12 the real term range in terms of resistance is not as much as some other machines. That being said, the BR1000 does offer a second method of increasing the intensity through changeable incline settings and this is excellent for those who are more cardio focused than strength training focused.
The riding motion of this rower is very smooth and despite the price difference the comfort level of the seat pad and the handles is pretty good. There is no folding option with this rower but weighing just 11kg and being pretty slimline it is easy to move around and can be stood up against a wall easily. There is also a basic LCD screen showing calories burned, strokes, time etc. and this is fairly well positioned.
Overall, the BR1000 is not going to give you the most rigorous resistance workout ever but with the added element of incline training and a decent amount of resistance from the top setting there is enough here to keep you interested and to provide an excellent cardio workout. At the price, it really does make it a contender for the best budget rower.
Marcy Azure RE1016
Popular budget fitness brand Marcy have developed a range of cheap rowing machines but the Azure RE1016 is one of our favourites. It looks a little different to most other rowers thanks to its large centre console that sits in an elevated position above the bulky drive chain mechanism. Despite its initial bulky look it is actually pretty compact with a total length of 180cm and a width of just 49cm – one of the narrowest we tested. When folded, the Azure sits at just 90cm in length and a height of 119cm which makes it easy to store when not in use.
The large display console displays the all important data in a large view format and despite its simplistic look it is the easiest to view of all the models we tested and shows information such as time, calories, strokes etc. Beneath the display there is also a flip down stand for a smart phone or tablet which is extremely handy if you fancy watching or following a YouTube motivational video whilst working out.
There are 8 levels of magnetic resistance which are operated via a manual dial that is easily accessible just beneath the handle bar rest. Although this is the least levels of resistance of all the models we tested the hardest setting was actually quite testing and was certainly not the lowest level of difficulty we tested. We actually preferred the range of difficulty on this model to some of those with 10 and 12 levels.
The feet pads are well made and pretty large so even those with size 13 feet should be more than comfortable. The seat is equally comfortable and the steel frame is well made giving an overall premium quality feel to this rowing machine. The plastic around the flywheel and display console is probably the weakest area but this is more for aesthetic purposes than for functional reasons so we can forgive this.
Overall, the Azure is a top quality budget rower and we found it to provide a testing and comfortable workout. Suitable for anyone up to 6’5″, the Azure is a great entry level model suitable for users of all levels of fitness.