What Are the Different Types of Rowing Machines?

A rowing machine is a great addition to any home gym. It offers a fantastic full body workout, and it’s also easy on the joints. The choice to buy a rowing machine is easy, but finding the right one for you is not.

There are several different types of rowing machines (4 specifically), and each one offers its own unique rowing experience. Each one also offers its own form of resistance, which is the key thing to consider when buying your machine. Let’s review each type, so you can get a better idea of which machine is the right choice for you.

rowing boat

Hydraulic Piston

Hydraulic piston machines rely on, well…hydraulic pistons to generate resistance. Most machines have two pistons: one on each arm of the handlebar. Typically, these machines allow for adjustable resistance, and is the only machine that gives you an independent workout for each of your arms. If you’re trying to balance your upper body strength, you can set one arm to an intermediate level and one arm to an easier level.

The only drawback with a piston machine is that, on occasion, the pistons may leak oil. It’s best to keep a mat underneath the machine to protect your flooring in case of a leak.

Piston machines are generally quiet, affordable and compact. If you’re short on space, this type of machine is a great option.


The spinning flywheel of an air rowing machine is what provides resistance. Each time you pull the handle, you spin the flywheel and create wind. The harder you pull, the more wind you create. The more wind you create, the harder it will be to pull the handle. So with this type of machine, resistance is solely dependent on how hard and fast you row.

Air rowers truly do offer adjustable resistance, and you can make those adjustments whenever you want. There are no buttons to press and no pins to change. If you want more resistance, pull harder or faster. Want to lower the resistance? Just row a little bit slower or lighter.

Air machines tend to be larger than piston machines, but many models now offer a compact, fold-able design for rowers who are short on space. These models also tend to be a little bit nosier than others, but the noise output is still minimal.


The great thing about magnetic rowers is that they’re virtually silent. As you may have guessed, this type of machine uses a magnetic brake system to create resistance, which doesn’t generate any friction.

Like other machine types, magnetic rowers offer adjustable resistance, but tend to come with a larger footprint.


Water rowers offer you a true rowing experience. To create resistance, paddles are suspended in a tank of water. Each time you pull the handle, you spin the paddles and generate resistance. The feeling is very similar to what you would feel out on the water.

The same resistance principles that apply to air rowers also apply to water rowers. The harder or faster you pull, the more resistance you generate.

Water rowers aren’t quite as noisy as air rowers, and they offer the same adjustable resistance. The pace at which you row isn’t the only factor in how much resistance is generated. The higher the tank’s water level, the heavier or more difficult the rowing will be.

This type of rower has a large footprint and tends to be exceptionally heavy.

The right rower for you will depend on how much space you have, your budget and your workout needs. Many advanced rowers prefer air or water resistance machines. For everyday users, hydraulic piston or magnetic machines are smart options.