Air vs Magnetic vs Water Rowing Machine: Which is for me?

In the past couple of years, indoor rowing has gained so much popularity that many different companies are coming up with different rowing machines. When it comes to popular rowing machines, you’ll see that are four basic types available in the market based on resistance mechanisms. This fitness equipment offers a full-body workout that includes the arm, legs, back, stomach, and heart muscles. Resistance is provided in rowing machines in the following ways; air, magnetic, fluid, or hydraulic.

Magnetic Rowing Machine 

A magnetic rower is another common type of rowing machine. As the name suggests, two strong magnets moving past other provide resistance, so there’s no friction. This means that the resistance is quiet, consistent, and smooth action throughout your exercise. Magnetic resistance can make workouts more fun and satisfying.

By being more compact and quiet in operation than other rowing machines types, a magnetic rowing machine is ideal for home-usage. The handle features an attached spinning flywheel (a large metal wheel inside the housing) via a chain. This type of rowing machine has got multiple levels of resistance from easy to hard workout. Larger the flywheel, smoother is the resistance. 

The machine not only gives you excellent cardiovascular workout but also tones your muscles. Some machines have 8, 16, or 32 magnetic resistance levels. The level can easily be adjusted according to your workout need by digital console controls or mechanical sliders. 


  • Wide range of adjustable resistance
  • Noiseless operation
  • Compact size
  • Less maintenance required


  • Doesn’t mimic authentic rowing on water

Is it for me?

A magnetic rowing machine is a great in-home fitness solution as it’s compact with efficient footprint design and completely noiseless; best for your little apartment. Plus, some models also have a foldable design for easy compact storage.

Our Top Magnetic Rowers

Best Value
Sunny Health Magnetic Rower
  • Large LCD console
  • Extra-long slide rail
  • Built-in transportation wheels for easy portability
  • Textured non-slip foot pedals
  • Cushioned seat for a comfortable rowing experience
  • Cannot offer the near-real feeling of rowing that an air or a water premium rower provides
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Air Rowing Machine

The most popular and common type is air rower. Moreover, an air rowing machine is also considered the best type. Resistance is provided by air blowing through the flywheel; the harder you pull, the faster the fans move around, and the more resistance it provides. This is why rowing clubs tend to use air rowers as they give real rowing feel and sound. 

Rowing with air resistance use over 80% of your body’s skeletal muscles with no impact on the body that reduces stress on joints. It targets the muscles in your core, back, shoulders, and legs. Plus, it improves your cardiovascular endurance as an air rower uses a smooth belt-drive mechanism with a metal chain to produce a powerful stroke. Some models come with Mag-Air resistance that includes both magnets and fans for linear resistance. Rowing machines featuring floor protectors safeguard your workout area floor and prevent slipping. 


  • Automatic resistance adjustment
  • Replicates real rowing action
  • A smooth and balanced workout
  • Suited for regular home use


  • Noisy operation

Is it for me?

If you want authentic rowing experience, air rower is definitely your type of rowing machine. It is a perfect machine for serious rowers for training during the off-season because it mimics the rowing action on the water. However, it is a little noisy, so maybe not be a perfect choice if you live in an apartment.

Our Top Air Rowers

Concept2 Model D Rowing Machine
  • Used by professional athletes across the world
  • Almost real rowing feeling
  • Framelock mechanism for easy storage
  • Sturdy design and excellent build
  • Lightweight and wheeled from the front, making it super portable and easy to move.
  • The seat is not the most comfortable.
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Our Top Dual Magnetic & Air Rower

Water Rowing Machine

The innovation in the technology of the rowing machine is creating resistance by paddles and water. A water rowing machine feels and sounds like rowing on the water. Although some people still prefer air rowers over this technology, many serious rowers like the quieter and smooth operation of water rowers. Plus, real water means infinite levels of resistance. The harder you row, the more intense resistance will be.

The only setup you have to do with a water rower is to adjust your foot height (the paddles); the water flywheel is immersed in a water tank attached to the belt-driven chain and handle. The steel rowing beam on the machine offers a smooth glide to enhance your rowing experience. The paddle spins in the water tank when you pull back the handle, and moving water produces pull against the paddles which generates resistance.

This fluid technology workout delivers a smooth, realistic, and natural-feeling actual rowing motion. The fluid mechanism immediately catches and applies resistance throughout your stroke; this smooth stroke limits pressure and potential strains on joints, back, and hip flexors. 


  • Low-impact full-body workout
  • Quiet and smooth operation
  • Real-life rowing action
  • Require less maintenance


  • No ‘flat-spot.’
  • Bit pricey

Is it for me?

If you want to design a row-club quality gym at home, a water rower is best for you. If a space-saving design is your preference, a water rower might not be for you as it tends to a larger size than other rowing machine types. For example, the wooden WaterRower is a quite bulky machine.

Our Top Water Rowers

Our Top Interactive
HouseFit Water Rower Rowing Machine with Bluetooth APP
  • 330Lbs weight capacity
  • High-quality Solid steel covered stainless slide rail
  • 6 levels of water resistance
  • 10.2" Large tablet support
  • Dual caster wheels
  • No Adjustment on the Footpads/Straps for those with Smaller Feet
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Hydraulic Rowing Machine

Though this rowing machine type is considered outdated, there are some benefits of hydraulic resistance rowing machines. The reason why some people still prefer this type is its low cost than other rower machines, compact smaller size, and quiet operation.

The machine handles have attached pistons that produce the required resistance when they are pulled against fluid or air in cylindrical metal chambers. Though hydraulic rowing machines offer full-body efficient workout utilizing all major muscle groups, many rowers don’t suggest this type because motion is not smooth. 


  • Compact foldable design
  • Economical
  • Quiet operation


  • Regular maintenance required
  • No smooth rowing motion

Is it for me?

Hydraulic resistance rower machine is an excellent choice if your budget is limited or you have less space. It fits easily in your home workout area.