Hi I’m Alex and welcome to the unbiased rowing machine reviews site. Here you will find independent reviews of the top rowing machine brands & models, from Reebok Fitness, Tunturi, Vision Fitness, Life Fitness, NordicTrack, Horizon Fitness, Wave Rower and many many more.

I used to work as a service engineer for a major sports company so know a lot about rowing machines and other fitness equipment. I’m also an avid runner and have a real passion for fitness.

First Degree E216 Fluid Rower Review

Price: £999
Buy From: Fitness Superstore

Overall Rating: 4
Ease of use: 5
Console Features: 3
Comfort: 5
Value for Money: 4

The E216 fluid rower from First Degree Fitness is the entry level model from the Fluid rower range. Unlike the models below it (Neptune and Pacific rowers) the 216 has a vertical water drum to form part of the resistance system instead of the typical flat drum found on all other water based rowing machines.

The drum incorporates a Direct Drive System which puts you in direct contact with the water where a clever gate system allows you to drastically alter how much water you are physically pulling round the chamber when you row. This is adjusted by the simple turning of a lever on the front of the drum and provides 16 levels of resistance from feather light to an Olympic sprint for the even the fittest of users.

The E216 feels well made with a weight capacity of 136kg and is also pretty compact. The foot print is just 190cm long x 56cm wide which is considerably shorter than an equivalent air based rower. It can also be stored or moved very easily by lifting the rail at the back and simply standing it on its end or pushing it along on the transportation wheels at the front. The seat is ergonomically designed and very comfortable and the foot plate system is fixed instead of pivoting, with an adjustment for foot size very easy to do.  I should mention that the webbed straps for your heel didn’t appear to be particularly robust and I suspect heavy use of the rower would see you replacing them in time. This is something which has been improved on the higher spec model E316.

The console has all the basic requirements displaying time, distance, stroke rate and calorie counter and the option of adding a heart rate receiver kit is available for an additional £39.95 which will then work with any Polar non coded chest strap.

There is no doubt that water based resistance rowers in general are the most natural type of rowing machine in terms of feel and from an efficiency perspective they will work you harder than the alternatives. The sound of the water sloshing around is therapeutic which is bound to provide some motivational appeal.


  • Natural, continuous resistance
  • Motivational appeal
  • Compact and easily stored


  • Foot straps a bit flimsy
  • Basic console features for the price.

In summary then, if price isn’t the major factor when choosing your rowing machine then a fluid rower is certainly the way to go. The E216 has the edge over the water rower range with its impressive range of variable resistance and its easy to use storage and transportation design will appeal to those with space restrictions.

Price: £999
Buy From: Fitness Superstore

Proteus PAR5500T Rowing Machine Review

Proteus-Par5500-Rowing-MachinePrice: £599
Buy From: Fitness Superstore

Overall Rating: 4.5
Build Quality: 4
Ease of use: 4
Console Features: 5
Comfort: 4
Value for Money: 5

The Proteus PAR5500 rower is an air based rower with variable magnetic resistance.  With the majority of air rowers having to try and live up to the market leading Concept 2, there is nearly always a compromise when it comes to seeking out a more reasonably priced alternative.

It is often the case that mid range or budget home use air rowers, forgo the facility to adjust resistance levels. This results in a self regulating system which requires the user to put in more effort to their stroke rate in order for the rower to react and create a greater degree of resistance.  As many people are not overly motivated when it comes to exercise, the result can be that the workout becomes too easy and not challenging enough.This obviously negates the efficiency of the overall workout benefits.

So how does the Proteus stack up?  Well to begin with as with most air rowers this is a large product, at 260cm long by 49cm wide you will need plenty of floor space to use it.  It can be folded easily for storage which reduces the overall length to 100cm.  Transportation wheels also allow the rower to be moved around for practical storage.

Proteus-Par5500-Rowing-Machine-ConsoleThe seat is a large moulded PU affair which is comfortable and well capable of handling users of up to 150kg.  A single aluminium rail coupled with a roller bearing slide provides a smooth and quiet ride. The footplates are pivoting, adjustable, non slip with a Velcro strap and will handle even the largest feet with no difficulty whatsoever. The tension control system incorporates 16 levels of electronically controlled magnetic resistance and the auto-rewinder system gives a smart reactive feel to the recoil of the handle, even when rowing at real pace.

The electronic resistance means the console has been packed with some really great features in terms of programs. There are user defined options, heart rate control (wireless strap included), wattage control and even a race option over 500m giving the user the chance to compete against the monitor over 15 different levels. In addition to this there are 12 preset profile programs similar to those found on cycles or ellipticals.  Feedback of time, distance, strokes, calories and heart rate are all clearly displayed on a large back lit colour screen.

Build quality seems very good and the Proteus is also no slouch in the looks department with a contemporary silver and black finish to the frame.  It does require mains power for all the monitor functions and the product is backed with a solid 3 year parts and labour warranty.


  • Smooth, even resistance
  • Plenty of console options for motivation
  • Great build quality and specification for the price


  • Fan is noisy when rowing at speed

In summary then, to find an air rower with this many features and this amount of resistance at under £600 isn’t easy.

The Proteus really delivers on all fronts and is a great solution for those looking for a more cost effective alternative to the Concept 2.  It isn’t as enjoyable to use as more expensive water based rowers but it is certainly better than the alternative air rowers at this price point.

Price: £599
Buy From: Fitness Superstore

York R301 Magnetic Rowing Machine Review

York R301 Rowing MachinePrice: £319
Buy From: Fitness Superstore

Overall Rating: 3
Build Quality: 2
Ease of use: 3
Console Features: 4
Comfort: 3
Value for Money: 3.5

A lot of people’s only experience of a rowing machine is likely to have been the Concept 2 rower, which has been the gym and health club staple for many years.  Therefore, when choosing a rower for the home, there is often a requirement to try and replicate the feel of a Concept 2 but at a less premium price.

The R301 is a budget range air and magnetic resistance rower from York Fitness but despite this there are certain similarities in the flow and movement to those found on more premium models.

The inclusion of 16 levels of electronically controlled adjustable resistance is fairly unique for an entry level rowing machine and will provide a challenge to users of all shapes and sizes.  Because the resistance is controlled electronically, York have been able to incorporate eight preset workout programs into the console which in itself is something of a rarity, as lower priced rowing machines often only provide basic feedback, with time, distance, stroke rate and a calorie counter.

The R301 has upped the anti by not only including the basic feedback and programs but also a heart rate monitor facility, although a Polar T31 chest strap will be required. The purist might argue that rowing uses 90% of the muscles in the body so is hard enough work already and therefore variable intensity programs are not required.

York-R301-Rowing-Machine-ConsolePeople can have a tendency to row a specific distance as quickly as they can or row as far as they can within a specified time with a view to bettering their performance at the next attempt.  Having said that, keeping motivation levels up is key when exercising, so the inclusion of programs here is a real bonus for those with a low boredom threshold or a competitive nature.

The foot plates are fully and easily adjusted for all sized feet and the seat is contoured and comfortable. The maximum user weight is 120kg (18.5 stone) which is average and reflects that this is a budget product.

For those with space restrictions, be warned, like the majority of air rowers this is not a small product.  When in use it stretches to 257cm long and although it can be folded to a more reasonable size for storage it is a fiddly operation almost requiring three hands to perform the task.

The build quality isn’t the greatest, with a slightly cheap feel to it although York back up the product with an extended 2 year warranty option when you register it with them once purchased. The bright orange colour used in the graphics won’t be to everyone’s taste but it doesn’t detract from what is a pretty reasonable rower considering the alternatives at this level.


  • Adjustable resistance and programs
  • Smooth and even stroke pull
  • Value for money


  • Awkward folding mechanism
  • Large footprint
  • Build quality feels a bit cheap

In summary then, if you are on a budget, but want an air rower with decent features and space is not a primary concern then the R301 would be a good choice. It performs better than the alternative options for the price but serious rowers or heavy users may find that the build quality won’t stand the test of time.

Price: £319
Buy From: Fitness Superstore

Neptune Challenge Rower Review

Neptune Challenege Rowing MachinePrice: £499
Buy From: Fitness Superstore

Overall Rating: 3
Build Quality: 3
Ease of use: 4
Console Features: 1
Comfort: 3
Value for Money: 3

Water resistance based indoor rowing machines are based upon relatively new technology within the fitness industry which means they are still a little above the budget price point.  Designed to recreate a lifelike simulation of the real thing, there are several offerings within the marketplace with the most well known model being the wooden water rower.

The Neptune rower from First Degree Fitness is the entry level from their range.  At a size of only 197cm long and 53cm wide it is extremely compact for a rowing machine as many models are over 2m in length.  It is also stored by simply standing it up on its end which results in a meagre storage footprint of just 53cm x 51cm. This makes it the ideal solution for those with real space restriction concerns. Not only that but the inclusion of inbuilt transit wheels at the front mean that moving this rower around is easy for anyone to do making it very portable.

The tough, polycarbonate tank uses marine grade, stainless internals and there are fill lines clearly indicated on the tank for users to be able to add or remove water as required to provide different levels of resistance according to fitness levels. These range between 9 litres (easy) to 17 litres. (maximum difficulty)  Although not particularly difficult to do, I felt that the majority of people will simply fill the tank to the optimum level and leave it there as less water than this meant very minimal resistance which didn’t represent much of a challenge. As there is no other way of adjusting resistance on this rower, this signifies the biggest weakness of the Neptune.

To create a more intense workout, you have to row faster, which relies on the motivation of the rower and makes it a little one dimensional in terms of workout versatility.  Having said all that, the resistance that is there, is smooth and continuous through the strokes and there are none of the “dead spots” or momentum lag that can be found on air based resistance rowers.

The seat is comfortable and it runs smoothly on precision bearings and rollers on an aluminium rail. The footplates pivot and the straps adjust quickly and easily for any sized feet. The whole product seems very well crafted and it will hold users to a maximum capacity of 140kg (22 stone).

The monitor provides the basics, with time, stroke count, stroked per minute and calories. The LCD is large and clear but there is no distance monitor, which although not essential, does limit functionality as a lot of rowers will like the option to compete with distance as their goal.  First Degree rather sneakily included this basis option on the Pacific model rower which is the next in the range but it costs another £100 for the privilege.


  • Smooth, realistic resistance with no dead spots
  • Very compact, portable and easily stored


  • Resistance not easily adjusted
  • No distance reading on the monitor

In summary then, for an entry into water resistance based rowers, the Neptune does well.  If you are looking for some general exercise with a realistic, sometimes even therapeutic feel to it and are willing to forgo some motivational goals then the Neptune could be for you.  Serious rowers will need to look elsewhere though as this rower will not be challenging enough.

Price: £499
Buy From: Fitness Superstore

Tunturi R25 Rowing Machine Review

Tunturi R25 Rowing MachinePrice: £299
Buy From: Fitness Superstore

Overall Rating: 4
Build Quality: 4
Ease of use: 4
Console Features: 3
Comfort: 3.5
Value for Money: 4


The R25 magnetic rower is the entry level model in the Tunturi range.  As with the majority of home use rowers there is a folding facility enabling users to significantly reduce the footprint for storage.

At 201cm long when in use, this rower is already shorter than an air resistance alternative which tend to be significantly longer at around 260cm. By unwinding a simple handle, the seat rail can be lifted and folded vertically so that the length of the rower when stored is a more convenient 102cm.

There are large footplates which pivot to reduce stress on the heel and large Velcro straps are easily adjusted to accommodate various sized feet.  A single rail and soft ergonomic seat ensure rider comfort, although the range of seat movement is just 71cm from front to back which will shorten the stroke length for taller users, resulting in a workout that sometimes feels a bit restricted and there is certainly nothing like the sense of involvement you would experience with an air or water based alternative.

Magnetic rowers are however compact, and very quiet which will count for a lot in some home environments. The resistance is adjustable via a manually operated permanent magnetic brake.  It uses a similar type of system to that used on an exercise cycle except that instead of pedalling you are pulling.

The 6kg rotating mass will provide enough of a challenge for the majority and the 8 levels mean that this rower has some versatility but as a magnetic rower, the compromise is the slightly mechanical feel which is evident in all rowers of this type.

Tunturi-R25-Rowing-Machine-ConsoleThe console is large and clearly displays time, distance, strokes and 500m splits with a calorie counter and a heart rate monitor display. (Polar T31 wireless chest strap is required to utilise this) As the LCD is monochrome however, I found it wasn’t always easy to ready the display in bright sunlight.

Programs on rowing machines in general tend to be a luxury as rowing is a challenging enough exercise incorporating some 90% of the body’s muscle groups so alot of manufacturers consider them to be unnecessary.  After all you wouldn’t row a boat up a hill you would simply go faster.

The R25 is a lightweight portable rower, easily moved on transportation wheels when folded and sturdy too, able to handle users of up to 135kg.  The Tunturi level of build quality is plain to see and is backed up with a 15 year frame and 3 year parts and labour warranty on all other parts.


  • Light, portable and easy to fold
  • Comfortable seat
  • Great build quality represents good value for money
  • Quiet and smooth


  • Short range of movement for taller users
  • Mechanical, slightly unnatural resistance when compared with alternatives

In summary then, if you are looking for a premium built rowing machine on a budget and your needs are for something compact and quiet then the R25 does very well indeed.  If you have more room available however, then the York Fitness R301 Mag air rower is good alternative to consider for a better, more rounded workout, especially if you are taller than average.

Price: £299
Buy From: Fitness Superstore