Buying a rower for your home or garage CrossFit gym is a sizeable investment, and with so many options out there it can be hard to decide which is the right rower.
Both Concept 2 and Water Rower brands are great, so how do you pick between two really good choices?
I will quickly tell you what to look out for before you decide on the best rowers for CrossFit for your home gym, let you know the difference between the Concept 2 vs Water Rower vs First Degree Rowers and give an in-depth review of 9 of the best rowers for CrossFit below.
Fast Guide to Rowers: What You Need to Know Before You Decide
Air, Water or Magnetic Resistance?
There are three ways rowers add resistance to the row:
Air flows over a fanned flywheel creating resistance. If you row faster, more resistance is created.
Some air resistance style rowers, like the Concept 2 rowers, have a damper that controls how much air is allowed to flow in, changing the resistance.
Water resistance rowers use a flywheel with paddles submerged in water to create resistance. Water Rower brand rowers and First Degree Fitness Rowers use an enclosed water bowl with a paddle flywheel to create resistance.
To increase resistance you can either add more water to the bowl if it is a Water Rower, or if it is a First Degree Rower, you turn a dial to increase resistance.
A magnetic resistance rower like the GoPlus Magnetic Resistance Rower uses a magnetic flywheel and strong magnet to create resistance.
The closer the magnet comes to the flywheel, the more resistance you have. Turning the resistance dial moves the magnet closer to or further from the flywheel.
High or Low to the Ground?
A typical rower sits just inches from the ground, which is fine if you are young and athletic and have no mobility issues.
The most popular rower, the Concept 2 model D is a rower that sits low to the ground.
If you are older, have joint or mobility issues, are not in great shape or recently had surgery, this low rider style rower may be a challenge to get on and off of.
High-end rower companies have a solution.
The Concept 2 rower made a special model, model “E” which sits higher off the ground and is much easier to get on and off of.
The Water Rower brand makes a matching rower stand called a high rise attachment (link to Amazon.com), sold separately or as part of a kit, that you install under the rower so it sits higher off the ground.
One Rail or Two?
I will say this right off the bat.
If you buy a budget rower with one rail, you can expect some seat wobble.
It does not mean that a budget rower is off limits, just be aware of what you are getting into and think carefully about how often you plan to use the rower.
The Concept 2 rower, which is a quality rower, has one rail, but it is very sturdy and the rail is wide and the rollers are precision crafted so you will not experience wobble on this machine.
Both Water Rower and First Degree brands have two rails for an exceptionally smooth, stable glide – no problems with either of these two rowers in terms of seat stability.
Aesthetics: Do Looks Really Matter?
The concept 2 rowers, which are by and far the most popular, have a very utilitarian look.
They look and feel like they belong in a commercial gym, and you will often find them in real gyms because they are so sturdy. The Concept 2 rowers will look right at home in your CrossFit Garage Gym.
As strong and well-built as the Concept 2 rowers are, you still may not want to display one in the middle of your living room. Sure, they have clean lines and a minimalist look, but they still look like Gym equipment.
Compare that to the beautiful real wood frames and water used in the Water Rower and First Degree Rowers. These two brands are attractive enough to keep in the living room, if that is where you plan to store it.
They are so good looking, your guests are sure complement their looks and ask about them.
TOP9 Best Rowing Machines for CrossFit Reviewed 2019
Black Concept 2 Model D Rower
Review: This is the number one rower for CrossFit. The rower offers an intense, yet low impact cardio workout that is easy on the knees and back.
This model is one of the best quality rowing machines for CrossFit with smooth erg action, a backlit LCD display with Wi-Fi capability and the ability to save data to USB and the 500 lb capacity and long rail make it ideal for big and tall rowers.
- Very easy to install and put together.
- Breaks down into two pieces for storage.
- Wi-Fi LCD screen connects to apps and has built-in games for added challenge.
- Heavy Duty, hold users up to 500 lbs.
- Seat could be more comfortable.
- Heart rate monitor not included.
The best of the best in terms of quality and user experience. Easily one of the best rowers for CrossFit.
Black Concept 2 Model E Rower
Review: The difference between the Concept 2 D rower above and this Concept 2 E model are this E model is higher off the floor, making it easier to get on and off of.
The Concept 2 model E is the right choice for older or heavier riders, or anyone with mobility issues who may find it challenging to get so low to the floor.
Other than that, this rower is identical to the Model D in terms of performance.
- Higher off the ground than the Concept 2 Model D for those with mobility issues.
- Smooth rowing function you can have confidence in.
- Very easy to put together.
- More expensive than the Concept 2 Model D.
Easy on, easy off, a great rower that sits higher off the ground.
WaterRower Club Rowing Machine
Review: The Water Rower Club rower is a quality rower erg that uses water to create resistance. The water level in the water bowl determines the resistance you feel as you row.
The water also makes for a nice smooth row and gives each stroke a realistic feel and sound as you erg.
The wood frame absorbs sound and the risers included on this model hole the machine higher off the ground making it a good choice for those with limited mobility.
- Water level determines resistance of the erg.
- Includes a riser which raises the unit higher off the ground for easy on and off.
- Can be stood on end to store out of the way.
- Beautifully crafted with real wood. Made in the USA.
- The foot rest feels cheap and the straps need more slack.
An absolutely beautiful piece of workout equipment that functions and pleasantly as it looks.
WaterRower Classic Rowing Machine
Review: The Classic Water Rower is made entirely from solid walnut which makes it not only aesthetically appealing but sturdy and quiet as well.
This machine is well built with a smooth rowing motion. The seat sits on two rails for a secure glide, the classic water rower uses a water-filled bowl for resistance, which can be adjusted depending on how much water you fill the bowl with.
- Constructed entirely of solid black walnut, absorbs sound and looks great.
- Dual rails under the seat lead to a smooth secure rowing motion.
- Extremely sturdy, 700 lb limit, also good for tall folks.
The most attractive, realistic and sturdy rowers your money can buy.
First Degree Fitness Water Rower Apollo Pro II
Review: The Apollo Pro II water rower uses a water-filled bowl to give resistance while rowing, but unlike the “Water Rower” brand, the resistance on the Apollo is adjusted using an easy turn dial.
This luxury machine is quieter and smoother than the popular chain based rowers and ergs, and many people prefer the aesthetics and lifelike feel and sound to the more mainstream brands.
- 330 lb user weight limit.
- You can stand it on its end, even filled with water, to store away.
- Consistent and smooth row, thanks to the use of a realistic water resistance system.
- More expensive than the top brand.
Lifelike, smooth, attractive and well-built rower that will not disappoint.
Review: If you are looking for the CrossFit rowing machine on a budget, why not consider the Stamina DT Pro?
This rower is light, quiet, foldable and easy on the pocketbook.
- Quieter than the competition.
- Foldable and easy to store.
- Seat sits on a single rail and may feel wobbly.
This low cost rower is a good fit for home or garage gym.
Review: This Budget rower features air resistance, which means the resistance increases as your speed increases. No need to adjust the resistance at all.
The seat is padded and the footrest is adjustable for a comfortable ride. The rower even has a simple display that shows speed, distance, time and calories burned.
- Air resistance – tension or resistance increases based on how fast you row.
- Comfortable padded seat and adjustable foot rests.
- Low, entry level price.
- Only accommodates riders up to 250 lbs.
Great rower for occasional use.
First Degree Fitness Viking 2
Review: This elegant all wood water resistance rower is perfect for your home gym.
The difference between this brand and the Water Rower brand is that with the water rower you must add more water to increase the resistance. With the Viking 2, you simply adjust the dial to increase resistance.
The rower seat sits on two rails making it smooth and secure, plus the all wood construction makes it a quiet machine, much quieter than the chain drive the competition uses.
- Water resistance feels and sounds natural, like rowing on the water.
- All wood, super quiet operation.
- Comfortable molded seat.
A real water rower that will last a lifetime, always look good and never go out of style.
Goplus Magnetic Folding Rowing Machine
Review: The Goplus Magnetic rowing machine is an affordable option for the occasional rower.
This machine would make a great choice for a home or garage gym and is the best rowing machine for CrossFit in this price range.
- Folds up, does not take much space to store.
- 10 levels of resistance. Uses magnetic resistance.
- Very light and portable, just 49 lbs.
- Only hold users up to 220 lbs.
The best CrossFit rower at this budget price. Great for use one or two times per week.
You Might also like…
E-Z Kleen Vinyl Rower Mat
The EZ Kleen Vinyl Rower mat is the perfect size mat to fit under your new rower.
This mat will prevent marks and nicks from developing on your hardwood or laminate floor, will dampen noise, keep the rower from slipping or sliding, and is made in the USA.
The Final Word
I can say with confidence that the Concept 2 Model D is the right choice for most CrossFit athletes and arguably the best rowing machine for CrossFit.
However, if you are looking for a budget rower and do not plan to use the rower every day you might only need the GoPlus magnetic folding rower.
If aesthetics are important than the looks and performance of the realistic Water Rower Classic cannot be beaten.
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