Magnetic, air, water or hydraulic rowing machines? Let’s compare these pieces of exercise equipment and see which type of rowing machine suits you best!

Magnetic Rower

A magnetic rowing machine has two magnets moving further or closer to its metal spinning flywheel, creating a frictionless resistance.


  • Quiet and smooth. Without part-on-part contact, this rowing machine type is almost noiseless. Frictionless rowing also ensures smoother strokes that are more joint-friendly.
  • Space-efficient. Magnetic rowers are typically more compact with a foldable design. Some models also come with detachable parts to save space. They are often lightweight, too, for easy storage.
  • Versatile. These machines have different levels of magnetic tension, making them more adaptable to users of varying fitness levels. They are also flexible to match your health goals: lower resistance for cardio training or higher resistance for muscle-building.
  • Low maintenance. Magnetic brakes require virtually no maintenance. A compact magnetic resistance rowing machine takes no time to wipe clean, too.
  • Affordable. This type of cardio machine has a lower price range than its air or water counterparts. Moreover, a low-maintenance rower saves money and time.


  • Power outlet requirement. Depending on your rower model, some need an external power source to work. This downside can limit your rowing location options.
  • No authentic rowing feel. This machine type will not make you feel like rowing on water. Also, you would have to manually adjust the resistance dial, making the rowing experience slightly unnatural.


A magnetic rower is best for owners of small home gyms. It’s also perfect for apartment dwellers who want to work out without bothering their neighbours.

Magnetic rowing machines are ideal for gym enthusiasts who enjoy watching TV or listening to music during their rowing routine.

Also, choose this option if you like working out even without the natural water rowing action.

Air Rowing Machine Type

Air Rower

An air rowing machine provides resistance by blowing air through the flywheel housing as you pull. The harder you row, the faster the fan moves, creating higher resistance.


  • Authentic rowing action. The resistance of air rowers depends on your physical input and speed rather than on a pre-set level. Each pull also creates a sound similar to actual rowing.
  • Workout progression. This rowing machine type has no resistance limit. That means your air rower grows with your improving fitness level.
  • High data accuracy. Higher-end models consider the drag factor of your strokes. This metric allows it to monitor variables like dust, elevation and humidity, which enhance personal data precision.
  • Adjustable resistance. Some models come with both air and magnetic features for a more linear resistance. Others have damper settings to blow more air into the flywheel, making each rowing stroke more challenging.


  • Noisy. An air-driven rower can be very loud. At times, you would have to shout to speak to the person using it.
  • Regular cleaning. Air resistance rowing machines have a lot of exposed parts where dust particles can quickly accumulate. Some have air filters, but dirt can still build up over time.


The most serious rowers or serious athletes will appreciate air resistance machines more. Its wide range of resistance fits constant use or an intense workout.

Its highly accurate data analytics also support their need to track training progress objectively.

Air rowing machines are also perfect for regular home users who prefer an authentic rowing experience despite the noise.

Water Rowing Machines / Air Rowers

Water Rower

A water resistance rowing machine has paddles immersed in a water tank. These parts connect to the drive chain and handle. As you row, the fan blades spin to generate resistance which mimics the outdoor rowing feel.


  • Relaxing workout. This indoor rowing machine type is the only one that can make Zen-like water sounds as if you’re on a real rowboat. It’s ideal for a calming, full-body workout!
  • Fluid mechanism. The workout machine spins the water wheel to create resistance, making the strokes incredibly smooth and easier on your joints.
  • Infinite resistance. There are two ways to adjust water rower resistance level: stroke rate and volume. The faster you pull, the higher the resistance. Similarly, you can increase the amount of water in the tank for a more challenging workout.
  • Aesthetic appeal. Wooden water rowers, in particular, are all-around, IG-worthy rowing machines! They look more like expensive furniture than fitness equipment.


  • Large footprint. Most water rowers are bulky and non-foldable. Some can be stored upright, though, but you’ll still need enough ceiling height to do that.
  • Quite noisy. The water sounds this machine makes may be relaxing. But if you’re in a small space, it can be a bit loud.
  • Maintenance and positioning needs. Depending on the rower model, you may have to clean and refill its tank every few months. Plus, you may need to position it away from direct sunlight to avoid algae growth.
  • Pricey. This option is the most expensive rowing machine type. So, if budget is a concern, you might want to check other indoor rowers.


A water rowing machine is your levelled up air rower. It has variable resistance levels and a beautiful design to boot.

It may be as noisy as an air-driven machine, but the water sounds are better for sure. And, of course, it’s the only rower type that gives that realistic rowing feel.

Hydraulic Rowing Machines to help lose weight

Hydraulic Rower

A hydraulic rowing machine has two handlebars with pistons or hydraulic cylinders attached. These cylinders may use fluid or air to produce resistance.


  • Flexible workout. Some hydraulic resistance rowers have a fixed seat position to do more upper body exercises. But if you want a balanced workout, there are options with a sliding seat, too.
  • Quiet operation. Pulling against fluid or air does not create friction. And that means you can work out without making a racket.
  • Compact design. This rowing machine type is the smallest of the lot. Moreover, it’s typically foldable and easy to pack away under the bed, in the closet or against the wall.
  • Low cost. Aside from being space-efficient, it’s also the most affordable rower available.


  • Outdated. If you’re into modern features, you might find hydraulic rowers less appealing. The resistance levels may not be as diverse as other rower options, too.
  • Slightly uncomfortable. Unlike other rowers, the hydraulic type does not provide a very smooth rowing motion. Using it feels more like pulling a weighted cable, which may not work for some users.
  • Constant maintenance. Hydraulic rowing machines have moving arms and components that need retightening every few rowing sessions.
  • Not as durable. Considering that it’s a budget rowing machine, its parts may not be for long-term use.


A hydraulic rowing machine may not be as durable or stunning as other types of rowers.

However, if you plan to mix rowing with additional exercises, this piece of equipment makes a great addition to your arsenal.

It’s also a great choice if you have a limited workout space and budget. It may not mimic real-life rowing, but it will surely help you stay fit and healthy.


So, which type of rowing machine is best?

The best rowing machine type is one that meets your needs and requirements. Specifically, it should suit your budget, space, and fitness goals.

And now that you know what makes each rower type different, it shouldn’t be a problem finding your best equipment match. My reviews and buying guide for rowing machines have more details to help you choose, too.