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

What are the Different Types of Rowing Machines?

Rowing machines are like ellipticals. They allow full-body workouts without hurting your joints.

But rowers come in various styles and designs. And each type has its strengths and weaknesses.

So, it’s best to research and try them out first before adding one to your home gym.

The best rowing machine for you should meet your fitness needs and preferences.

Here’s a table summarising the characteristics of each rower for easy comparison.

I’ve identified five essential factors that make them distinct: noise level, footprint and weight, cost, maintenance and overall experience.

Rowing Machine TypeNoise LevelFootprint and WeightCostMaintenanceOverall Experience
MAGNETICVery lowSmall and lightReasonableLowVersatile and balanced
AIRHighSmall and lightSlightly expensiveHighHighly accurate and flexible
WATERSlightly highLarge and heavyExpensiveSlightly highFluid and relaxing
HYDRAULICLowVery compact and portableAffordableSlightly highEasy and basic

Scroll down for a more detailed description and comparison of these rowing machines.

1. Magnetic Rower

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

Without part-on-part contact, this type of rowing machine is almost noiseless. Frictionless rowing also ensures smoother strokes that are more joint-friendly.

Magnetic rowing machines are also 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.

Most magnetic models have a lower price range than air or water types.

Moreover, magnetic brakes require virtually no maintenance, saving you money and time. Their compact design also makes them easy to wipe clean.

The adjustable resistance of magnetic rowers makes them versatile and more adaptable to users of varying fitness capacities.

You can set them at low resistance for cardio training or higher resistance for muscle-building – perfect for matching users’ varying goals.

There are a few issues with this type of rowing machine, though. One is the lack of an authentic rowing feel.

Also, you would have to manually adjust the resistance dial, making the rowing experience even more unnatural.

Depending on your rower model, some need an external power source to work, which can limit your rowing location options.

Best user match

A magnetic machine is best for owners of small home gyms.

It’s also perfect for apartment dwellers who want to work out without bothering their neighbours.

This fitness machine is ideal for gym enthusiasts who enjoy watching TV or listening to music during their rowing routine.

Also, choose this option if you prefer a quiet ride, even without the natural water rowing action.

Air Rowing Machine Type

2. Air Rower

Air rowing machines provide resistance by blowing air through the flywheel housing as you pull. The harder you row, the faster the fan moves, creating higher resistance.

This mechanism makes these machines very noisy. You might even have to shout to speak to the person using it for indoor rowing.

Size-wise, air and magnetic rowers are pretty much the same. There are also foldable air models if you have limited space.

But usually, this type of rowing machine is slightly more expensive. And that’s mainly because of the fitness experience it provides.

For instance, each pull mimics the sound of actual outdoor rowing. The resistance of air rowers also depends on your physical input and speed rather than on a pre-set level.

That means your air resistance machine grows with your improving fitness level.

Some air rowers also have damper settings to blow more air into the flywheel, making each rowing stroke more challenging.

Higher-end models consider the drag factor of your strokes, too.

This metric allows air rowers to monitor variables like dust, elevation and humidity, which enhance personal data precision.

Maintenance can be an issue with this indoor rowing machine type, though.

It has a lot of exposed parts where dust particles can quickly accumulate. Some have air filters, but dirt can still build up over time.

Best user match

Experienced rowers or athletes will appreciate air resistance rowing 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-driven rowers are also perfect for regular home users who prefer an authentic rowing experience despite the noise.

Water Rowing Machine Type

3. Water Rower

A water resistance 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.

The water sounds this machine makes are relaxing. But if you’re in a small space, it can be a bit loud.

Most water resistance rowers are also bulky and non-foldable.

Some can be stored upright, though. But you’ll still need enough ceiling height to do that.

This type of rowing machine is the most expensive, too. So, if budget is a concern, you might want to check other indoor rowers.

Then again, wooden water rowers are all-around, IG-worthy machines! They look more like aesthetic furniture than fitness equipment.

As for maintenance needs, 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.

What sets water rowing machines apart from other types is the Zen-like experience you get from every workout.

These machines spin the water wheel to create resistance, making the strokes incredibly smooth and easier on your joints.

Similar to air-driven rowers, they also allow infinite resistance. The faster you pull, the higher the resistance.

Also, you can increase the amount of water in the tank for a more challenging workout.

Best user match

A water rowing machine is best for people wanting to experience real-life rowing at home.

The enjoyable whooshing sound is perfect for effective yet calming full-body workouts.

It’s ideal for people with a budget and space for a versatile and beautifully designed exercise machine.

Hydraulic Type of Rowing Machine

4. 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.

Pulling against fluid or air does not create friction. And that means you’re in for a quiet ride.

This rower type is also the smallest of the lot. Moreover, hydraulic rowing machines are typically foldable and easy to pack away under the bed, in the closet or against the wall.

Aside from being space-efficient, it is also the most affordable rower available. However, it is the most outdated, too.

You might find hydraulic rowers less appealing if you are into modern features. The resistance levels may not be as diverse as other rower options either.

As these are budget machines, durability may also be an issue. Also, hydraulic rowers have moving arms and components that need retightening every few rowing sessions.

Workouts are relatively flexible, though. Some models have a fixed seat position to do more upper body exercises.

But there are also options with a sliding seat for a more balanced workout.

Generally, the hydraulic type does not provide a very smooth rowing motion.

Using it feels more like pulling a weighted cable, which may not feel comfortable to some.

Best user match

Hydraulic rowers and those looking for an affordable fitness machine are a perfect match.

It may not mimic real-life rowing, but it will help you stay fit and healthy.

It’s a great choice if you have a limited workout space.

Also, if you plan to mix rowing with other exercises, this option makes a great addition to your arsenal.


There are several types of rowing machines available. But the best one should suit your budget, space and fitness goals.

And now that you know the difference between various types of rowers, it shouldn’t be a problem finding your best equipment match.

You can check my reviews and buying guide for additional information, too.

1. Which is better for weight loss: the rowing machine or the treadmill?

Treadmills are excellent cardio machines. Adjusting their resistance and incline helps shed the extra pounds quickly. But over time, you’ll eventually reach a weight loss plateau. In this case, a rower is a better option to continue burning calories and developing muscles.

2. How many calories can I burn on a rowing machine?

A 30-minute rowing session can burn up to 300 calories. Of course, adding more effort and time into your workout leads to better results. So, it’s best to learn rowing strategies to optimise every push and pull.

3. Does rowing make you bulky?

If you maintain a low-calorie diet rich in vitamins and minerals, you need not worry about gaining excessive muscle mass from using a rowing machine. Being mindful of your diet is a good strategy to prevent you to look as muscular as a professional bodybuilder.