Rowing machines provide a solid full-body workout that will keep your heart rate up and will build lean muscle mass – at the same time! It also is a great exercise alternative for people with bad knees and ankles that still want a challenging cardiovascular workout without beating up their joints like running does. If this sounds like the exercise machine for you, what are you waiting for – go out and buy one! There are plenty of different rowers to choose from varying in price, resistance-type, portability; the list goes on and most rowers work fine for the general population but if you’re a “shorter” person there might be an issue. If not all rowers are suited for shorter people, what is the best rowing machine for short people?
The issue for shorter people is not their height because they will be able to fit in the rower comfortably; the primary issues are how far the seat will glide on the seat rail and range of motion. To better explain let me briefly go over a basic rowing stroke first. There are 4 phases in a rowing stroke:
- The Catch
- The seat is underneath your body, your shoulders are relaxed and your arms are straight in front of you while you’re gripping the handle, your knees are close to your chest and are parallel to your feet
- The Drive
- From ‘the catch’ position, you push off with your legs and before you straighten them your back will start leaning backward slightly and while all of this is happening, the handle is getting closer to your body.
- The Finish
- You fully extend your legs, your back is slightly leaning backward, and the handle is pulled to your body touching your chest.
- The Recovery
- It’s the process above but in reverse – you straighten your arms as the handle pulls you back to starting position, you start bending your knees, and then you return to the ‘the catch’ position.
During ‘the catch’ phase your legs are close to your chest and when you start ‘the drive’ you push off with your legs. If you’re a shorter person, presumably you have shorter legs and to be able to be in ‘the catch’ position with your knees close to your chest while having the seat underneath your body; you have to have the seat glide closer to the end of the rail where the flywheel is. The problem with this is that on some rowing machines, the seat doesn’t go up far enough to make this happen correctly.
Because you can’t push the seat up far enough, your legs won’t be close enough to your chest meaning they’re not bent sufficiently enough. When you start ‘the drive’ when you push off with your legs, it won’t be that much of a push-off because your legs were half-way straightened to begin with. This causes the involvement with your back and arms during the rest of the stroke to be vastly reduced as well. To sum it up – your legs, your back, your arms, your core… your whole workout and rowing experience will be adversely affected if you try to row on a machine that limits your range of motion so choose your rowing machine wisely. This is why it’s important to distinguish the best rowing machine for short people.
Listed below are important criteria a rowing machine must have to be considered suitable for short people:
Design – To be suitable, it obviously must be designed to accommodate shorter people. Here are a few things I’ll be looking for:
- The seat rail must move up far enough to allow people with shorter legs to bend them fully so no range of motion is sacrificed during rowing
- The fitness monitor must be viewable/ accessible without the user having to do anything different
- The buttons/ knobs to adjust resistance (if applicable) must be accessible without the user having to do anything different
- The footrests must be able to fit the presumably smaller feet of the user
Quality – Choosing a machine that accommodates your height does you no good if the rower isn’t desirable to use. I’ll be looking over the following:
- Resistance Type
- There are 4 different resistance types; each have their pros and cons
- Adjustable resistance is desirable
- Monitor/ Control Panel
- Fitness monitors are expected to (at the very least) keep track of vital workout statistics such as time of workout, number of rows, and distance rowed
- Additional features are great but only if they’re functional/ add value
- Build Quality
- The machine is assumed to be used for years and the user will presumably get stronger during that time so the frame and the rest of the rower must be solidly built
- Low quality machines have a tendency to make constant, unnecessary squeaking noises and this will be considered during the review process
- A comfortable seat, handles, and footrests are important because if you’re not comfortable during rowing it won’t be long before your rower turns into a clothes rack
- Storage Options
- Rowing machines take a lot of floor space when in use but some rowers have the ability to be folded up/ taken apart and stored away to save space when not in use. Portability is always a bonus
- Some machines can be put together in a few minutes; others can take a few hours
- The easier to assemble the better
- The longer the warranty the better but besides providing longer protection for your investment, a longer warranty shows the manufacturer believes in the quality of their product and this is a good sign for owners
- Is the price reasonable?
Recommended Rowing Machine
When considering the criteria above, the best rowing machine for short people is the Concept2 Model D. A well-respected company in the rowing and fitness industry, Concept2 has a sterling reputation for producing solid rowing machines and that tradition continues with the Model D. It’s built like a tank; it’s commercial-grade so it’s tough enough to be used in health clubs and boathouses, but has a simple yet flexible design that also makes it suitable for home use. Air-resistance allows the user to determine their resistance-level on the fly by adjusting their rowing intensity and there are additional options to customize the rowing experience. The performance monitor is one-of-a-kind and can do many things including track important workout data, measure your heart rate, teach you how to row with correct form, and allows you to race yourself based on your performance from a previous workout.
Why this Machine was Chosen
The Concept2 Model D was chosen because its design works excellent for short people (as well as everyone else big, small, tall, etc.) and it’s one of the best machines on the market.
NOTE: There are other machines that will work fine for shorter people, but the quality wasn’t that great because it was a “cheaper” rower or the price was much higher than the Model D but didn’t provide enough value to justify the much higher price tag.
Design – The seat on the Model D’s seat rail moves up far enough to allow shorter people’s legs to be in ‘the catch’ position without any issues which allows the individual to row naturally and with full range of motion. As mentioned above, this is important because rowing without full range of motion ruins the workout and rowing experience. The fitness monitor is viewable and accessible without any issues, the damper settings (this allows the rowing experience to be adjusted; similar to bicycle gears on a bicycle) are easy to reach besides the flywheel housing, the chain that’s pulled while rowing doesn’t snag, and the footrests can fit almost any shoe size so people with smaller feet will have no problems rowing with shoes on or barefoot.
To further validate that this machine is ideal for short people, Concept2 offers awards and prizes for users of their products when they hit certain milestones such as rowing 1 million meters, etc. They offer the same kinds of awards/ prizes specifically for junior users so kids in the elementary-school grade level (based on my research kids underneath 5’ tall comfortably row on this machine) use these machines all the time and get rewarded by Concept2 when they reach 10,000 meters and other milestones. If this doesn’t tell you the Model D is ideal for short people, I honestly don’t know what else will!
Quality – This rower is one of the best on the market and it comes to no surprise that when it comes to quality, not many machines are in its class; especially in this price range. It received hundreds of 5-star reviews from proud owners and I’m confident you would give it the same rating once you own one yourself. I go over the ‘important criteria’ listed above in greater detail in my Model D review here. Once you read the review you’ll see why I call it the best rowing machine for short people.
It’s the harsh truth that all rowing machines were not created equal – some are just too small and surprisingly some are just too big. But just because some people are shorter shouldn’t mean they can’t have a solid full-body workout in the comfort of their own homes like everyone else can and thanks to the Concept2 Model D – that problem is no longer an issue.
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