best rowing machine for short peopleSo you’re short and you want to know what is the best rowing machine for short people?

Well no problem. The question is actually a lot easier than it sounds.

Most rowing machines can accommodate short people but there are a few that have limitations in their design.

Rowing machines provide full-body workouts that elevate heart rates and build lean muscle mass!

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, build quality, etc.. 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.

I will go through a few items for “shorter” people to be aware of before presenting my opinion on the best rowing machine for short people.

Understanding The Rowing Stroke

The primary issues for short people are how far forward the seat will glide on the seat rail and the handle range of motion.

To better explain let me briefly go over a basic rowing stroke.  There are 4 phases in a rowing stroke:

The Catch

Rowing Machine Abs Catch

  • The seat is underneath your body, your shoulders are relaxed and your arms are straight in front of you gripping the handle. Your knees are close to your chest and are almost over your feet.

The Drive

Rowing Machine Abs Drive

  • From ‘the catch’ position, you begin by pushing off with your legs. Before you straighten them your back will start leaning backward slightly. While all of this is happening, the handle is getting pulled closer to your body.

The Finish

Rowing Machine Abs Finish

  • You fully extend your legs, your back is slightly leaning backward, and the handle is pulled to your body.

The Recovery 

Rowing Machine Abs Recovery

  • The entire process above but in reverse back to the ‘the catch’ position.

The following video will briefly show you the 4 phases in a rowing stroke:

Problem Phases for Short People

Catch Phase

During ‘the catch’ phase your legs are close to your chest getting ready to push off and start ‘the drive’.

To get into this position you must have your knees bent, seat under your body, and be close to the front of the rower.

The problem with some rowing machines is the seat doesn’t go up far enough to make this happen correctly.

When the seat cannot move far enough forward, your legs won’t be close enough to your chest. This means they’re not bent sufficiently.

When you start ‘the drive’ you won’t get the full effect of the push-off  because your legs were not fully bent.

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, back, arms, and 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.

Drive and Finish Phase

On some rowers, like hydraulic-piston rowers, a user cannot control the height of the rowing handles.

So instead of being able to pull the handle back just below the chest, they must pull it back to wherever it allows them.

On shorter rowers this means they have to pull the handle back higher up on their chest. This resulted in some discomfort in their shoulders. Some even complained of shoulder pain.

So if you are interested in a hydraulic-piston rowing machine just make sure this isn’t a problem or that it has ‘free-motion’ arms.

Important Criteria for Selecting a Rower

Listed below are important criteria a rowing machine must have to be considered suitable for short people:


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


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 so the frame and 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 or taken apart. Portability and storage capabilities are 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. Besides providing longer protection for your investment, a longer warranty shows the manufacturer believes in the quality of their product


  • Is the price reasonable?

Recommended Best Rowing Machine for Short People

When choosing the best rowing machine for short people I have 2 options. Luckily they are my 2 most recommended rowers for all users.

The manufacturers of the rowing machines below were smart enough to ensure that there were no low-end height limitations on their rowers.

If you choose a different rower than the options below, please make sure to check that people your height have rowed on the machine with no issues!

Option #1: Concept2 Model D

Best Rowing Machine for Short PeopleWhen considering the criteria above, my first choice for “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 so it’s tough enough to be used in health clubs and for home use.

Air-resistance allows the user to determine their resistance-level on the fly by adjusting their rowing intensity.

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.

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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.


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.

This 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 are easy to reach, and the footrests can fit almost any shoe size.

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 and kids in the elementary-school. Children under 5.0′ tall have used this rower and received awards.

If this doesn’t tell you the Model D is ideal for short people, I honestly don’t know what else will!


This rower is one of the best on the market and has outstanding quality.

It received hundreds of positive 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.

Option #2: Stamina Air Rower 1399

Rowing Machine for Short PersonNot happy with the Concept2 Model D?

Maybe the overall footprint is too big or you aren’t ready to splurge on a high end rowing machine?

Check out another great option for a rowing machine for short people by reading my Stamina Air Rower 1399 Review! Just click here!

I cover all the same criteria that is covered in this article. When you read the review you will see why it also is a great rowing machine for shorter people but at a much lower price.

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