Water vs. Air Rowing Machine: What is the Difference?
Once a week I get asked, “What is the difference between a water vs. air rowing machine?”
I usually write a long-winded response, so I’ve decided to answer the question once and for all.
Most people can look at a water rower or air rower and describe the basic differences.
However, they won’t be able to describe some of the key similarities and differences that I breakdown in this article.
Both resistance types will be similar in regards to functionality, rowing technique, muscles used, and footprint. They will be different in regards to price, storage, noise level, monitors, etc..
Many people have trouble deciding between a water vs. air rowing machine when buying a home rower. This article will hopefully help make that decision easier.
Below I completely breakdown how both air and water rowing machines operate and their differences. See what type most closely aligns with your preferences.
Water Rowing Machine
|Water Rowers||Description||Check Price|
|Top Top Top||WaterRower Oxbridge Rowing Machine in Cherry with S4 Monitor||Check Price|
|Top Top Top||WaterRower Club Rowing Machine in Ash Wood with S4 Monitor||Check Price|
|Top Top Top||Waterrower Rowing machine Ash||Check Price|
|Top Top Top||WaterRower Classic Rowing Machine in Black Walnut with S4 Monitor||Check Price|
|Top Top Top||XTERRA Fitness ERG650W Water Rowing Machine||Check Price|
|Top Top Top||Merax Water Rowing Machine – Fitness Indoor Water Rower with LCD Monitor Home Gym Equipment (Black)||Check Price|
|Top Top Top||RUNOW Water Rowing Machine, Wood Water Rower with LCD Monitor Water Resistance Wooden Rower Machine for Home Use 300 350 LBS Capacity (Black)||Check Price|
Water rowing machines provide a strong, quiet resistance that is said to be the smoothest of any resistance type.
All water rowing machines have a large water tank at the front of the machine with a fairly long seat rail. Most people picture them as being made from wood due to the most popular and expensive water rowing machine brand, “WaterRower”.
However, there are new water rowing machine models coming out every year that offer different styles and more affordable prices.
One would think a water rowing machine would be the #1 choice for home rowing machines, considering rowing is a sport performed on water.
While there are a lot of really good reasons to buy a water rowing machines, there are also very good reasons to buy other resistance types like air rowing machines.
My goal of this article is to breakdown the water vs. air rowing machine differences so you can choose which type is right for you.
The resistance on water rowing machines, as you may have guessed, is provided by water.
Each rowing machine has paddles suspended in a tank of water at the front of the machine. A user must pull a handle attached to a “rowing strap” that spins the paddles in the tank.
As the paddles spin, they must move the water, which is creating drag/resistance. To move these paddles requires a “force” by the user.
As a user rows faster, the paddles must move more water, which is creating more drag/resistance. This faster pace requires more and more force!
Simply, the harder you row, the more resistance you feel and the more force you must apply.
WaterRower states this is directly related to the “Rule of Cubes“, which is defined as “a doubling of the speed of the boat will require an eight-fold increase in resistance.”
This exponential relationship of speed vs. resistance means there is an infinite amount of resistance levels you can experience on a water rowing machine.
This is why we call water rowing resistance “variable”.
If this is a little confusing, just know there are technically no resistance settings on a water rowing machine. To feel more resistance, you just need to row faster.
I have a video below explaining the relationship of drag vs. resistance vs. velocity.
Water Level Adjustment
Each water rowing machine will have the ability to add or subtract water from the main tank. The water level will change how the rowing stroke feels.
Each water rowing machine manual should have instructions for where to fill the tank depending on your age or athletic abilities.
Many people think adding more water to the tank will “increase resistance”. This statement is actually false.
Drag/resistance is related to speed, such as “the faster a boat travels, the greater the drag and the harder the crew must work” (taken from WaterRower Manual).
The tank’s water level actually simulates the weight of the boat and the person inside. Changing the water level doesn’t change the resistance but instead changes the “weight” the user is trying to move.
More water in the tank simulates a heavier boat, while less water simulates a lighter boat.
This does translate into a full tank being more of a strength based workout due to the “heavier” stroke.
Water rowing machine monitors are neither really great or really bad. They seem to hover somewhere in the middle.
How advanced a monitor is depends on the price you pay for a rowing machine. Unfortunately, even when paying a high price for a water rowing machine, you don’t get the best monitor like you do on an air rower.
The best monitor you can get on a water rowing machine is the Series 4 (S4) monitor on the WaterRower brand machines.
This monitor has many advanced features such as stroke rate, 500m split, watts, distance, heart rate, etc.. It can also connect to a PC to play different games and race against users from around the world.
These features are excellent for a home rowing machine and are usually enough for the average user. However, the features pale in comparison to the PM5 monitor on the best air rowing machine.
If you don’t care a ton about comparing data to other rowing athletes or competing in indoor rowing competitions, then a water rowing machine monitor will be more than enough. If any of these items do interest you, then continue reading below under the air rowing machine monitors.
While resistance is the main difference between a water rowing machine vs. air rowing machine, there are a few more feature that are unique to water rowers.
One of the main features people love is the noise level. While not completely silent, a water rowing machine makes a quaint splashing noise that is oddly “zen-like”. People find the noise to be soothing and sometimes meditative.
It is louder than a magnetic rowing machine but quieter than an air rower. Users can easily enjoy watching TV while rowing or not have to worry about disturbing someone in an adjacent room.
Many of the most popular water rowing machines are also aesthetically pleasing. Hand-crafted from wood, these rowing machines look more like a piece of living room furniture than exercise equipment.
People looking to store a rowing machine in their living room choose a water rower for this reason.
Below are some other unique features of water rowing machines:
- Upright storage with the water tank acting as a ballast for stability.
- Use of a “rowing strap” and not a “chain” to reduce noise.
- Wood frames look great, absorb sound & vibration, and increase build quality.
- A full water tank makes the rowing machine heavy and more difficult to move far.
Air Rowing Machine
|Top Top Top||Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 Performance Monitor, Black||Check Price|
|Top Top Top||Concept2 Model E with PM5 Performance Monitor Indoor Rower Rowing Machine Black||Check Price|
|Top Top Top||Body-Solid R300 Endurance Rower for Total Body Workout, Home and Commercial Gym||Check Price|
|Top Top Top||Body-Solid R300 Endurance Rower for Total Body Workout, Home and Commercial Gym||Check Price|
|Top Top Top||Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399||Check Price|
|Top Top Top||Stamina ATS Air Rower, Grey - Smart Workout App, No Subscription Required - Foldable Rowing Machine for Home Use||Check Price|
|Top Top Top||XTERRA Fitness ERG500 Air Turbine Rower||Check Price|
Air rowing machines offer a smooth, strong rowing stroke in a wide variety of price ranges. Being sold for high, medium, and low prices makes them great for at-home rowing machines.
Like water rowers, they too closely mimic the resistance felt while rowing on water. Unlike water rowers, air rower monitors can very accurately record speed, distance, power, etc..
These advanced monitors are what makes them very popular in the fitness community. It is also the reason why air rowers are the chosen resistance type among Olympic athletes.
Resistance on an air rowing machine is as you guessed, controlled by “air”. Air rowers operate very similar to water rowers in that both follow the laws of “fluid dynamics”, with one fluid being air and the other water.
Air rowing machines operate by a user pulling a handle that is attached to a fan flywheel. As the user performs a rowing stroke they spin the flywheel. As the flywheel spins it must move the air particles which cause resistance/drag against the fan. Thus, spinning the flywheel requires a “force” from the user.
As a user begins to row faster, they spin the flywheel faster. As the flywheel spins faster it must move more air particles that are creating a greater resistance/drag. This in return requires a greater and greater force by the user.
Does this sound familiar? Well it should because when comparing a water vs. air rowing machine, the resistance operation is almost exactly the same.
The faster you row, the more resistance you feel! The “Rule of Cubes” described above also applies here as well, so there is an exponential relationship between speed and resistance.
Like water rowing resistance, we also call air rowers a “variable” resistance machine. There are an infinite number of resistance levels you can achieve by simply rowing faster or slower.
You can view the video below for a good explanation of air & water resistance vs. velocity.
The benefit of some air rowing machines is the ability to control airflow to the flywheel with a “damper”.
Dampers can have various settings that allow different amounts of air to interact with the flywheel as you are rowing. This is very similar to changing the water levels in a water rowing machine tank.
A low damper setting of 1 will allow only a small amount of air to interact with the spinning flywheel. This means there are less “air particles” to interact with the flywheel. In return, this allows for a “lighter” feeling rowing stroke.
A high damper setting of 10 allows large amounts of air to enter the flywheel. This creates more air interacting with the flywheel and a “heavier” feeling stroke.
Again, this may sound like resistance but it really changes the feeling of the stroke. High damper settings feel like a heavy rowing boat, while low damper settings feel like a light rowing boat.
Concept2 states, “damper setting is similar to bicycle gearing: it affects how rowing feels but does not directly affect the resistance. A lower damper setting on the indoor rower is comparable to easier gears on a bike.” You can read their full damper breakdown here.
What really interests a lot of people are the monitors on air rowing machines. While monitors on budget air rowers are basic and inaccurate, monitors on high-end air rowers are advanced and highly accurate.
The Concept2 Model D PM5 monitor is the best monitor on the market. It can very accurately record items like distance, 500m split times, watts, pace boat and force curve. Below are photos of a few screens the PM5 can display.
This monitor has the ability to accurately record these data points because it can constantly record the “drag factor” in real time. This means it calculates the deceleration of your flywheel every stroke and determines the true amount of “work” a user is performing.
This constant drag calculation means humidity, dust build up, elevation, and all other factors won’t effect the data displayed and recorded on the monitor.
When using a monitor like the PM5, users around the world can compare times and race against each other. It is the main reason why air rowing machines (specifically Concept2 currently) are used by Olympic rowers, indoor rowing competitions, and world records.
Below are some other features that are unique to air rowing machines when compared to water rowing machines.
- Seat rail can fold for easy storage and reduce overall footprint.
- A plastic flywheel resistance allows for a fairly lightweight machine.
- Fan makes a loud “whooshing” noise while in use. TV volume will need to be turned up and people may be able to hear the rowing machine in an adjacent room.
Water vs. Air Rowing Machine
When comparing a water vs. air rowing machine you will notice there are a lot of similarities. Probably more similarities than differences.
I will list the main similarities below and then breakdown the major differences if you haven’t already caught them from the outline above.
- Both have fairly long frames and large footprints.
- Long frames make both rowing machines good for tall users.
- Heavy users (300+ lbs.) can find rowing machines to match their weight capacity.
- Both utilize “variable” resistance- the faster you row, the more resistance you feel.
- Variable resistance makes each great for HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts.
- Both mimic the resistance felt while rowing on water.
- You can change the “feel” of the rowing stroke on both machines- add/subtract water from water rower or change damper on air rower.
- The same rowing technique is used on both rowing machines.
- Each utilize a “handle” pull mechanism that is attached via a rowing strap or chain.
- The same muscles are targeted on both rowing machines.
- Both are highly respected rowing machines in the rowing industry.
After reading the outlines above you should have a good idea of the differences between a water rower vs. air rower. I will highlight some of the major differences below.
One of the major deciding factors between water and air rowers is price. Water rowing machines are often found in higher price ranges with the lowest model going for $700 and the best models starting around $1,100. Air rowers are found in every price range starting at $300 and going as high as $1,000+. The affordability of air rowing machines makes them very popular.
Noise level is another large factor that tips the scale more towards water rowers. Air rowers make a fairly loud “whooshing” noise every stroke, which makes them bad for people who like watching TV, have sleeping children, live in apartments, or like working out early in the AM. Water rowers do make some noise but the splashing of water in the tank is a lot quieter and more soothing than the fan noise produced by air rowers.
Another difference that I covered above is monitor performance. While both types can have high and low quality monitors depending on the price you pay, you can get the best monitor on an air rower. If tracking data, comparing times, and racing are exciting to you, then I suggest looking into an air rowing machine with an advanced monitor.
The “stroke feel” of each resistance type is something I haven’t mentioned yet. It is difficult to determine because it really depends on what model of air or water rowing machines you are comparing. However, there does seem to be a trend.
Water rowing machines seem to have a stronger “catch” that lightens as you reach the “finish”. Air rowers seem to have a lighter “catch” that increases as you accelerate to the “finish”.
Both rowing machines provide an excellent “stroke feel” and the difference is something only advanced rowers will notice. You will have needed to row a lot on both resistance types to notice the difference.
Below is an easy to read chart comparing water vs air rowing machines with a few additional differences.
|Water Rowing Machine||Air Rowing Machine|
|Price||Found in higher-end price range: $700 – $1,100+||Found in every price range: $300 – $1000+|
|Noise Level||Relatively quiet- Water makes a splashing noise inside the tank.||Fairly loud- Fan makes a loud “whooshing” noise while rowing.|
|Monitors||Advanced but not equal to the best air rower monitor.||Ranges from basic to highly advanced- Has the #1 rowing machine monitor.|
|Stroke Feel||Strong “catch” to easier “finish”.||Lighter “catch” to stronger “finish”.|
|Aesthetics||Wood rowing machines can be placed in a nice living room setting.||Looks more like a piece of gym exercise equipment.|
|Storage||Upright storage with wheels.||Foldable seat rail with wheels.|
|Weight||Heavier due to filled water tank.||Fairly lightweight depending on amount of steel or plastic used in the design.|
If you have any specific questions about differences between the two resistance types or two models, please leave them in the comment section below.
Below are a few photos of some of the most popular water and air rowing machines. Is it easier now to tell the difference between a water vs. air rowing machine?
What Should You Look for When Choosing a Water Resistance Rowing Machine?
You want to consider resistance adjustability and ergonomics for the most part. But you also want to check for performance tracking, ease of use, portability, and the price range.
You want to consider the factors below when choosing the best water rowing machine for your home gym:
Ease of Adjusting the Resistance on the Suspended Paddles
Adjusting the training difficulty of a water rowing machine is adding more water to the tank in front of the rowing machine or removing some of this water. The more water you add, the more effort you will use to row your machine.
As you already know, a water resistance rowing machine uses water as a medium to generate the resistance that requires a force to counter. Basically, the water contained in a tank ensures the suspended paddles spin only after applying force to the handlebar attached to the rowing strap.
While a water rowing machine uses water to create resistance for training your muscles, an air rowing machine uses air to create the same resistance.
Once your athletic ability has improved, you might want to add more load to work your muscles excellently. But adjusting the workload for working your muscles relies on adjusting the water level in the main tank on the water resistance rowing machine.
So, that means you want to check for ease of adjusting the water level when shopping for one of these home gym equipment. Adding or removing water from the main tank doesn’t alter the resistance created when rowing.
Instead, it alters the load for training your muscles. For example, adding more water to the front tank increases the workload, meaning you will require more force to paddle your rowing machine.
At the same time, removing some water from this tank means you have less load for training your muscle groups.
So, you want to choose water rowing machines allowing for an easy adjustment to the water in the tank.
Although more advanced water rowers allow you to vary the workload with a switch (or a dial), they usually boast a premium cost.
But you can choose basic models even though they only allow for a manual water level adjustment. So, choose one that’s more convenient for you and meets your budget.
Ergonomics is how comfortable your rowing experience is. Since there are many types of machines to choose from, you want to take the time to choose the best one. And the best water and air rowers have one thing in common: they are both ergonomic.
But ergonomics come from the seat and the handlebar. So, you want to check these two components out for a better rowing experience.
First, you want to check if the seat has sufficient padding for ergonomics and unmatched comfort. Also, you want to ensure the handlebar feels comfortable in your grip. And most importantly, it should accommodate the size of your hands.
You can also choose a water rower with two handles if you feel this will improve your rowing experience.
This is following your workout data closely. When choosing the best water rowing machine, you also want to check for exceptional performance tracking.
Since the monitor is the console to display all essential workout data from the rowing action, you want to check it to ensure it displays the crucial data.
Most essential data your chosen water rowing machine should display include the rowing session (time), the split, calories burned, and the watts.
Additionally, some monitors connect fitness apps via Bluetooth to track your performance in real-time; they are the best option for you if you love to use third-party mobile apps.
Ease of Using Your Rower
There is not much to look at here except for the ease of adjusting the water level. Adjusting the water level in the front tank allows you to vary the “heaviness” of the load for customized rowing. To some extent, adding more water increases the resistance levels, giving you more load to train your muscles.
Therefore, check for a water rowing machine that allows for easy water level adjustability.
Portability and Compactness
After using your rowing machine, you will need to store it. Even if you intend to leave it in your living room (or home gym), you want to ensure it takes little space. But this is possible if your chosen water rowing machine is compact.
Also, you want to ensure it is lightweight enough for easy transportation. Some water rowing machines even feature transportation wheels that enhance portability.
If you’re likely to move your rowing machine from room to room, you want to ensure it is lightweight and features transportation wheels.
Whichever type of rowing machine you intend to buy, you want to check its price first. And that’s because the price dictates the features you get in your trainer.
For example, you will get advanced features if you pay the top dollar. But basic water rowing machines aren’t as expensive.
If you’re a beginner, you might find basic types of rowers very effective at achieving your set workout goals. However, as your workout training advances, you will upgrade your water rowing machine.
So, consider starting with a basic model before looking for a more advanced rowing machine.
How Does an Air Rowing Machine Work?
An air rowing machine uses air to create resistance on the fan flywheel, which is how it works. Generally, it uses the same working mechanisms as a water rowing machine, only that it uses air to create resistance.
These rowing machines also create resistance that you must counter by applying a force to row the machine. While water rowing machines use water in a tank to create drag (or resistance), air rowing machines use air.
Of course, an air rowing machine uses a flywheel to move air, thus creating resistance to counter. The flywheel has blades like a fan, and the blades move the air.
Generally speaking, the faster you row, the more air resistance you create and the more force you apply to spin the flywheel and use your air rower.
Therefore, the amount of air you move is directly proportional to the force you apply to the flywheel when pulling the handlebar. So, you will pull the handlebar connected to the fan flywheel to use your air rowing machine. And this is how it works!
How Do You Vary the Workout Load on an Air Rowing Machine?
You vary the workout load on an air rowing machine using a damper setting. If there is one benefit of rowing machines, it is a full body workout.
What’s even more impressive is you can vary the training load to achieve an incredible feat after advancing the challenge.
But adjusting the training load in an air rowing machine is different from the same adjustments in a water rowing machine.
Usually, air rowing machines have a damper setting at the side of the flywheel. You can adjust the damper setting to 10, which is usually the highest setting for maximum air resistance.
Switching the damper setting up results in more air getting into the flywheel.
And you will apply enormous force to move this air out of the flywheel.
So, you will increase the damper setting to achieve greater workout challenges. At the same time, you will lower this damper setting if you want to work your muscles will less load.
Therefore, consider adjusting this setting to vary the workout load.
How Much Noise Do Air Rower Water Rowers Produce?
Air rowers produce 70 decibels, while water rowers produce 63 decibels of noise. You already know that water rowing machines and their air-resistance counterparts differ in the noise they produce.
Generally speaking, water rowing machines are usually the quieter ones. But what noise levels do these two types of machines produce?
The water rower uses water for resistance, producing 63 decibels of noise. But this is lower than the 70 decibels that air rowers such as the Concept2 produce while rowing.
So, if you’re looking for a quieter model, you might find the whooshing noise from a water rowing machine quieter.
You can check out this YouTube video called “How LOUD Are Rowing Machines?” if you need more information on the sound made by magnetic rowing machines.
Both water and air rowing machines are highly respected in the industry and there is no right or wrong answer to which type is better. When comparing a water vs. air rowing machine, the best resistance type is the one that fits your preferences.
If you are looking to race, train, compare data, maximize your workout, and don’t care about noise, then I would choose an air rowing machine.
If you need a lower noise level, enjoy the sound of water, or want a wooden design, then I would choose a water rowing machine.
The #1 bestselling rowing machine with the #1 monitor is the Concept2 Model D Air Rower w/ PM5. You can read my full review of this rowing machine here.
If you are looking for the best budget air rowing machine, check out my Stamina Air Rower 1399 review here.
There are a lot of different WaterRower models that all function exactly the same. The difference is the type of wood they are made from which changes their price. A popular seller is the WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine. You can read that WaterRower review here.
You can also visit my comparison chart to compare different water and air rowing machines.
I hope you enjoyed my water vs. air rowing machine article! Please leave any questions or comments below.
17 million meters after purchasing in April 2012, I say Concept2 all day everday.
mmmm interesting person!
Hmmm… that’s a lot of noise to put up with over 17 million meters. I say Waterrower all day everyday.
Totally agree. Water rower!!!
is there any possibility the tank of water rower to break if you stroke too strong?
can the material of the tank change into more high quality material?
which is more easier to fabricate, manufacture, either water rower or air rower?
you’ve said : “If you are looking for race, train and bla bla bla, i would choose and air rowing machine. how about same concept (for race), is it okay to do with water rower?
thank you so much!
The tanks are very strong on the water rowers and I rarely hear of them breaking from rowing. The only time they break is when people slam them into something while moving the rower. There are also long warranties on the tanks that cover a period long enough to discover any factory defects.
On a high quality air or water rowing machine you will not have to worry about anything breaking from normal rowing. Literally the worlds strongest man broke the 100m record on a Concept2 and rowed as hard as he possibly could and nothing broke on the rowing machine. Here is the video.
I do not know which is easier to manufacture.
As far as “racing”, I said an air rowing machine is better because the Concept2 is the only model used for indoor rowing competitions, setting world records, and entering your actual scores online. It is because their monitor can calculate the drag factor of the flywheel in real time and accurately calculate distance and time. Small changes such as dust build up, air temperature, and humidity will not change the times between different machines because the drag factor is calculated every stroke.
This is not done on any water rowing machine so your times will not be as accurate. You can definitely compare times on your water rower and race people from around the world who use the same brand but that community will be much smaller.
There are plenty of people who use a water rower to race and train on but it’s just not as popular. Even some Olympians, such as Xeno Muller, believe water rowing machines are superior to air. I just feel at this time air rowing machines have the better monitors than water rowing machines.
Hope this helps!
Great video! Wow, are those Concept2s LOUD!
Great article! I am seriously considering purchasing a rowing machine and I am torn between the WaterRower and Concept2. I have 3 issues with the WaterRower.
1.) I keep reading about cracks and leaks that develop in the water tank. WaterRower even offers a tank repair kit for this very issue. It seems to me that this is a design flaw that they refuse to address, instead offering a fix for when it eventually occurs. Have you seen these tanks to eventually leak? I’m surprised they haven’t tried a one-piece tank.
2.) I’ve also read about how the seat of the WaterRower is slightly angled back which for some could cause lower back pain. Any thoughts on this? Any way to make the seat perfectly horizontal?
3.) I haven’t read one good thing about the foot rests. How do you think they compare with the C2?
These issues aside, I love the look of the WaterRower and the idea of hearing water instead of a fan. The Concept2 seems to have garnered a ton of respect from the indoor rowing community and I can’t overlook that.
Thanks again for a great article!
You can visit my Concierge Page and fill out the form so I can have a better idea of what you are looking for in a rower.
I’ll also be able to give a more detailed response.
Hi, just wondering what you ended up getting? I am also torn between water rower and concept 2.
Hey! I actually have the Concept2 because I enjoy using the highly accurate monitor. The benefit is you can compare your times to people around the world who are also looking to get the best times. This motivates me to compete against other rowers who are close to the same age, weight, and height.
What is the speed differential over 500m? I have heard the water tower typically paces faster than the Concept 2. If so, by what amount? For example, a 1:45 not the Concept 2 could be a 1:40 or 1:30?
When comparing split times on air vs. water rowing machines, you will usually find faster times on water rowing machines. Unfortunately, there isn’t an exact measurable difference. Each rowing machine model is different, so you would have to compare 2 models like a WaterRower with S4 monitor vs. Concept2 with PM5.
Then you would have to have a machine pull at the exact same watts for a set difference and compare splits. A human has too much error to do this type of experiment.
The only data we can go off of is people who row a lot, know there times, and use both models. Then you could compare if you normally row a 7 min 2K (1:45/500m) on a Concept2 and then use a WaterRower and row a 6:40 min 2K (1:40/500m) you would know the split is faster by about 5 seconds.
Air rowing machine monitors (Concept2) are far more accurate, which is why they are used for training and world records.
I have heard average watts are closer on both machines. So if you took your average watts and put them into the C2 calculator you may get a better comparison.
I have not done a ton of research on this topic so let me know if you find anything new! Thanks!
I’m considering the water rower but am afraid the resistance may be to easy. Does the difficulty ever max out or can you just keep going faster and faster where the pulley barely moves? Concerned that after using it awhile it may lose its usefulness as I adapt to the effort required.
I would not worry about maxing out a water or air rower if you are able to row faster and pull harder. Meaning, you are able to up your stroke rate from 20 strokes per minute to 28 strokes per minute while also pulling with more force.
Some older people cannot row this fast and can only row at a slower pace. If you want to row slowly but feel strong resistance you should look into a magnetic rower. You can read my air vs. magnetic article to learn about the difference between variable and adjustable resistance.
However, I own an air rower and have zero worries about maxing out it’s ability. I can completely exhaust myself on any type of workout. Air and water rowers are the chosen resistance type by Olympic athletes and any athlete looking to train their full-body cardio. I don’t think they would choose this resistance type if they felt they could max it out.
Check out the worlds strongest man completely exhausted after just 13 seconds. You can also see other videos of people rowing on water and air rowers who are very fit and completely exhausted after rowing.
Is there a comparison chart anywhere that shows what to set a concept 2 at if a water tank is filled tank is filled to a certain level? Or vice versa.
Sorry but I have not heard of a comparison chart like this. This would require someone to create independently as I wouldn’t expect WaterRower and Concept2 to work together on this project. It would also differ between brands.
I’m a rower and did two 2ks in one week – the first on as a club test going into the summer, done on a standard Concept2 Model D, and the second as a jolly on a Water Rower at a gym-organised competition, four days later and after a training session on the water.
On the Concept2 I pulled a 1:39.3 split for a 6:37 time, and on the Water Rower a 1:27.5 split for a 5:50 time.
Since I am a lightweight club rower and not an Olympic heavyweight I can only deduce that water rowers are ludicrously generous in their speed calculations – whereas the Concept2 is meant to be very close to actual boat speed assuming good technique and flat conditions
Thank you for the comment and information! That is very helpful, as I get a lot of questions about this.
Great times btw! We’d love to hear back on any other great findings you have on the rower.
This is roughly similar to my observations with my WR. I have an excel table to compare using a calculation of Watts to pace that I picked up on a Reddit and the Concept 2 published power conversions from their site. I get these results:
Power Pace WR Pace C2 1k WR 1k C2 2k WR 2k C2 5k WR 5k C2
342.2 01:24 01:40.8 02:48 03:22 05:36 06:43 14:00 16:48
323.7 01:26 01:42.6 02:52 03:25 05:44 06:50 14:20 17:06
306.5 01:28 01:44.5 02:56 03:29 05:52 06:58 14:40 17:25
290.6 01:30 01:46.4 03:00 03:33 06:00 07:06 15:00 17:44
275.9 01:32 01:48.3 03:04 03:37 06:08 07:13 15:20 18:03
262.2 01:34 01:50.1 03:08 03:40 06:16 07:20 15:40 18:21
249.5 01:36 01:51.9 03:12 03:44 06:24 07:28 16:00 18:39
237.6 01:38 01:53.8 03:16 03:48 06:32 07:35 16:20 18:58
226.5 01:40 01:55.6 03:20 03:51 06:40 07:42 16:40 19:16
216.2 01:42 01:57.4 03:24 03:55 06:48 07:50 17:00 19:34
206.4 01:44 01:59.2 03:28 03:58 06:56 07:57 17:20 19:52
201.8 01:45 02:00.1 03:30 04:00 07:00 08:00 17:30 20:01
For anyone wanting to replicate this, the equation to get from waterrower pace to power in watts is: Watts =(5.0274*(y/500)^-2.366) where y is the waterrower 500m split in seconds. Thanks to the guy on reddit for the equation.
Thank you for the info Dan! Any links to the resources would be appreciated as well!
I got the calculation from here:
The spreadsheet isn’t online anywhere but if you want a copy, drop me an email and I will send it to you.
You’re exactly right – just a simple 500m row is normally 1:51 for me on a Concept, but today was only a 1:31 on a water rower. While I would love to thin it’s improvement, a 20 second difference is definitely the equipment.
Resistance plays a part. Water often doesn’t provide as much resistance.
What would you say for an intermediate jogger, and HIIT workout 5x a week, would be better,
– Water rower First Degree Newport Challenge
– Air Rower Stamina X
I’d say the Newport Challenge. I feel it’s just a better rowing machine in general but it usually cost almost 2x as much as the Stamina X
Thanks for the advice man… awesome review on your article!!
I have a Sunny Water Rower. I have very little rowing experience. My Concept2 time for 500 meters is about 3 minutes (I am 70 years old)On the water rower it is over 5 minutes, same stroke rate.
Sunny explanation is that the water rower has a shorter stroke the the Concept2. So I need more strokes (2x) to cover same distance. Make sense?
Not sure if you can help me. In my dragon boat club I have been asked to record a 2 minute row on a Concept 2 rower. I only have access to a Lifespan rower which I think uses magnets? Will I record a similar distance?
You would really need to do the test on a Concept2. The reason this rower was requested is due to the very accurate monitor and the way it can recalculate the deceleration of the flywheel and accurately record distance/time.
The Concept2 has the best monitor which is why it is the only rower used for World Records and any of the indoor rowing championships. Magnetic rowing machine monitor would be quite a ways of from the Concept2 and would vary based on resistance level.
I would try to find one at a local gym and do your test.
Hope this helps!
Great article! Just what I needed to figure out my next step. One question about the WaterPower … does the water go bad over time and need to be refreshed? How easy is it to empty, clean and refill the container?
Thank you for the kind words! No, the water should not go bad. WaterRower and other brands provide a chlorine tablet that you add to the tank which helps the water from becoming moldy. They provide a few and you can add them every 6 months.
Changing the water is also easy. The rower will come with a syphons to add or remove water. All you will need is a bucket. Hope that helps!
Hey, love your article. I’m thinking about getting the Stamina ATS 1399 or the Sunny Health and Fitness Water rowing machine. I’m in club Crew (rowing) and I’m thinking of getting a rower for home. Which one is better for me to get better at rowing? Is the Stamina ATS good with full strokes like the Concept 2? Is the Sunny Health and Fitness good with resistance like the Concept 2?
Glad to hear you enjoyed my article! If you are participating in crew I would lean towards getting the Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Water Rower. This model had a long, flat seat rail and will allow for a good forward reach, which won’t limit your stroke. It’s resistance will also be great for training and can be adjusted by adding/subtracting water.
Thank you very much!
I have this water rower. There was no info on how much water to add for each level. Email to the company has been ignored.
The company did say it will take more time to cover a given distance.
Then the Concept d, is that true?
Thanks for the great article, I recently went to our local fitness depot to purchase the concept 2 model D and the sales guys convinced me on the Apollo hybrid AR by first degree fitness ( now doing research and there isn’t much info on the rower) is this a good purchase for HIT training , I’m a huge circuit trainer and train 5 days a week for the last 17 years.
Thanks for reaching out! The Concept2 Model D is going to be the best rower for fitness due to having the best monitor and the most information about workouts, etc. on the internet. The Apollo Hybrid is a good rowing machine but the sales guy is recommending that rower because they will earn more money based on selling that model. Concept2 does not offer their resellers great pricing because they want to sell their rowers direct through their site or Amazon.
First Degree Fitness offers much better pricing to their resellers so they can push them and make more money.
With that said, there is nothing wrong with them and they are great for HIIT and general exercise. I have a review on the Newport Challenge which will have the same monitor and resistance. The major difference being the Apollo is made of wood and looks more like a WaterRower.
Obviously the major difference is the resistance (air vs. water) so if you like one over the other I would choose based on that.
I’m so glad I saw your question as I’m also looking at the Apollo hybrid, and deciding between that and an air rower. How have you found the water rower so far? Any regrets or complaints?? Thanks in advance.
I believe both have a strong catch to an easier finish, because legs contribute the most and do the hard part (when doing full strokes). Noisiness is a real issue. I’ve bought a Concept2, that’s the ultimate – in my view-, but I’m unable to use it at home, because of its noise. I should have bought a water rower, even though that in all other aspects it’s worse, in my opinion.
Thanks for the comment! Unfortunately, air rowers are noisy but I find wearing headphones makes them ok for me. I can understand if you have other people in the house who it bothers.
There is a new ergometer called SmartRow that can be installed onto the waterrower to obtain performance aspects and datas similar to the C2 PM5 like force curve, power in watts, split etc. According to SmartRow developer, SmartRow uses a 20% efficiency burn to calculate calories based on Average Power. S4 uses a different algo/formula to calculate calorie. Hence the calorie difference between the two cannot be reconciled due to equipment difference. It’s like having two different engines in a car.
Thanks for the info Joel!
When looking at air vs water is there a difference in maintenance? Also with all mechanical equipment parts wear out and need replacing. What parts generally wear out and is one easier to do repairs on between air vs water?
Hi Mark – thanks for reaching out!
Both resistance types will have minimal maintenance. On water rowers, you will have to change the water levels to adjust resistance and you will probably have to change the water 1x per year. There are chlorine tablets they give you to stop the water from getting moldy.
In general, on rowing machines over $500 you will not need to replace any parts. Any parts that do wear out like seat rollers or bearing, you can easily replace from the manufacturer. On lower cost rowers, you may need to replace seat rollers, bearings, batteries, and maybe the rowing strap if it frays. All of these are pretty cheap to get from the manufacturer and easy enough to replace with basic tools.
I have water rower and run it with 17L of water. I use it 5 days a week to do a 2k row. my times are at best 7:00 mins, and at worst 7:30, with the average around 7:15
occasionally I use a concept 2, and find it really hard to do an 8 minute 2k.
so, I don’t know if they are really comparable for the power they record. etc, but I am so happy with my choice:
The concept 2 has a vibration through the bars as the chain runs over the sprocket, compared to the silent belt on the water rower. This irks me when I use it.
The concept 2 has a loud noise, compared to the gentle whooshing noise of the water rower.
The hand grips and seat are more comfortable on the water rower.
However, the app for the water rower was pretty sketchy — I stopped using it.
Hi Pete – thank you for the great feedback! With so many people opting to buy a Concept2 it’s nice to get the perspective from someone who enjoyed both but ultimately decided to choose the WaterRower for various reasons.
Feel free to provide any other feedback!
Thanks for your feedback. I’m 99% going with the water rower. I decided I’m not going to train to be an Olympian stage 53. Lol
Thanks for the informative article. I have previously rowed on a water rower but ended up buying an air rower for our home. My confusion is that I can row 200m and 500m in a shorter amount of time on a water rower than on an air rower but my watts are a lot higher on the air rower. I’m obviously a novice and don’t understand this so I’m hoping to find some sort of explanation. I primarily did the water rower at Orange Theory Workouts and have tried to mimic some similar workouts at home but am just confused on the difference in calculating the distance, time, watts. Hoping for some clarification. Thanks!
Hi Natalie – thanks for dropping a comment! What models were you using in each case?
Have you compared the air resistance, water resistance and magnetic rowing machines. Which one would be your recommendation and which is your choice of a magnetic?
Thanks for reaching out! Yes, I also have an article that compares Air vs. Magnetic Rowers. If you read both articles, you will get a good idea about all the resistance types and how they compare to each other.
No one resistance type is better than the other – they all have their pros and cons. You can visit my rower comparison chart and sort by resistance to see the top ranking magnetic rowers.
Thank you for a really informative page! I’m debating between air and water, but within the water category I’ve been researching the Xterra Erg600w and the First Degree Apollo AR hybrid. I was led to the Apollo because of the ease in changing the resistance – with a dial vs having to add or empty the tank. It’s a machine that will be used by myself and my husband who is much stronger and more fit so will the Xterra prove to be a big pain in the butt if we have to keep switching resistance levels? Thanks in advance for your help.
Hi Evelyn – it would definitely be a big factor in my decision making process if you think you will be switching the water levels often. Adding/subtracting water isn’t difficult but it’s just another thing you’ll have to do before each workout, which can become a pain.
So, when reading reviews of water rowing machines, most negative reviews complain that the water tanks arrived already cracked. Sometimes, reviewers complain that the replacement tanks arrive already cracked, too. Such reviews are common on Amazon and Costo, but only positive reviews are shown on many other sales sites. Are these honest reviews and is this a serious problem, or are these dishonest reviews submitted to try to direct people to other types of rowers? I don’t want to have to hassle replacing broken water tanks.
Hi Fred – I think it’s a case of people are more likely to leave a negative review than a positive review. If the business is selling rowing machines, they are going to leave out reviews that are out of their control. If a shipping company damages the tank, should the rower itself get a more negative review? I guess that’s up to you to decide but some places may choose to omit those reviews because it’s not the actual functionality of the rower that is being reviewed – it’s more a review of shipping companies not doing their job. Tanks can crack during shipping but this would be covered and replaced by all the manufacturers. If you don’t want to deal with that issue then a magnetic or air rower would be more durable for shipping purposes.
Followup to previous question about tanks cracked during shipment:
Thanks for your response, but….. if rower machine companies’ tanks suffer a high proportion of cracking tanks during shipment, then that reflects both on the ability/willingness of the companies to package them better, and perhaps the toughness of the tanks. I well understand that the transport people carry a lot of the blame, too, but the rowing machine companies have to package in accordance with the realities of the system.
The negative reviews don’t necessarily dominate the total reviews, but nearly all the negative reviews address tank cracking during shipment. I wish I knew the real risk; I just don’t want to have to feel lucky, and if unlucky have to suffer tank removal and re-installation, together with delays….
I’m likely to purchase a Waterrower soon. Does anyone know of a case where the energy created from rowing a Waterrower was stored for home utility use?
Hey Maryam – it’s a great idea but I have not heard or seen any device that can convert and store the energy.
My only issue with Water rowers is the water replacement gets annoying. But I do prefer the stroke on water rowers better.