Today’s review and buyer’s guide covers 6 of the best compact rowing machines that are very small and portable yet inexpensive and durable rowers.
We have chosen what we believe to be the best portable indoor rowers we could find based on quality, effectiveness, size, durability, and affordability.
In this review, we stay true to the meaning of compact. This review lists only the best rowing machines you can find that are true space savers and are small enough to easily fit into any room in your home or apartment.
Compact rowing machines are great space savers, very portable, easy to store, very inexpensive, and burn more calories in less time than a treadmill.
We understand that when you’re searching for a compact rower, you are looking for a machine that will not only save you space but is also very portable.
It is easy to see that our cardio rowers are considerably smaller than your typical indoor rowers. They are generally shorter in size, lighter in weight, and require much less floor space when in use.
Furthermore, some of our rowing machines have foldable rowing arms which makes them even more compact and easy to move. Thus, making them much more convenient to store in a closet, behind a couch, or maybe even under a bed.
Our Compact Rowers Are Very Inexpensive
Besides being very compact and foldable machines, these rowers are also very inexpensive.
For as little as $100 to $200 you can own a quality compact rowing machine that will effectively work your upper and lower body and help you lose weight and tone muscles all in the comfort of your home.
This review compares product features of various compact rowers to help you better understand the differences of each machine and hopefully not only save you time but also make it easier for you the consumer to make a more informed decision.
At this point, you can either continue reading this review to learn more about compact rowers, or you can click here to take you directly to our review. Or you can check our quick features comparison list located just before the review.
What are Compact Rowing Machines?
Designed to mimic rowing on water, home rowing machines are known as one of the top exercise machines to help strengthen and tone your muscles, increase your metabolism for weight loss, and increase overall cardiovascular fitness.
Compact rowing machines are much smaller and lighter than your typical rowing machine. Most compact rowers are driven by adjustable hydraulic pistons with individual rower arms. Whereas your typical rower has intensity adjustments controlled by magnetic resistance, water resistance, fan-based, or even strap or brake resistance with a T-bar handle connected to a cable.
Small Yet Powerful Rowing Machines
Nevertheless, all versions are effective cardio machines. The perfect machine to use indoors to burn calories and tone muscles, these indoor rowers work both your upper body, lower body, and core muscle all at once. Trust me when I say these machines will get your heart racing in no time flat. When I first started using these rowers, I could not make it past 5 minutes of exercise. That should tell you something.
Don’t let the compact size fool you! These compact rowers are very sturdy and offer more bang for your buck than most any other home cardio exercise machine on the market.
Each rowing machine has its own unique features and qualities which in most cases will also determine the sales price of the machine. Compact rowers may be at the bottom of the price spectrum, but don’t be fooled. Cheap does not always equate to poor quality. It only means fewer features, in some cases, and possibly lower weight capacity and structural differences.
But don’t let this scare you away. There are many benefits to these machines that other cardio rowers do not offer. And we have found and listed some of the best compact rowing machines we could find to prove it.
So before we get to our review of best rowing machines let’s take a closer look at how effective these rowers are as exercise machines and follow that up with some of the top benefits of owning an indoor compact rower.
Are Compact Rowing Machines Effective?
As I mentioned earlier, compact rowers are very effective at getting your heart rate up and keeping it there. I would consider the rowing machine one of the best cardio exercise machines you could own.
Unlike a treadmill, the indoor rower engages both upper and lower body and core muscles all at once. This requires much more energy to perform than just your typical treadmill, and thus results in burning many more calories in less time.
Another great way to increase the intensity level on these rowing machines is by adjusting the hydraulic intensity levels, or on some models increasing the incline to challenge yourself even harder.
When you consider how small these machines are and how much they deliver, and not to forget how inexpensive these compact rowers are, you really can’t go wrong.
The following is a quick feature comparison of all rowers in our top 6 list. All rowers use hydraulic resistance except for the last rower, the Stamina 1100, which uses magnetic resistance.
It should also be noted that all except the last rower use free-motion rowing arms, whereas the Stamina 1100 uses the more typical straight rowing handlebar and cable operation as seen in most gyms.
Also, be aware that unique features for each compact rower will be highlighted in orange.
Here are my top 6 indoor rowers that I have reviewed extensively and consider to be very effective, great quality indoor rowers at very affordable prices.
I truly appreciate the quality and design Stamina has put into their compact rowing machines. The Stamina 1215 indoor rower with free motion arms is built to closely mimic the smooth motion of rowing on water. The rowing arm grips are foam-padded for comfort and non-slip operation.
This rower comes with a well-padded seat that glides on a ball bearing roller system for smooth and quiet operation.
The multifunctional fitness monitor keeps you motivated by showing your progress, such as speed, distance, time, stroke count, calories burned. Put the monitor in scan mode and watch all your monitor functions rotate and display each function for 6 seconds.
Small Yet Durable Structure & Highly Adjustable
The Stamina 1215 is built with a strong yet lightweight aluminum center beam and steel frame construction made for many years of hard workouts.
Adjust your workout intensity by raising the center beam incline, and by moving the adjustable dual-piston hydraulic resistance controls up or down on the rowing arms.
The rowing motion (wide or narrow) is controlled by the rower as you are rowing and is not meant to be locked in place. You can use it straight up and down, or pivot outward.
This compact rowing machine has foldable arms to make it easier for storing away in a closet, in a corner against a wall, behind furniture, or even under some beds.
Our #1 Pick for the best compact rowing machine is the ProGear 750 indoor rower. What makes it so unique is that it is not only a rower but also functions as an additional multi-exercise workout machine.
So if rowing is not enough, follow up your workout with some bicep curls, shoulder presses, pull-downs, bent over rows, pec flies, ab workouts, and more.
This compact rower comes with a large 1.8” thick cushioned seat and backrest, and large anti-slip pedals with adjustable straps to keep feet securely in place.
Rowing Machine & Multi Exercise Machine All-in-one
The foam-covered handlebars have a 180-degree range of rowing motions so the user can row straight up and down, or pivot outward.
The ProGear 750 Rower has 3 adjustable rowing positions to accommodate users from 4.9 feet to 6.1 feet tall and a maximum weight capacity of 220 lbs., and an adjustable 37” to 43” slide rail for smooth rowing operation.
A very sturdy and extremely versatile compact rowing machine offers an additional 10 workout exercises. The most bang for your buck!
The LCD monitor shows real-time functions such as scan, time, rep count, and calories burned.
Multiple Resistance Levels & Incline Positions
To control your workout intensity, this rower offers 3 hydraulic resistance levels that are independently adjustable and positioned on either side of the handlebars, plus 3 adjustable incline levels of 0, 3, and 5 degrees.
Sunny Health & Fitness never seems to disappoint when it comes to delivering quality fitness machines at a very affordable price. So it comes as no surprise to me that they have also succeeded in making a top-notch compact rowing machine that is not only very inexpensive, as in approximately $100, but also delivers on effectiveness and is built to last.
The SF-RW5639 full-motion indoor rower is built with a high-quality steel frame and a maximum user capacity of 350 lbs. Strong enough to handle most weight classes and handle the toughest of workouts.
Extremely Inexpensive – Light Weight
The most bang for your buck at only around $100! Very lightweight at only 33 pounds yet strong enough to hold 350 pounds.
Workout intensity is easily controlled by a hydraulic cylinder with 12 levels of resistance that can be conveniently accessed on the slide rail directly under the seat.
Full-motion arms with high-performance sweat-resistant rubber handgrips offer smooth operation and keep your hands in place for an effective workout.
This rower comes with a large padded seat for comfort and slip-resistant pivoting foot pedals with adjustable straps to fit all foot sizes. It is important to note that this added pivoting feature helps to increase the range of motion in the leg drive action for an even more effective workout.
Furthermore, let’s not forget the LCD Monitor located at the foot of the slide rail to keep track of your workout progress and keep you motivated. This monitor displays scan, time, count, calories, and total count.
The Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 is an indoor rower built on a durable steel frame and aluminum rowing beam, and only weighs 39 pounds for super-easy transport.
This rower also offers optimum mobility and a great workout with its full range motion rowing arms.
If you live in an apartment where noise is a concern, no worries here. This rower is very quiet, and noise levels are so low you can watch TV while you are working out.
This machine comes with pivoting footplates and adjustable straps to keep your feet positioned securely, and offers a wide molded seat design.
Very Affordable and Most Sold Rower
Super quiet, very lightweight with foldable arms and stands up vertically for easy storage. Another bargain rowing machine at slightly over $100. Most sold rower on Amazon.
Track your progress with the easy to read LCD monitor which displays your time, row count, and calories burned. This monitor also includes a scan function that automatically scrolls through all workout metrics every 6 seconds while you work out.
An easy to access hydraulic cylinder with a manual control knob is used to adjust resistance according to your workout intensity and fitness needs.
The Stamina BodyTrac has foldable rowing arms to make it even more compact and can stand up vertically for easy storage.
Our second best compact rower is the fitbill rower. They recently released an all-new updated model which combines innovative technology and new design.
This extremely lightweight, portable, compact rower is the first and currently the only indoor rower that offers an app (the fitbill app) to monitor and track your workouts and keep you motivated and coming back for more.
The fitbill app works together with the Bluetooth Motion Detector to help you…
- Monitor your workout: the fitbill app will display real-time stats (elapsed time, distance, calories burned and strokes.
- Virtual Trainer: offers step-by-step guidance to keep you motivated and help reach your fitness goals.
Custom Program: create your own custom programs.
- Track Progress: keep track of all your training activities and upload them to the cloud automatically.
The fitbill rower weighs a mere 32 pounds, is only 42.5 inches long with folding arms when not in use, and has a maximum user weight capacity of 300 pounds.
Our lightest and only compact rowing machine with Bluetooth Motion Detector and Mobile App Technology – monitor and save your progress to the cloud. Also has 10% incline and bungee band under the seat for added resistance to burn even more calories.
This compact rower has dual hydraulic cylinders and 8 levels of resistance to accommodate everyone from beginner to advanced users.
Experience ultra-quiet operation with the rower’s free-motion rowing arms to create a realistic rowing experience.
I will admit that the Stamina 1110 indoor rower is much different than the previous compact rowers in both size and functionality. However, I do have my reasons for including this rower in our list of best compact rowing machines in that it is still very compact and lightweight and offers features typically found in higher-end rowers.
The first major difference is that this rower uses a short crossbar or handlebar which you can only pull straight back. This is very similar to commercial machines you would use in most fitness centers.
The second major difference is the magnetic resistance rather than hydraulic resistance. Magnetic resistance is a newer technology but is also very smooth and quiet. This particular model has 8 levels of magnetic resistance which you can easily adjust up or down with a simple rotating knob conveniently located below the handlebar.
Our only magnetic resistance compact rower with a straight handlebar cable pulley system offered by most traditional commercial rowers used in many fitness centers and training camps across the country.
A multi-function monitor is located just above the handlebar which displays total strokes, strokes per minute, workout time, distance and calories burned. This LCD will also scan thru stats while you exercise.
This rower is lightweight and with built-in wheels is easy to transport. Even though the Stamina 1110 rowing machine is somewhat longer than the previous rowers, it is nonetheless very compact and easy to store on its end.
This resistance rower also comes with a durable and smooth gliding aluminum rowing beam, a padded molded seat with ball-bearing rollers for smooth operation, pivoting footplates and straps, foam rowing handles for an easy grip, and an extra phone or water bottle holder.
What are the Top Benefits of Owning a Small & Compact Indoor Rower?
Effective Cardio Exercise Machine
If you’re looking to burn some calories and lose some weight quickly, these compact rowing machines deliver quite the punch. Much more effective than just your ordinary treadmill, these rowers can burn more calories and in a shorter amount of time.
Besides being an effective cardio machine, the rowing machine also engages muscles in both your upper body and lower body with resistance exercise. Thus leading to more overall muscle activation and resulting in more muscle toning over time.
No Additional Weights Required
These compact rowers use hydraulic pistons and cylinders to create the tension you need for your individual workout intensity level. Intensity levels are easily adjustable with a simple turn of a wheel or control knob. In other words, no additional heavy or bulky weights to deal with.
Multiple Intensity Levels
You can easily adjust each indoor rower to the desired resistance level of your choice. Some rowers can have up to 12 levels of resistance, giving you a wider intensity range and more flexible workout.
No Impact Exercise
If you’re looking for a zero-impact cardio and muscle toning machine, the compact rowing machine is it. This machine offers easy gliding motions for both arms and legs which has no impact on your joints.
These machines are whisper quiet. If you live in an apartment or want to work out late at night without being worried about waking up others around you, this is the perfect machine. You can even watch TV while using your rower without even having to turn up the volume.
Space and Mobility – Small & Compact Rowing Machines
Most of these rowers are very compact machines. And with some having foldable rowing arms you can easily transport them from room to room with ease. But also, conveniently store them away behind furniture, in a closet, or in some cases even underneath a bed.
Excuses not to work out due to inclement weather is a thing of the past. Whether cold or hot, rain or snow, you can just jump on your rower and exercise until your heart’s content.
Inexpensive Home Rowing Machines
Compact rowers are by far the most inexpensive rowers you can buy. However, inexpensive does not always mean low quality. The price difference is because compact rowers have a smaller footprint and some different features than those you would typically find on other rowers.
Best Compact Indoor Rowers Questions & Answers
If you’ve never used an indoor rower with hydraulic resistance and free-motion arms or even the magnetic resistance rower with straight handlebar and cable operation, let me give you a few tips and clear ups some misconceptions you may have.
Do Indoor Rowers Build Muscle Mass?
The rowing machine is an excellent way to build a strong and healthy cardiovascular system and lose weight. However, some are under the belief that rowers also build muscle which is not exactly true. Rowers may help to tone muscles and even strengthen them to a degree, however, they are not muscle-mass building machines.
The main function of the indoor rower is for cardiovascular health and burning calories.
Do Indoor Rowers Have Separate Resistance for Legs?
I have seen many inquiries about what type of resistance is used for the legs if any. There is a common misconception that the legs use a separate resistance system from the arms to create tension on the legs. The truth is there is only one source of resistance necessary to create leg resistance. And that comes from the arm rowers.
These cardio rowers are constructed to mimic real-life rowing on water. That said, the execution of this exercise requires the user to pull the rower arms or handlebar with the arms while at the same time pushing back with the legs. This results in tension or resistance being transferred from the arms to the legs. Most of the tension on the legs come from the first half of the movement while pushing back. And then followed by finishing the exercise with the arms.
Are Compact Rows Effective Cardio Machines?
If you have never used a rowing machine before, let me tell you that even before you complete your first minute of rowing you will already be puffing and gasping for breath.
Therefore, I would recommend an indoor rower over a treadmill any day. Especially when it comes to physical exertion, cardio endurance and strengthening, and burning calories. You will definitely burn more calories using a rower than you would a treadmill since you are using more muscles during the exercise.
Why Does My Home Rowing Machine Lose Resistance and Get Easier to Row?
All of our rowers have free-motion rower arms that use hydraulic pistons to create resistance, except for the last rower which uses magnetic resistance. Some use a single piston and others use dual pistons, one for each arm.
Each piston is filled with oil and air. So, when the oil heats up from extensive use the oil loses viscosity or hardness. This, in turn, results in pressure loss and loss of resistance.
Typically this should not be a problem for most users. Especially if you are not a power user or operate your indoor rower for more than 30 minutes at a time.
Here are a few remedies you can use to help with this problem:
- Increase the intensity level a notch or two up to make up for the loss in pressure.
- Keep your workout session between 20 and 30 minutes.
- Let your rowing machine cool down for about 30 minutes and start again.
Do note that not all users will experience this problem with their indoor rower. If this is a major concern, I would suggest considering the Stamina 1100 magnetic rower which does not use hydraulic resistance.
First and foremost I would like to thank you for reading and using our “6 Best Compact Rowing Machine Reviews for 2019” as your guide for finding some of the smallest and most portable indoor rowers available on Amazon.
Wind rowers, magnetic rowers, and water rowers are great machines to own if you have the space to accommodate these machines. But for many of us less fortunate there is luckily the compact rower that is much smaller in size, making it easy to use and fold for easy storage.
The smaller compact indoor rower is a great alternative. And even though it is smaller it still delivers a great workout experience with great results.
I would like to thank you again for reading our review and buyer’s guide, and if you still can’t decide, check out more rowing machines on Amazon below.
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With over 30 years of experience in strength training and fitness, Mark LaRue is the founder of Fitness Mastered, a blog to help educate fitness enthusiasts of all fitness levels, age, and gender. We write topics that range from weight training tips and exercise routines to home workout machine and fitness related product reviews, to name a few.