Water rowers feature a tank that is actually filled with water as a means for resistance. As you increase the pace of rowing, the resistance naturally increases as well. This means that you can set your own pace and resistance in a single motion. The same is true for air rowers. Air rowers use a fan or flywheel to create resistance, and you have control over the intensity of the workout due to the fact that the air resistance depends on your pace. Most water and air rowers come equipped with -- or at least have as an option -- monitors that track various functions such as distance, strokes, strokes per minute and calories burned.
If you're looking at a WaterRower, you're probably also considering the Concept2. They're both great machines, but which you choose depends on your needs. I think the WaterRower is ideal for most people, but not everyone. The WaterRower has a number of advantages vs the Concept 2 - it is quieter, the mechanism up front is lower profile, it has a comfortable seat, it is much better looking, it's easier to stand up when you're not rowing and it's just ... zen-like. There is something about the smoothness of the WaterRower that makes it a joy to use, and because it's quiet you can easily stream your favorite binge-series without cranking the volume too high.
Storage is also a plus point for the Waterrower series as they are all designed to stand upright with the tank acting as ballast for stability. In this position they only take up around two square feet. Again, great if you are planning on training in the living room. However, if you have small children, I would advise fixing the top to the wall with a hook and strap.
If you’re interested in using a rowing machine for focused training — whether for outdoor rowing, an indoor competition, or as part of a larger fitness program — you’ll want air resistance. If you’re drawn to rowers for the enjoyability (alongside the full-body, cardio-plus-strength training efficacy) of a rowing workout, consider a machine with water resistance.
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.
A 125-pound person moving at an average pace for 30 minutes on a treadmill will burn roughly 250 calories. However, they aren’t able to take advantage of this after-burn effect. The same person rowing vigorously will burn around to 250 calories but will have less stress placed upon their joints and continue to burn calories after the workout has ended. Rowing machines have been shown to burn on average 800 calories an hour if you work harder and are slightly heavier.
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From a fitness perspective, the WaterRower Club works 84 percent of your muscle mass, helping tone and strengthen your muscles while burning far more calories than most other aerobic machines. The exercise is also low impact, as it removes all the body weight from the ankles, knees, and hips, but still moves the limbs and joints through a full range of motion--from completely extended to completely contracted.
Rowing is primarily a cardio workout, but it’s also more than that. Your heart rate is absolutely going to be climbing, but unlike a jog in the park, you might also be sore the next day. The rower requires you use your legs more than anything, and as we know, your quads, glutes, calves, and hamstrings are the biggest, most powerful muscles in your body. But you’re also pulling with your arms, shoulders, abs and engaging your back. That said, you’re not pulling as hard as you might with, say, a seated cable row machine at the gym. You don’t want to hurt your back, but you can engage them and this will help you get those muscles toned.
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* While there is nothing to adjust from row to row on the WaterRower, it is possible to increase or decrease the level of resistance by changing how much water you put in the drum. The monitor is pre-calibrated to match 17 liters of water, but you can change that if you want. More than 17 liters = more resistance, up to the max fill line. This is not something you'll want to change frequently, it's more of a set-it-and-forget-it thing.