Concept2 Rower Review

Introduction

While they may have once been a niche interest, or a curiosity gathering dust in the corner of your local gym, rowing machines have entered the zeitgeist. 

A woman sitting on a Concept2 RowErg during a workout
Concept2 is still king in the land of rowing machines (and our hearts)

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As with Peloton's massive growth fueled by the Covid-19 pandemic, at-home rowing machines took off under lockdown conditions, with the biggest winner being Hydrow — a premium, subscription-based platform and wifi-connected rower that Peloton is now trying to compete with for market share. 

However, while the high-end of the market can deliver serious value (despite the price tag), there are more affordable options — like Concept2 — that remain excellent (and ultimately more popular with rowing athletes). 

And that, dear reader, is the subject of our discussion today. 

Benefits of Using a Rowing Machine at Home

We here at RR may be biased, but for our time (and money — which is also time... or something), there is no better workout than rowing. 

The fact that you can do that at home and using a device that is cost-effective, easy to maintain, and has a minimal physical footprint makes it even more attractive.

And I say that as a long-time competitive rower, with UCLA, and later the New York Athletic Club and London Rowing Club — despite what many rowers may feel about the erg (as it's commonly called by rowing athletes), rowing machines offer great, efficient, low-impact, full-body workouts that provide you with a general fitness that can be applied to virtually any other sport. 

Rowing Machine Features to Consider

There's actually a lot to think about when considering a rowing machine for your home, and each of the options offers a range of pros and cons that should be weighed according to your priorities. Here's a list of criteria to keep in mind:

Design

For those new to rowing, it's important to note that rowing machines vary widely by appearance, how they measure your output, and other workout-related features despite having virtually the same mechanics. Some machines use air resistance, others water, and still others magnetic resistance to simulate the feel of the oar moving the boat. 

Some rowing machines can be stowed vertically (another advantage over other large workout equipment), but size is an important consideration, as is weight. Also, while it may seem silly in some respects, appearance is also important to consider when bringing what is effectively a piece of functional furniture into your home. 

Noise

The noise factor can be huge depending on where you're planning to do your rowing. If you're on your own in the garage, or outside, this plays less of a role, but having an idea of which machines are less intrusive in this category can help make your decision for you.

Maintenance

Another issue to look at carefully is maintenance. What kind of upkeep is required to take care of your rowing machine, and keep it running smoothly? And for newer, wifi-connected machines with screens, how durable are the components? How do you ensure your software is up to date? 

Performance

This is ultimately the most important criterion — after all, you want to have a good time and get a solid workout using the thing, right? Things like how comfortable you are with moving and adjusting your ergometer, how smoothly it operates, how much access do you want to streaming or pre-recorded rowing classes, etc., are key to ensuring you end up with the right machine. 

“It's a great art, is rowing. It's the finest art there is. It's a symphony of motion. And when your doing well, why it's nearing perfection. And when you reach perfection, you’re touching the divine. It touches the you of you, which is your soul.” - George Pocock 

Rowers typically call it 'swing,' but Hydrow talks about the 'Hydrow high' — both are ways of describing the ecstatic feeling you can get when you're rowing well. 

6 Reasons Why We Love Concept2 Rowing Machines

And no, this is not a sponsored post. 

The Concept2 RowErg (formerly the Model D) is the go-to rowing machine for rowing athletes worldwide, and for good reason. It's an outstanding combination of effectiveness and efficiency. And while it may not have all the bells and whistles of some of the more expensive options, it's a great value, super durable, and replicates the 'real feel' of rowing with the best of the other options. 

(Trust me on this one — I still have one that was built in the 1990s, and it continues to run smoothly). Here's why Concept2 ergs are great.

1. Simple, durable (dare we say indestructible) design

Because these machines are made largely from steel and heavy-duty plastic, they last even if you store them outdoors. (You shouldn't do that, but I have, and as noted above, mine still works great). They use only the amount of space required to facilitate a great workout, so the overall effect of the design is almost akin to that of a single-speed bicycle — a harmony of form and function. 

2. Affordable (starts at $990)

Yes, they don't come with a giant touch-screen monitor, but they do have a built-in holder for your device (tablet or phone) because you probably already have one anyway. This also means there are fewer things that can go wrong with your machine (there's nothing to plug into the wall). 

The above two categories also mean that you can get very good value from a used (sorry 'pre-owned') Concept2 RowErg, although I'd advise looking into options from your local rowing clubs first (before gyms), since the rowing club folks will know more about how to properly maintain them.

3. Relatively lightweight at 57 lb (26 kg)

Most of the competitor rowing machines are in the range of 2x as heavy as the Concept2. This is partly because the Concept2 RowErg uses a flywheel to generate the resistance during the drive phase, whereas machines like the WaterRower use... well, water (which weighs a lot), while the Hydrow and other modern and Internet-connected machines use electromagnetic drag (air is still lighter). 

This means you can easily pick up your Concept2 and move it around (it has wheels attached to the front legs to make this effortless), or break it down into it's two main parts (the flywheel and the monorail) and even wedge it into the back of your hatchback (again, I've done it). 

The one downside of air is, of course, it's a bit noisy. However, the modern Concept2 RowErg is much quieter than my old Model C.

4. Stores vertically with no additional equipment needed

When you're done with your workout, fold down the monitor arm, and lift the machine up by the light end (the monorail) — tilt it until it naturally stands vertically, with the flywheel at the bottom, and you're done. You're not stuck with the larger footprint of some of the bulkier and heavier rowing machines, and you don't need to shell out any extra money for straps or holders to secure your machine in the vertical position (although I wouldn't set it up right next to your collection of Irish crystal, either). 

Gravity is pretty reliable, though. 

5. Worldwide community

This is the same machine that virtually every international rowing athlete uses, and it's the machine used at the World Indoor Rowing Championships. That means you can get a one-to-one, apples-to-apples comparison of your own performance in relation to a huge community of rowers — from Olympians to CrossFit athletes to amateurs in their garages. 
Just about all the world records have been recorded on this machine — you can see where you stand against the best by checking out our Records page. 

6. No subscriptions or cords necessary

I'm not sure when working out became Netflix, but apparently it did. Yes, there's a lot of cool content out there for training these days — personally, I think the training sessions that Hydrow puts together are spectacular (big shoutout to them for building an amazing platform). But I'm also a little old-school — in college, we weren't even permitted to listen to music during erg sessions because, well, you're not going to have motivational tunes playing during a race. 

In a world where everything has become complicated, the Concept2 is refreshingly simple. It's still capable of doing just about everything the fancy machines offer, but you don't need the whole package if you don't want it. Just two AA batteries

If you want to get fancy, you can use Concept2's own app, ErgData, to track performance in real time (compatible with iOS and watchOS), or just sign up for Apple Fitness+ to take indoor rowing classes from Brown alum and junior world champion Josh Crosby on your phone. 

The Bottom Line

While there are a lot more players now in the rowing machine game, Concept2's traditional offering is a go-to for rowers worldwide for a reason (or, as we've discovered, several reasons). 

To summarize:
  • Concept2 RowErgs (Model D) are great because they are durable — I've had the same one for 20 years
  • They're affordable to begin with compared to many other indoor rowing options (aside from some of the lesser known brands that do not cater to serious rowers), and that affordability is amplified by point No. 1 above.
  • They are lightweight and easy to transport compared to other rowing machines — the only downside here is that the flywheel is noisier than the water tank in a WaterRower, for example
  • They story easily in a vertical position without additional hardware
  • They're used by virtually all elite rowing athletes worldwide, as well as at the World Indoor Rowing Championships, giving you a sense for performance
  • You don't need a subscription or a power outlet to get the most out of your Concept2
We might be hard-asses here at RR, but we're soft on ergs. Wait... well, you get the point. 

Read our other rowing machine reviews and comparisons:
Read more about how to approach the erg:



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