Magnetic Rowers vs Water Resistance Rowers – Pros and Cons

Deciding on the right type of resistance for your fitness needs is integral to finding the perfect rowing machine. Are you a rowing enthusiast who plans to use the machine five to seven days per week? Or are you a casual exerciser who will use the rower to work out from home when you have some spare time? Either way, before you decide on an indoor rower, make sure you know about the different types of resistance they come with.

Before reading this article, did you think that all rowing machines were the same? Magnetic resistance and water resistance rowers both offer incredible workouts but are very different in terms of usage and feel. They also come with different features, different forms of maintenance, and even different sizes of rowers. Luckily for you, we have compiled all you need to know about the pros and cons of magnetic and water resistance rowers, so hopefully we can make the decision a little easier for you!

Magnetic Resistance Rowers

If you were to line up the magnetic resistance, air resistance, and water rowers, most people would think that magnetic rowers look the sleekest. That is because they are not encumbered by a massive turbine or water tank like the other two forms of resistance. For magnetic rowing machines, the strong magnets that form the resistance with the flywheel are built right into the machine itself. This means that generally, magnetic rowers are lighter and can be smaller than both water and air resistance rowers.

The best word to describe a magnetic rowing machine is smooth. While this is usually considered a benefit for users, it makes it less appealing to hardcore rowing enthusiasts who use indoor rowers for offseason training. For most users though, the smooth, mechanical feel of the magnetic resistance will feel more like a modern piece of fitness equipment. There is no sloshing of water in the tank and there is no constant noise from the air turbine.

Another plus for magnetic resistance is that the rowing motion is silent compared to water or air resistance machines. This is the main reason that magnetic rowers are popular amongst people who live in apartments, where excess noise could affect neighbors or people they live with. If you were to ask me, I would say water resistance is my top choice for the most realistic rowing experience. But in terms of practicality, a magnetic rowing machine is the top choice for a majority of casual users.


  • Usually lighter and smaller than water or air resistance machines
  • DIgital control over multiple levels of resistances gives you full control
  • Smooth and silent workout is ideal for exercising at home
  • Magnetic resistance requires low maintenance


  • The rowing feel of magnetic resistance is more like a workout than simulated rowing
  • Magnetic rowing machines can be more expensive depending on the model

Water Resistance Rowers

I said earlier that water resistance is my favorite type of rower because it best simulates what actual rowing feels like. Keep in mind that this may not apply to your own personal experience. Water rowers have their pros and cons but they are an excellent way for rowing fanatics to stay in shape during the offseason. The flywheel is built directly into the water tank, and the resistance is created when the blades are spun against the water.

Water resistance rowers are often heavier, longer, and usually do not come with an option for a folding frame due to the location of the water tank. There is also less optionality in terms of rowing difficulty. On a magnetic resistance rower you can often change the resistance levels on the fly with digital controls or even a knob located directly on the rower. With a water resistance rower, you need to add or remove water from the tank to change the difficulty. Adding and removing water from the tank is cumbersome, and is a time consuming way to do something that can be done automatically on a magnetic rower.

But there is something about the feel and sound of the blades pushing through the water that makes a water rower so appealing. For me, it is most reminiscent of being out on the water, and in my mind provides the most accurate and realistic way to train on dry land. The maintenance isn’t onerous, but you do need to keep the water in the tank clean, which you can usually do by dropping in a cleaning tablet, as well as regularly replacing the water. I don’t think the water rower is for everyone, but if you love rowing then there is no other option that comes close to replicating that feeling.


  • The most realistic rowing experience, from the feel of the resistance to the sound of the water
  • Requires little maintenance other than cleaning the water in the tank


  • There is no way to manually change resistance levels
  • Not for everyone, these are more catered for rowing enthusiasts
  • Can be louder than a magnetic rowing machine

Magnetic Resistance vs. Water Resistance: Final Thoughts

There is no wrong choice in terms of resistance, but certain types will suit you better than others. Magnetic resistance rowers are great for the casual rowing fan who wants to get in a good workout from time to time at home. The maintenance is easy, the workout is silent and smooth, and it feels like a piece of fitness equipment rather than a rowing experience.

Water resistance rowers are incredible, and by far my favorite type of rower. But it’s not for everyone. I love them for the feel and sound of the water, but most will prefer the smoothness of a magnetic rower. Figure out which type of resistance is best suited for your needs, and from there, I hope you can narrow down which rowing machine is the right match for you!

Sayed Hamed Hosseiny
Sayed Hamed Hosseiny

Hi, my name is Sayed Hamed Hosseiny. I am a professional health and fitness trainer with nearly 20 years of experience using ellipticals, rowing machines, and spin bikes. I also have my own EU-based Rock Fitness Pro fitness brand where I design, import and sell exercise equipment such as rowing machines and spin bikes. I and writers on my team also often receive fitness equipment to review and evaluate their functionalities and performance from tens of different exercise machines manufacturers. Fitness equipment tips, guides, reviews, and comparisons on this website are my opinion (and opinions of my fitness expert colleagues) based on tens of criteria. I never accept payment to write reviews of products or say positive things about fitness equipment products. If brands are interested to have me review their rowers, ellipticals, or spin bikes, they can get in touch with me via email provided on the contact page and send a sample of their product.