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Air vs. Magnetic Rower: What’s Right For You?

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Last Updated on:

December 1, 2022
site of an air vs magnetic rower

A question as old as time, “Air vs. Magnetic Rower: Which is better?” Air-based machines provide unlimited resistance levels and affordability and can be placed nearly anywhere. Magnetic rowers provide more resistance control and are quieter.

Although each machine provides a low-impact full-body exercise, there are a few considerations to keep in mind before purchasing.

Luckily, we cover the similarities, key differences, and which machine is suitable for you in the article below.

Air vs. Magnetic Rowing Machine: What’s the Difference?

Air and magnetic rowing machines are popular choices for home gyms and indoor setups. But each type of rowing machine has advantages, disadvantages, and best-use cases.

Selecting the suitable machine will impact your workout and enjoyment of the sport. But before you dive into comparing machines and brands, it’s crucial to understand the basics of each piece of equipment.

The Basics of Air Rowers

Since the 1980s, many enthusiasts have considered the air rower the best type of indoor rowing machine. The fan-based machine creates resistance with air flowing over a flywheel. The flywheel connects to the rowing handle, and as you pull, it spins the flywheel. The faster you row, the faster the wheel spins, and the greater the resistance.

Although these machines can be somewhat noisy for home gyms, they provide a smooth rowing stroke and high resistance capabilities. But before you jump into comparing models and price points, it’s essential to understand the anatomy of the machine.

Fan Flywheel

Air-driven rowing machines use a fan-based flywheel that produces resistance as you pull the handles. Picking up your pace produces more resistance, while slowing down reduces the resistance. The fan-based design provides nearly unlimited ranges of resistance.

Damper Settings

Several air-based rowing machines include dampers that provide you with manual control over the rowing stroke. The damper is a configurable lever on the exterior of the flywheel housing and controls how much air the flywheel receives.

Our Top Pick
Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge
Based on our testing, this is the best rower for beginners. For less than 500$, this silent water rower will last you for years. It also comes with a 12-year warranty.

The higher the damper setting, the more air the flywheel receives and the greater the resistance. Lower damper settings provide less air and less resistance.

Digital Display

Most indoor machines have digital displays and basic monitors. Digital monitors can display metrics like time, stroke rate, wattage, speed, and distance. Other models will have Bluetooth features that enable you to connect heart rate monitors or headphones. Most indoor air machines will not include pre-programmed workouts.

The Basics of Magnetic Rowers

Magnetic resistance rowing machines are popular models for home gyms, as their design makes them quieter than other options. Magnetic machines work similarly to air-based models. Instead of air, magnetic rowers use magnets to move the flywheel.

Magnets move past one another, using electric eddy currents that create resistance. The result is a smooth rowing motion and a wide range of resistance options.

Magnetic Flywheel

Magnetic resistance rowing machines use magnets and a metal flywheel to produce resistance. Adjusting the resistance changes how close the magnets are to the flywheel. Most machines have between 10 and 20 levels of resistance settings.

Magnetic Resistance Dial

Unlike air rowers, magnetic machines don’t have a damper. Instead, these machines include a dial that allows you to control the resistance. Increasing the dial adjusts the magnet’s position and produces more resistance.

Built-In Customization

Many magnetic rowers include built-in programs that can vary depending on the model. Entry-level rowers sometimes include various beginner workouts. Higher-end machines and smart rowers may offer instructor-led programs that can be live or recorded. The preset programs will depend on the machine, brand, and price point.

Air vs. Magnetic Machine: Similarities

So, now that you know the basics of each machine, what are the similarities between the two options? Air-based and magnetic rowers are nearly identical, besides the flywheel, resistance type, and minor differences.

Frame Design

The frame design of air-based and magnetic rowers is incredibly similar. Usually, the flywheel is at the front of the equipment with a rail and a seat that slides along the top. Materials can vary, but most machines are constructed from aluminum or steel and include plastic components.

Construction

Air and magnetic rowers have similar cable systems as well. The machines use a handle that links the flywheel with a cable. Pulling the handle lengthens the cord, allowing the flywheel to spin and produce resistance.

Health Benefits and Muscles Worked

Regardless of the resistance, both machines provide similar health benefits and use the same muscles. Indoor rowing engages nearly all major muscle groups, including the lower body, back, core, and upper body.

Each machine also offers a low-impact, full-body exercise. Rowing is primarily a cardiovascular movement that can improve heart function, reduce blood pressure, and increase endurance. Also, rowing can benefit muscle strength for the lower and upper body.

The Differences Between Air and Magnetic Rowing Machines

So now that you know the construction of each machine and the similarities, what are the notable differences? I mean, each machine works the same muscles, right?

Although each machine provides a low-impact workout, the main difference is the flywheel. Air-powered rowers have near-infinite levels of resistance, while magnetic-based rowers have more limitations.

Resistance Mechanism

Your stroke speed determines the resistance level on air-based machines—The faster you move the greater the resistance. On the other hand, magnetic rowers offer manual control over the resistance.

Air rowers with dampers can provide more manual control but don’t directly change the resistance level. Instead, dampers on air machines impact how the rowing stroke feels.

Magnetic machines will offer pre-determined resistance levels ranging from 5 to 16. Some magnetic rowers have resistance levels of 20 and can be helpful for individuals who want to closely monitor their workout.

Noise

The noise level of air and magnetic rowers is a significant difference. Wind-based machines are much noisier than magnetic models. The air flowing over the flywheel causes loud noise levels that can be less desirable for home gyms or apartments.

Modern-day magnetic rowers can have almost silent constructions, especially if you purchase a higher-end model. For these reasons, magnet based models might be best suited for home gyms and apartments. 

Price Ranges

Although you can find machines at various price points, magnetic rowers are typically more expensive than their air-based counterparts. Air rowers typically max out around $1,000 to $1,500, while magnetic machines can reach $2,500.

Size

Indoor air and magnetic rowers have similar constructions, but where you set them up can impact which options are suited for you. If you’re setting up in a home gym or garage with no electricity access, an air resistance rower might be best for you.

On the flip side, most magnetic rowers require a power outlet to operate, which can impact where you place it. Some budget-friendly magnetic machines use batteries, and you’ll need to decide what’s right for you. It’s also possible to find options that are foldable, which can be ideal for some circumstances. 

Programmable Features

Most magnetic machines have more built-in program features and high-end settings like advanced monitors, Bluetooth, and subscription options.

Air rowers typically include a rudimentary LCD monitor that displays basic metrics, but many machines lack advanced features. It’s possible to find higher-end models with Bluetooth connectivity, heart rate monitors, and fitness apps, but these machines will be much more expensive.

So, Is an Air or Magnetic Rowing Machine Right For You?

So now you know each machine’s construction, similarities, and differences—but which option is right for you? The best machine will come down to your budget, fitness goals, location, and several other factors.

Here are some of the main factors to consider when deciding between an air-based and magnetic rowing machine.

Consider Your Budget

One of the first considerations with any new piece of equipment is your overall budget. Although you can find all kinds of machines at affordable prices, air resistance rowers are generally cheaper.

High-end air-based machines typically cost upwards of $1,500, while high-end magnetic rowers can easily reach over $2,500. If you’re looking for budget options to enter the world of rowing, air-based machines might be suitable for you.

Think About Your Fitness Goals

Each type of machine will offer the same health benefits and work the same muscles. However, indoor magnetic rowers provide more control over resistance levels and have built-in program features.

With air-based machines, the resistance mechanism is controlled by how fast you pull the handle, which makes it more challenging to create workout programs. But you have nearly unlimited resistance levels and feel more akin to rowing on water.

A magnetic rower might suit you better if you want more control over your exercise or programs to follow.

Where Are You Placing the Machine?

Another factor often overlooked is the location where the machine is placed. Air-based rowers don’t typically require electricity to work, meaning they can be placed nearly anywhere.

Unfortunately, air machines are much noisier than magnetic options, making them less ideal for home gyms and apartments. Most magnetic machines require a power outlet but can be nearly silent. The location might make or break your indoor rower, depending on your situation.

Are Magnetic Rowers Better Than Air?

Each type of rower has advantages, disadvantages, and best-use cases. Air-based machines provide unlimited resistance levels and feel similar to rowing on water. Magnetic machines are quieter, offer more control over the resistance, and have more features.

What’s the Best Rower for Home Setups?

What’s the Best Rower for Home Setups?

Our Top Pick
Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge
Based on our testing, this is the best rower for beginners. For less than 500$, this silent water rower will last you for years. It also comes with a 12-year warranty.
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