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How Does A Magnetic Rowing Machine Work? How Effective Is It?

Published by Kieran
Last Updated on March 28, 2021

What’s the Science Behind Rowing Machines?

Whether you’re a regular gym bunny or you’ve never stepped foot in a gym in all your life, when it comes to exercise, it helps to know how your equipment and machines work as this will allow you to use them to their fullest extent and reap the biggest rewards.

(image of a person working out)

If you’re a frequent gym-goer then you’ll no doubt be familiar with a rowing machine, and if you’ve got a home gym set-up, you might have one in your home. But how do magnetic rowing machines actually work? What makes them tick?

As the name suggests, magnetic rowing machines utilise powerful magnets to provide resistance as you carry out the rowing motion, but we’ll look at that in more detail in just a minute. Aside from how they work, it’s also useful to know how effective rowing machines are as a fitness aid, and luckily for anyone who uses one, rowing machines target many muscle groups!

Keep reading to find out what goes on inside a magnetic rowing machine and how useful they are in improving your fitness and strength!

How Does a Magnetic Rowing Machine Work?

There are several kinds of rowing machines, as we’ll get into shortly, but magnetic rowing machines are becoming ever more popular both in gyms, and for home use. You might already have an inkling of how they work by looking at the name, but there’s a bit more to magnetic rowing machines than meets the eye.

(image of a magnetic rowing machine)

Magnetic rowing machines have a flywheel, similar to most other types of rowing machines, but in addition to this, they also have powerful magnets on either side of the flywheel which create resistance by exerting a force on the flywheel.

Magnets are able to attract and repel magnetic objects according to which of the magnets’ poles are facing the object and what charge the object carries. For example, a negatively charged magnetic object will be attracted to the magnet’s positive pole whereas a positively charged magnetic object will be attracted to a magnet’s negative pole.

Similarly, a negatively charged object will be repelled by a magnet’s negative pole and a positively charged object will be repelled by the magnet’s positive pole. Magnets are fussy things that love to be contrary!

Magnetic rowing machines use the mechanism of magnetism to control the speed at which the flywheel turns by moving closer or further away from the flywheel. The closer the magnets are to the flywheel, the slower the flywheel will naturally turn which will make it harder for you to row, and vice versa.

What Does This Mean for Your Rowing?

Most magnetic rowing machines will have control knobs, usually labelled with numbers which represent resistance levels, that you can change to suit your needs and abilities. For instance, this knob could be labelled with increments from 1 to 5 with 1 being the lowest resistance and 5 being the highest.

(close-up of magnetic rowing machine resistance controls)

Turning the knob to a higher number will move the magnets closer to the flywheel and turning to a lower number will move the magnets further away. The closer the magnet is to the flywheel, the greater the resistance and the further away, the less resistance you’ll feel.

Once you’ve switched to a particular resistance level, you’ll be able to feel that same resistance regardless of how fast or slow you row. This is a great way to keep your workout challenging and consistent.

Resistance levels might also be represented on dials, buttons, or even a sliding switch.

Pros and Cons of a Magnetic Rowing Machine


  • The quietest of the different rowing machine models, making it ideal for home use.
  • Come in a range of prices, so it’s easy to get an affordable model that will still work well.
  • Provides a solid cardio workout despite not having speed-dependent resistance.
  • Require very little maintenance and are generally smaller than other types of rowing machines.
  • Provides a low-impact full-body workout.


  • The motion and feeling you experience will not closely mimic rowing on water, giving a less authentic rowing workout/practice than other types of rowing machine.
  • Limited in resistance variability across a workout unless resistance is manually changed.

Other Types of Rowing Machines

Now that you know a bit more about how magnetic rowing machines work, you might also be interested in learning about the other kinds of rowing machines. Some of the other most popular types include air rowing machines and water rowing machines.

Air Rowing Machines

Just like it’s pretty obvious that magnetic rowing machines utilise magnets, so is it that air rowing machines utilise air. You might be wondering how this is possible, so let’s get right into it!

(image of an air rowing machine)

Air rowing machines also have a flywheel but instead of using magnets to create resistance, the flywheel is attached to the rowing cords in such a way that when the user pulls the cords, the flywheel is spun, and air is allowed into the flywheel space.

The faster you row on an air rowing machine, the more air will be let into the flywheel and this air creates air resistance which acts on the flywheel. In other words, the faster you row, the more resistance you’ll feel.


  • Resistance depends on your rowing speed, giving a more similar experience to rowing on water.
  • Very smooth rowing action.
  • Provides a low-impact full-body workout.
  • Minimal wear and tear to mechanism means minimal maintenance and upkeep.


  • Substantially louder than magnetic rowing machines so are more commonly used in gyms than home set-ups.

Water Rowing Machines

Water rowing machines are also aptly names. They function using a flywheel too, but instead of having just the wheel itself, the flywheel in a water rowing machine is submerged in a small tank of water at the front of the machine. The flywheel also has paddles attached to it.

(image of a water rowing machine)

As the user pulls the rowing cords, the flywheel turns and so do the paddles, stirring the water in the tank. The spinning water then acts upon the paddles as you finish a rowing stroke and creates water resistance.

Similarly to an air rowing machine, water rowing machines get harder to row as you row faster; the faster you row, the greater the resistance.


  • Excellent for beginners and professionals alike as the rowing motion closely mimics that of rowing on water (professional rowers are most likely to train on a water rowing machine).
  • Swishing sound of the water gives a more on-the-water atmosphere and may help focus.
  • Provides a low impact full-body workout.
  • Come in a wide range of styles and models to suit your needs and preferences.


  • Tends to be towards the higher end of the price spectrum.

How Effective is a Magnetic Rowing Machine Workout?

As you will have noticed by now, magnetic rowing machines are a fantastic method for getting a full-body workout and cardio session in that will not place any shock on joints and bones like running on a treadmill for example.

Rowing is an excellent exercise for muscle building as well as improving your cardio fitness and stamina. Not only does it help you to tone and strengthen your muscles, but it is also a great alternative to running, cycling, or using other stationary cardio machines.

Rowing gets your blood pumping and your heart rate up with helps to burn calories, improve heart health, and increase lung capacity over time. The more you row, the more used to it you’ll become and the longer you’ll be able to exercise for without getting out of breath or over-tired.

(image of a person using a rowing machine)

Rowing also targets all of your main muscle groups including the legs, arms and shoulders, back and neck, and your core so you can get a fully-rounded workout all in once place. Because magnetic rowing machines are both smooth and consistent, you’ll be able to easily monitor your workout.

Get Out There and Get Rowing!

Hopefully this article has helped you to understand how magnetic rowing machines work, how they stack up when compared with other kinds of rowing machines, and what benefits you’ll gain by using one.

If you’ve always side-eyed the rowing machines at your local gym but have never ventured onto one, take this as a sign to give them a go! Alternatively, if you’re looking for your next home gym addition, you need look no further than a magnetic rowing machine for the ideal combination of functionality, convenience, and affordability.

About the author
Published by Kieran
A star athlete during his school days, Kieran quickly excelled at sports and in particular; football. Kieran's true passion lies in home exercise equipment, and so was was built as a source for all of Kieran's thoughts to be put down on a medium. Here he guides you through various nuances of working out at home, tips, guides, reviews and more.The only other thing Kieran enjoys more than working out, is writing about it.
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