Everyone—from elite Olympic rowers to newbie exercisers—sing songs of praise to the Concept2 Model D, so it’s really no surprise why it’s the bestselling of its kind. However, a rowing machine isn’t exactly cheap. If you’re seriously considering buying your own Concept2, it’s important that you do your research very thoroughly before shelling out a huge amount for the machine.
If you haven’t already, we strongly suggest that you visit a gym that has its own Model D and try out the machine for yourself. See how it feels like to work out on it. Make sure you know the proper form and technique for executing the exercise well. If you’re going to shell out a good amount of money for an exercise machine, you need to get to know it first so you can get the most out of it later.
In this review, we're going to show you who exactly the Model D is for, what makes it stand out from other rowing machines, and what your money is worth if you buy this machine. We’ll also cover seemingly small details that will have a huge impact on your everyday life, such as how loud the Concept2 Model D is, how to assemble it, and how to store it away when your workout is done.
Lastly, we'll share with you some of the (fairly minor) weaknesses of this rowing machine that the company will obviously not tell you. This will help you decide for yourself whether these are deal-breakers or deal-makers.
If you'd like to skip ahead to the parts that are interesting to you, check out the Table of Contents below.
In a Nutshell...
What We Like:
- Extremely durable; will last for many, many years
- Resistance is fully adjustable according to your fitness level
- Comfortable, ergonomic design
- Adjustable foot rests
- Highly robust PM5 with a lot of features, games, and workouts
- Requires minimal assembly and maintenance
- Customer support that’s second to none
- Can accommodate up to 300 lbs. of user weight
What We Don't Like:
- PM5 does not sync with fitness trackers (yet!)
- Will need to replace worn-down small parts
- Makes noise louder than WaterRower
- More expensive than other brands
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Who Uses a Rowing Machine?
A rowing machine is an exercise machine that lets you mimic the natural movements of rowing. Basically, you’re like rowing a real boat on the water, with some slight adjustments, according to what type of indoor rower you’re actually using.
Rowing machines started out being popular with rowing athletes. Every time winter set it, they realized there was no way for them to train, so they started working out on exercise machines.
These days, indoor rowers aren’t just for professional athletes and serious exercisers. If you are thinking of getting a total-body exercise machine that can work out all of your major muscle groups, the rowing machine does that. It lets you work out your legs, your arms, your core, and your back.
It’s also a great way to put your cardio and strength training together into a single workout. Just as long as you’re not aiming to get big like The Incredible Hulk, the resistance from a rowing machine can give you awesome functional strength for breezing through your everyday life with ease and can help you lose extra weight.
Men and women of all ages, sizes, and shapes can work out on the rowing machine. That’s because it provides a practically zero-impact workout that won’t cause pressure on your joints. We’ve seen 90-year-old grandmothers exercise on the indoor rower without feeling their joints ache in the process.
But don’t think the rowing machine is for weaklings. The smooth, fluid movements may fool you, but you will definitely feel the burn after just five minutes of rowing.
Concept2 Model D with PM5
Now that we've discussed who rowing is for, let's talk about the most popular rowing machine brand. A huge part of Concept2’s reputation rests on its excellent performance monitors, the latest of which is version 5. Concept2 Model D has the PM5, which comes with all the bells and whistles of a high-end monitor.
You can still get the older versions PM4 and PM3, but they’re not as robust as PM5. While the former used an inconvenient and sometimes laggy LogCard, PM5 is now compatible with USB so you can easily transfer your workout data to your Mac or PC via a flash drive. You can also sync your PM5 with your iPhone or Android phone so your data can be saved into your mobile using the ErgData app provided by Concept2. (You can check out the app on the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.)
However, if you’re a freak about monitoring and syncing your stats, you might be disappointed to know that there’s no easy way to sync your workout data with other fitness tracking apps, such as Apple’s HealthKit or Google Fit.
And if you’re one of those people ahead of the technological curve and own a fitness-focused smartwatch, such as the fancy-schmancy Apple Watch Sport or the ever-reliable Fitbit Blaze, which are both available on Amazon, you won’t be able to connect them with your PM5. Instead, you’ll have to jump over hoops and run around loops to use third-party apps or download your data into Excel first just to save the info into your fitness trackers.
If you would like to sync the data on your Concept2 to RunKeeper, you can do so by downloading the third-party app ErgKeeper. However, this app works only with PM4, not PM5, and the syncing won't be as seamless as syncing directly, but at least it does the job, if you decide to get the older performance monitor, which we honestly don't recommend.
That said, if you’re not particularly crazy with syncing, there’s really no way to get disappointed with the PM5. The new monitor has support for ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart (Take note, this tech is different from plain, ol’ Bluetooth), so you can monitor your heart rate wirelessly using a chest belt that you’ll have to buy separately.
It also tracks other info, including speed, distance, pace, watts and calories burned for each workout, and provides workouts and games for when you’re starting to get bored with rowing. You’ll also have a variety of viewing options to help you make sense of the data easier for your own purposes.
In other words, the PM5 is a nifty, little computer that monitors all the important info you need to understand your workout and get the most out of it. The tiny monitor sits at the end of a plastic arm that you can move just about anywhere, so you can view your stats from whatever position. It also has its own backlight, making it easier for you to see if you have poor vision or if you’re rowing at night.
You’ll need a couple of D cell batteries to power the PM5. Keep in mind you’ll have to replace them every several months when the batteries die out. But Concept2 very nicely added a small, eco-friendly touch to the PM5. Every time you row, the monitor draws power from the the spinning flywheel, so it saves a lot of power and the batteries last longer than they usually do.
How Durable Is the Concept2 Model D?
All Concept2 rowing machines are built to last. If you find other people who have a Concept2, ask them how long they’ve had their machines. It won’t be uncommon for you to find people who’ve had their indoor rowers for several years, and some even decades. That’s why the Model D is also the rowing machine of choice in many professional and commercial settings, including boathouses, training centers, and military bases.
The sturdiness comes partly from the materials—an aluminum I-beam monorail and a stainless steel track which can handle more wear-and-tear than the wooden rail and plastic track on the WaterRower machines. (Don’t get me wrong. WaterRower is another excellent piece of equipment.) But partly, the stability also comes from the design of the machine. That’s something you’ll appreciate if you intend to row for fitness for a good portion of your life.
Rowing is an extremely effective exercise, and if you keep at it for a good, long while, you will definitely see huge improvements in your strength. And the stronger you row, the harder it will be on your machine. In our opinion, it’s wiser to get yourself a more expensive, durable, reliable machine today instead of settling for a cheaper version you will inevitably wreck and will have to replace in the future when you become stronger.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you won’t need replacement parts in the long run. Concept2 rowing machines last well into the far future, but you’ll need to contact support every few years to replace worn-down small parts, such as the seat bearings, for instance.
Don’t worry, though, because support from Concept2 is stellar. When you contact support, you get in touch with people who actually know the machine very well instead of someone overseas who has never seen a rowing machine their entire lives.
You’ll also need to keep your machine well-maintained, although doing so isn’t much of a hassle. Its nickel-plated chain needs a little bit of oiling every now and then, and you’ll also have to wipe away some dust every so often.
Every few months, you should also check the blades on the flywheel to make sure they haven’t collected dust. The dustier it gets, the less resistance you will feel. If you feel like you’re no longer getting the gut-busting workout you want even if you’re working harder, get out your vacuum cleaner and make sure the fan is clean and dust-free.
How Does it Feel Like to Row On The Concept2 Model D Rower?
Check out the video below to see how the Concept2 Model D actually works.
The Model D footrests are adjustable, so that different people with different foot sizes can use the rowing machine. This is extremely useful if there are many people using the rowing machine, such as when you’re sharing it with your family. You don’t have to go in and switch up the footrests based on the size of the person’s feet.
The footrests also have a rounded arch, making it more comfortable for people who want to row barefoot, although we recommend using the Concept2 with your shoes on.
The handle also gets the ergonomic treatment. It is tilted slightly at around 10 degrees, letting you hold it using the natural position of your hands and arms.
As for the seat, it slopes just slightly toward the front, which lets you maintain an upright posture. This prevents you from putting undue pressure on your lower back during the stroke and causing pain or injuries that could have been dodged if your form was perfect.
One thing about the seat, though, is that you may or may not need to have an extra cushion depending on the amount of your… natural padding. Some people with weaker gluts may need to buy a seat cushion or a gel pad for comfort. Even a folded towel will do. As your glut muscles become stronger over time, you might realize you no longer need the artificial padding for support.
Concept2 Model D Air Resistance
All Concept2 rowers use air resistance to provide varying degrees of workout difficulties. One of the best things about most rowing machines is that the workout is self-paced. You choose your own resistance based on how hard you want to work. If you want to feel more resistance, then row harder and faster. If you want to feel less, then simply slow down.
The Concept2 has a damper that lets you choose from settings of 1 to 10. Many people confuse the damper setting as the resistance setting, but this doesn't have much to do with resistance at all. The damper settings are actually more about the drag factor than the intensity of your exercise.
When you choose a damper setting of 1, you restrict airflow to the flywheel, thus creating less resistance and making your workout easier for you. The lower you are on the damper setting, the more it feels like you’re rowing a sleek, lightweight boat with other people rowing along to make it a more pleasant, easygoing experience.
On the other hand, a damper setting of 10 provides the highest amount of drag. You’ve probably seen the meatheads at the gym acting all macho and pushing the lever all the way to 10 the first time they sit on the indoor rower.
Concept2 actually recommends that you actually start with a damper setting of 3 to 5 and focus on good form before you work your way up the levels as you grow stronger and master your technique.
How Loud is the Concept2 Model D?
It might not seem obvious, but here is where some people may find a deal-breaker. For all its astounding qualities, the Concept2 Model D is still not as quiet as a WaterRower. Compared to the soothing sounds of water sloshing around inside the tank of a WaterRower, a Concept2 may be too loud for some people’s tastes.
The sound it makes is not exactly unpleasant. It’s not unlike the sound of whooshing air coming from a fan set on high. Many people can still watch TV or listen to music with the volume slightly turned up. It’s a slight inconvenience, although not enough to make most people NOT want to buy it.
However, if you live in a small apartment or with other people whose noise preferences you have to deeply consider, this rowing machine might not be the one for you.
Who Can Use the Concept2 Model D?
Anybody can use a Concept2 Model D rower and get great results. And when we mean anybody, we're talking about practically anybody. That includes your 90-year-old grandma who likes to keep herself healthy and bodybuilding pros who have realized the cardio benefits they get from working out on the rowing machine.
That’s one of the awesome things about rowing. Anyone can literally do it, even people with knee injuries who are looking for effective, low-impact exercises that will not negatively affect their joints.
People with lower back problems, however, may have to be careful if they want to use a rower. It is important that you keep your form when rowing, which means hinging from the hips—not the lower back—at the catch and at end of the drive.
Folding from the lower back puts undue pressure on your spine, which means you’re not getting the most effective exercise and may in fact be even harming yourself. If you have lower back problems, it’s okay to get yourself a rowing machine as long as you’ll maintain good form all the time during your workout.
Lastly, Concept2 says people weighing up to 500 lbs. can use the machine, although testing by the European Stationary Fitness Equipment Testing Standard recommends a maximum weight of 300 lbs. If you’re taller than average, you might also want to check out the longer monorail offered by Concept2.
How to Assemble and Store a Concept2 Model D
If you’ve ever assembled furniture from Ikea before, then no doubt you will find assembling this rowing machine a piece of cake. The Model D comes as two main components, the front section which includes the flywheel and the leg which includes the monorail.
You’ll have to attach both parts together using a set of eight screws and the allen wrench that come with the machine, so you don’t have to scramble around in the garage looking for the appropriate tools.
The instructions are easy to understand and comes in 25 different languages. All in all, it won’t take you more than half an hour putting the entire thing together.
First, you’ll need to attach the legs to the foot with caster wheels using four screws, then attach the legs to an overturned flywheel section using the remaining screws. Then turn the front section right side up, grab it by the foot rest until it rolls on the caster wheels and take the monorail with your other hand.
You’ll have to mate the groove on the monorail with the shoulder crossbar between the footrests, then rest the entire thing on the floor. Make sure the latch is fully locked before you start rowing to avoid injuries.
Once assembled, you’ll need a considerable bit of space to place the rowing machine in. Concept2 recommends a space of at least 9 feet in length and 4 feet in width, with some extra wiggle room if you prefer. The seat is 14 inches high, and the entire machine takes up 96 inches in length. Width is 24 inches.
To store the machine, you simply need to pull apart the monorail and flywheel section—no need to unscrew any parts or pieces. Since the front section has caster wheels, it’s easy to roll it into place after your workout instead of having to lug it around.
Tip: If you're not a fan of having to separate your rower into two parts, you can check out Rogue Fitness' rowing machine hanger. It's a wall-mounted steel hanger that you can use to hang your rower in one piece, so you don't have to separate it into two sections anymore.
How Much is a Concept2 Model D Rower?
The Concept2 Model D rower costs a little less than a thousand bucks and is a little bit cheaper than the WaterRower Natural and far more affordable than the best rower LifeCore offers. At this price, you get the rowing machine, the PM5, and great after-sales service the company offers for as long as you’re a customer.
The purchase comes with a 2-year limited warranty and a standard 30-day money-back guarantee if you’re not completely happy with your purchase. The Concept2 Model D comes in two colors, light gray and black.
If you’re a little short on budget, you can also shop around for used Concept2 rowers, but be extra careful when shopping for secondhand machines.
The Verdict on the Concept2 Model D
It’s no surprise why the Concept2 Model D is the most popular model of indoor rowing machines. Yes, it’s not exactly the cheapest model out there, but when it comes to indoor rowers, your grandma was right. You really get what you pay for.
With Concept2, you don’t only receive a whopping powerful total body workout. You get that with an extremely durable and easy to maintain rowing machine accompanied by rock-star support from the company and good technology you can use to track your workouts and make the most out of them.
Should you buy a Concept2 rower? The answer really depends on you. If you want a truly effective cardio and strength workout that you can do using just a single, high-quality machine, and if you have the money for it, then we’d be doing you a disservice if we discouraged you from getting this machine.
However, if you don’t have the cash right now, there are cheaper options in the market. You just have to lower your expectations for them because nothing less expensive has proven to be superior to the Concept2.
If the Concept2 Model D isn't what the rowing machine you are looking for, check out our list of top 10 rowing machines to find other indoor rower brands that might suit your needs.