There are a few types of rowing machines. You have the high-end air and water resistance rowing machines, then you go down the ladder and you get your magnetic rowing machines. At the lowest rung of the ladder, you’d find the piston-style rowers.
They’re the cheapest, quietest, and oftentimes smallest type of rowers out there. If you’re looking for your very first rowing machine, the piston-style rowers could be attractive for specifically these reasons.
Of course, being the cheapest kind, they also have a reputation for being not good enough for expensive tastes, but there are a few piston rowers that actually rise above the pack. We’re talking about the Kettler Kadett and its brother, the Kettler Favorit, which we wrote about in an extremely detailed post here.
The Kettler Kadett is a German-designed and manufactured piece of exercise equipment that is known among its small but loyal user base to be extremely high-quality. It is also a sculling-type rowing machine, which gives you slightly different exercises than a single-handle rowing machine.
If you’re seriously considering the Kettler Kadett, we wrote this extremely detailed review to help you make a decision In this review, we’ll discuss how Kettler uses hydraulic pistons to provide resistance during your exercise, and whether the build quality is enough to help this rower last for a long time.
We’ll also discuss ergonomics – little things such as the placement of this and that part – that could seriously affect the way you do the exercise. We’ll talk about the fitness monitor, and whether it will be enough for your needs. And lastly, we’re going to discuss issues such as assembly, storage, and maintenance, and whether this baby is high-maintenance or not.
If you’re curious about only one or two of these, you can check out the Table of Contents below and jump ahead to the desired section. Otherwise, it’s full steam ahead. Let’s dive right in.
In a Nutshell...
What We Liked:
- Excellent craftsmanship (You can't expect any less from the Germans.)
- Made from powder-coated steel to make it stable on any surface
- Comes with free heart rate monitor
- Sealed rollers for smooth movement; requires no lubrication
- Comes with lifetime warranty for the frame
- Very easy to adjust resistance levels
- Lightweight; only weighs 51 lbs.
- Has a long rail that can accommodate tall people
- Easy to assemble, store, and maintain
What We Didn't Like:
- 12 resistance levels may not be enough for advanced exercisers
- Needs some Velcro to keep straps from getting loose
- Has hard plastic oar handles
Kettler Kadett Quality and Durability
The one big thing that separates the Kettler Kadett from other brands of piston rowers is the high quality of craftsmanship and attention to detail that Kettler has put into making in.
There’s no mistaking it. The Germans are known all over the world for making world-class products that are always the best of their kind. Think BMW, Sennheiser, and Jagermeister. And that unmistakable German class of workmanship is seen in the Kettler brand as well.
Despite the fact that the Kadett uses hydraulic pistons instead of an air flywheel like the Concept2 Model D – the gold standard of all indoor rowing machines – this rower receives plaudits for its sturdiness and durability.
Its users have praised the Kettler Kadett for its solid construction, which contributes largely to the long lifespan of this machine. Some people have owned Kettler rowing machines for even up to 15 years, which is saying a lot for an exercise machine with a midrange price.
The Kadett, in particular, is constructed out of powder-coated, high-carbon steel, a material known in the industry for being ultra-strong. It’s also relatively cost-effective to make, which is why Kettler is able to sell this rower for a relatively low price.
It’s mostly thanks to the steel construction that you can put the rower on virtually any kind of surface, whether it’s wood, cement, or even carpet, and you will not feel it wobbling or wavering at all.
If you choose to place it on wood, we do recommend using a protective mat under it, such as this Supermats PVC mat. It’s not so much to protect the rowing machine as it is to protect your precious wood floors. Trust us, you don’t really want to leave this beast leaving scuff marks on it.
Another highlight is the seat rollers, which have ball bearings to give you that smooth, quiet gliding motion as you move forward and back on the rowing machine. The bearings are sealed, eliminating the need for you to lubricate them every so often without you having to worry about high-pitched screeching sounds coming from under the seat.
Kettler believes in this product so much that it is throwing in a lifetime warranty for the frame. The parts get a three-year warranty, and that’s a lot of time for one of the smaller components to start dying out on you. This is the best warranty on the rowing machine market. Nobody, not even the heavy hitters, can top this warranty.
All of these contribute to a pleasant, almost Zen-like rowing experience. You could close your eyes and practically imagine that you’re on Lake Tahoe, silently slicing through the clear waters in a canoe. The oars move smoothly and easily, and the seat is stable and steady, like you’re actually on a real boat. At least, that’s what many people said. Don’t take our word for it. 😉
The quietness of this rower is a great plus for a lot of reasons. If you’re not really after the Zen-esque type of experience, you can also watch TV or listen to music or a podcast while working out. Because the Kadett generates practically no noise, you’re not going to bother irritable Mrs. Jones next door with none of the racket you’re making at all.
Kettler Kadett Hydraulic Resistance
The Kettler Kadett gets its resistance from two industrial-strength hydraulic pistons. There are 12 levels of resistance, with 12 being the lowest and 1 being the highest. For plenty of beginners and intermediate exercisers, we think 12 levels of resistance is more than enough. As long as you’re not making exponential strength gains from, say, lifting heavy weights, it’s not likely that you’ll breeze through all levels all at once.
However, you might like to know that the Kettler Favorit has 50 levels of resistance. If you think you’re going to need more intensity in the future, then maybe it is worth looking at the Kettler Favorit. It has the same excellent build quality as the Kadett and plenty of other features that we’ll discuss below.
We think one of the better things about the Kadett over the Favorit is it is much, much easier to adjust the resistance on the Kadett. You only have to turn the knobs on each oar to go up or down the resistance levels. On the Favorit, you have to loosen some clamps and move them up and down to the level of tiny knurled markers on the oars. It’s really not that hard, but if we have to nitpick, this is what we’ll point out.
Adjusting resistance on the Kettler Kadett requires that you turn the knobs on each oar. This can be a benefit if you like to use different resistance levels for each arm. For example, if one of your arms is much stronger than the other, then you can have a higher resistance level for that.
Personally, we prefer using the same level of resistance for each side, even though one side is stronger. That’s usually the case anyway. You’ll find that you have varying strength levels on each side, but there’s usually not a lot of difference to require different resistance levels. Seriously, you don’t want to go walking around all lopsided and stronger on one side.
How Hydraulic Resistance Works on the Kettler Kadett
Piston rowers use a combination of air and oil to generate resistance. Once the oil is sufficiently warmed up and has attained a desired level of viscosity, you’ll have the right amount of resistance you set for your exercise.
However, since there are two pistons for the machine, it might take each of them different amounts of time for the oil to warm up. Consequently, the pistons might also wear out unevenly since there’s no way each of them could affect how the other works.
Also, because the oil may eventually heat up to high levels – such as when you’re rowing in the summer or in any hot environment – you might find that the pistons lose all stiffness and resistance becomes completely nil.
Fortunately, we haven’t seen any of these problems with the Kettler Kadett at all. If you’re using one of the more cheaply made piston rowing machines, it’s likely you’ll come into either of these problems. However, Kettler machines do stand out for their high-quality craftsmanship, so it’s not likely you’ll see these issues in them.
Kettler Kadett Weight and Dimensions
One benefit of using a piston rower over other types of rowing machines is they usually have a very small footprint. They’re great for small homes or apartments with not much space for a bulky exercise machine because they don’t need a lot of room to fit in.
The Kettler Kadett measures 59 inches, 67 inches wide (including the length of the oars when opened out wide), and 18 inches high. It is particularly unique because of it is wider than most rowers, and this is why it’s not exactly as compact as you might like to think.
Because the oars will fly out to the sides like the wings of a bat, you’ll actually need probably around 6 square feet of space just to accommodate it. That is actually more than many rowers require, even the more expensive ones, although they require a lot more to accommodate their length and much less for their width. If space is an issue, you will likely have problems with the Kadett. (Not with the Favorit, though).
However, it still remains one of the lightest rowing machines on the market. At 51 lbs., it’s only slightly heavier than the Favorit. This makes it a pretty portable rower that you can move around the house or in a vehicle.
But despite the fact that this exercise machine weighs just around the same as your neighbor’s bull dog, it can actually accommodate much more weight than that. Maximum user weight for the Kettler Kadett is 285 lbs., just 15 lbs. shy of the Concept2 Model D. (If you’re a lot heavier, consider going for the WaterRower Natural, which has a maximum user weight of 700 whopping lbs.)
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Kettler Kadett Design and Ergonomics: The Good
There are really four things we look at when we look at the design of the Kettler Kadett: the seat, the rail, the handles (or the oars in this case), and the footplates.
Let’s start off with the good things. The seat on the Kettler Kadett is generously padded to help keep you comfortable while sitting down. Exercise machines are meant to make you work hard, not stay comfortable, but you do need to have a certain amount of protection for your butt if you want to stay on the rower.
A cushioned seat also helps prevent you developing whelps on the most unwanted place in your body. Blisters on your palms? Maybe. But on your butt? No way.
Seat comfort on rowing machines is quite an issue, even for the more expensive models. (We’re looking at you, Concept2.) Thankfully, most people won’t find that issue on the Kadett, unless you’re unlucky enough to have been born with not much fat on your butt.
The seat is placed on top of an extra-long rail that can accommodate a lot of tall people. Kettler doesn’t specify the maximum inseam for this rower, but we’re making an educated guess of around 40 inches. Even people who are 6 ft., 6 in. tall can use this rower and get a full leg extension without the seat hitting the end of the rail at the back.
That said, if you’re taller than 6 ft., 6 in., we do recommend contacting Kettler just to make sure the length is enough to accommodate your legs.
Kettler Kadett Design and Ergonomics: The Bad
Now, on to the bad and downright ugly things. Yeah, there are a few ugly things about the Kadett. Just because it’s made by the Germans doesn’t mean it is 100% perfect, though we don’t think any of these are going to be deal-breakers.
The Kettler Kadett features pivoting footplates that Kettler claims will help keep you stay upright. That’s important if you want to keep your form correct – and correct form is always key to any exercise.
A few people have complained about the foot straps on the footplate improperly positioned, but up and around the balls of your feet are where the straps should actually go. There’s no problem with the strap positioning at all. What many people do have a problem with, however, is that the straps can go loose after some time.
Again, this isn’t a deal-breaker, and you have plenty of options to fix this. The easiest would be to buy yourself two strips of Velcro from your local hardware store and sew them on the straps. Kettler also sells its own Velcro-fied straps after hearing of these problems, so you can get them from the company too (for a small price).
There is also the problem with the handles on the oars. A lot of rowing machine handles have padding around them to help prevent blisters from holding them for too long. On the Kadett’s oars, the handles actually rotate to minimize friction against the skin of your palms, so you can’t say Kettler didn’t think about this tiny but important ergonomic detail.
However, it seems Kettler forgot to throw in some padding in there, as the handles are made straight out of pure, hard plastic. If you’ve never done rowing before, it’s highly likely you’ll develop blisters on your hands after a few sessions on the Kettler Kadett. The solution is to get yourself a pair of athletic gloves to protect your hands. You can also buy some rowing grips to pull over the handles.
Lastly, a few people have complained that the handles don’t really align with each other, with one of them placed higher than the other. Now, in real-life sculling, the oars are actually placed just like that, since you don’t want your hands bumping against each other when you stroke.
But with the Kadett, hands hitting each other shouldn’t really be a problem, since the handles are actually spaced around 5 to 6 inches apart. If you find that the handles on your rower are not aligned with each other, it’s not because that was how it was designed. It’s probably more of a problem with assembly than anything else. Check the manual again to make sure you’ve done the assembly right.
Kettler Kadett Fitness Monitor
The monitor to a rowing machine is like the CPU to a computer. It’s the brains of the entire operation, the control room, the hub of everything you do on a rowing machine. That said, some people can and do get by exercising on their rowers for years without looking at the fitness monitor.
The monitor’s usefulness really depends on your goals. If you’re a casual exerciser and you just want something to use if you want to get moving, then fine, you can throw the monitor out the window. However, if you’re very serious about doing this exercise well and seeing actual evidence of improvement, you’ll need a good monitor for that.
The Kettler Kadett has an accompanying monitor that we think is just right for the most basic needs. It has a high-resolution LCD display where you can see your various metrics rotating through the largest display window (though you can turn this feature off if you feel it’s distracting).
The monitor displays your time, distance, energy, total strokes, stroke rate, heart rate, and room temperature. Take note that the time display is total time and not your split time, which is actually the standard way by which most rowing enthusiasts gauge their progress.
Distance is also displayed in kilometers, which isn’t surprising since the Germans use the metric model. And the temperature is there to make sure you’re not exercising in a room that’s too hot. Otherwise, the resistance will drop on your rowing machine.
The monitor allows you to set daily workout goals and lets you know once you have reached those goals. For instance, you can set a goal of rowing 2 kilometers for one workout, and your monitor will let you know through an audio-visual signal when you’ve reached the 2-kilometer finish line.
Unlike other rowers, the Kadett monitor does not have preset workout programs, which are actually very useful for beginners. If you have no idea how to get started or how to develop your own workout program, you’ll find that preset programs aren’t so fancy after all and that newbies actually need them. (Here are a few of our favorite rowing workouts.)
Also, a few minor annoyances we have about the fitness monitor. The display is placed right between your feet, which we think is extremely inconvenient if you want to be constantly checking out your numbers. Short of craning your neck (or squinting your eyes if you have the neck of a giraffe), there’s no way to look at the monitor without stopping in front of the monitor itself.
Also, the labels are in Deutsch (frequenz, zeit, schlage, puls, and erholung), which isn’t very surprising. It’s also not very hard to get around this since you have English translations in the manual. But c’mon now. If you’re selling in the big, ole US of A, shouldn’t you be selling stuff to them in English? Not that it’s a major issue. We’re actually totally cool about it. Shrug.
Kettler Kadett Heart Rate Control Training
For us, the best thing about the fitness monitor on the Kettler Kadett is the inclusion of a free heart rate monitor. Using a heart rate monitor during your workouts is a great way to set fitness goals and track where you are towards that goal.
Research shows that when you exercise for a certain period of time within a target heart rate, you get to burn more fat than if you exercised at a low intensity. What is even more intriguing is that the speed at which your heart rate slows down after a bout of intense exercise is directly related to how healthy you are. The faster your heart rate recovers, the fitter you are.
The monitor on this rowing machine has a feature designed specifically for that. It uses the heart rate monitor to track your heart rate and gauge your recovery, and then assigns a number rating anywhere from 1 to 6 to tell you how healthy you are. The higher the number, the better.
Now, keep in mind, the heart rate monitor on the Kettler Kadett isn’t like the fancy hundred-dollar heart rate monitor. It’s actually a wired clip monitor that you attach to an earlobe and then it reads your heart beat by using infrared to measure changes in the light permeability of your skin.
There are a few disadvantages to this type of monitor. The most obvious one, of course, is that it is not wireless. If you don’t like having a cable dangling off your head and sticking down your sweaty skin while you exercise, this isn’t going to be good for you.
Kettler does have its own Polar heart rate monitor, which is wireless and has a chest strap. It is not free, however, but if you have some money to spare, it is way better than the earlobe clip.
Also, since the earlobe clip measures how light changes your skin, it isn’t advisable to use this heart rate monitor in places with lots of light, such as outdoors by the pool on a sunny day or places that use neon or halogen lighting.
Then again, for the price of the Kadett, Kettler is actually throwing in a valuable bonus here. Again, if you have some money to spare, get a wireless heart rate monitor that you can wrap around your chest. Otherwise, this is a pretty decent addition to an already good machine.
Kettler Kadett Assembly
Putting together the Kettler Kadett is going to be one of the hardest things you’re going to do with it. Okay, it’s not exactly rocket science. Kettler has an extremely detailed set of images to help you go through each of the steps of the process. Plus, it has instructions in English (Look for GB for Great Britain. It’s right under D for Deutsch.).
But it’s not exactly IKEA either. A lot of other rower brands you see on the market stand out for being extremely easy to assemble, unlike an elliptical machine where you have to go through hoops and loops to put it together. The Kadett is in between those two. It’s not as easy as sliding one half of the machine into another, but it’s way easier than assembling an elliptical machine.
The hardest thing about assembling the Kettler Kadett is just how overwhelming the number of parts are that you have to put together. There are a huge number of small parts included, and a lot of them honestly look so much like one another.
If you have a bit of mechanical experience, it will sound pretty simple to you and could probably take you less than half an hour to finish the assembly. People whose experience is limited to putting together an IKEA chair will probably take around up to two hours.
The nice thing is that the parts are placed into a segmented package, so that you only need to open one segment when you’re assembling one part of the machine. As long as you’re pretty organized when handling each segment, you’re not going to have a problem putting the wrong parts in.
The rest of the assembly should go by smoothly. You’ll be amazed at how well all the parts slide so easily into one another and lock so well in place once they’re there. The most challenging part will probably have to be installing the oars on each side. Since the oars look almost identical, it will be hard to figure out which goes left and which goes right.
A good way to go around this is to temporarily place one oar into a locking arm and pull to see whether the piston extends or compresses. If it extends, it’s on the wrong side. If it compresses, you know you’ve got it right.
Another tip we have is to not lock all the nuts and bolts 100% until you have assembled all the pieces together. This leaves a little bit of room for tweaking and adjusting other components as you go, and prevents risk of damaging the rower even before you start using it. Do not tighten bolts very tightly, as doing so can actually damage the metal of your machine.
Once assembled, you will only need to insert two AA batteries into the monitor to get it working. You don’t need a power outlet for the Kettler Kadett, but you do need to pry open the back of a monitor with a Philips screwdriver just to change the batteries.
Kettler Kadett Storage and Maintenance
In storage, the folded Kettler Kadett takes up as little us 59 in. x 20 in. x 18 in. of space. The rail itself does not fold into half, but you can tuck the oars in to reduce the space requirements. There are no wheels that allow you to roll the rower into a storage cabinet, but it is pretty light to carry around and place upright against the wall.
Now, it’s worth noting that you should be careful when deciding where to put your rowing machine. A lot of people like to put their exercise machines and home gyms in the basement – if you’re using a WaterRower, though, it would definitely be a gorgeous conversation piece in your living room.
If you’re one of the basement exercisers, then be extremely sure there are no leaks down there and it is properly sealed. Water seeping into the basement creates a damp environment for your metal machines, and the water in the air will inevitably cause them to rust.
Also, it goes without saying that you need to wipe off sweat from the Kadett after every exercise. It’s not a lot of work, and if you want your indoor rower to last a long time without rusting, then you had better get your body salts off the surface of the steel.
Every now and then, the pistons and rowing levers will also need some oiling. Place a few drops of viscous oil into the pistons and levers to make sure they are working as smooth as brand new.
Verdict: Is the Kettler Kadett Right for You?
There are the gold standards of rowing machines and there are the rowing machines at the lowest rung of the ladder. And then there are the rowing machines in the middle ranges of the spectrum that many people – the averages Joes and Janes of the world – will love. The Kettler Kadett is one of those few rowers.
The defining characteristic of the Kettler Kadett is its extreme quality and durability. If you’re concerned about cash and you absolutely want to get your money’s worth for an exercise machine, then go get the Kadett.
It is also a great rower for people who cannot stand exercising on a loud, clangorous machine, and is perfect if you prefer the lateral movements that you can do on an outrigger-style rowing machine. However, it’s not really for people with not much room to spare, as the oars do take up a significant amount of space when in use.
The Kettler Kadett has no problems accommodating tall people up to 6 ft., 6 in. in height, and the maximum user weight is pretty decent at 285 lbs. (For heavier users, we recommend any one of the WaterRower models.)
If you’re an athlete or you’re training for a competition, this is not the rower you’re looking for. (We suggest either of the two Concept2 models that we reviewed here and here.) It does have a very basic fitness monitor, but it will not be enough for your advanced needs, although it’s safe to say it is more than enough for a lot of people.
All in all, the Kettler Kadett is one good piece of equipment that anyone who wants to jumpstart or maintain their fitness journey will deem worth buying. It does have a few scrapes here and there, but there are no deal-breakers for us. For the intermediate exerciser, we highly recommend the Kettler Kadett.
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