Indoor rowing has exploded into the fitness scene these last few years. The rapid rise in popularity is partly thanks to the rowing machine, particularly the WaterRower Oxbridge, making a surprise appearance on “House of Cards” as Frank Underwood’s personal choice for letting off steam from his manipulative political ventures.
More importantly, fitness buffs and people who harbor at least some concern for their health are starting to realize what elite athletes and Olympic rowers have known for a long time. Rowing, or erging as other people like to call it, is a phenomenal exercise that provides numerous benefits for your body.
If you’re here, you’re probably one of the people who are already sold on the advantages of owning an indoor rower at home. You’re just not sure yet what exact brand and model you want to get. Many people — from amateurs to veterans — extol the Concept2 Model D and the various wooden WaterRower models.
But if you’re like us, you like to dig deep into the market and check out all the possible models that you can potentially buy. The Lifecore R100 is deemed in many circles as one of the lesser known competitors of the Concept2 Model D. For the most part, this rower is underrated, in our opinion, but many people actually prefer this to the popular air resistance machines.
In this review, we’ll see why. Specifically, we’ll check out the differences between pure air resistance and the combined air and magnetic resistance of the R100. Are there benefits exclusive to the combination type of resistance?
The fitness monitor on a rowing machine is also important. It acts as your speedometer and lets you know if you’re meeting your fitness goals based on the metrics you see on the monitor. In this review, we’ll discuss whether the R100 meets those standards. By any means, does it hold a candle to the Performance Monitor 5 on the Model D? You’ll know by the time you finish reading this review.
Finally, we’ll also talk about the ergonomic details of the R100, and whether the design of the machine is appropriate for your body type. (If you haven’t figured it out from the title yet, the R100 is extremely suited to bigger people.)
If you’re pressed for time and don’t want to read the entire review, check out the Table of Contents below and click on the link that goes to the specific section you’re interested in.
In a Nutshell...
What We Like:
- Very strong and sturdy; it's built like a rock
- Much quieter than an air resistance rower
- Can accommodate up to 600 lbs.
- Has constant levels of resistance that can be adjusted with the push of a button
- Has preprogrammed resistance profiles, useful for beginners
- Heart rate function on monitor has recovery program
- Easy to store and assemble
- Lifetime warranty for frame and five years for parts
What We Don't Like:
- Has a large footprint, may not fit in smaller spaces
- Only has 16 levels of resistance
- Seat gets rough and unsteady if not maintained daily
Lifecore R100 is Built Like a Rock
If you’re wondering why Lifecore priced its rower a tad higher than the bestselling Concept2 Model D, look at the way the machine is constructed. The Lifecore R100 is built like a rock, and not just any rock. It’s built like the Rock of Gibraltar.
The long, sturdy rail is built from industrial-grade aluminum. The solid steel fan is housed inside a durable unit. Plus, the drive system uses a high-strength nylon belt that’s akin to the material used in car seat belts. It’s extremely tough and resistant to stretching. Plus, it doesn’t make a sound like an unoiled metal chain when you pull it in a stroke.
The quietness allows you to use the R100 in an apartment complex, where you live close to other people and can’t afford to bother them with the noise of an exercise machine. It’s also a good choice if you like to watch TV or listen to music during your workout.
The R100 sits with a low profile of 14.5 inches above the ground. This gives it a low center of gravity which contributes to the overall stability of the machine. If you’re tall or if you have a bit of trouble stooping down to sit on the rower, the R100 is taller than the Concept2 Model D and the basic WaterRower models, though it’s not as high as the Concept2 Model E and the WaterRower HiRise models.
Overall, the Lifecore R100 is tough and built to last. Because of its high strength, it can accommodate up to 600 lbs. in user weight, much more than what the Concept2 machines can and just slightly under the WaterRower’s capability.
And this is why the R100 is, next to the Model D and the WaterRower GX, one of the top-selling rowing machine choices for CrossFit boxes, commercial gyms, health and fitness centers, and hotels.
In fact, the R100 is so strong that it may be too strong for some. This is not a small, compact machine, even though it’s great for homeowners who want a quiet rower. It’s a pretty huge machine with a huge footprint. Standing on its front and back legs, the R100 takes up a space of 92 in. x 19 in. x 36 in., and it’s bigger than most rowers.
Things such as moving the rower to a new room could easily be a problem for small people, unless you have another set of hands to work with. Storing the rower within the same room is much easier, since it has wheels you can use to roll it with. But if you need to transfer it to a new location, you’ll need to have another set of hands to work with.
That’s simply one of the things that go with a durable, rugged exercise machine. Better a heavy rower that’s hard to lift now than a flimsy one that’s gonna conk out on you in a few months.
Lifecore R100 Air and Magnetic Resistance
The Lifecore R100 uses a combination of air and magnetic resistance to increase the intensity of your workout. There are 16 levels of resistance. The first one comprises entirely of air, while the succeeding 15 levels use magnetic resistance. This helps keep the rowing machine whisper-quiet at all times, since air resistance becomes louder the higher you go up the succeeding levels.
The biggest benefit of using air and magnetic resistance is that you get the same level of intensity all the time. That is, until you decide you want a more intense workout and you push through to the next resistance level simply by pressing a button on the rower’s monitor.
When you get consistent resistance levels all throughout your workout, you eliminate any room for momentum to take over. Self-regulated resistance machines such as the Concept2 Model D and Model E or the WaterRower models mimic the feel of real rowing more than magnetic rowers. Although that is attractive for many, it also means they mimic the inconsistencies of rowing in a river or a lake.
With the R100, you get rid of these bumps or dips in resistance during strokes, forcing your heart and the rest of your muscles to exert the same amount of effort all throughout the duration of your exercise. You also get the added benefit of knowing exactly at which level of resistance you’re working, and the motivation to go bigger by aiming to get up to the next level.
For many beginners and some intermediate rowers who row for health reasons more than anything else, this makes the R100 an ideal rowing machine since it tells them exactly where they are. The Concept2 PM5 and the WaterRower S4 monitor will give you stats to gauge your fitness level, but if calculating your rowing numbers isn’t a major concern for you (at least in the beginning), fixed resistance levels may just be the solution.
However, if you’re an advanced exerciser and you’re looking to burn up massive calories in high-intensity workouts, you might find out that you can quickly go through the 16 levels of resistance on the R100. The better option would be to get a self-paced rower like the Concept2 or WaterRower.
Lifecore R100 Resistance Levels
What’s also attractive for beginners is the set of 15 preprogrammed resistance profiles available on the R100. When you’re just starting out, it can be confusing to create workouts catering to your specific needs and preferences. Do you just row at a steady state for an hour? Two hours? Do you go high-intensity and do strength intervals?
The R100 lets you do the former using the manual resistance profile. It’s the most basic quick-start profile that lets you row at a single resistance level, unless you change it by pushing a button. You can also do intervals. The machine lets you do an interval workout measuring distance or time (We personally prefer time intervals since they’re easier to keep track of).
There are also a couple of variable resistance programs that make you work through different resistance levels throughout the workout. For example, White Water lets you start at a low resistance for the first time segment, progressing your way up to medium then high resistance levels, before going back down to medium then low levels.
Ramp is another variable resistance profile where you start with low then medium resistance and work your way up to high resistance. The difference between Ramp and White Water is that you go straight back to low resistance in ramp and start working your way up again. There’s slightly less recovery time here, and you’re going to have to work harder.
Also notable is the Pace profile, which lets you row beside or against a pacer boat. The monitor display will show where you are in terms of the pacer, so that you know whether to work harder to keep up or be more consistent with your strokes to stay beside the boat.
It’s a nice way to give yourself a little bit of friendly competition, although you’re only doing it with the computer and not with other people who are racing against you in a virtual race, like you can do on the Concept2. We find that not a lot of people don’t mind not being able to join online races though, so it’s not that big of a deal that it’s not available on the R100.
Finally, you also have access to three Heart Rate Control resistance profiles. You can choose to get a target heart rate of 60%, 75%, or 85%, and the machine will determine the best resistance level to keep it elevated at that heart rate level. You’ll need a heart rate monitor for this. The R100 includes its own receiver and chest strap, but you’ll have to buy your own heart rate transmitter to be able to send your heart rate wirelessly to the monitor.
Lifecore R100 Design and Ergonomics
From its looks alone, the Lifecore R100 was designed especially for big people. You can also find little pieces of evidence of this in the way the various components were designed.
Let’s take a look at the foot rests as an example. Although the foot rests are fully adjustable to accommodate all foot sizes, they are positioned in a downward angle that could prevent you from recruiting a lot of power from your legs and executing a perfect rowing technique.
Because your feet are angled down and the monorail is a little bit wider than other rowers, your knees tend to open up at the recovery and cause your legs to spread far apart.
You’ll know something is wrong when you can feel your arms rubbing against the inside of your thighs and you can’t extend them fully forward. This greatly reduces your ability to drive with as much power from your legs in the next stroke, thus preventing you from making the most of your workout.
However, if you have longer legs, this won’t be much of a problem. And for what it’s worth, the R100 has some high-quality nylon foot straps, which you can easily adjust by pushing down on the strap release tab and pulling the strap. If you’re turned off by the flimsy foot straps on the otherwise excellent WaterRower, the R100 is a nice alternative.
Above the foot rests are the handles, which has a 10-degree bend to allow your wrists to maintain their natural position. Some people may not like the handles, which are made of a hollow aluminum tube padded with foam and a plastic cover. We wouldn’t say this is much of a problem, since you’re not supposed to hold the handles with a death grip anyway.
The proper way to hold a rower handle is to grip it loosely with your arms, with your fingers draped over the front of your handle and the thumbs loosely hanging off below or to the side. If the R100 had huge handles, it would have been a challenge to hold them properly. The thinner, lighter handles are there to help you master your rowing grip.
Another gripe people might have is about the seat. The seat is large and, for the most part, contoured in all the right places. Most people won’t have issues about their backside going to sleep on the R100 seat, although those of you who have weren’t lucky enough to have their own natural protection will probably want to use a gel seat pad or even a folded towel on the seat.
Where the seat becomes more of a problem is the seat rollers. Many people have complained about the movement of the seat becoming rough and unsteady after a few days of using the rower.
Lifecore doesn’t ignore this problem, however, and has in fact mentioned that the best thing you can do to keep your rower in good shape is to wipe down the rail to keep the seat rolling on a smooth, clean surface. Some people may find this inconvenient, but to be honest, if you can spend even just half an hour beating your muscles up going back and forth on a rower, you can spend a few seconds wiping your sweat off the machine.
Lifecore R100 Monitor
Like with other rowing machines, one of the centerpieces of the Lifecore R100 is its fitness monitor. The fitness monitor gauges your performance and lets you know if you’re doing a good job or if you’re simply expending energy for nothing.
Although the R100 is largely touted as a Concept2 alternative, the monitor on this machine cannot, sadly, match up to the Performance Monitor 5. Here is where many serious rowers, such as professional athletes and competitors, see a deal-breaker.
However, our readers aren’t Olympic rowers and elite athletes. Most of you are average guys and gals who are concerned about your health and fitness. And pretty much most average guys and gals don’t care for a monitor with advanced features.
For the most part, the monitor on the R100 does its job decently. It will give you stats such as 500m split time, stroke rate, and calories burned (which are pretty much all you really need to know anyway). And it will allow you to adjust the resistance levels and profiles as you wish.
It also has a heart rate monitoring function and comes with a chest strap and receiver. You’ll have to buy your own transmitter, which must be a 5k transmitter to be compatible with the monitor.
A heart rate transmitter is not required, but if you’d like to track how your cardiovascular health improves while rowing, it’s an excellent accessory to have. We honestly can’t understand why Lifecore chose to exclude a transmitter in there. Most decent transmitters you find on Amazon will come with their own chest strap, and a lot of them are pretty high-quality as well. Still, everyone loves a freebie, and the chest strap comes with the R100 for free.
Back to heart rate monitoring, we particularly like the recovery program on this rower. This measures how much time it takes for your heart rate to go back to normal once you’re done exercising. You simply have to push the red Recovery button on the monitor and wait for it to read your pulse for 60 seconds. Generally, the faster your heart recovers, the better shape you are in.
The monitor does a great job at letting you exercise using various workout profiles. As mentioned above, you can do interval training workouts and workouts where you can increase or decrease resistance based on your target heart rate. Once you’re done exercising, you can save your data into your own profile.
You can save up to four user profiles on the R100. This makes it ideal for family use, or any other instance where multiple users will be exercising on the machine on a regular basis.
The R100 monitor sits on a swiveling arm that you can move around for better visibility. The monitor itself can also be tilted up and down to help you see the screen better. The LCD display is backlit, so there’s really no way you won’t be able to see what’s onscreen if you have a pair of good eyes.
What some people probably won’t like is the lack of fancy-schmancy features, such as virtual racing against other people online or the ability to connect the monitor to a computer or smartphone. However, like we said, most people don’t really care for all those bells and whistles unless they’re professionals. For most of us, the R100 is adequate for our needs.
Lifecore R100 Assembly and Storage
Setting up the Lifecore R100 is easier than what the instruction manual makes it look like. Most of the pieces of the machine are preassembled prior to shipping, and all you will have to do is to put together the major components.
The first thing you need to do is to assemble the front legs, followed by the foot rests, then the back legs. You’ll then have to put together the rail before finally attaching the seat and the seat carriage.
The instructions are easy to understand, and if you’ve ever assembled furniture from Ikea before, this will be a half-hour walk in the park. The shipment also includes a 6 mm allen wrench, a Philips screwdriver, and all nuts and bolts to put everything together.
One thing that irked us a little, though, is the need for an AC adaptor. You’ll need to plug the machine into a power socket to fire up the monitor. Remember to use ONLY an A 6v 800mA adaptor and nothing else if you don’t want your rower to fizzle out immediately without you having used it first. You can also use four C 1.5v batteries if you don’t have an adaptor right away.
The batteries will last up to three months if you use the machine regularly. The monitor will also display a low-battery signal to let you know when it’s time to get out and get new batteries.
To store the rower, you simply need to rotate the frame lock and lift the rail vertically. You can then move the machine on its front wheels so you can roll it around to its storage place.
Now, while the machine is massive, you won’t have a hard time moving it around even if you’re a small person, since the wheels will do the work for you. The weight of the machine only becomes a problem if you, say for instance, are moving it downstairs or to another house. Most of the time, you won’t have problems putting it where it needs to go.
Lifecore R100 Maintenance
The best thing you can do for your R100 is to keep it clean every day. Lifecore recommends that you wipe down the machine after every single use to prevent dust, dirt, and sweat from gathering on the rails and under the seat. When left there for a long time, sweat, which is made of your body salts, will cause the machine to become rusty.
The best way to clean your rower is to spray it with a solution of warm soapy water and then wipe it down with a dry towel. You can also use a light household cleaner such as Windex, but never, ever use WD-40 or silicone sprays on your machine.
In a way, this could become annoying for some people. After all, with other rowers, you can simply get up off the seat and leave it alone or put it in its storage place right away without having to wipe it down. But honestly, it’s a few sprays and wipes, people! It’s not that very hard to do if you want to keep your rowing machine for a good portion of your life.
A few more reminders to keep the R100 in tiptop shape. Do not place the machine in a high-voltage area or anywhere with electromagnetic fields. This could interfere with the rower’s electronic braking system and get in the way of a good workout, especially if you’re using a variable resistance profile.
Also, after the first 12 hours of use, check the nuts and bolts to see if they’ve gone loose. Some of them will probably have, and this is normal. Just go back to them with your allen wrench and retighten as needed, but remember not to tighten too much, since this could damage the metal and void your warranty.
Lifecore R100 Buying Options and Warranty
The Lifecore R100 is backed by one of the best warranties in the exercise machine industry. If you plan to use this for the home, you’ll get a lifetime warranty for the frame, five years for the parts, and a year of labor within purchase. This means, by the time the frame needs to be replaced (which will probably be a few decades down the line), you’ll be able to receive a new one for free.
For those of you who are planning to use this for light commercial use, such as in a local gym you own, for instance, the warranty is still lifetime for the frame, but the warranty for the parts and labor are reduced to two years and 90 days respectively. All in all, it’s still a pretty sweet deal if you ask us.
There are a few places that sell the Lifecore R100, but the best prices are usually available on Amazon. Plus, you can’t get any more reliable than the big A. If you’re lucky, you could also get free shipping on this rower. And that’s something we wouldn’t pass up on, since shipping such a huge item is certainly going to be costly.
We recommend that you do check out the rower in person. It’s easily the best way for you to see whether it’s built exactly for you or if you need to check out other brands. You can check out the R100 at your local gym or fitness center. Go ahead and give it a test drive before you lay your money down for it. It’s the best thing you can do before you make a purchase.
The Verdict: Is the Lifecore R100 Right for You?
The Lifecore R100 is an extremely durable, highly rugged rowing machine that’s especially built for big people. It is one of the strongest rowers on the market, being able to accommodate up to 600 lbs. in maximum user weight. Plus, it’s also one of the heavier machines, so you’re better off handling this rower if you have more power to work with.
That doesn’t mean small people won’t get the most out of this rower. In fact, a lot of the features on the R100 are adjustable so you can tweak it to fit your size preferences. However, much of the design and ergonomic details of the machine point to Lifecore’s preference for people with longer legs, wider shoulders, and bigger arms using this rowing machine.
If you’re a homeowner and you have a lot of space in your living room or home gym, the R100 will fit right in. The combination of air and magnetic resistance makes it is quieter than a mouse and won’t disturb your neighbors in any way. Although if you live in a small house and you don’t have a lot of room for an exercise machine, you might want to check out more compact rowers, such as the Stamina Avari.
The fitness monitor is decent enough. It’s not made for professional athletes with advanced needs, but for most people, it does quite a great job of monitoring your rowing numbers and displaying them back to you so you know where you’re at. It also makes changing the resistance levels a breeze, plus it gives you plenty of options for workouts, including a few heart rate control workouts for cardio health.
All in all, the Lifecore R100 is a good investment if you’re serious about improving your physical health and, in some ways, your mental health. Is it better than the Concept2 or WaterRower models? I wouldn’t say so, but the biggest benefits you can get from this machine over all the others are its ultra-strength and its ability to work your muscles at a consistent level of resistance all throughout. If you’re all about that, then we say it’s time to get for yourself a Lifecore R100.
Is the Lifecore R100 not for you? Find out more about other brands and models of indoor rowers in our comprehensive list of the world's best rowing machines in 2017.