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WaterRower Club Review: How to Get a Full-Body Workout on a Rowing Machine

Here’s the thing about exercise machines. You don’t really expect them to be beautiful. These hulking, metallic machines can be obnoxiously loud, yes. They can also be awkwardly huge and cumbersome to move around, but never beautiful.

Not till the WaterRower came along to the public consciousness. The WaterRower Club, in particular, sports a gorgeously deep rose-colored stain on its ash wood parts, something that looks much more pleasing to the eye than any metal-made exercise machine.

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If you’re like most people, you’ve most likely learned about the WaterRower from the ruthlessly manipulative Mr. Frank Underwood of “House of Cards”, who occasionally gives his own indoor rower a good beating to vent off his frustrations when his devious schemes don’t work out as planned.

(The machine that shows up on the Netflix show is a different model, the WaterRower Oxbridge, which we discuss in a separate review here.)

Widely regarded as one of the best rowing machines on the market, the WaterRower Club is a rare piece of exercise equipment that combines the long-lasting durability of a commercial-grade machine and the elegance of a designer piece of furniture.

It does have a few minor deficiencies, and if you’re a professional athlete or if you’re extra hard-to-please, you might want to know more about this indoor rower.

In this review, we'll give you the most in-depth look as possible at the WaterRower Club. We’ll discuss how water resistance works and how this makes the WaterRower different from air resistance machines such as Concept2.

We’ll also look at a few design decisions, such as whether the seat, handle, and footboard are comfortable enough for most people, and if people with mobility issues such as chronic knee and back pain can use the WaterRower.

We're also going to talk about assembly, storage, and maintenance requirements (We're sure you’re dying to know if this beauty is high-maintenance), as well as some of your best buying options so you get the most value for your money.

If you’re in a hurry, take a look at the table of contents below and skip to the part that concerns you the most.

The Perfect Total-Body Workout

mark gerban

Image: Robert-Jan Friele

The biggest advantage to exercising on a rowing machine is getting a full-body workout that you normally wouldn’t get on other pieces of exercise equipment.

As a cardiovascular exercise, rowing helps you strengthen the heart and lungs while also receiving the multiple benefits of getting your cardio. At the same time, the resistance you get from the rowing machine itself allows you to strength-train.

Although you’re not going to build huge muscle on the rowing machine (You’ll have to do some heavy lifting if your goal is to look anywhere close to Arnold.), rowing helps you develop exceptional functional strength for everyday use, and more.

Consider Mark Gerban, a former professional rower who competed at the World Championships. Mr. Gerban certainly doesn’t look like a bodybuilder, but he does have lean, taut muscles that most men would die for.

The sport of rowing isn’t just for men, though. Women and children also benefit from exercising on the rowing machine, and people of all ages. In fact, rowing is an amazing exercise for older people and people who have joint problems because it has practically zero impact on the joints.

You shouldn’t be surprised to find 70-year-olds, 80-year-olds, and even a few 90-year-olds exercising on their own rowing machine. It’s not unlikely that their regular rowing regimen, combined with healthy eating and living a stress-free life, is what’s keeping them alive and kicking at their age.

WaterRower Club Durability and Longevity

Like the WaterRower Natural, the WaterRower Club is hand-built using ash wood, one of the most popular hardwood species in America because of its strength and ability to absorb sound and vibrations.

You’ll realize how important this is when you start rowing and the machine is practically noiseless, except for the relaxing sound of water moving inside the tank.

The strength of the wood also adds to the rower’s stability. Despite its relatively narrow width, the WaterRower sits solid on the floor. No wobbling or teetering about as if it’s about to fall over.

The main difference from other models, however, is that the WaterRower Club is polished with a rosewood stain, which has many benefits over unstained wood.

For one thing, the wood stain creates a barrier over the wood that prevents water from seeping in and soiling it from the inside. It also keeps out mold, mildew, termites and other pets that can cause the wood to rot. And it protects the rower from sunlight, so that the wood keeps its deep, dark luster for a long, long time. On top of the wood stain is a layer of Danish oil and urethane for added protection.

The WaterRower Club also features black rails, as opposed to the honey oak stained rails of the WaterRower Natural. This makes it a good choice for areas that get a lot of foot traffic, such as in commercial fitness centers and rowing studios.

The black rails also make it the model of choice for people who would like to disguise any scuffs, scrapes or scratches the WaterRower may obtain through the years of rowing. A darker color will definitely make these marks much less noticeable.

On one end of the rowing machine, opposite the wooden rails, is the water tank, which is made of clear polycarbonate so you can see the water swirling around as you move the paddle.

The tank is top-of-the-line. It’s made of two separate pieces that come together like a clamshell to prevent leakage even when you stand the WaterRower upright and move it around.

All in all, the quality of the WaterRower Club is topnotch. If you look around Craigslist for secondhand listings, you’ll see some models going as far back as the 1990s! That’s how long these rowers can last—maybe even more with the right kind of maintenance.

It’s not surprising, since all WaterRower products are made in the good, ol’ US of A. The company’s facility in the small town of Warren, Rhode Island handles most of its production, though some WaterRower models are also made in Germany.

In the last few years, the Warren facility has actually seen an explosive rise in demand, thanks to Mr. Underwood and his equally conniving wife Claire.

Want to get an amazing price on the WaterRower Club? Click here to check out Amazon for product discounts on this rowing machine and more. 

Water Resistance Stimulates Real Rowing

If it isn’t very obvious, all WaterRower models provide water resistance, as opposed to the famous Concept2 machines that use air resistance and other rowers using magnetic resistance, such as the Bodycraft VR500 and the Lifecore R100.

The company says this makes rowing on this machine just like rowing on real water. Most experts do say the WaterRower is the closest thing to paddling on a real lake (or a river, if that’s what you prefer.)

The resistance comes from the inertia of the still water as the paddle cuts its way through. As the water is displaced when you pull the handle, you’ll feel as though you’re moving your oar below the surface of the lake—the resistance ever so subtly decreases.

But as the water settles down toward the end of the stroke, resistance increases once again. This can be likened to the feeling of throwing around some water as you move your oar back out of the surface of the lake.

How to Adjust Resistance on the WaterRower Club

Image: WaterRower

Exercising on the WaterRower is self-paced. This means there are no control levers or settings you need to adjust to get more resistance or less. You control the resistance with your own power.

On the WaterRower, increasing resistance is as simple as rowing faster. In the same manner, decreasing resistance only requires that you row slower.

Now, here is where a lot of people get confused about the water level. Some people will tell you that, to adjust resistance, you have to increase or decrease the amount of water in your tank.

That’s not actually a very convenient thing to do, as you’ll have to wield a bucket of water and the siphon that comes with the WaterRower for that.

If water level actually accounted for the level of resistance, then you’ll have to keep a bucket nearby just to accommodate different exercisers with different fitness levels. (Definitely not a pretty thing to see at a fitness center, or in your home gym!)

The truth is the level of the water doesn’t change your resistance, although it does affect how your exercise feels. Changing the water level is very similar to changing the gears on your bike. It doesn’t affect resistance, but it becomes harder or easier to row.

If you want to get more specific, the amount of water in the tank is like how much the boat would weigh if you were rowing outdoors.

The higher the level of water, the bigger and heavier the boat is, and the more difficult it would be to move it forward on the water. With a lower water level, the more it will feel like you’re rowing a narrow racing shell, sleekly gliding across the lake with less effort from you.

However, even though increasing water level increases difficulty, it isn’t advised that you go in over your head and fill the tank with water. Doing so makes the workout much harder on your muscles, causing you to get tired quickly and not get the most out of your cardio workout.

WaterRower recommends that you keep the water level from 17 to 19 if you’re male, and 15 to 17 if you’re female, with various adjustments depending on your individual fitness level.

Never go above the maximum water level of 19. We can’t emphasize this enough. Doing so causes undue pressure on the tank and could irreversibly damage the tank and void your warranty. If you plan on acting like a meathead, you’ve been warned.

Smooth as Butter, Silent as a Butterfly

The water flywheel is paired with an industrial-grade nylon strap and pulley system that makes the operation buttery smooth. The inclusion of nylon, as opposed to the nickel-plated chain on the Concept2, also contributes to the pleasant noiselessness of the WaterRower Club.

You won’t hear any metal chain grating over cogs, or an air flywheel whirring as you stroke. The nylon strap is as silent as a butterfly flapping its little wings, allowing you to enjoy the soothing sounds of water as it sloshes around inside the tank. If you close your eyes, you can even imagine yourself rowing down a lake, with the sound of water splashing against the hull of your imaginary boat.

Plus, here’s something that experienced rowers have been exalting the WaterRower for. There’s no delay at the catch. You feel the resistance the instant you slide your legs backward.

That’s not something you find on the Concept2. On the Concept2, you feel a slight jerk when you start to stroke. That’s because the clutch doesn’t engage immediately. On the WaterRower, resistance is instantaneous.

Also, because it’s made of materials softer than metal (wood and plastic), the seat will glide down the rails more effortlessly. This gives the WaterRower another advantage over the Concept2.

On a metal rowing machine, you’ll feel even the thinnest strand of hair if it ever falls into the monorail. Not with the WaterRower, so you get a smooth, delay-free, almost serene back-and-forth movement.

WaterRower also has metal models, including the WaterRower GX, which has an aluminum monorail. The company designed the rail on this model to be convex, which keeps dust and dirt away easier than on the Concept2. ​

If you’re not after the Zen-like experience, you can watch TV or listen to music as you exercise. Unlike the Concept2, which requires you to turn up the volume a bit so you can do these things, you don’t have to bother anyone with loud noises, whether they’re coming from the TV, your phone or your exercise machine.

This is why the WaterRower rates highly among home owners. The Concept2, preferred by professional athletes, is an entire league of its own. But the quietness of the WaterRower, combined with its excellent quality, makes it a top choice if you live with others or in a small apartment where you run the risk of annoying your neighbors.

Who Can Use the WaterRower Club?

Image: WaterRower

Rowing, as an exercise, is beneficial for all types of people. That includes your 90-year-old grandma with chronic pain in the knees, veteran bodybuilders experienced in many forms of exercise, and young children getting started early in their fitness journey.

That said, the WaterRower Club was designed virtually for exercisers of most sizes, shapes and fitness levels. The machine itself can accommodate up to 1,000 lbs. in weight. (If you do weigh 1,000 lbs. or anywhere near that, we highly recommend you take the advice of your physician before undergoing any form of physical exercise.)

Overall, the machine is 7 feet long, but what’s more important is the length of the rails, which shouldn’t be shorter than your legs. The rails can accommodate up to 38 inches of leg length. That’s just a little more than 3 feet, and if you’re like most people, you probably don’t need to worry about having legs longer than that.

However, if you have really long legs, you can purchase a rail extender from WaterRower to add an extra 4 inches, although most people won't need it.

Atop the rails is the seat, which is exactly a foot off the floor. This can feel quite low for some people with joint problems. If you have knee issues, for instance, it might be a little difficult for you to bend so low to sit down on the WaterRower.

The solution the company provides is its HiRise adaptor, which you can also find on Amazon. It raises the WaterRower by 8 inches. That would then make the seat as high as 20 inches, which is just about the height of a regular chair, so that you don’t have to stoop just to go on the indoor rower. 

The S4 monitor also lets you monitor your heart wirelessly, although you’ll need to buy a separate heart monitoring system for that. WaterRower sells its own heart rate monitors. One is compatible with Polar, and another with ANT+ (Check it out on Amazon.), a newer technology that gets rid of the limitations of Polar.

The seat is set on four ball-bearing wheels, providing constant stability as it glides up and down the rails. It is sufficiently padded, making it much more comfortable than the Concept2 seat for most people. It is 2 inches thick and is firm enough to provide protection and cushy enough to keep your buns comfortable during the exercise.

However, if you’re a bit unlucky and life handed you not enough natural protection, you can easily use a folded towel for cushioning. Or you can buy a gel pad for your seat or the WaterRower-recommended ErgPad by Spectex.

Some people choose to grit their teeth and row without extra cushion. That’s because rowing also works the gluteal muscles and, overtime, you will develop enough muscle for your buns to protect you from the hardness of the seat. To each his own, though. You can always use the extra padding now and discard it later.

WaterRower Club Handles and Foot Rests

Here is where we get to start being really nitpicky. Like we said, the WaterRower is an awesome indoor rowing machine overall, but not everyone may want to buy it.

This machine does have a few little annoying things of its own. For one thing, there are the foot rests. Many people agree WaterRower could have added more though to them.

All in all, the foot rests are decent. You can easily adjust them by pushing a button and moving the heel rests up and down to accommodate the size of your foot. You can also tighten the straps around the balls of your feet to keep them in place as you move through the release portion of your stroke.

However, the straps can feel a little too thin and hard for some people. If you like to row barefoot, consider it a can’t-do on the WaterRower. The least you can do is to put some thick socks on to protect them from being cut by the edge of the straps, but we do recommend putting on shoes.

The foot rests may also be too close for comfort if you’re a very tall person, or if you have very long legs. If you want to open your stance a little bit, there’s really no way for you to do that. In the end, you’ll just have to deal with your knees occasionally knocking into each other or look for another rower altogether.

The handles are a little bit better-designed. The WaterRower Club has nice, oblong-shaped handles covered in soft-touch material that make it easier for you to close your palms around them.

Some people may develop blisters if they’ve never rowed before, so a pair of gloves may be necessary for beginners. WaterRower offers a pair of rowing grips that prevent your skin from bunching up, thus avoiding blisters. However, you need to learn how to hold the handle properly. A good, loose grip is key if you don't want the rower messing up the skin of your palms.

Image: WaterRower

One thing we realized about the WaterRower is, if you want to turn the handles over in a reverse-grip row to work out your bicep muscles, you’ll have to twist the nylon strap and very possibly compromise its quality.

That said, not many people will actually even think about doing a reverse-grip row.

WaterRower Club S4 Performance Monitor

The WaterRower Club is outfitted with the Series 4 performance monitor, the latest and most advanced in WaterRower’s fitness monitors. 

It’s inarguably not anywhere close to the Performance Monitor 5 on the Concept2, and this is what often turns a lot of professional rowers and elite athletes off.

However, for most people, the S4 monitor provides everything you’ll ever need to track your workouts, and it does a pretty okay job at that as well.

Basically, it gives you information about the intensity of your workout, your stroke rate, duration and distance.

It doesn’t tell you how many calories were burned during your workout, though it does show data on Kcal per hour. From there, you can calculate your total calories burned or just ignore the whole thing altogether if you’re not the type who obsesses about calorie numbers.

Take note, the S4 monitor is not backlit. If you have poor vision or if you’re rowing at night, it will be difficult to see what’s being displayed without squinting at the monitor.

You can also use a different brand of heart rate monitor with the WaterRower, but keep in mind it has to be compatible with either Polar or ANT+ for it to work properly.

One unique thing about the S4 monitor is the Zone Bar, a feature that lets you stay within a certain zone of intensity or heart rate or stroke rate. For example, let’s say you want to keep your heart rate up between 50% and 70% above your resting heart rate, which isn’t bad at all if you want to get a good moderate workout.

The Zone Bar can alert you if your heart rate goes up beyond that range, meaning you’re going into high-intensity territory, and if it drops below it. It’s a good feedback system, especially if you don’t want to keep your eye on the numbers all the time.

The S4 monitor can also connect to your Mac or PC, but only through a physical cable that comes with the WaterRower. Now, if you’re a gadget geek with love for all things high-tech, you might disapprove.

After all, we live in an age where people can make phone calls with their smartwatch like James Bond. And while we’re on that subject, you can also forget about syncing your WaterRower with your Fitbit or Apple Watch as well.

And if you’re using the rowing machine with your spouse or your kids, for instance, it won’t be easy to share the S4 monitor with them because it only allows a single profile. It will still count everyone else’s stats, but they’ll have to download it every time if they want to keep track of it.

For now, we’ll have to make do with this limited functionality and the wires. Once the monitor is connected, you can then transfer your details from the S4 monitor to your computer, where you’ll have a bigger, brighter screen to use to analyze your exercise stats.

The monitor can also link you up to software that can enhance your rowing experience. Unfortunately, as of this writing, WaterRower’s own software are still either in development or in beta mode.

We-Row, which promises to link you up with other WaterRower owners and compete with them in virtual races real-time, remains unfinished. There’s another software called WaterCoach FIT, which is still in its beta stage. You can now sign up for the beta, but be sure you know what you’re signing up for.

Beta software are often buggy, laggy, and a bigger pain in the behind than the WaterRower’s seat. Unless you’re open to testing the software for problems so that it’s smooth and bug-free when the official version comes out, we don’t suggest getting any of these.

If you’re really serious about software, the S4 monitor is compatible with NetAthlon, a third-party virtual web racing software for rowers. NetAthlon offers good graphics and lets you race against other people online or against yourself if you’re not up to a little competition.

However, you’ll have to purchase the software and a sensor kit separately to be able to use it. That’s around $270 more for software and adds up to your costs.

How to Assemble a WaterRower Club

Putting together a WaterRower Club is easy. The company includes clear, easy to understand instructions, and if you’ve ever assembled furniture from Ikea before, you’re going to go through this like a pro.

Keep in mind the indoor rower comes shipped in two boxes. The bigger, squarish box comes at around 60 lbs., and though it has handles for easier carrying, you might need the help of another person to transport the box inside your house.

The other box takes on a longer, more rectangular shape. It contains the wooden rails and weighs around 20 lbs., much lighter than the first box, although if you’re not that fit, you might still need somebody else’s help.

The box also includes all the nuts and bolts you’ll need to put the parts together. There’s also an allen key for tightening up the screws during the assembly and later on for maintenance.

Here are the instructions for putting together the WaterRower Club.

1. Put both rails side by side on the floor and attach each of them to the rear spacer using the nuts and bolts provided. It’s a good thing to keep the screws a little loose before you assemble the entire thing together. This allows you to adjust some parts into their proper position before you securely lock them in place with tighter screws.

2. Put the seat on top of the rails, with each of the four wheels resting on the extrusion on top of the rails.

3. Place the pre-assembled tank section at the front of the rails. Screw it into position using the nuts and bolts.

4. Over the threaded holes of the tank section, position the footboard and fasten it into place.

5. Stand the WaterRower. Below the rail, you’ll find the bungee cord and the recoil belt unattached. Ensure that the recoil belt passes through all the pulleys. This is critical if you want a smooth, snag-free operation. Then hook the bungee cord to the recoil belt D-ring.

6. Lay the machine on the floor again and tighten the screws.

Once you have assembled the WaterRower, you can then fill the tank with water. WaterRower recommends that you use municipal water because it has treatments that prevent it from turning into a deep, dark, murky abyss. You can also use water purification tablets to avoid that.

Filling and draining the tank with water is simple enough, although it does take quite some time. WaterRower provides a plastic siphon that you can use to pump water in and out of the tank.

If you’re impatient, you can buy the electric pump that WaterRower sells. However, it’s meant for commercial studios with several rowers to fill and drain. Plus, you won’t likely be filling or draining your machine so much anyway, so the electrical pump will be a waste of your money.

Like we mentioned earlier, be extremely careful that you don’t go beyond a water level of 19 liters. Doing so will put too much pressure on the tank and can very possibly damage it, thus voiding your warranty.

Once the tank is filled, don’t forget to input the water levels into your S4 monitor.

How to Store Your WaterRower Club

Image: WaterRower

Storing the WaterRower is as easy as pie. You simply have to hold the machine at the end of the wooden rails (make sure the seat is fully positioned in front) and pull it up to a standing position.

The location of the tank, the heavier element, and the length of the rails make it very easy for anyone of any fitness level to stand the WaterRower upright. The machine also has caster wheels at the tank end so you can quickly roll it into a corner of the room for storage.

You won’t need a lot of space where you can stash it in. When in a standing position, the WaterRower takes up as much space as a kitchen stool, though you’ll need to have a ceiling higher than 8 feet.

On the other hand, if you have plenty of space in your living room, you can also just leave the machine where it is. It certainly will blend in easily with the rest of your furniture and is sure to become a conversation starter among your visitors.

How to Maintain Your WaterRower Club

You’ll need to do a little bit of maintenance to keep this indoor rower in shape. One thing you’ll have to do upon assembly is to drop a purification tablet into the water tank. This helps ensure the water remains clean and clear for the next several months.

The effectiveness of these tablets depends on the environment where you put the WaterRower. If the water is more exposed to sunlight, you’ll need to watch for murkiness within three months or so, then drop another tablet. All in all, most people need to purify the water every three to six months to prevent the growth of plankton and bacteria.

If you prefer to use blue dye, you’ll need to physically inspect the water regularly and drop the purification tablets as needed.

Take note: Never use ordinary pool chlorine for your WaterRower. Pool chlorine has a different composition from the WaterRower tablets, and they can damage the plastic tank of your rowing machine.

Within the first few weeks, you will also notice some screws loosening up. This is normal and is, in fact, expected because the wood is still adjusting to the levels of sunlight and humidity in its new home. You’ll need to retighten the loose screws, but remember not to tighten them too much.

On the first month, there’s also going to be the chance that the bungee cord and recoil belt will go loose. Again, this is normal. You’ll need to tighten them by unhooking the bungee cord from the recoil belt D-ring and moving the buckle down the strap. Then simply rehook the bungee cord into the D-ring.

You might need to do this every six months or so. If the WaterRower handle no longer goes all the way to the front pulley, you’ll know it’s time to pull the machine upright and tighten the bungee cord and recoil strap again.

Lastly, the WaterRower Club needs an occasional oiling every several months. You can get a bottle of Danish oil direct from WaterRower itself. To oil your rowing machine, apply Danish oil to a clean rug and rub it on the wooden surfaces of the machine. Let the oil sink in for 15 minutes then wipe off any excess with another rug.

How to Clean Your WaterRower Club

Dust, dirt and bacteria will significantly degrade the quality of your rowing machine if you don’t regularly keep them away.

To make sure you keep your WaterRower around for a long time, give it a good cleaning by wiping the rails and other surfaces with a damp, clean cloth. Make sure you also get rid of the dust and dirt that can accumulate on the extrusions of the rails.

There will be some areas too hard to reach for wiping, such as the clutch and belt mechanism at the top and bottom decks. To clean these areas, it would be a good thing if you brought out the vacuum cleaner.

Every now and then, you should also clean the tank. A good washing with regular cleaning soap and water will do. Be very careful not to use bleach, ammonia-based cleaners, alcohol or cleaners, as these will damage the polycarbonate tank and void your warranty.

WaterRower Club Buying Options

Image: WaterRower

You can buy the WaterRower Club on Amazon, where some sellers offer it for free shipping. Your purchase also includes a warranty, which can be upgraded to a five-year limited warranty on all components and a three-year limited if you register it with WaterRower within one year of purchase.

If you would like to try out the WaterRower without having to pay the full price upfront, you have the option to rent a model from the company itself. It’s one way to see if this exercise machine is the right fit for you.

But although it will cost less to rent a WaterRower, we don’t really recommend it, mostly because it’s far less convenient than simply going to the gym and trying out the WaterRower there.

Many gyms and fitness studios have their own WaterRowers. Although not all of them will be a WaterRower Club, all of the wooden models are actually practically identical except for the type of wood they use.

The Verdict

The WaterRower Club is one of the best rowing machines you can buy. Not only is the quality of this piece of exercise equipment top of the line, it is also a very good-looking addition to your living room or office.

This water resistance rowing machine also provides an extremely smooth, noise-free operation, while the sounds of water sloshing around in the tank offer a soothing, meditative experience you almost wouldn’t expect from an exercise machine.

True, the WaterRower Club is quite expensive. But the long-term benefits you receive over the years will pay for this machine in the long run.

It’s simply one of the best rowing machines available, and it’s especially a good choice for you if you plan to use this at home or at your office (there are also other WaterRower models built specifically for commercial purposes).

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