Over the years, indoor rowing has gone from being a workout revered only by America’s preppy exercisers to a mainstream exercise that is starting to grow on the general fitness-loving public.
You can thank the ruthless scheming politician Frank Underwood and his equally manipulative wife Claire for that.
Netflix’s award-winning “House of Cards” has done a lot to propel the WaterRower, a specific brand of water rowing machines that has made its mark thanks to their overall high quality and good build and, more importantly, the gorgeous wooden models that surpass every other piece of exercise equipment in the world in terms of aesthetics.
Mr. Underwood’s specific model is the WaterRower Oxbridge, one of the Natural series of indoor rowers, which we will discuss more extensively in another review. And while the WaterRower Natural series are known for their higher prices, the company has a lesser known model that is priced a little bit more reasonably than the more popular options.
Meet the WaterRower GX. It's the WaterRower model specifically designed for Shockwave, a series of workouts that combine rowing with body bars, kettlebells, and balance balls to give you a sculpted celebrity body that many of us dream of having. Hollywood A-listers like the American Sniper himself, Bradley Cooper, is known to be a fan of Shockwave, as well as actresses Cameron Diaz and Nicole Kidman.
This model is still expensively priced, but not as much as the other WaterRower models. Despite its smaller price tag, the WaterRower GX offers the same great quality and features as its pricier counterparts.
However, you’ll have to keep in mind that WaterRower had to make a few concessions to be able to sell this model at a lower price. The biggest compromise is the use of a lower-end performance monitor than the Natural series, which we’ll discuss more in the sections below.
We'll also talk about the important ergonomic details (How high/low is the seat? Are the handles naturally angled? Is the footboard comfortable enough?), and the design differences between the WaterRower GX and other models to help you make an informed choice when buying your indoor rower.
Further down, we’ll also touch upon issues such as assembly, maintenance, and storage, a must-read for people who cannot assemble anything if their life depended on it, and for people with not a lot of space in their homes).
Before we move on, let’s all be clear that we’re talking about the WaterRower GX Home rowing machine. The same model has a Studio version that is designed specifically for use in commercial rowing studios. While both variants are similar in a lot of ways, we’ve limited this review to the Home version because that’s what most of you are interested in.
Hopefully, by the end of this review, you’ll be armed with a lot more knowledge to help you make an informed choice about buying for yourself a WaterRower GX.
If you’re in a hurry, check out the Table of Contents below and click on the appropriate link to take you to the specific section you are interested in.
In a Nutshell...
What We Like:
- Gorgeous ash wood design with high-stability aluminum monorail
- Strong, durable, and hand-crafted in U.S. facility
- Self-paced resistance makes it suitable for any fitness level
- Ergonomically designed
- Suitable for very tall people
- Very quiet and Zen-like with the sounds of water splashing in the tank
- Very easy to assemble, store, and clean
- Comes with a free copy of IndoRow and ShockWave
What We Don't Like:
- Performance monitor does not have heart rate monitoring
- Not built for heavier user weights; can accommodate up to 300 lbs.
- Footboard system is fair to middling, not as high-end as the rest of the rower
What Exercising on the WaterRower GX Can Do for You
The rowing machine has made a comeback of sorts in the fitness industry. For several decades, professional athletes have been training on indoor rowers when it’s too cold outside, but most people shunned these machines to the corners of the gym for years.
Up until now, though. Many people are coming to realize the benefits of exercising on rowing machines, and some of it is in part thanks to Netflix featuring the WaterRower on one of its most popular shows.
One of the biggest reasons many people are turning to rowing is the full-body workout it provides. You get two for the price of one on a rowing machine. It gives you an excellent cardio workout while also offering a pretty good resistance workout.
Of course, you’re not going to beef up like The Incredible Hulk. You will need to lift heavy weights for that. But rowing is a great way to improve your functional strength for everyday activities.
And while rowing is the perfect exercise for most people, it is also great for people with special needs. The elderly, for instance, may have joint problems that could get worse with other exercises, such as running or weightlifting.
However, the low-impact nature of rowing makes it suitable for people who don’t want to put added stress on their joints. People who have had injuries will also benefit greatly from rowing.
Check out this video showing how to row properly on a WaterRower GX.
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WaterRower GX Design
Unlike the Natural series (WaterRower Natural, WaterRower Oxbridge, WaterRower Club and WaterRower Classic), which sport dual wooden rails, the WaterRower GX has a single central rail made from aluminum.
There are a few good things about this design decision, and a few bad ones as well. Let’s start with the bad things, which thankfully aren’t too many. The aluminum monorail, obviously, is much less pleasing to the eye than the gorgeous rails of the other models.
Also, you’ll find that the sound of the seat gliding along the metal rail makes a tiny bit more sound, compared to the soft plastic protection of the wooden rails on the WaterRower Natural.
However, the quality of the material keeps the WaterRower GX sturdy enough to withstand the hardest beating by even the most avid of meatheads at the gym intent on dismantling the rowing machine.
That it is a single rail, compared to the dual rails of the Natural series, also keeps the machine's center of gravity low, allowing it to stand strong and stable on any kind of surface.
You won’t feel any rocking or rolling on the WaterRower GX. In fact, you can even put your WaterRower on a bed of grass and it won’t tip over at all. (Although, we don’t recommend keeping your indoor rower out under the sun or moon at all times.)
The aluminum monorail has a convex surface, unlike the flat surfaces of the wooden rails. This helps keep the dust at bay for a longer time, making maintenance a little bit easier on the WaterRower GX.
The rest of the machine is hand-built using ethically sourced Appalachian ash wood, one of the most popular hardwood species in America. Ash wood is known throughout the lumber industry for its excellent shock absorbing properties, which helps the rowing machine soak up much of its own sound and vibration like a sponge, giving you a smoother, quieter workout experience than you’d expect from an exercise machine.
The Home variant is unstained, stripping off a thin layer of protection that the Natural series do enjoy (wood stain helps prevent moisture and pests from burying into the wood), but it is polished to a high lustre using Danish oil.
On top of the monorail is what WaterRower calls a medium-duty seat with four wheels, which is made for use at home. At the end of the rail is the polycarbonate water tank, which houses the water that provides the resistance for your workout.
WaterRower Natural vs. WaterRower GX
Check out a closer look at the difference between the WaterRower Natural and the WaterRower GX in the table below.
Ash wood, stained and oiled
Ash wood, unstained but oiled
Wooden dual rails for maximum stability
Aluminum monorail for medium stability
Foot rests separated by 5.5 inches, has one-press adjustability
Foot rests separated by 8 inches, does not have one-touch adjustability
XL Rail Extenderrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
Measures intensity, distance, heart rate, stroke rate and Kcal, has timed, distance and interval workouts, includes PC and software compatibility
Measures intensity and distance, has timed and distance workouts, does not have PC and software compatibility
WaterRower GX Seat and Monorail
The WaterRower GX comes with a generously padded seat, which is certainly an advantage if you lack the right amount of natural protection for your butt. The seat is placed on top of the monorail, balanced by four wheels that allow it to smoothly slide up and down the rail as you row.
Keep in mind the seat on this rowing machine is very slightly angled to the front. Although this makes it easier for you at the end of the drive, the modest tilt actually helps to remind you to keep your rowing form in check.
In rowing, maintaining the proper form and technique is always of utmost importance. Even though this is a great, low-impact workout that benefits people with joint problems, even the smallest mistakes in form or technique could prevent you from getting the most out of your workout.
The worst thing that could happen is for you to sustain an injury that you would otherwise have prevented if you kept your form and technique in check.
However, if you have lower back problems such as chronic pain, the slight forward tilt of the chair could be a problem, since it forces you to work your lower back muscles a little bit more, especially at the catch, where you still have to keep your spine neutral.
For most people, this isn’t going to be a problem, but we do recommend looking at other models if this is going to be a deal-breaker for you. The Concept2 Model D, inarguably the gold standard for professional indoor rowing, could be better suited for you.
The Concept2 Model E is also another option. It’s more expensive than the WaterRower GX and even the Natural models, and you’ll have to say goodbye to the beautiful wooden exercise equipment that caught your eye in the first place.
The seat of the WaterRower GX is placed above the floor a little bit lower than the Natural models. If you’re having trouble getting in and out of the seat (You may have knee problems, or you may be in a wheelchair, or you’re just a little bit too tall to make bending down so low easy for you), the solution is to avail of the HiRise option.
These additional legs give the WaterRower GX an extra 7 inches in height, raising the monorail just enough for most people so you can get on and off the seat without much pain or discomfort.
If you’re planning to buy this option, make sure you’re buying the adaptor made specifically for the WaterRower GX, which can also be used for the Indo-Row and A1 models. Other HiRise adaptors are also available for the Natural series of indoor rowers, but they are incompatible with this particular model.
Also, because of its monorail design, the WaterRower GX is not specially built to withstand heavier weights. Unlike the dual rails of the Natural models, which have the stability to carry up to 700 lbs. and 600 lbs. if you’re using a HiRise adaptor, the WaterRower GX can accommodate up to 325 lbs.
However, one advantage you can get from the WaterRower GX over the Natural series is a longer rail. The maximum inseam for this rower is 39 inches, which is 2 inches longer than the Natural models. If you're a bit on the taller side, the WaterRower GX may be the better option for you.
WaterRower GX Footboard and Handles
As we’ve discussed in previous reviews of other WaterRower models, this brand is not specially known for its high-quality footboards. It’s easy to expect a high-end foot strap system from a costly exercise machine.
Unfortunately, if you’re a tad bit finicky like we are, you’ll find the WaterRower GX’s footboard has plenty of room for improvement. Unlike the Natural series models, this lacks a single-press adjustment system that lets you adjust the size of the foot rest to accommodate various foot sizes of various users.
We also recommend that you slip into a pair of training shoes, such as these various pairs you can find on Amazon, before you start rowing on this indoor rower, as the foot straps can feel too sharp around the edges. If you like rowing barefoot, there’s really no way you can do this on the WaterRower GX. The best you can do is to put some really thick socks on before your workout.
Admittedly, the footboard is not as flimsy as a piece of paper. For many people, they wouldn’t have problems with this part of the rowing machine. But if you’re a little too hard to please, you might want to keep this in mind.
One good thing about the footboard is that the foot rests are placed 8 inches apart. This, in part, stems from some of the complaints about the Natural models that the foot rests are positioned too close to each other.
For tall people, or for people who feel more comfortable keeping their feet farther away from each other, this is a problem on the WaterRower Natural. Therefore, if you’re not happy with your knees banging against each other, the better option is to buy the WaterRower GX instead.
The handles, on the other hand, are a different story. The WaterRower GX handles measure 17 inches in length, which is a bit longer than the handles on the Natural series. This, combined with the slight tilt of the handles, makes them a lot easier to hold for some people without causing discomfort in the wrists and forearms.
WaterRower also offers a pair of grips made from softened plastic to help make holding the handles easier, while preventing the growth of blisters. If you’re a first-time rower and you’ve had your palms sore from having the skin bunch up over the handles, outfitting the handles with grips could be the solution you’re looking for.
How to Adjust Water Resistance on the WaterRower GX
Changing the level of resistance you get on the WaterRower GX is extremely easy. You simply have to vary the intensity of your workouts. If you’re a beginner and you want to go at a leisurely pace to give yourself time to practice the proper form, simply row slowly. And if you’re looking for a heart-pumping workout, then you only have to row faster. That’s it.
Most people tend to harbor incorrect assumptions when it comes to resistance. Forgive us if we segue a bit from our main path, but it’s something that has always been nagging us about indoor rowers. Common knowledge has it that, if you want to adjust the resistance on your WaterRower, you have to change the amount of water inside the tank to do so.
Now, that’s one extremely inconvenient way for users, especially if several people shared a single indoor rower.
What many beginner rowers don’t know is that it’s not the amount of water that produces resistance. It is how much drag you feel, which is influenced by how fast you go while exercising.
In a way, it’s like swimming. If you simply want to enjoy the water, you can swim in a slow, relaxed way. And if you want to get a better workout, then you increase your speed.
The amount of water inside the tank simulates the weight of your boat and crew had you been rowing a real boat instead. A higher water level is like a barge; it is bigger, heavier and harder to get moving and stop moving. On the other hand, a lower water level is like a racing shell; it is sleek, fast and requires you to keep rowing to move forward.
If you fill your water tank all the way to the maximum, you’re setting yourself up for a less efficient workout, which means you’re not getting the most out of your expensive rowing machine at all.
WaterRower recommends that you fill the tank only up to halfway. For men, the recommended water level is 17 to 19 liters, and 15 to 17 liters for women. The level gauge is located on the side of the tank. Do not fill the tank over level 19, as too much water will cause too much pressure and could possibly damage the water tank.
Ready to get started rowing? Click here to visit Amazon and view great prices and discounts on the WaterRower GX.
WaterRower GX Assembly and Storage
For an exercise machine, the WaterRower GX is surprisingly easy to assemble. If you’ve ever tried putting together a piece of furniture from Ikea, you won’t have a hard time assembling the WaterRower GX.
The machine itself comes with clear, concise instructions, with pictures to help you understand which parts go where. Even people with nothing but the most basic do-it-yourself skills will not have much of a problem. Assembly will take somewhere around 30 to 40 minutes, and less if you’re a super DIYer.
WaterRower also throws in the appropriate nuts and bolts and an accompanying 5 mm allen wrench (located in the rear spacer, if you’re having trouble looking for it). You’ll need the tool for when some nuts and bolts loosen up over time, which is normal and not something to be worried about.
Here’s a tip while you’re assembling your WaterRower GX. Do not tighten all the nuts and bolts all the way until the machine is fully assembled. This lets you reposition certain components into place to fully accommodate all the parts into one beautiful rowing machine.
Once you’re done, you can then fill up the WaterRower GX with municipal water. Keep in mind, you need to use municipal water because it has anti-bacterial treatments and treatments that prevent the growth of algae. Again, make sure you don’t fill the tank over level 19 if you don’t want to damage it and void your warranty.
Your shipment will include a plastic siphon pump that you can use to fill the tank with water or drain it. Some people think the pump is a little cheap, and it takes quite a lot of time to move the water in and out of the tank using this method. WaterRower also offers an electric pump that you can buy for an additional $150, but since you won’t be filling and draining your tank so often, we don’t recommend it.
To store the WaterRower GX, you simply have to lift the monorail from the back of the machine and use the momentum to pull it upright. You can then roll it forward or back to the place where you want it to go.
At around 98 lbs., the WaterRower GX is lighter and more compact than other WaterRower models, making it easier to store. It also takes up less storage space, having only the same requirements as a kitchen stool.
WaterRower GX Maintenance
The WaterRower GX requires little maintenance, but not so little that you can just leave it sitting around in the next several decades.
Make sure to keep your rower in a dry place with even temperature. Do not expose the machine in damp places where moisture can seep into the wood. Also, exposure to extremely hot and cold temperatures will gradually wear the wood out and damage it.
On the very first few weeks of ownership, you’ll notice that some of the nuts and bolts will come loose. That’s expected and not a cause for worry. They will certainly loosen up as the ash wood is still adjusting to the sunlight and humidity levels in your home. You’ll need to tighten the bolts during this time, but don't tighten too much that you could do irreversible damage to the wood.
You might also need to readjust the recoil belt and bungee cord under the WaterRower GX. To find out if you need to do this, check if the handle does not go into the full forward position. If it doesn’t, you’ll have to stand the WaterRower upright, unhook the bungee cord and recoil belt, and adjust the buckle strap before hooking them back together again.
Over time, the clutch and belt mechanism will also gather some dust and dirt. You’ll notice this when the WaterRower GX doesn’t seem to be working as efficient as before. Fortunately, a little bit of vacuuming will do the trick.
The rest of the machine will also need some dusting. You'll need nothing but a piece of damp cloth for this. Do not, under any circumstance, use rubbing alcohol, chlorates or ammonia-based cleaners such as Mr. Clean or Windex to clean your rower. These are corrosive and will undoubtedly do damage to the aluminum and ash wood.
The water inside the tank also needs to be purified. WaterRower offers purification tablets that you can drop into the water every six months to two years. The length of time depends on the tank’s exposure to sunlight and other elements, so you need to keep an eye on the water to make sure it's not turning into murk.
Only use the purification tablets offered by WaterRower (They're free, by the way). Ordinary pool chlorine is not a good alternative, as it has components that may damage the polycarbonate material of the tank.
In case the water doesn’t clear up even after you have dropped a purification tablet, you’ll need to drain the tank using the siphon pump, clean the inside of the tank with water, then refill.
Lastly, give the ash wood an occasional oiling with a few drops of Danish oil. You can do this by applying oil to a piece of clean cloth and rubbing the oil all over the wooden components of the machine. Let it sit for 15 minutes then wipe off any excess oil.
WaterRower GX Monitor
The GX performance monitor, which is located above the footboard, is one of this model’s more obvious weaknesses. Unlike the S4 monitor, which is already deemed not up to par with the high-end monitor of the Concept2 models, the GX offers the most basic of all basic fitness parameters.
It’s not much of a problem if you’re not a hard-core enthusiast or a professional athlete who’s looking to measure every single move you make on the WaterRower GX. In fact, we wager most people would still be happy with the GX monitor even with its lack of bells and whistles.
For starters, the GX monitor tracks your intensity and distance, pretty much the only thing most average Joes and Janes need to track anyway. It also lets you do distance workouts and timed workouts.
Once you sit on the WaterRower GX, you can easily press the QuickStart button and the monitor will fire up immediately. You don’t need to do anything else except to start rowing. When you stop, the monitor will sense this and will automatically shut itself off if it doesn’t detect movement for 5 minutes.
That said, if you’re used to the S4 monitor on the Natural series, there are some things you will badly miss. For one thing, the GX monitor doesn’t have a heart rate monitoring option, and it is, for us, the most glaring absence in the monitor.
You also don’t get PC compatibility, which means you won’t be able to upload your workout stats on your computer or mobile phone.
Sadly, if you want to upgrade to an S4 monitor, you can't do that with the WaterRower GX. The upgrade is available only to Natural and premium metal models released before the introduction of the newest monitor. In other words, either you’re stuck with the GX monitor until WaterRower releases an upgrade, or you’ll have to buy a different model instead.
WaterRower GX IndoRow and ShockWave
The videos include a tutorial that helps you master your technique and a warm-up that includes rowing drills and a pressure test. The workout proper includes action-packed high-energy training that, surprisingly, suits both beginners and advanced exercisers. You also get a cool-down video and functional body stretch after the workout.
If you’re curious about IndoRow and ShockWave, we’ll discuss both workout DVDs in separate reviews in the future, so look out for that.
Where to Buy a WaterRower GX
The WaterRower GX is available on Amazon for slightly less than the Natural series. This includes free shipping to anywhere in the United States and a 1-year warranty on all wooden and metal components.
If you register your rower with the company within the first year of purchase, your warranty will automatically be upgraded to five years for the wooden parts and three years for the metal components.
Before you buy a rowing machine, however, we highly recommend that you check it out for yourself. The best way to do this is to try out a few workouts on a WaterRower GX at a fitness studio near you.
Granted, most commercial establishments will likely have the Studio version of the machine, but it will more or less feel the same as the Home variant. (Unfortunately, the WaterRower GX isn’t available through the WaterRower rental program, but we don’t recommend that anyway.)
The Verdict: Is the WaterRower GX Right for You?
There’s no question about it. The WaterRower GX is one of the very best investments you could ever make for your health. While it is on the lower end of all WaterRower models, this machine still offers unquestionably excellent quality of build and a great, low-impact exercise that works every major muscle group in your body, and even the smaller muscles you didn’t know existed. And, of course, we have nothing but praises for the appearance of this machine.
In particular, the Home variant can accommodate up to 325 lbs. in maximum weight, so keep this in mind when you’re pressing the Buy button with credit card in hand. The Natural series can withstand heavier weights, but they cost slightly more than the WaterRower GX Home.
All in all, the design is well thought out. It has a comfortable, stable seat that sits on four wheels and moves along the rail smoothly and quietly. The handles are angled slightly for a more natural gripping position, and the foot rests are spaced far apart to keep your knees from hitting each other during the drive.
Assembly, storage and maintenance are all a piece of cake, and to top it all off, WaterRower is a US-based company that is well-known for its great customer service. Did we mention their agents are based in the US and actually know how to use a WaterRower?
The only real drawback we can see is the basic monitor, which you may find lacking if you’re the type who wants to monitor your fitness stats like a pro. If you’re more of an average Joe, however, we can’t see why you won’t be able to live with the GX monitor at all.
If the WaterRower GX is not the rowing machine for you, check out our list of best indoor rowers to see if you find something that better suits your preferences.