Best Rowing Machine Alternatives: 10 Substitute Exercises for Rowing Machine

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Best Rowing Machine Alternatives: 10 Substitute Exercises for Rowing Machine

There’s no denying the benefits of rowing. You’d be hard-pressed to name another workout that offers the same balance of cardiovascular exercise with strength development. And, let’s face it - rowing is fun! These are just a few reasons we wrote our complete guide to rowing fitness.

But maybe you don’t have access to a rowing machine. Or, maybe you’re simply looking for a way to spice up your workouts with something new and exciting - while still reaping the benefits that rowing-style workouts have to offer! 

If so, you’re in luck. Today, we’ll unveil the best rowing machine alternatives. 

From the revolutionary ROWonAIR device to more simple movements you can incorporate at home, like bent-over rows or inverted rows. There is something for everyone on this list - whether you want to invest in a new way to work out or you want something you can try at your gym today. 

Before we share the best substitute exercise for rowing machines, let’s quickly touch on why so many are seeking an alternative to rowing machines in the first place. 

Why are so Many People Seeking an Alternative to Rowing Machines?

alternative exercise to rowing machine

If you’ve ever tried a rowing machine yourself, it’s not difficult to see why people enjoy this workout. It’s a lot more fun and engaging than simple dumbbell, barbell, or resistance band row movements. And frankly, it’s a more efficient use of your training time. That’s because you kill two birds with one stone: burning calories while building muscle. Very few workouts are capable of doing this.  

So - why are so many people seeking an alternative exercise to rowing machines? There are two reasons:

  1. Lack of access to rowing machines: there are really only two ways to gain access to a rowing machine: spend the money to buy your own or pay monthly for membership at a facility that has them available. When you consider the fact that a quality rowing machine costs well over $3,000, it’s tough to justify the investment for most people. Similarly, spending hundreds of dollars a month in dues at your local gym can be tough to stomach.
  2. The desire to expand your training horizons: Even if you have access to a rowing machine, you may want to expand your training horizons and try something new. Most rowing machines are indoors - and you’d prefer to train outdoors. Or, maybe you just want something a bit more functional than a rowing machine - which definitely has its limitations.

Chances are, you fall into one of these two categories. Maybe both of these apply to you! Whatever the case, you’re in the right place as we’re going to share our favorite rowing machine replacements below. First - allow us to explain what you should look for in a rowing machine alternative.

What You Need to Look for in a Rowing Machine Substitute

Before you can find a suitable replacement for rowing machines, you need to know all that goes into making rowing-based exercises so great. This will help you assess the rowing machine substitutes further down the page and determine which is best for your unique goals and budget.

Fat-Burning Cardio Capabilities

The sweat you work up on a rowing machine is one of the biggest reasons these are in training facilities around the world. Per minute, you burn more calories with rowing than any other sport. In fact, you can burn up to 500 calories in a half hour of extreme rowing. 

This movement is a tremendous way to burn fat quickly and healthily - without the mundane nature of a stationary bike or treadmill. So, the rowing machine substitute should get your heart rate up and help you burn off some calories! 

Muscle-Building Effect

Many think of cardio when a rowing machine comes to mind. And while it’s fair to say you do get more cardiovascular benefits from rowing, it’s also true that you build whole-body strength with this movement. It works the muscles in your legs, core, back, and arms. A whole-body workout like this will be tough to replicate - but there is one in particular that can help you build muscle on our list below.

Technique Enhancement

If you aren’t just rowing for fitness - but rather for sport - then the rowing machine is just a way for you to get some exercise in when it’s raining or between sessions at your local rowing club. Thus, you should seek out a rowing machine substitute that replicates the natural movements of rowing. Again - barbells and dumbbells won’t cut it here. There’s really only one substitute for rowing machines that can do this.

Fun, Functional, & Practical!

The best way to get yourself to consistently show up for your workouts and give them your all is to make them fun. Many of us struggle with motivation because the gym is boring. It’s not a functional form of fitness and can be tough to buy into.

Fortunately, some of the substitutes for rowing machines we’re going to share will break the barrier of the gym and get you out moving in a way you never experience before. We can sense how eager you are to discover the best alternative to rowing machines - so let’s get into the main reason you came here today!

What are the Best Rowing Machine Alternatives? 10 Substitutes for Rowing Machines

As we’ve mentioned already, it’s not easy to replicate the magic of rowing machines. They make it easy to burn fat and build muscle simultaneously - all while working on your rowing technique and encouraging tempo and control. Add the fun and excitement of a rowing challenge where you’re racing against the clock (or other rowers at your training facility) - and it seems almost impossible to find a suitable substitute exercise for rowing machines.

However, we’ve got something for you here on this list. Regardless of your training goals, budget, or location, the perfect alternative exercise to rowing machines is waiting to be discovered below. While all of these are great candidates, we want to give special attention to the first on our list. Nothing compares to the experience of making the ROWonAIR your go-to rowing exercise equipment. Here’s why…

ROWonAIR: The Best Alternative to Rowing Machines for Fun Workouts on the Water

There is no substitute for real rowing. The feeling of cutting across the water at a high rate of speed is unlike any other. It’s truly liberating - and it’s something you can enjoy yourself while using the #1 rowing machine alternative: ROWonAIR.

rowing machine substitute

This piece of equipment provides an on-the-water mountain biking experience. It’s physically taxing in the best way possible. And whether you’ve got experience ocean rowing or you’ve never rowed before, this is a great choice for you. 

You can pair the ROWonAIR rowing system with one of the brand’s inflatable rowing boats. But if you already have a kayak, canoe, or SUP, you can simply attach the rowing system to your boat. It’s universal! And, it can be configured to your preferences. You can row forwards or backward, whichever you prefer. 

ROWonAIR gets you the best of both worlds in fitness and meditation all at once. You can’t beat the bliss of being out on the water alone or with friends - wouldn’t it be nice to make that local lake your daily gym? With ROWonAIR, you can. 

Elliptical Machine

We know this is going to sound really boring after reading about ROWonAIR…but an elliptical machine is a great alternative exercise to rowing machines too! 

If you’re just looking for a different machine to try at your local gym because the rowing machine has gotten to be a bit boring, the elliptical is a great alternative. This is also a great choice for those who have a problem with the mechanics of rowing and want something that doesn’t so closely mimic the movement.

The elliptical won’t offer nearly as much muscle-building capability as a rowing machine, but you’ll certainly work up a sweat. Try it out next time you’re not in the mood for rowing or don’t want to wait around for a machine to open up.

Free Weights (Dumbbells, Barbells, and Kettlebells)

If you’re more focused on strength training and muscle building than cardiovascular health, using free weights is a great alternative exercise to rowing machines. 

best alternative to rowing machine

To really get the back-building effects of rowing movements, the bent-over barbell row is king. This movement works your lats and traps all at once - the two muscle groups that make up your back. You’ll also get a workout in your biceps, forearms, and core. The movement is exactly what it sounds like. Pick up a barbell and stand straight up. Bend over about 45 degrees and start rowing the weight up your stomach - while keeping a neutral spine.

If you want to bring the shoulders into play, superset the barbell rows with upright rows. As the name suggests, you stand straight up for these and pull the weight up to your chin. Typically., you’ll want to use less weight for this movement compared to barbell rows.

Now - these two movements are going to get you a nice muscle pump going, and you’ll work up a sweat with high-rep sets. But to truly get the blood moving and get a bit more cardio in your workout, try adding kettlebell swings to the menu. These replicate the tempo of rowing while offering muscle-building and fat-burning benefits all at once.

These three movements are the best alternative to rowing machines when you only have free weights available. 

Cable Machine

Another rowing machine substitute that really focuses on muscle building is cable rowing machines - or really, any sort of weighted rowing machine for that matter. These are really only available at commercial gyms as they’re quite large and expensive. But if your training facility offers one, we recommend you give it a try. You can experiment with different attachments to target different muscle groups in your back. 

Jungle Gym

When it comes to making do with what you have, nothing is more practical than a local playground or even your kids’ backyard jungle gym! You can perform inverted rows on these. This is a bodyweight rowing movement that offers incredible muscle-building benefits. But if you’re strong enough, it becomes more of a cardio exercise than strength building one.

All you need is something you can grab onto and lower yourself under - and you can perform a high-intensity rowing exercise. The bars of a jungle gym are great for this. You can even follow up your inverted rows with pull-ups!

Stationary Bike

We won’t beat around the bush - this rowing machine substitute is really boring. But, it’s the best form of low-impact cardio next to rowing, so we had to mention it. Every gym has these, and they’re almost always available (maybe there is a reason for that…we mean it when we say stationary biking is boring!). 

If you’re just looking to burn some calories on a given day, and you have some good music or a podcast to get you through the mundane nature of this exercise, it’ll at least help you accomplish your goals.  

Resistance Bands

Resistance bands are the most affordable fitness equipment. For under $100 you can get a full repertoire of bands of varying resistances. At that price, you can even find some attachments to supercharge your workout and unlock different movements. All you need is a door to anchor your resistance bands to and you’ve got a home gym! You can perform rowing movements, of course, but you can also perform other movements - like chest presses, shoulder presses, and more.

With lower resistance, you’ll get more cardiovascular exercise - while still beating down your muscles. On the other hand, you can opt for higher resistance for more muscle building and less fat burning. Depending on your training goals, you’ll want to incorporate both of these.


It’s not rowing - but swimming is another way to get a great workout in the water. There are different ways you can go about this - the heated indoor pool is a great option during those cold winter months. But during the warm summer days? There’s nothing quite like getting outside in the water! 

And swimming is right up there with rowing in terms of calorie-burning capabilities - beating out both running and biking with 444 calories burned in a vigorous half-hour session. And, you’ll work your whole body with swimming-based workouts. Don’t believe you can build muscle through swimming? Just take a look at Michael Phelps!

Final Thoughts on the Best Rowing Machine Alternatives for Working Out

substitute for rowing machine

There you have it - a complete list of rowing machine alternatives that you can try yourself. Whether you came here seeking a substitute exercise for rowing machines because you don’t have access to these machines or because they’re just not the right choice for you, hopefully, you found a suitable alternative on this list. 

If we could leave you with one thought, it’s this. If you’re looking for a fun, practical, and effective rowing machine substitute - ROWonAIR is exactly what you need. And we’ve got it waiting for you at Red Beard Sailing (that’s right - we don’t just sell inflatable sailboats!).

There is no better investment than in your own health and wellness - so what are you waiting for? Transform your workouts with the best alternative to rowing machines today.

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