Concept2 vs WaterRower: Which Way to Row?

Rowing involves several muscles groups and is an effective full-body aerobic workout, burning up to 1000 calories per hour.

It’s also relatively low-impact; The smooth transition between push and pull movements puts less pressure on your ankles, knees, and hips in comparison to other cardiovascular exercises like running, jogging, biking, etc. As a result, rowing can pursued by people of all ages and fitness levels.

Indoor rowing machines blend the feeling of being on water with the rhythm of your motion, providing a naturally pleasurable activity that both energizes the body and relaxes the mind.

While different brands have their own idea of what constitutes the best rowing machine, we’ve compared two of the most popular brands: Concept2 and WaterRower.

This qualitative analysis is based on their performance, mechanism, and design.

Concept2 Background

concept 2 rowing machine

Concept2 is a Vermont-based company that began in 1976. It was the result of Dick and Pete Dreissigacker’s engineering of composite racing oars that lead to the creation of the first Concept2 rower in 1981.

In 40 years of excellence, they’ve grown to be a household brand for all sorts of rowers, athletes, recovering patients, and beginners.

There are three different types of Concept2 rowers, Model D, Model E, and Dynamic, and they flexibly cater to the needs of each rower, whether in the home, gym, or commercially.

This is thanks to their function, durability, post-sales support, and indoor rowing community. They also sell factory direct for more competitive pricing. 

Concept2 Performance

Each Concept2 rowing machine is its own performance monitor: the PM5. The PM5 provides immediate feedback on every pull, as well as collective performance data at the end of your workout.

All your performance data: distance, speed, pace, calories and watts, are recorded and displayed on the PM5. This data can then be connected wirelessly to apps, like the Concept2’s ErgData app and heart rate monitors. You also have the option of storing your data on the machine itself or on a USB, which can be updated on Concept2’s utility software.

pm5 concept2

Image Credit:

For added motivation and fun, you can also compare yourself with any other rower on other connected Concept rowers around the world.

The Model D is best for people simply looking to save money on their gym membership. A few notable features include:

  • Spiral damper to adjust airflow to the flywheel.
  • Flywheel engineering minimizes noise output and makes each stroke smooth
  • Low-profile, 14″ seat height
  • Quick-release for fold-able storage
  • Adjustable footrest and ergonomic handle
  • Nickel plated chain

The model E is most considerate of tired knees and mobility needs among the three options. The model E has all the same features as Model D, while offering a 20″ seat height.

For rowing athletes, the Dynamic model was developed specifically to answer the needs of competition. It’s a great training and coaching tool, especially with the Dynamic Link accessory that allows you to train with your team. Other added features include:

  • Floating footrest that encourages more body and oar control
  • The Drive cord is made of a synthetic material that’s more responsive to the rowers movements
  • Compact footprint, however it must remain fully assembled, unlike the Model D and E
  • Optional wind shield for people who enjoy a breeze

Concept2 Mechanism

All Concept2 rowers include a flywheel and damper, giving full control of exertion and resistance. The spiral damper allows quick adjustments to airflow, adjusting to the workout of your choice. The flywheel design minimizes noise and gives a smooth feel while rowing.

Unique among the three is the Concept2’s Dynamic model with its floating footrest that gives a similar experience to rowing on water.

There’s minimal movement of body mass throughout the stroke so the Dynamic requires the same concentration and body control needed when rowing a lightweight boat.

Two or more Dynamics can be quickly linked for training timing of movements within a team boat. Similarly, the Model D and Model E can also be connected via Slides (sold separately).

Models D and E both have adjustable footrests for varied foot sizes, nickel-plated chains, and an easy-grip handle for natural positioning of the arms and hands: ideal for beginners, commercial use, and even rowing clubs and teams.

Concept2 Design

Each model is sleek and simple in design, so much so that assembly only takes 30-45 minutes and storage is even quicker with Models D and E separating into two pieces.

The Dynamic rower is not capable of being separated and needs to be stored whole and measures 76 inches (193 cm).

Aesthetics-wise, the Model E easily stands out with its 20-inch (50.8 cm) seat height. On the other hand, the Dynamic and Model D’s seat heights are 14 inches. All models come in a black or grey colorway.

WaterRower Background

waterrower background

The WaterRower was designed in the mid 1980s by Yale and US National Team Rower John Duke. Duke founded WaterRower Inc in 1988 and is headquartered in Rhode Island. WaterRower (UK) ltd was then founded in 1991 and in 2016 was recognized as the official rowing machine of the British rowing team.

The WaterRower can be found in health clubs, luxury hotels, and boutique fitness studios in the USA, UK, Australia and Asia.

WaterRower is known for their handcrafted workmanship, the unique WaterFlywheel resistance, and ethically sourced materials that combine to offer an authentic rowing experience.

WaterRower Performance

s4 a1 waterrower monitors

S4 Pictured left, A1 Pictured right. Image credit:

Similar to Concept2, all WaterRower models come with a built-in monitor that measures your real-time and cumulative performance. WaterRower monitors have two variants, the S4 and A1.

The A1 is the basic monitor that captures standard data: time, distance, speed, intensity, stroke rate, while the S4 is the more competitive monitor that also captures heart rate.

An additional interesting feature are workout programs, set for workout duration on the A1 and adds distance on the S4. You can also easily link WaterRower and 3rd party apps, like CityRow Go, WaterRower Connect, and SmartRow, to the S4 monitor to analyze your workout performance online.

WaterRower prioritizes the smoothness of the experience, eliminating jerkiness or jarring often noticed with conventional mechanical rowers.

With this, the speed is dependent on the level of work you can maintain so your workout smartly adjusts to your needs and preferences.

WaterRower Mechanisms

WaterRower rowing machines are specially designed following their unique WaterFlywheel model that uses a customized paddle that simulates the cupping of moving water, reduces slippage while still offering all the health benefits of rowing while reducing the drawback.

This also requires a uniform stroke that evenly spreads the work, maximizing your exercise benefits across your different muscle groups.

In the heart of each WaterRower machine is the WaterFlyWheel. Its unique design gives you the feel of the dynamics of a competitive rowing boat.

Its self-regulated resistance operates on the “rule of cubes”, the amount of work you apply directly translates into the speed of your rowing.

Like a boat on water, the harder you row, the faster you go with the WaterRower. This allows you to row at the appropriate fitness level, which is both challenging and suitable at the same time.

WaterRower Design

A blend of luxury, style, and fitness, the WaterRower is crafted sustainably with premium materials that include select replenish-able American hardwoods sourced from the Appalachian Mountains where an average of 2.29 trees are grown for every tree that is harvested. They offer all sorts of designs, including metal if preferred.

Also designed with comfort in mind, the WaterRower is thoughtfully equipped with ergo-dynamic features, such as adjustable footrests, a comfortable seat, and a soft easy-grip handle.

The stylishly designed WaterRower is built with dolly wheels for easy transport and upright storage position to occupy minimal space being no wider than a dining room chair.

From its upright position, it can be easily laid out for a quick indoor rowing session and returned right after. This is certainly a rowing machine that seamlessly blends with your space and lifestyle.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the decision between Concept2 and the WaterRower will boil (or row?) down to your needs.

If numbers and stats are the name of your rowing game, Concept2 offers the best performance tracking.

Both offer real-time and cumulative performance data, but Concept2’s PM5 provides more thorough and comprehensive data, giving you that sharp edge over competition. There’s also a plus for gadget enthusiasts who would want the option to seamlessly connect to the PM5 for statistical data.

For people who appreciate the finer things in life, the renowned design of the WaterRower is the clear winner with its premium materials and soothing WaterFlyWheel.

Finally, when talking about their mechanisms, Concept2 and the WaterRower offer different features for different rowers. Competitive athletes might want to consider the Concept2 for improving their form and technique while those who are looking for a more responsive self-regulated resistance would appreciate the WaterRower’s WaterFlyWheel mechanism.