Air vs. Magnetic Rowing Machine

Choosing between an air and magnetic rowing machine should be based on the facts and personal preferences.
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At the gym, you’ll find several types of rowing machines used to work out an array of muscles -- including the air and magnetic machines. While they have the same general purpose and employ the same basic techniques, consider the differences before choosing one for your fitness workout.

Rowing Machine Basics

    Rowing machines simulate the action of rowing in the water. While they are used by professional rowers to build and strengthen the muscles they need to perform, the machines are also used by many other people. Rowing machines engage several muscle groups during a workout. Rowing machines require the use of your arms, shoulders, back, core and legs. Using these types of machines can increase your overall fitness level as well as your muscular strength, endurance and cardiovascular health.

Air Rowing Machine

    Air rowing machines have a flywheel that, when you pull against it, creates air resistance. To increase or decrease this resistance, you use a damper lever on the side of the flywheel. The damper lever offers a wide range of resistance that increases or decreases the amount of airflow into the flywheel. With most air rowing machines, the damper setting is set numerically, often ranging from 1 to 10 in resistance levels. Air rowing machines automatically adjust their level of resistance based on your speed. The faster you row on this machine, the higher the level of resistance and vice versa.

Magnetic Rowing Machine

    Magnetic rowing machines have a magnetic break system, allowing the machine to create resistance. The flywheel on this type of machine contains magnets inside that adjust the level of resistance. Because the calibration of the magnets is set, you will not increase the resistance by pulling faster or harder.


    The main differences between air and magnetic rowing machines are the way resistance is created and the noise emitted from the machines. An air rowing machine’s resistance is created by how hard you work. As you row faster and the resistance increases, the sound of the flywheel using wind resistance increases. Magnetic rowing machines use magnets to control the resistance, so the resistance is not affected by the how fast you pull. The other benefit to magnetic rowing machines is that they do not use air for resistance, just magnets. This provides a much quieter workout compared to the air rowing machine.


    The American College of Sports Medicine advises users to avoid rowing machines that have a jerky sensation as resistance levels change, a sudden change in resistance or those that do not stay horizontal. While airflow and magnetic rowing machines have the fastest change in resistance compared to others on the market, a broken machine is still dangerous. Also, avoid air machines that do not have a mesh cover over the flywheel to prevent injuries to your fingers.


    Base your decision on your personal workout goals and also which machine you feel more comfortable using. For example, if you want to work out at home or in a quieter location, you may consider using a magnetic rowing machine since it makes less noise than an air rowing machine. However, both types of machines will give you a total-body workout, so if you're seeing results on one type of rowing machine, there is no need to switch. If you haven't already done so, give both the air rowing machine and the magnetic rowing machine a try and see which one works best for you.

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