The Concept 2 Rower Review (Model D and E) – Is it the Best Rowing Machine for Crossfit?

Concept 2 Rower Review

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The Concept 2 Rower has set the standard for indoor rowing machines. It is the most-used rowing machine by professional rowers and the official Crossfit rower

Sporting a powerful air resistance flywheel and highly functional PM5 performance monitor, the Concept 2 provides everything you need for a full-scale rowing workout any day of the week. With five built-in pre-set workouts, including interval training, you can get started right away, taking advantage of the powerful strokes of a rowing workout. 

Buying a budget model rower will never feel the same if you get a chance to try out the Concept 2, so why not get the real thing for your home gym?

The Concept 2 comes in two models, the Model D and the Model E. Both have exceptional build quality and a great design, but there are some differences worth going over.

Concept 2 Model D with PM5

Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 Performance Monitor, Black

Most Affordable

Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 Performance Monitor, Black

See latest price

The Model D is the more affordable model, with a lower seat height (14”) and being slightly lighter overall at 57lbs. The chain is steel and the finish is matte. Other than that, the two models are very similar. 

Now, the overall value for money proposition is better for the Model D and it comes highly recommended. However, there are still a couple of reasons to go for the Model E.

If you have bad knees or a bad back, the higher seat on the Model E may be worth it. The Model D also requires a bit more maintenance from time to time. Therefore, if you’d like to be more hands-off, that’s another reason to go for the Model E.

Concept 2 Model E with PM5

Best Overall

Black Concept 2 Rower Model E – PM5

The Model E is the slightly more expensive, fancier model with a higher seat (20”) and is the heavier of the two at 65lbs. The chain is nickel-plated steel and the finish is a glossy double coat. Overall, these features don’t make a huge difference except for the seat height, which can be very important to some people. 

Gyms tend to prefer the Model E but that doesn’t mean it’s necessary for your home gym. They prefer it for its higher seat and lower amount of maintenance required.

Now that we’ve covered a bit of the difference between the two models, we can turn to the main features present in both.

The Concept 2 Rower Main Features

Overall Build and Quality

the Concept 2 has exceptional build quality, with a smooth resistance gradient in the flywheel with an adjustable damper with 10 different settings. At the top of its game, you don’t get better quality and materials than this in a standard machine.

Dimensions

Length 96″, Width 24″, Height with standard legs 14″ (seat), with tall legs: 20″ (seat).

Folding Options

The machine can fold in half to save room during storage. You can also store vertically to save floor space. 

Track Length

The track is 54”, leaving lots of room for rowers of all heights.

Weight Capacity

Total weight capacity is 500 lbs. 

Resistance Levels

There are 10 levels of resistance with the rowing machine, all adjustable on the damper of the flywheel. This is standard for most air rowers. Higher levels are great for building muscle, lower for doing cardio and long distances.

Monitor

The PM5 performance monitor is a state-of-the-art performance and workout tracker. It tracks distance, speed, pace, calories burned, and watts effortlessly. The display is clear and backlit. In addition, it can connect to a wireless heart rate monitor via Bluetooth. It’s also adjustable for different heights and comes with USB flash drive compatibility, and supports machine-to-machine racing.

Color and Design

The Concept 2 Rower comes in black, with a simple yet ergonomic design. The Model E has added support with increased height in the chair.

Warranty

The frame comes with a 5-year limited warranty and an all parts 2-year limited warranty.

Assembly

The Concept 2 has an easy quick set-up procedure out of the box. The front legs are installed with 8 screws with the included instructions. Fully assembled takes about 30 minutes from opening the box.

Storage

It is easy to store by simply lifting it up vertically. Caster wheels at the front of the rower make it easy to move wherever you’d like to store it. It can also be easily disassembled for transport or other forms of storage.

Price and Value

The Model D starts at $900 USD whereas the Model E starts at $1050 USD. Covid-19 has made prices fluctuate from time to time as supplies get limited. 

Other Features

The Concept 2 syncs with its ErgData app to track your data on the display screen of the PM5 monitor. The monitor lights up the minute you start your strokes, allowing you to select from Just Row, a workout, or a few other options. 

The pre-programmed workouts include single distance, single time, intervals for distance/time, and variable intervals. There’s also four mini-games: the fish game, darts, target training, racing, and biathlon.

The overall feel of the Concept 2 is amazing, with its aluminum I-beam moving smoothing through rowing strokes across its stainless steel track. The chain belt is a bit noisy, but functions well. 

Finally, in terms of ergonomics, the Concept 2’s adjustable foot pedals can fit just about any size of feet, but don’t pivot like some advanced machines. The contour on the seat is well-made for most users, but you can swap out the seat for a larger size if you find it to be too narrow.

The handle is also well-made, with an ergonomic design and nice, soft grip that will prevent most hand blisters. 

What we like about the Concept 2

The Concept 2 is one of the best-selling, most commonly used high-quality rowing machines on the market. It’s solid, reliable, and does everything you could desire from a rowing machine. The durability on this model is excellent too, easily lasting years if not decades of constant use. The Model D will require some maintenance, though.

The Concept 2 is an air resistance rower, following the smooth motions that closely replicate the feeling of rowing on water. The faster you row with it, the higher the resistance, which tracks the feel of actual rowing. 

The construction is high-quality, able to withstand a lot of abuse without breaking down. As it is used in countless gyms, you can be assured that the level of punishment household use provides is not enough to wear it down quickly. 

Remember, this is the number one choice for most serious and professional rowers, including rowing clubs. 

The seat and position are very nice, even for longer sessions. However, it is a bit narrow, meaning it might not be as comfortable for some users. On the other hand, most budget models of rower don’t compare to the Concept 2, making it worth the investment for a home gym if you are looking for a quality rowing machine.

What we don’t like about the Concept 2

There isn’t a whole lot to complain about here, so take these as nitpicks rather than anything else.

The machine is loud, as all air resistance rowers are. If you need quieter gym equipment, you might have to look elsewhere. Many budget machines use magnetic resistance, which is quieter but doesn’t get nearly the same feeling of rowing in the water as an air resistance machine does.

There are also rowing machines coming out now that have better technological support. The Concept 2 has a great monitor with all the standard workouts you could want but remains a bit ordinary. If you are looking for more options with your tech, more apps to connect with, or more rigorous equipment to track your heart rate and other features, you may want to look at even higher-end machines.

There is also a small concern with the plastic monitor arm. What’s nice about the arm is that you can fold it away nice and easily, but it does come with a drawback in the long-term of being made from less durable materials than the rest of the machine.

The price point is high and has sometimes risen even higher during the pandemic. So be careful to consider whether that is worth it to you. Even though it is a great machine and much better than most budget models, it can be worth looking at some alternatives when there’s a shortage, which we will turn to next.

How to use concept 2 rower?

First, you’ll take a seat on the rower and grab the rowing handle. You start in the “catch” position, knees bent with shins vertical to the ground, seat pulled forward, and hands-on the grip close to its initial position.

Next, moving into the “drive” means straightening your legs to push your seat back until fully extended. The arms then pull the handle the last bit of the way until it touches your chest.

In the “finish”, you continue the stroke of the arms by bringing the arms back out straight while keeping the legs out in the same straightened position. Crucially, you then close your hips by leaning forward without bending your knees. Again, hands should be over the shins.

Finally, “recovery” is when you bend your knees and bring your body back into that initial position to do your stroke again.

Concept 2 Rower Alternatives

Good alternatives at a lower cost include the Xebex Air Rower and the Sole SR500, which we’ll review now. 

Xebex Air Rowing Machine Review

Cheaper, good alternative

Xebex Air Rower 2.0

A great deal, the Xebex Air Rowing Machine is durable, solid, and functional. You may not have heard of it before because Xebex has been focused on making air bikes and only recently got into the air rowing game.

Their seat is quite high, standing at around 22” inches. It is also exceptionally comfortable due in part to its contoured padding. The machine can seat all but the largest butts, providing adequate support for long sessions. The seat itself runs quietly down its railing while rowing and has a sturdy feeling. 

The handle is thick and padded, making it soft enough to avoid hand blisters most of the time. The easy-to-adjust one-button footrests are easy to use and durable, providing a solid width and length that can accommodate most feet. 

The display console is a large LCD screen that’s easy to read. It does use batteries but has an auto power-down timer to conserve energy. In addition, it allows for some tilt to adjust for different heights. 

The workout selection is decent, including targets for both calories or distance, with an interval training option. It is compatible with a chest-strap heart rate monitor for greater accuracy and can connect to third-party apps.

Now, onto the air resistance. It’s noisy, as all air rowers air. You can consider getting a magnetic model rower if noise is a big issue for you, but it won’t feel the same. What’s nice about the Xebex is that you can feel the resistance right away on the first pull, which isn’t the case for all air rowers.

The resistance damper has ten settings, from easiest to most difficult, providing variation to different workouts. Unfortunately, dampers don’t always work how you would expect, so be sure to check out a guide on which settings to use for the optimal workout.

The whole machine can be folded up for storage and weighs in at a whopping 95lbs. 

Conclusion

The Xebex is a solid rower that is an excellent alternative to the Concept 2. It can handle any workout you throw at it, as a quality feel, and is very comfortable to use. It’s also a fantastic deal compared with the Concept 2.

Sole SR500 Rowing Machine Review

Cheaper, good alternative

SOLE SR500 Rower

Sole Fitness has been in the gym supplier scene for a while now, truly embracing the internet revolution. In fact, for a while there you could only get their goods on their official website. 

Now, the story behind them can get a bit muddy since they offered amazing affiliate rates, leading people to question all the glowing reviews. Even so, this does a disservice to their great machines, not to mention they come with solid warranties to back this up. 

The SR500, their original rowing machine, launched in 2014. It is another more affordable alternative to the Concept 2, with many of the same features and qualities. 

The rowing position begins at the height of 20”, matching Concept 2’s Model E. The footpads have straps to keep your feet from sliding around and are a decent size. The seat is standard, which still works for most body types and is comfortable, it’s just nothing special.

Now, the resistance mechanism on the SR500 is a little different. It combines air and magnet resistance to reach a more affordable space with the same level and resistance quality as an all air rower. It almost feels like realistic rowing on water but sacrifices a bit compared with an all air rower. This is what will make the difference for most people, so it depends on how close to the ‘real deal’ you need your rower to feel. It’s also still loud, even with the magnetic components taking some of the effort.

The damper comes with 16 levels of resistance to try, which is more than usual but spans about the same levels of resistance. 

The display console on the SR500 has ten pre-set workout programs. This includes 2 heart rate training programs which are great for burning fat. It also comes with a chest strap, which is useful for keeping accurate track of stats and knowing exactly how many calories are being burned. 

The 5.5” LCD color screen is also excellent. It’s both easy to use and displays all the data nicely. 

Conclusion

With the current price point, this is a great deal for your money. The type of resistance isn’t quite the same level of quality as the Concept 2, but it matches expectations in almost every other aspect. It also comes with some nice features and bonuses. 

FAQ

How much does a concept 2 rower cost?

The Concept 2 Rower has two price points: the Model D and the Model E. The Model D retails for $900 USD, whereas the Model E costs $1,050 USD. The main difference is in the seat height, but we discuss other differences earlier in the article.

How to store concept 2 rower

The Concept 2 Rower can be folded up to easy storage. First, flip down the monitor tucked down with the flywheel. You can then store it vertically by lifting up the back portion and leaning it against the wall.

If you need it more compact, you can disassemble it by lifting the handle in the middle of the machine, just in front of the seat. From there, you can lift both ends and the rower will simply come apart into two pieces. The two pieces that then can be more easily stored in a box shape.

Is the Concept 2 worth the money?

It depends how serious you are about rowing. The Concept 2 is a great machine for rowing, but the alternatives we mentioned are also decent if we wanted to save some money. Still, as the gold standard, it comes with our highest recommendation, especially compared to budget models out there. It is used by olympians, club rowers, and most gyms. 

Is the Concept 2 good for beginners?

Yes. Although it is better than budget models in some ways, there are still more advanced models out there. The Concept 2 Rower makes for a great beginner set to learn and practice your skills on. The stat tracking is nice for a beginner without being overwhelming. Of course, it is also the standard for the best of the best rowers, so don’t let its beginner friendliness fool you if you are an advanced rower deciding whether it is worth the jump.

Conclusion

Both the Model D and the Model E are good choices, depending on what you are looking for. For most people, The Model D is going to provide everything you need. The main reasons to go for the E is the higher seat and less maintenance. 

There is also the question of the alternatives, the Xebex Air Rower and the Sole SR500. Both are decent rowing machines, but the true standard remains the Concept 2. A big reason to go for one of these two is if their features stand out to you, or if the Concept 2 is currently sold out and you need an alternative.

All in all, we’ve covered everything you need to know about the Concept 2 and a decent amount about rowing machines in general. We hope the guide has helped you make an informed decision on your rowing machine purchase.

About Julien

Hey! Thanks for being here. I’ve been active pretty much my whole life and I discovered Crossfit about 5 years ago. I want to help you improve your Crossfit performances by giving tips on specific movements, workouts and equipment. You have a question? Get in touch!

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