Is there a difference between hydraulic rowing machines and pulley rowing machines?

I am looking at getting a new rower and wanted to avoid a hydraulic one while not spending too much money.

I have been looking at the V-fit PTR1 Pulley Rower, which seems to work with the use of elastic (I may have got that wrong).

Does the pulley rower provide a more realistic rowing experience than the hydraulic ones and are there any other advantages / disadvantages?


The primary difference between hydraulic and cable rowing machines seems to be that most hydraulic machines restrict your arm movement in an unnatural way:

Although hydraulic based indoor rowers are low-cost, they differ from air, magnetic and water rowers because the rowing machine technique doesn’t allow you to pull in a straight line. The majority of hydraulic piston based rowers require you be placed in an exercise position that does not allow you to perform a natural rowing motion. Because of this, you are unable to naturally synchronize your arm and leg movements together.

You can find a breakdown at that link of variations on the cable machines from flywheels to magnetic to water resistance. They seem to largely vary in noise and expense with the last one apparently being a realistic enough movement that there are competitions.


Disclaimer: I am not affiliated in any way with the Concept2. I'm an experienced rower with my own Concept2 rower.

The machine you quoted is a low cost rower. As such, it will not have the functional features that closely mimic an on-water experience (i.e. "a more realistic rowing experience"). However, if cost is a concern, I would go with the one you quoted because it will allow for a better experience than a hydraulic machine. If cost is not a concern, please consider the gold standard for rowing machines – the Concept2 rower.

For comparison, the Concept2 rower includes a performance monitor to track your rowing sessions. The one you've selected does not. Second, the Concept2 rower provides for a much more comfortable and natural placement of the feet. The one you've selected provides a “foot peg” which may become uncomfortable after a while. I'd also reconsider your choice since it is not highly rated (e.g. two out of five stars).

As for using hydraulics as the resistance mechanism, there are some machines that do allow for unrestricted movement (i.e., you can pull in a straight line), but, I would still not recommend them. They tend to be inferior in material and design. Also, hydraulics will provide a constant resistance throughout the rowing stroke. That, in and of itself, is not natural to a rowing experience. It's my experience that hydraulic resistance will not allow you to fully recover the same way as a flywheel would since the rowing stroke consists of a drive and then a recovery phase.

Lastly, I'd be careful with consuming advice from a personal trainer (like the one quoted in the link in Sean's answer) because they tend to not have sufficient quality experience on a rower. You may also find it useful to read my response on a similar rowing machine question.

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