Concept2 vs WaterRower for CrossFit

The Concept2 vs. WaterRower has been the hot topic of debate in CrossFit gyms up and down the country for some time, and not without good reason. 

Each of these two best-selling rowing machines serves as a prime example of what a truly excellent piece of CrossFit equipment can -and should- be like in the 2020s. 

Each one triumphs over many other competing rowers in terms of outstanding performance and remarkable construction quality. Each one offers features that make it possible to track and monitor each workout to help you improve your long-term performance.

So far, so good then, but which one is better?

The Concept2 Model E or the WaterRower Classic?

More importantly, which one should you actually spend your hard-earned money on if you’re in the process of kitting out your home or commercial CrossFit gym?

To answer all of those questions and more, we put these two widely-loved machines through their paces in a detailed head-to-head comparison.

The Main Differences Between the Concept2 Rower And WaterRower M1

Concept2 Model E with PM5 Performance Monitor Indoor Rower Rowing Machine Black

  • The Concept2 Model E Indoor Rower uses airpower, whereas a water-based flywheel powers the WaterRower.
  • The WaterRower offers quiet performance, whereas Concept2 can be pretty noisy.
  • The Concept2 offers customizable settings to maintain maximum control over the intensity of your workout, whereas the WaterRower Classic only has one standard-setting.
  • The WaterRower is made from vintage oak wood, while the Concept2 is made from standard Polycarbonate
  • The Concept2 features an advanced computer with USB and BlueTooth capability, whereas the computer on the WaterRower is somewhat basic. 

What Is The Concept2 Rower?

A staple of gyms the world over, Concept2 is one of the industry’s leading purveyors of premium quality rowing equipment. The company is also responsible for The Skierg, a unique skiing machine that has fast become a firm favorite among the CrossFit community.

Yet for all of the Skierg’s growing popularity, it’s the brand’s traditional rowing machines that remain Concept2’s flagship products. 

The company offers a number of Rowers, including the Dynamic Rower, the Model D, and the Model E. For the purposes of today’s guide, it’s the latter model that we’ll be looking at as it really does encapsulate what makes Concept2 machines so well-loved.

Ergonomically designed, the Model E utilizes an air-flow power system that drives the flywheel to help give you a serious workout.

It’s for this reason that this model, along with the Model D and Dynamic Rower, are all often recommended for serious CrossFitters who enjoy a high-intensity workout as they give you much more freedom and control over how strenuous your workout turns out to be.

Concept2 Rower Specifications

  • Height: 1.67 ft
  • Width: 2 ft
  • Length: 8ft
  • Machine Weight: 64 lbs
  • Maximum recommended weight capacity: 500 lbs
  • Material:  Polycarbonate

What Is The WaterRower?

WaterRower Classic Rowing Machine in Black Walnut with S4 Monitor

Currently celebrating their 30th anniversary, WaterRower is a well-established brand that have carved out a unique position in the industry thanks to their one-of-a-kind hydro rowers and a strong commitment to environmental sustainability.

Putting those two things together, the Rhode Island brand has enjoyed success with a series of water-powered rowing machines built from a range of natural, sustainable hardwoods such as oak, ash, and walnut.

To be fair, the brand does offer limited-edition steel rowing machines such as the WaterRower S1 and the WaterRower M1, and these are both superb models in their own right.

However, it’s the WaterRower classic, constructed from vintage oak, that we’ve decided to focus on today.


Simply because it’s this wooden construction that helps set the machine apart and gives us some interesting talking points when comparing it to the Concept2 Model E.

WaterRower Specifications

  • Height: 1.73 ft
  • Width: 1.87 ft
  • Length: 6.85 ft
  • Machine Weight: 66 lbs
  • Maximum recommended weight capacity: 400 lbs
  • Material: Vintage oak wood.

Concept2 vs. WaterRower – A Head To Head Comparison 

Size And Space

Concept2 Model E with PM5 Performance Monitor Indoor Rower Rowing Machine Black

Whether you’re kitting out a new commercial CrossFit gym or restocking your home workout space to better suit your current training requirements, one of the first things you need to consider is the size of any equipment you’re thinking of buying and, more importantly, whether you have the space to accommodate that size.

That’s true for everything from CrossFit bikes to power racks, but it’s especially essential to consider the size of a new rowing machine as, given the nature of what they do, these are long pieces of kit that have the potential to take up a sizable amount of floor space. 

With the two rowers we’re looking at today, it’s the Concept2 that is undoubtedly going to take up the most space wherever you decide to put it. 

While the Model E is only a few inches wider than the WaterRower Classic (and actually a few inches shorter, height-wise), it’s at least a good foot longer.

While this may be problematic in workout areas where space is at a premium, the larger size does actually work in favor of taller users who will undoubtedly enjoy a more comfortable workout.

Not that it isn’t suitable for smaller users. Both the seat and footrest can be fully adjusted, so you can still enjoy the same high-caliber performance as everyone else, but if you’re simply looking for the best space-saving rowing machine, we’d give the nod to WaterRower. 


WaterRower Classic Rowing Machine in Black Walnut with S4 Monitor

Closely related to size and space, it’s worth thinking about what you’ll do with your new rower when not in use. 

While it may be fine to keep it out, assembled, and ready to go, you may prefer a model that can be stowed away when not in use, partly to save space but also to protect your pricey piece of kit from damage.

The good news is that both the Concept2 Model E and the WaterRower Classic can be stored away, though both in different ways.

The Concept2 rower can be easily stored away, but it involves separating your machine into two parts every time you want to put it away and then reassembling it the next time you come to use it.

With the WaterRower, the whole thing can be stored upright with no disassembly required. 

If you ask us, that makes the whole process of using your machine that much quicker and easier, though in the Model E’s favor, breaking down that machine into two smaller components makes it much easier to store away in a smaller space.


Whether you later decide to store your machine against a wall or break it down into smaller components, you’re still going to have to put it together in the first place.

Here again, this is one round that’s almost too close to call.

The Concept2 Model E comes unassembled, whereas the WaterRower Classic comes partially assembled in multiple boxes.

While that may make the WaterRower seem like the clear winner here, the truth is that despite half the work already being done for you, the Classic is still much trickier than the Model E to assemble, meaning that the average assembly time for both models is between 30 – 45 minutes. 


WaterRower Classic Rowing Machine in Black Walnut with S4 Monitor

It’s with the Flywheel that we finally start to see the major differences between these two popular rowers. 

At the heart of the Concept2 is a fan flywheel that uses natural air resistance to challenge your body as you push and pull your way through your workout. 

On the plus side, this creates a workout that is both smooth and vigorous and more conducive to good rowing form.

On the downside, however, no matter how much Concept2 may have improved in this area, there’s simply no getting away from the fact that this is one noisy bit of kit.

If you share your space with others, or if the persistent, unavoidable roar of fan rowers just drives you crazy, this may not be the option for you.

Over in the other corner, the WaterRower uses -as you’ve probably worked out for yourself- a water-based system.

Here, the flywheel sits inside a water tank attached to the frame. This means that you don’t get the same high level of resistance that you get from the Concept2, though some users do prefer this as it provides a good, low-impact workout for those with joint issues.

Also working in the WaterRower’s favor is the simple fact that hiding that flywheel in a water tank helps to keep the noise down.

Sure, you’ll still hear the sloshing of water and the occasional bit of noise, but nowhere near to the extent that you’d get with its air-powered counterpart.

What’s more, the water system better replicates the authentic outdoor rowing experience, so if you’re the type of person who loves rowing on real water but needs something for indoor use when the weather isn’t so great, this may be the way to go.


WaterRower Classic Rowing Machine in Black Walnut with S4 Monitor

Even if you knew absolutely nothing about flywheels or even CrossFit rowers in general, you’d be hard-pressed not to notice the enormous difference in the way these two machines are made. 

As we mentioned earlier, WaterRower’s commitment to protecting the planet means that their Classic rower -along with most of their other top models- is made from natural, ethically-sourced wood. 

While this is good news for the environmentally-friendly CrossFitters among you, that isn’t the only reason why a wooden frame might appeal. 

Each WaterRower machine is handcrafted and available in a range of finishes. Combined, these two things give the WaterRower Classic a truly impressive design that looks as much like a work of art as it does a functional piece of CrossFit equipment.

OK, so aesthetic appeal is rarely anybody’s first priority when choosing a rower, but it’s hard to deny that the WaterRower classic is a thing of beauty.

On the downside, the wooden construction is more prone to chips, scratches, and other cosmetic damage, while the Classic’s lower weight capacity may rule it out as an option for some heavier users.

Moving over to the Concept2, this premium-calibre model is made from high-grade polycarbonate, which is not only less prone to cosmetic wear and tear, but, more importantly, is incredibly strong, challenging, and resistant.

Add to that the fact that Concept2 boasts a much higher recommended maximum weight capacity, there’s no doubt that the Concept2 is one exceptionally durable rower.

Tracking, Monitoring, And Training Options

WaterRower Classic Rowing Machine in Black Walnut with S4 Monitor

One thing we really like about the Concept2 and WaterRower is that both come with an in-built performance monitoring screen that will track key vitals as you go through your workout. 

Adding a modern, technological edge to its traditional, old-school design, the WaterRower comes with a user-friendly S4 monitor, which makes it easy for novice CrossFitters to get to grips with their new equipment in no time. 

This monitor gives you three options for tracking the intensity of your workout, including:

  • Metres Per Second (MPS)
  • Miles Per Hour (MPH)
  • Time Per 500 metres
  • Time per 2 kilometers.

It also displays your heart rate, the number of strokes you’ve done, and how much distance you’ve covered, with the option to measure that distance in meters, miles, or kilometers.

If you chose the Concept2 Model E, you’ll find yourself with the Performance Monitor 5, which provides far more options.

With this one, you can measure your performance in terms of:

The Performance Monitor 5 also comes with pre-set workouts, games to make training more fun, and options to customize the intensity of your workout to your liking.

As if that wasn’t enough, the monitor also makes it easy to transfer your data to a computer or other device via the included USB flash drive.

On the downside, however, the one major thing you don’t get with the Concept2 is a heartrate monitor.

Yes, you can use the machine’s Bluetooth connectivity to hook up a third-party monitor, but that’s no substitute for having one already built-in to the machine-like you get with the WaterRower classic.

In other words, the Performance Monitor 5 is undoubtedly the more advanced monitor and is ideal for those who really take their performance and training seriously, though the lack of a heart rate monitor is a letdown.

On the other hand, the WaterRower does provide a heart rate monitor but lacks some of the more advanced features, meaning it may prove to be a better choice for beginners or casual workouts.

Frequently Asked Questions About The Concept2 vs. WaterRower

Concept2 Model E with PM5 Performance Monitor Indoor Rower Rowing Machine Black

How Much Space Do I Need For A Rowing Machine?

Most rowing machines typically come with a footprint of 9ft x 4ft, though this will obviously vary from model to model depending on the size.

Can You Keep A Water Rower Outside?

WaterRower doesn’t add a water-resistant finish to their wooden hydro-rowers. As such, it’s not a good idea to leave them outside as they’ll have no protection from damage caused by the elements.

Are WaterRowers Harder Than Concept2?

That depends on what you mean by harder. The Concept2 offers a more natural rowing position but puts a lot of pressure on the knees, whereas the WaterRower is much easier on the knees but not so kind to the lower back. 

Which Is Better – A Water vs. Air Rowing Machine?

Both types of rowing machines offer smooth performance, though you’ll tend to find that WaterRower workouts are harder to start and easier to finish, whereas the opposite is true for air rowers. 

What’s more, air rowers like the Concept2 also have an unenviable reputation for being noisy, though they do generally come with more advanced features than their H20-powered rivals.

Concept2 Vs. WaterRower – Which Is The Better Rowing Machine For Crossfit? Our Verdict

Concept2 Model E with PM5 Performance Monitor Indoor Rower Rowing Machine Black

If you read through our head-to-head comparison above, you’ll probably be able to see for yourself just why opinion is so divided when it comes to the great Concept2 vs. WaterRower debate.

After all, both are excellently-made, high-quality pieces of equipment that provide a solid workout that can be tracked and monitored, and both would make a worthwhile addition to any home or commercial workout space.

Ultimately then, the question isn’t which is the best rowing machine for CrossFit?, but rather which is the best rowing machine for you as the unique, individual CrossFitter that you are?

If you’re new to the sport and want a low-to-mid-intensity rowing machine that will allow you to track basic measurements without getting bogged down in excessive details, then the or the WaterRower Classic may well be the best option for you as it’s simple to use, kind to the joints, and strips out most of the fancy bells and whiles in favor of focussing on what really matters:

Getting in that machine and getting your workout done.

However, suppose you’re the type of CrossFitter who really takes this stuff seriously, who wants the ability to really dive deep into your performance data while enjoying a much more strenuous workout. In that case, you’ll undoubtedly find a whole lot to like about The Concept2 Model E.

Tim Rollins, Editor

About boxletes was created by a team of CrossFit athletes and fitness enthusiasts who love to share information about the best CrossFit boxes, workout gear and equipment, and fitness and nutrition tips.

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