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Why Does Crossfit Use Rowing, and Why the Concept 2 Rower

Why Crossfit rows, and why Crossfit uses the Concept 2 Rower

You may have wondered to yourself why Crossfit utilizes the rower rather than a climber, treadmill, spin bike, or really any other piece of cardio equipment out there. I mean, when you go to a commercial gym you see almost everything but rowers. Maybe the gym has a couple off in the corner, but they definitely do not dominate the gym’s cardio space. So why did Crossfit decide to go with the rower when so few others have?

Well it turns out there is more than one reason why Crossfit has adopted the rower rather than any other cardio machine, and I’m going to share them all with you. After that, I’ll tell you why the Concept 2 Rower is the rower of choice and the most popular line of rowers on the market. Then finally, I’ll tell you who has the best overall pricing on the Concept 2 Model D rower, the model of choice for Crossfit.

Benefits of Rowing | Why the Concept 2 | Best Prices on Rowers

Rowing is a full body movement.

Rowing uses almost every major muscle group - image borrowed from the Concept 2 Rower website

At first glance, you may think that rowing is just a different kind of cardio that focuses on the upper body rather than the lower; as treadmills or spin bikes do. It would be logical to assume that the back does most of the work in a pulling motion. and while that may be the case in a static, weighted cable row, that is certainly not the case when it comes to rowing on a row machine.

Rowing is a full body workout. It uses almost every major muscle group in your body. Rowing hits the lats, quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs, obliques, lower back, shoulders, and arms – both biceps and triceps. And since you’re using so many muscles at once, you will most certainly be elevating your heart rate. This makes it a much more efficient workout than running or spinning; both of which primarily use the lower body.

Rowing is an efficient calorie burner.

You might not think that a movement that involves sitting could burn all that many calories an hour, but you may be surprised. Rowing is metabolically challenging, and can burn upwards of 1000 calories an hour. Just consider how many muscles are working together in harmony to complete each stroke. You’d have to push yourself pretty damn hard on a treadmill to hit those numbers, and you’d still only be challenging (I use the word challenge loosely in this case) your lower body.

So if you’re going to put in the time, you may as well be working the whole body rather than just the bottom half. You can burn just as many calories in less time, or better yet, you can burn twice as many calories in the same time.

Rowing develops strength and endurance.

Rowing develops strength and endurance. As you can see, this guy from Crossfit Lanier is uses a ton of muscles during the row

The beauty of rowing is that it never becomes obsolete just because your strength or endurance improves. Rowing can be as easy or as hard as you choose to make it. Challenging yourself is as simple as rowing harder or rowing faster. Whether it’s a water rower or the Concept 2 rower, the resistance becomes greater the harder you pull. Push yourself on a rower and your cardiovascular health, endurance, and overall strength will always continue to improve.

Rowing is a low impact exercise.

Rowing is low impact cardio that can be done by people of all ages and varying fitness levels

Rowing is an extremely safe form of cardio. It’s easy on your joints; especially the knees and ankles, and can be performed at high endurance levels by nearly everyone, and without the fear of injury. It’s also beneficial for joint health since rowing moves your joints through such a large range of motion.

Rowing is the only movement you need a machine for.

If you think about it, most people don’t have access to true outdoor rowing; at least on a daily basis. I mean, how many of us have homes that back up to a lake? So if you want the health and fitness benefits of rowing, you’ll probably need access to a rowing machine.

On the other hand, if you want to run, jog, walk, cycle, or climb, you don’t necessarily need a treadmill, spin bike, or stair climber. You can just go outside and jog down the street, hop on a bicycle and go for a ride, or find some stairs or a hill to climb. Owning machines for any of these activities is simply due to a preference to be indoors rather than out. That’s all fine and good, of course, but the advantage of the indoor rower is that it’s a full body cardio exercise that you probably couldn’t do without the machine.

Commercial row machines are affordable.

A commercial quality row machine that will last a lifetime can be had for around $900. Compare that price to a commercial treadmill, recumbent bike, elliptical machine, stair climber, or any other cardio machine and you’ll see a rower is much more affordable. Some of the better pieces of cardio equipment out there can cost five or six times what a rower will cost you.

So if you had to provide a dozen or more identical pieces of cardio equipment for your Crossfit affiliate members, what would you prefer? Rowers for about $900 each that offered an efficient, full body exercise; or the standard giant, space-stealing treadmills or ellipticals that sell for at the very least a few thousand dollars each and offer nothing in the way of fitness that couldn’t be achieved by simply going outside and running around the building?

Why is the Concept 2 the rower of choice for Crossfit?

A whole line of Concept 2 rowers at the Crossfit Games

Now that Crossfit is such a big deal you’ve probably seen more than your share of Concept 2 rowers out there, but it’s not the only rower on the market. Google search rowers or get on Amazon and you’ll see there are dozens of various brands and models to choose from. However, the Concept 2 is still the most prominent. It’s the only rower I’ve ever seen in a commercial gym, it’s the only rower most fitness retailers offer for sale, and I’ve yet to see a different rower in anyone’s garage gym (and I’ve seen a lot of garage gyms.) How can this be?

Superior Design – I think the primary reason the Concept 2 is so popular is it’s design. It’s designed so well that even the wearable parts last for many years of constant use. This rower just does not break down like cheaper rowers do. Even if you use your rower every day of the week for years and finally need to replace a bearing or other wearable part, the parts are readily available from the manufacturer at very reasonable prices. All models are backed by a warranty as well.

Concept 2 Rowers, Model D. Available in black or grey

Cost – Speaking of reasonable prices, the MSRP of $900 for the Concept 2 Model D Rower is amazing considering this is a commercial rower. No other commercial cardio equipment can come close to that price. Those LifeFitness and Precor cardio machines at the gym sell for upwards of $5000 a piece, so $900 is nothing by comparison. Even the upgraded Model D with the PM4 Performance Monitor is only $1050.

Performance Monitors – The Performance Monitor is another reason I believe the Concept 2 is so popular. Even if you don’t upgrade yours to the PM4 and you stick with the default PM3, you’re getting a lot more features than you would with other rowers. In addition to the obvious distance and calories tracking, there are games, races, and the ability to log and track your workout data. Many rowers don’t come with any monitor at all; you just row until you feel like you’re done.

Concept 2 Performance Monitor display examples

If you decide to upgrade to the PM4, it comes with a Garmin chest strap for heart rate monitoring, has increased memory and the ability to receive future features, and the unit can communicate with other rowers (up to 8 machines) for machine to machine racing.

Accessories – Additionally, the Concept 2 has some very interesting accessories not available with other models including such things as a receiver for Polar heart rate monitors, slides for making your indoor rowing feel more like real on-the-water rowing, a dynamic link for team rowing, and the previously mentioned PM4 that allows racing between different machines. Check out the video below to see what the slides and dynamic link are all about. Pretty neat stuff.

Where is the best price for the Concept 2?

The MSRP for the Concept 2 Model D Rower in either black or grey is $900 plus shipping. Be aware that Concept 2 is very particular about how retailers sells their rowers online. You typically need to request the price from retailers as they are not allowed to publish them online, especially when it’s priced below MSRP. So don’t be alarmed that you are asked to do this no matter where you find them for sale; it’s just the way it is.

Having said that, I suggest you request a quote from Rogue if you are interested in a Model D rower at a good price. You can request a quote from Rogue here. Rogue also offers the Concept 2 Model D with the upgraded PM4 Performance Monitor, and the slightly larger Concept 2 Model E Rower as well.


There are a lot of options when it comes to cardio, and there are a lot of options when it comes to choosing where to buy your equipment. If you’re new to Crossfit or the fitness world in general and you are not familiar with the Concept 2 rower, I suggest you check out some fitness sites, the Crossfit forums, and then just ask around. I think you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t agree that the best cardio you’re going to get on a machine is going to be on the Concept 2 rower. Hey, all those fit Crossfit folks at the Games can’t be wrong, can they?

Further Reading

  • Concept 2 Rower vs the WaterRower – Very structured and well-written post comparing these two brand name rowers. I recommend reading this if you’re considering buying either of these rowers.
  • Why Rowing? Crossfit.com – Get the opinions of other Crossfitters regarding the benefits of rowing. Users cover all kinds of benefits; some of which weren’t addressed here.
  • Concept2 Website – Check this site out for more technical data on the rowers like specifications, warranty information, and shopping for replacement parts.

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{ 16 comments… add one }
  • Melissa @ Freeing Imperfections April 20, 2014, 5:42 pm

    Rowing is one of my favorite total-body cardio workouts on off days from marathon training! I only wish I could do it more often. Even 5 minutes is such a good workout!

  • Debbie January 3, 2015, 11:29 am

    Thank you for the very informative article on rowing and use of the Concept2 Rower and why CF uses them. Very helpful.

    • jburgeson January 3, 2015, 11:36 am

      You got it! Thank you

  • Brian February 4, 2015, 10:52 am

    They use Concept Ergs because someone got smart and went to the source. What do actual rowers use? There is your answer. Everything else is a cheap imitation.

  • Johnie February 22, 2015, 1:32 pm

    Concept2 is where it is at. I want to take a moment to point out how AMAZING the slides are. It is the most under talked about accessory. A few years ago I learned how to row on the water. It is so much fun and challenging. Balance and coordinated movement are really important. The slides actually make it realistic to use the rower. Most people just try to crank away. But when you slide forward too fast on the water you brake your momentum and slow the boat down. You have to be smooth, explode back and ease forward at around a 1/3 push back, 2/3 slide forward ratio. The slide accessory makes you row much more coordinated to stay smooth. Again, it comes pretty close to feeling like you are gliding across smooth water too. Anyone who thinks it is silly or unnecessary needs to give them a try. I don’t know why Crossfitter’s don’t use them more.

    • jburgeson February 22, 2015, 4:10 pm

      Thanks Johnie. I’ve been hoping someone would talk about that. I haven’t gotten to try it yet myself. I’ve got a Concept2, but other than the HR monitor, no accessories.

    • Larry Wagner April 20, 2015, 11:08 pm

      Actually, the laws of physics control motion. Accelerate the slide to stern on the water, and the boat accelerates FORWARD. It has to. Conservation of momentum. You and the boat are a unit, one part moving back causes the remainder to move the opposite direction. Just slide to stern quickly from a stop, and watch the boat move forward.

      But must alter seat direction and grab water to maintain the momentum and then use the oar power. It requires greater coordination. so no coaches advocate it. It absolutely adds boat speed.

  • Larry Wagner April 20, 2015, 11:01 pm

    The Concept2 rowers are beasts. I have had mine since 1986, 29 years now.
    Last year got a new chain return mechanism for $108 . Not sure how many million meters I have on it. Two million the past 6 years, almost all recorded.

    Major component of my full recovery from emergency bypass surgery nine years ago. And not expected to live three years beyond that.
    I now scull again, played basketball for a few years afterwards, and now play volleyball regularly with people half my age. For hours and hours. Through judicious heart rate training, and better than the MIND diet, my max heart rate is over 180, despite being 62 years old. Being a sculler, volleyball is easy.

  • Tom August 31, 2015, 12:59 pm

    I’ve been competing in Olympic rowing for many years, and all the rowing club I know (in Spain) use concept2 because they are the most assimilated to paddle in the water.

  • Galen Grote October 29, 2016, 7:30 pm

    I know this is an old posting/review, but it is still relevant today. Thank you for this review and explaining all of the things that one needs to look at when deciding on a rowing machine. Also thank you all for your comments, since we learn from other people’s experiences.

    • jburgeson October 29, 2016, 9:39 pm

      You’re welcome, and thank you!

  • Marc July 10, 2017, 4:54 pm

    I just used my Concept 2 Model D PM5 indoor rower for the first time today…

    it kicked my ass….

    and I liked it!

    The hype is true –
    Low impact, cardio workout in mere minutes…. without leaving your house!
    I definitely prefer this over walking/fast walking/running, hands down.

    I’m sure once I delve further into it’s techie attributes, I’ll be even more amused.

    I’m still winded as I type this
    (yeah, I got some work to do, but I’m looking forward to it!)

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