Air is noisy but is closer to rowing on water than oddly enough a water resi
Unless you're into rowing, rowing machines or currently researching the market for one, this debate will most likely have passed you by :0) And to be honest, you probably couldn't give a damn.
But. In the world of fitness rowing it refuses to lie down and die. The question being...
"Which is best? An air or magnetic resistance?
On one side of the ring you'll find club rowers (and invariable users of a Concept2 machine), and on the other... well anyone who doesn't want to annoy the neighbors when they're trying to get into shape in their own home!
So Who Is Right?
This is going to sound like a cop out, but it depends on what you want from a rowing machine to determine what is meant by 'best' in the question above.
Let's make some noise for AIR
First of all the indisputable facts (in my view). Yes AIR is better when it comes to replicating what a stroke feels like when rowing on the water.
The air mechanism uses a damper setting to control how much air is allowed into the housing containing the flywheel. Higher settings let in more air which means you have to work harder to move the wheel through the air, At the high settings, the fan also slows down quicker which then means you have to pull harder to get it spinning again. The feel of the resistance will change throughout the stroke just as it would with the oar dipping in and out of the water.
So a rower will tell you air is far better because it feels like the real thing - so in your face magneto!
But, as my witty (yet also informative) title suggests, air rowers are noisy. Not a problem if you in the club house at your rowing club, but maybe an issue for the home fitness rower.
Concept2 have a good description on their website here. But in brief, the damper should be thought of as gears on a bike and not as a setting to row harder. That is, you can just as much as a workout on a bike in a low gear as you can in a high gear - it comes down to terrain.
Top air rowing machines include the Concept2 D and Concept2 E - by some distance better than anything else in this category.
Now give it up for MAGNETIC
So moving on to the blue corner. As the name suggests, a magnetic rower uses magnets to create resistance for your muscles to grapple with. As you increase the setting, more magnets (or a pair of magnets) are moved closer to the metal flywheel to slow down the spin.
The main difference is that the feel of the resistance is the same throughout the stroke cycle and is not the same as being in a real boat.
As hinted above, because their is no air flowing around the wheel, a magnetic model is much quieter and therefore may be a better option is you live in an apartment or don't want to alienate your family and friends.
Another reason you may consider a magnetic rower is the ability to use heart rate programs. You have a pay extra for one of these but they're worth it. The console can monitor your pulse rate and change the resistance accordingly to keep you working at a specific target pulse rate. There are a great way to get the most out of your workouts (see why in the link above) and are a reason why many choose a magnetic rower - so take that you airheads!
A great rower of this type is the LifeCore R100.
As a potential buyer, you;ll find both air and magnetic machines throughout the price range.
The main questions to ask yourself are
1. Would a noisy machine be a problem? If yes, go for magnetic.
2. Will I being taking up rowing for a sport? If yes, go for air.
3. Do I want to use heart rate programs? If yes, go for magnetic (check it comes with this feature before buying)
If none of the above are a particular issue it doesn't really matter and it may come down to other features that will make up your mind. Both types will get you fit (if you use it) and if you go for one of the quality machines I've mentioned above, both types could last for years.
So there you go. Air or magnetic? Does it really matter :0)
Roy Palmer is an athletics coach, teacher of The Alexander Technique and a rowing fanatic.