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Best Rowing Machine for Short People

So you’re short and you want to know what is the best rowing machine for short people?

No problem! The question is actually a lot easier to answer than it sounds.

Most rowing machines can accommodate short people but there are a few that have limitations in their design.

All rowing machines provide full-body workouts that elevate heart rates and build lean muscle!

They are also great exercise alternatives for people wanting a low-impact exercise that is still extremely challenging.

If this sounds like the exercise machine for you, continue reading to find your best options!

There are plenty of different rowers to choose from varying in price, resistance type, build quality, etc.. The list goes on and most rowers work fine for the general population but if you’re a “shorter” person there might be an issue.

I will go through a few items for “shorter” people to be aware of when selecting a rowing machine and then offer my opinion on the best rowing machine for short people.

Understanding The Rowing Stroke

The primary issue for short people is how far forward the seat will move and the handle range of motion.

To better explain, let me briefly go over a basic rowing stroke.  There are 4 phases in a rowing stroke:

The Catch

Rowing Machine Abs Catch
  • The seat is underneath your body and your arms are extended forwards grabbing the handle. Your knees are close to your chest and shins are vertical.

The Drive

Rowing Machine Abs Drive
  • From ‘the catch’ position, you begin by pushing off with your legs. As your legs straighten, you begin to lean back, and pull the handle to your chest.

The Finish

Rowing Machine Abs Finish
  • At ‘the finish’, your legs are fully extended, body is leaned slightly back (11 o’clock), and the handle is pulled just below your chest.

The Recovery 

Rowing Machine Abs Recovery
  • The ‘recovery’ is the entire process above but in reverse. You then end back in ‘the catch’ position.

Problem Phases for Short People

When performing a proper rowing stroke, there are a few areas that can cause issues for shorter users.

Below I will go over these scenarios and how to avoid them.

Catch Phase

During ‘the catch’ phase your legs are close to your chest getting ready to push off and start ‘the drive’.

To get into this position, you must have your knees bent, seat under your body, and be close to the front of the rower.

The problem with some rowing machines is the seat doesn’t go far enough forward to make this happen correctly.

When the seat cannot move far enough forward, your legs won’t be close enough to your chest, and your shins cannot reach a ‘vertical’ position.

When you start ‘the drive’ you won’t get the full effect of the “push-off”  because your legs were not fully bent.

This causes a less efficient rowing stroke and limits your muscles full range of motion.

To sum it up – your legs, back, arms, and core (your whole workout and rowing experience) will be adversely affected trying to row on a machine that limits your range of motion.

This is why it’s important to distinguish the best rowing machine for short people.

Drive and Finish Phase

On some rowers, like hydraulic-piston rowers, a user cannot control the height of the rowing handles. The handles are “fixed” because they are attached to aluminum rods (see photo).

Best Budget Hydraulic Piston Rower

So instead of being able to pull the handle back just below the chest, you must pull them back to wherever it allows.

Now imagine a short rower on the model above. They have to pull the handle back higher up on their chest than a taller rower. This results in some discomfort in the shoulders. Some users even complained of shoulder pain.

If you are interested in a hydraulic-piston rowing machine, just make sure your height doesn’t cause any discomfort.

Important Criteria for Selecting a Rower

Listed below are important criteria a rowing machine must have to be considered suitable for short people:


To be suitable, it obviously must be designed to accommodate shorter people.  Here are a few things I’ll be looking for:

  • The seat rail must move far enough forward to allow to allow for a full range of motion
  • Fitness monitors must be viewable and accessible without the user having to move
  • The buttons/knobs to adjust resistance (if applicable) must be accessible without the user having to move
  • The footrests must be able to fit the presumably smaller feet of the user

Quality and Other Considerations

Choosing a machine that accommodates your height does you no good if the rower isn’t desirable to use.  I’ll be looking over the following:

Resistance Type

Monitor/ Control Panel

  • Fitness monitors are expected to (at the very least) keep track of vital workout statistics such as time, number of strokes, and distance
  • Additional features are great but will usually cause a price increase

Build Quality

  • The rowing machine is assumed to be used for years, so the frame and rower must be solidly built
  • Low quality machines have a tendency to make unnecessary squeaking noises and will be considered during the review process


  • A comfortable seat, handle, and footrests are important because if you’re not comfortable while exercising it won’t be long before your rower turns into a clothes rack!

Storage Options

  • Rowing machines take a lot of floor space when in use but some rowers have the ability to be folded or taken apart. Portability and storage capabilities are always a bonus


  • Some rowing machines can be put together in a few minutes, others can take an hour
  • The easier to assemble, the better


  • The longer the warranty the better. Besides providing longer protection for your investment, a longer warranty shows the manufacturer believes in the quality of their product


  • Is the price reasonable?

Recommended Best Rowing Machine for Short People

When choosing the best rowing machine for short people I have a few options.

The manufacturers of the rowing machines below were smart enough to ensure there were no low-end height limitations on their rowers.

If you choose a different rower than the options below, please make sure to check if people your height have used the rowing machine with no issues!

Option #1: Concept2 Model D

Concept2 RowErg Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 Monitor

The world's best-selling rowing machine. Adjustable air resistance & easy storage. Comes with a device holder for your smartphone. You can't go wrong with this rowing machine.

  • Best overall rowing machine on the market
  • Connects with heart rate monitors
  • 5 year frame warranty
  • Fan can be too noisy for some
  • Not the cheapest
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
05/29/2024 12:11 am GMT

When considering the criteria above, my first choice for “best rowing machine for short people” is the Concept2 Model D Indoor Rower.

A well-respected company in the rowing and fitness industry, Concept2 has a sterling reputation for producing solid rowing machines and that tradition continues with the Model D.

It’s built like a tank, so it’s tough enough to be used in health clubs and for home use.

Air-resistance allows the user to determine resistance-level on the fly by adjusting their rowing intensity.

The performance monitor is one-of-a-kind and can do many things including track important workout data, measure your heart rate, teach you to row with correct form, and allows you to race yourself based on your performance from a previous workout.

Check Reviews & Prices

Why this Model was Chosen?

The Concept2 Model D was chosen because its design works excellent for short people (as well as everyone else big, small, tall, etc.) and is the best rowing machine on the market (in my opinion).

NOTE:  There are other rowing machines that will work fine for shorter people, but I feel the Concept2 Model D offers the best “value”. If you are looking for a less expensive rower please read my ‘Final Thoughts’ section below.


The seat on the Model D’s seat rail moves up far enough to allow shorter people’s legs to be in ‘the catch’ position without any issues.

This allows the individual to row naturally and with full range of motion.

As mentioned above, this is important because rowing without full range of motion ruins the workout and overall rowing experience.

The fitness monitor is viewable and accessible without any issues, the damper settings are easy to reach, and the footrests can fit any shoe size.

To further validate this model is ideal for short people, Concept2 offers awards and prizes for users who hit certain milestones, such as rowing 1 million meters, etc.

They offer the same kinds of awards/prizes specifically for junior users and kids in elementary-school. Children well under 5.0′ tall have used this rower and received awards.

If this doesn’t tell you the Model D is ideal for short people, I honestly don’t know what else will!


This rower is one of the best on the market and has outstanding quality.

It received hundreds of positive reviews from proud owners and I’m confident you would give it the same rating once you own one yourself.

I go over the ‘important criteria’ listed above in greater detail in my complete Model D review here.

Once you read the review, you’ll see why I call it the best rowing machine for short people and the best rowing machine overall!

Option #2: Stamina Air Rower 1399

Not happy with the Concept2 Model D?

Maybe the overall footprint is too big or you aren’t ready to splurge on a high end rowing machine?

Check out another great option for a rowing machine for short people by reading my Stamina Air Rower 1399 Review! Just click here!

I cover all the same criteria I covered in this article, plus more! When you read the review you will see why it also is a great rowing machine for shorter people but at a much lower price!

Check Reviews & Prices

Final Thoughts

When looking for the best rowing machine for short people, there will be plenty of great options.

In this article, I listed my top two based off personal experience. There are plenty of other rowing machines models that are great for short people.

The two models listed above are also “air” resistance rowing machines, which are my favorite.


  1. Hi and Thanks for your incredible reviews! Id like to know if there’s a machine you may have found in gyms because I mainly run into the rower machine issue in the gym(s) that I work(ed) out in. Have you found a rower in any gym with either foot or seat adjustments for us shorter guys??

    1. Hi Mike,

      In my area (San Diego, CA) 100% of the gyms (that I go to/ visited) use a Concept2 Model D or Model E and they seem to work fine for shorter people.

      The foot straps accommodate practically any foot size and the seat on the rower can move up pretty far on the seat railing making it an ideal machine for shorter people. Concept2 also has rowing ‘contests’ for pre-teen kids so it’s commonly used by shorter people.

      Are there any Concept2 machine’s in your area? If so, how was your experience on the rower?


  2. Hi Mike,

    I’m really short and appreciate your insightful review of the Concept Model D. However, I also
    don’t have the room for it…do you recommend the Model E as it’s more compact? Thanks!

    1. Olenka,

      What is your exact height? Also, The Concept2 Model D and the Model E would take up the same amount of room. Each are 96 inches long and 24 inches wide. The only difference is the E is taller at 20 inches compared to the D at 14 inches. I will also respond to your comment on the rowing machine weight loss post.



  3. Hello,

    I am looking for a rowing machine as I’m quite short but I don’t quite understand your explanation;

    “During ‘the catch’ phase your legs are close to your chest and when you start ‘the drive’ you push off with your legs. If you’re a shorter person, presumably you have shorter legs and to be able to be in ‘the catch’ position with your knees close to your chest while having the seat underneath your body; you have to have the seat glide closer to the end of the rail where the flywheel is. The problem with this is that on some rowing machines, the seat doesn’t go up far enough to make this happen correctly.”

    Why wouldn’t the ‘seat go up far enough’?



    1. Ben,

      Basically some machines have a “stop” or the rail just ends, which doesn’t allow the seat to go all the way to the front of the machine. If the seat does not slide all the way forward you cannot perform proper rowing form or get into the proper “catch” position. (I have pictures of all the positions on this post https://rowingmachineking.com/what-does-a-rowing-machine-do-for-your-body/).

      If you are a shorter person and the seat does not slide all the way forward, you will hit the “stop” every time at the catch position and this bump will cause you to constantly shift forward and just makes the rowing workout uncomfortable.

      Most rowers will allow the seat to move forward far enough but there are some out there that owners have complained are not suitable rowing machines for short people. Just something to keep in mind while looking for a rower.

      Hope this helped!

  4. Hi! I want to buy a rowing machine and I am trying to decide among Concept2, Stamina and Magnetic Rowing Machine with Adjustable Resistance by Sunny Health & Fitness – SF-RW5515. I am a short person (height 4’7″ and weight 112 pounds). Would you please recommend a rowing machine on which I could effectively work. I want to lose weight and tone my body. Many thanks!

    1. Hi Christine,

      Thank you for reaching out! I also received your comment on my other post about wanting a very quiet rowing machine.

      Your height of 4’7″ will not be a problem with any of the rowing machines mentioned. However, seeing that you want a quiet rowing machine, I would not purchase an air rower (Concept2 & Stamina) as they will make a fan “whooshing” noise while using.

      Magnetic rowers are virtually silent and the Sunny SF-RW5515 will be perfect for you. You can also visit my Rowing Machine Concierge Page and fill out the questionnaire.

      I hope this was able to help :)

      1. Hi Kevin,

        Many thanks for taking the time to answer! I really appreciate it and I will definitely get Sunny SF-RW5515 soon. I will let you know how it work!

        Have a great weekend!


  5. I am 5’4″ male. New to rowing. Bought a Stamina Air rower. When I try to bring my shins vertical in the catch the seat hits the stop.
    This is annoying and my shins are still at an angle due to the position of the pedals and the seat at the stop position.
    Is there a solution to this or do i need a different machine?

    1. Hi Gary,

      Unfortunately, this is one of the downsides of lower cost rowers. They are made to be compact, foldable, etc. and this sometimes comes at the cost of compromising the rowing stroke.If you are hitting the stop and your shins are not vertical, then it would be the design of the rower.

      This is a bit surprising though because the stops are fairly far forward and most people who are 5’4″ can slide far enough forward to where their shins are vertical.

      1. Part of the problem is the location of the foot pedals on this model.The pedals are up on either side of the wheel. If they were back farther then the seat could come closer to your feet giving a better catch position. I solved the problem for me by removing the front stop which allows the seat to travel a few more inches and eliminates annoying banging at the stop.The manufacturer does not recommend this. The manufacturer also claims, similar to your comment, that someone who is 5’4″should be able to row on this machine, and suggested I watch their videos.
        Rowers who are shorter than I am can row on this machine, but will not get shins into a vertical position.The manufacturer suggested that if shins were slightly off vertical this would not be a problem.

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