What is the Best Rowing Boat for overall Fitness?

We are often asked on this website what boat we would buy if we just wanted to focus on overall fitness. As people become more attuned with what their body needs to be healthy, they search for something to help. Generally, people know that rowing is good for them, they just do not know which boat to get.

New rowers are often starting out because they want to experience exercise outdoors with fresh air and wide-open spaces. The calories they burn from doing something they enjoy are purely a bonus. The boat they choose can make a big impact on the type of fitness workout they have.

The best kind of boat for fitness is one that suits the rower’s needs. It needs to suit the water conditions where the rower will be rowing and be able to do any other jobs required.


It is really important to understand that if you are aiming to get the most bang for your buck in terms of fitness. Then your boat must have a sliding seat or sliding rigger setup. Rowing boats with these setups allow the fitness enthusiast to fully use their legs to power the majority of each stroke with their arms and upper body doing the rest of the work. This helps provide a much more full-body workout.

In competitive racing shells, there is no extra room for personal gear, this is worth remembering. Even your clothing should be lycra workout gear, to maximise speed. Racing shells are built for speed, and as a result, they have other areas that have been compromised. Strength and stability. With racing shells, you will not want to be knocking them around or dropping them when getting them into the water. This could cause huge amounts of damage. Similarly, when in the water, as they are so narrow the side to side stability is very low so it is more suited to experienced rowers.

More traditional rowing boats have been used for centuries and have evolved into streamlined, fast modes of fitness and transport. These boats can usually be used in a wide range of locations and types of water. Traditional rowboats are much more rugged and tough than racing shells and have been built to conquer the world’s testing tank for boats, the ocean. As long as you fit in a sliding seat, then you will ensure that you can get a great workout wherever you are.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

What makes a rowboat good for fitness:

  1. Easy to transport and launch.
  2. Easy to get on and out of.
  3. Is stable enough to allow you to stand.
  4. Moves freely with just yourself rowing.
  5. Can easily handle the weather and water conditions you will be rowing in.
  6. Allows you to bring a passenger if needed.

Hundreds of years ago boats were built to move large amounts of cargo around the world. The one exception was the design of the boat that stood out from others because of its speed and stability in the water. This was not a cargo boat and was known at the time as the Bicycle of the Sea.

Now, please remember that with racing shells:

  1. They are made to win races, not enjoyment.
  2. The shells are very narrow and unstable
  3. Racing shells are extremely long, typically about 8.23m long.
  4. They are not able to take damage
  5. Outriggers make them hard to get in.
  6. No passengers.
  7. No cargo.
  8. Not able to go on the sea.
  9. Highly specialised, highly expensive.
Rowing boats along Upperton Road
Rowing boats along Upperton Road by Mat Fascione is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

Solo rowing for fitness

When you are rowing with just one person, one oar in each hand this is known as sculling. This is a way of rowing that will help you to generate the most power possible. This also means that you will be burning the most calories and using the most muscles possible to make an impact on your fitness.

To see your fitness Improve you will need to put your body through an exercise that is uncomfortable and hard. The SAID principle, which stands for specific adaption to increased demands, requires you to push harder than your body is used to, to see improvements.

Read more about the SAID principle in our article below:

The Number 1 Rowing Workout For Endurance and Stamina

With an oar in each hand, it is much easier to maintain a straight line whilst rowing. This will build your confidence in the water. Every rower has gone through a period when they are anxious about rowing backwards. It is hard to develop the confidence to row without looking behind you. On busier stretches of water, you will need to be more aware of what is behind you.

Once you have got used to rowing without looking you will find that your rowing times and enjoyment will both benefit. By rowing forwards with one oar and backwards with the other you will be able to spin around in a controlled manner.

When you compare this to rowing with a partner there are several differences.

Rowing With a Partner

Rowing with a partner can be a very enjoyable experience. Allowing you someone to communicate with, share the load and someone to help you manoeuvre through the waterways. Rowing a double is similar to slow dance. Timing is everything. If you and your partner cannot get together then your progress and speed through the water will be hindered. If you can find your rhythmic flow as a pair then you will benefit from the extra power your partner can deliver alongside your own.

To be able to row a double with the aim of improving fitness, you will need to find a partner with your same goals. In a double, you cannot jump start rowing faster when you want to push harder. You need to agree on this increase in speed with your partner otherwise you will end up going round in circles.

Remember that fitness is important but so is having fun. Make sure that when you hit the water you are able to enjoy it as well.

The best rowing boat for overall fitness is one that aligns with the rower’s needs and the conditions of the water where it will be used. Several boats stand out in this regard. The Whitehall Spirit® Solo 14 and Tango 17 are popular models prized for fitness rowing. For intermediate or advanced athletes, the Cambridge or the Pro Am could be suitable choices.

Brands like Fillipi and Empacher are also considered among the best in the world. The Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine and Stamina Body Trac Glider are top-rated among athletes and fitness enthusiasts. For some, a simple canoe might be the best for exercise rowing. Open water shells are also considered fun and suitable for exercise, especially on rougher waters. Edon TS515 is noted as the best selling sliding seat recreational rowboat in the USA.

Ultimately, the choice depends on the rower’s personal preferences, experience level, and the specific environmental conditions they will be rowing in. It’s always advisable to try out different boats and consult with experts before making a final decision.