Overall Score: A
Cost: B (at $1199 the machine is kind of pricey, but I consider it a long-term investment in my health!)
Like many of you, I went into an initial panic when Covid-19 closed my gym indefinitely, back in March. As days went by, and as the pandemic grew, I worried less about my fitness and cared most about staying Covid free. I also enjoyed the extended break from the gym, savoring the extra time I had each day.
About 4 weeks into our shutdown, my switch flipped and I insisted on having some sort of home cardio machine. Walking wouldn’t be strenuous enough for me and running is too hard on my knees. Apparently everyone else had the same idea and cardio machines were sold out everywhere, leaving shelves and online inventories empty.
After settling on a rowing machine (due to the low height of my basement ceiling), I decided on a Concept 2 rower. Concept 2 rowers are extremely popular machines that work with air resistance. Unfortunately, as with all businesses, Covid stopped production of Concept rowers and they were out of stock everywhere. I settled on putting myself on the Concept 2 wait list and continued to look for a machine as good or better than the Concept 2.
Eventually, I started looking at water rowers, and discovered the First Degree Fitness Apollo II Reserve AR Rowing Machine. (Link to rower at Amazon, note that I do make a small commission for purchases made through the following link, but this doesn’t affect you or your pricing.)
After two months of rowing with this machine, this is my complete review:
The Apollo Rowing Machine is made up of a water flywheel that spins in a water tank, using water and paddles to create resistance. Here is some quick info on the Apollo II Rower:
The Apollo II Rowing Machine arrived from Amazon unassembled, in two boxes. Fortunately, I didn’t have to put it together as my husband did it for me. He’s a rather handy guy and does lots of work around the house and he had no issues putting it together. He simply followed the instructions that came with and it took him about an hour to assemble. His words on the installation were, “Easy.”
One thing to know is that the rower simply takes tap water in the chamber. After the tank is filled to the proper amount, you simply add one water treatment tablet to the tank. A total of four water treatment tablets are included with your purchase. These four tablets should be sufficient for several years of rowing usage. Just add a new water treatment tablet to the water when it starts to get cloudy and keep the tank out of direct sunlight.
Don’t be fooled by thinking that rowing with water will be easier than other machines because it’s not! This rowing machine provides a good amount of resistance at even the easiest level. The Apollo II Rowing Machine has three blades inside the water tank, that create a very smooth rowing motion. What’s nice about water rowing machines (vs. air and magnetic resistance rowers) is that there are no “dead spots” during a stroke. This means there is consistent resistance throughout the entire stroke. Definitely a plus! Also, the calm sound of rushing water is a very nice touch, too.
Changing the resistance is very easy. There is a yellow dial on the water chamber that’s easy to reach from sitting on the rower. Simply turn the dial from 1-5 for your level of resistance. For me, I consider myself fit for my age, and I prefer rowing at a 2-3 for resistance, depending on the day. Keep in mind, it will take a few strokes to get the full effect of a resistance change as the water has to enter or leave the inner tank.
The Apollo II Rowing Machine comes with a computer that records your time, distance, 500 meter split time, strokes per minutes, calories per hour, and watts. It gives you just the basic amount of information needed for home rowers.
There is also a USB port so that you can connect the rower to your home computer. I have not done this since all the manual mentions is being able to watch your favorite movies and compete/train with other connected rowers. I’m not interested in that, nor in hooking up my laptop so I bailed on that feature.
There is a heart rate kit and chest strap that’s sold separately. If you have these items, your pulse is supposed to displayed on the monitor screen.
The Apollo II Rowing Machine is constructed of ash wood with a steel casing. It feels very strong and secure. We did had a problem with one of the support bars that rests on top of the wood frame. (Photo is below). It arrived with a gouge already taken out of the side of the steel support beam that you row over. Because the gouge affected the rowing motion and created a clicking noise after each stroke, I reached out for customer assistance.
After contacting First Degree Fitness online at Amazon, they quickly solved my problem by sending out a new steel cover so that I could remove and replace the dented one. I was very pleased and happy with their prompt customer service.
Like all rowers, there are adjustable footplates to accommodate feet of all sizes. Being a women’s size 9 – 9.5 in shoes, I was surprised to realize that I use the smallest foot position on the rower. This machine may not work with women with smaller feet, since your feet won’t be properly positioned and secured with the strap in the middle of your foot .
The seat on the Apollo II Rowing Machine is comfortable, with adequate cushioning. The only time I had a bit of an issue with the seat was when I would row 30 minutes a day, several days in a row, and my tailbone got tender. However, I have degenerative disc disease in my lower back, so my lower back is naturally sore. I also made sure at this time that I was rowing with correct form. A lot of people rowing with pain are not rowing properly. Be sure to check out videos and tips online to ensure perfect form.
The mobility of the rower is a big plus. I’ve moved it from the basement to the main floor and back to the basement since I’ve gotten it. Two people can easily move and carry it. The wheels on the front end allow for ease of movement when needing to move and/or reposition the rower. This machine can also be stored upright, with the end support panels raised into the air.
First Degree Fitness does sell a seat back option on their website, as well as a kit that elevates the rower off the floor, allowing for easier entry and exit from the machine. Check out First Degree Fitness online for more info.
(for the Apollo II Reserve AR Water Rowing Machine)
Main Frame – 5 Year Limited Warranty
Polycarbonate Tank & Seals – 5 Year Limited Warranty
Mechanical Components (of a non-wearing nature) – 2 Year Limited Warranty
All Other Components (of a wearing nature) – 1 Year Limited Warranty
While doing research for this post, I’ve read some negative comments about the Apollo’s bungee cord that runs under the seat for recoil tension. Other rowing machines have chains instead of bungee cords and people like the chain’s durability. I have had no issues with the cord and actually enjoy how much quieter the bungee cord is, rather than a chain. I also don’t need the cord to be super durable as I’m the only one using it a few hours a week.
Overall, I’m very pleased with the quality of the rower, the amount of resistance it provides, and the customer service at First Degree Fitness. The Apollo II Rowing Machine has proven to be just the cardio (and sanity!) I need to get my through my gym’s closure and the frightening reality of this Covid pandemic.
Have you picked up a rower during quarantine? Do you like it? Leave any questions or comments below!
Note: I was not compensated in any way from First Degree Fitness for this review.
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