Introduction: Homemade Rowing Machine

I needed an alternative form of cardio for my home gym. I already had a treadmill, but I was looking for more variety. Just as you need variety in weight lifting, the same goes for cardio.

The elliptical machine is about the easiest cardio machine to use, but good ones like Life Fitness that have a decent, smooth motion are expensive, even reconditioned ones. I also didn’t have the room for another machine.

I’ve always liked rowing machines, because they work all major muscle groups, including legs, arms, back, abs, and glutes.

A Google search found I could buy a cheap one with pneumatic cylinders for about $100, all the way up to the most expensive with a price tag of $1500.

I started looking for alternatives.

Step 1:

My Powertec power rack has a high/low pulley attachment. The low pulley can be used for seated rows, so all I needed to do was figure out how to involve my legs, and I had a rowing machine.

I decided I could use the detachable seat from an Ironmaster superbench along with the power rack P-LTO Lat Tower Option.

You don’t need a Powertec rack and an Ironmaster superbench seat for this; all you need is a standalone low pulley, and some foam and covering for a seat.

It’s always a good idea before you begin any project to familiarize yourself with the plans and make sure you have all of the materials required.

List of materials needed:

1-4' x 8' sheet of 1/2" plywood $18
1-2" x 2" x 8' $3
1-2" x 4" x 8' $4
4-Fixed casters $4 each $16
1-Bottle of wood glue $5
1-Rubber stair runner $2
16 sets of caster mounting hardware (bolt/washer/nuts) $1 /set $16
30-1 5/8" wood screws (I bought a 100 count box) $6
1-Quart of primer $4
2-Cans of cheap gloss black spraypaint $4
4-1/2" flat washer I had lying around
1-Old belt

All of the supplies can be purchased at your local home improvement center.

Prices of the materials will vary depending on where you live.

Step 2:

I had the home improvement center rip the 4’ x 8’ sheet of plywood to the dimensions I needed. The first cut was to rip a 12” strip off of the length, leaving a 32” x 96” piece. Cut this section to 32” x 60”. This is the base of the rowing machine. I probably made this too long for the average height person, but this should be long enough for individuals over 6 feet tall.

If you want to be exact, just sit on the floor with your legs flat on the ground, and measure from your heel to your butt, and add about six inches for clearance.

The third cut is on the 12” x 96” piece. Cut this to 12” x 16”. This piece is what you’ll mount the seat on.

You’ll have some plywood left over, so save the scrap for future projects.

Let’s start with the 32” x 60” rowing machine base first. I added a 2” x 2” x 32” board at the end to act as a stop for the moveable seat. Next, I cut the 2” x 4” for the footrests to the indicated sizes. The hardest part for me was cutting the 45-degree angles and getting them to match up. But once I had the angles correct for one footrest, I used this as a template for the second footrest.

Step 3:

The pieces for the footrest were then glued and screwed to the base. Then for additional support, I added a 2" x 2" x 18". This was screwed to both the base and the footrests.

The footrests need to be attached securely because you’ll be pulling against these on your return-rowing stroke.

Next, I used an old belt for the footrest straps. I cut these approximately 13” long and attached them to the footrests using a ½” flat washer and wood screws. I also cut a rubber floor runner to size to cover the footrest, and glued and nailed it in place.

The 16” x 12” plywood is used for the moveable seat. Cut the 2" x 4"’s to the sizes indicated and attach the 16” x 12” plywood with wood screws first, then drill clearance holes for the caster hardware. I didn’t show this on the pdf, but after looking at it, this would be the easiest way.

My caster mounting hardware is 3/8” bolts, so I drilled a ½” clearance hole.

I then mounted two 2" x 2" x 7" pieces on top to keep my Ironmaster bench seat from slipping off the 16" x 12" plywood frame. The steel support on the bench seat fits snuggly between these 2" x 2" x 7" pieces and my bodyweight holds the seat down.

Step 4:

The last step was to prime the whole thing and then apply the finishing paint.

This homemade rowing machine works really well. All I need to do is add more weight plates to increase the resistance.

My first workout on this machine lasted about 25 minutes. I did sixty rowing strokes with 25 pounds of resistance, stopped long enough to add five pounds and continued until I could only do 10 rowing strokes with about seventy pounds.

A really good workout!

General Assembly tips:

Drill a small pilot hole first before driving in the wood screws. This will keep the wood from splitting.

Buy an inexpensive power sander and sand ALL edges before painting. This model by DeWalt works great, and you can cut standard size sandpaper to fit it.

Buy the best casters you can afford. I needed to spray mine with wd-40 to keep them from squeaking.

Complete plans are on my website: