If you’re after a combination of strength and cardio, investing in a rowing machine is definitely a smart move. There are few cardio options that will provide you with the cardio burn and the muscular contraction that a thirty-minute session on a quality rower will provide. The trick, of course, is to find that quality rower.
The Proform 550 is a solidly designed and built rower, with a comfortable seat and a very natural rowing motion. More experienced users may find that there is not enough resistance on this machine and there is minimal information on the monitor. However, if you are a beginner or intermediate exerciser, you will find not this to be a great investment.
The Proform 550 is claimed by many to be one of the best home use rowing machines on the fitness market. We put that claim to the test to give you the information you need to make the smartest buying decision. We also put the Proform 550 up against one of its closest rivals.
- Solid Frame construction
- Ease of assembly
- Folds for storage
- Adjustable settings
- May not have enough resistance for experienced users
- Rather basic monitor
- No heart rate measurement
The Proform 550 is an air rower. That means that when you pull back on the handle, a flywheel spins which causes fan blades to produce air which provides the resistance. The faster you row the machine the more air resistance you will produce and the greater the effort required to row will become.
This type of resistance, where the effort required to pull is determined by the effort you put in, is known as variable resistance. Along with water rower resistance, it is the most natural type. However, unlike magnetic or hydraulic piston rowers, you are not able to dial in the exact level of resistance that you pre-determine. Machines that allow you to do that are called adjustable resistance rowers.
The Proform 550 delivers a very smooth, natural rowing motion which feels very much like the actual experience you would get on the water. There is none of the jerkiness or stuttering that comes with some magnetic or hydraulic rowers. There is also something very rewarding about being totally in charge of the level of resistance by the amount of pull that you exert.
Inexperienced users may feel that the resistance on the this rower is not progressive. This is not actually the case – all they have to do is to row faster and they will get all the resistance that they will ever need. You should also be aware that air resistance can create quite a bit of noise. Keep this in mind when deciding where to positon the machine in your home. If you train with it in the lounge while others are watching TV, you may not be too popular round your home.
The flywheel on the Proform 550 has what are known as damper settings. This allows you to be in control of the amount of air that gets to the flywheel. You simply adjust a lever up or down in accordance with your preference. This will not actually change the level of resistance that you will receive when you row. What it will do is to adjust the feel of the stroke. In simple terms, the adjustment will either make the rower feel like a lighter boast (with damper adjustment all the way down) or a heavier boat (with damper adjustment all the way up).
The monitor on the Proform 550 features an LCD that is centrally located so that you can see it when you are rowing. It provides you with readout of your watts, time, calories and total strokes. The screen of monitor is divided into thirds so that you can see three readouts at the same time. However, this may be confusing when you are actually rowing, and simply end up as a blur.
The monitor also has a scan feature so that you can see a continuous scroll through of your key training diagnostics. It does not feature a heart rate monitor which is something that we would have liked to have seen, either by way of a hand grip pulse monitor or a chest strap.
The frame of the Proform 550 is constructed of high quality steel, with the seat rail being made of aluminium. Some auxiliary parts are made of high cast plastic that is very tough. You get quality componentry throughout, including solid footrests to ensure that your lower body is securely positioned.
The Proform 550 gives you a relatively comfortable exercise experience. Sitting on the seat for around 30 minutes is not unbearable thanks to an ergonomic design and generous padding. A soft touch handle ensures a solid, comfortable grip and the foot plats lock you in securely without any distress on your feet.
You can fold up your Proform 550 in one easy step when your workout is over. In seconds you will free up space by simply folding the handles and bending rower to lock it in place in its storage position. This rower also has wheels for ease of transport.
The Proform 550 will accommodate users up to a height of 6′ 6″. The weight capacity of the machine is 250 pounds. Though not fantastic, that is about what you would expect for a rower in the low-to-mid price range.
The total weight of the Proform 550 rower is 103 pounds. The rower will arrive at your home 90 percent pre-assembled. The other 10% will take you around 30 minutes, with all the tools that you will need being included in the package.
Your purchase of the Proform 550 is covered with a 3-year warranty on the frame but just 90 days on the parts and labor. You also get a 30-day money back guarantee. While the length of the parts and labor warranty is pretty standard for rower is this lower price range, we feel that it is not enough to provide you with the protection that you need. We would have preferred to se at least a six month parts and labor warranty on this product.
The Bottom Line
The Proform 550 is an impressive budget rower that uses air resistance to provide the challenge to your workout. It provides you with a natural, smooth rowing experience with the level of resistance being determined by your ability to pull harder. Still, the maximum resistance is limited when compared to more expensive air rowers such as the Concept range. It is a smart buy for beginner and intermediate exercisers.
Proform 550 Alternative
Stamina ATS Air Rower
The Stamina ATS Air Rower is another budget air rower machine that really delivers. It features quality construction with a solid steel frame, solid plastic housing and an aluminum steel rail, just like the Proform 550. The seat is slightly more comfortable than you find on the Proform 550, with extra padding and upholstery.
The monitor on the Stamina ATS Air Rower is pretty comparable with that of the Proform 550, with tracking of your speed, covered distance, calories burned and workout time. A difference is that there is no record of your watts, which is a plus in favor of the Profrm 550. Both machines fail to monitor your training heart rate.
The frame of the ATS can be folded in half to accommodate easy storage. Again this is on a par with the Proform 550.
The rowing experience that you will get on this machine is comparable to other air rowers in the price range, including the Proform 550. You’ll enjoy a smooth, natural rowing experience that is quite different from what you’d get on the lower priced magnetic or hydraulic rowers that are currently on the market. As with similarly priced air rowers, the noise level generated by the air resistance can be a bit of a problem. That being, though, this machine is no noisier than the Proform 550.
There is no damper feature on the Stamina ATS Air Rower. That means that you do not have the luxury of being able to control the amount of air that is getting into the flywheel housing. As a result, you will not be able to make adjustment to the feel of the stroke as you are rowing.
In terms of making a choice between the Stamina ATS Air Rower and the Proform 550, there is not much between them. The Proform has a slightly better monitor while the ATS has a slightly better, more comfortable seat. Apart from that they pretty well march feature for feature, apart from the damper function just mentioned. In the end analysis, we would recommend going with the best price that you can find on the day.
The Proform 550 is an impressive air power rower that comes in at a very sharp price point. It provides everything that the beginner or intermediate user will need or want in an air rower. We especially like the damper feature which allows you to adjust the air flow into the flywheel and the smooth, natural pull that you get on every stroke of the machine. The biggest negatives are that there is no heart rate monitoring function and that the machine is quite noisy as a result of the air passing through the fan blades.
For those users who are wanting to advance being the beginner, intermediate user capabilities of the preform 550 we recommend stretching your budget to consider the Concept 2 Model D rowing machine. This is the best selling home use rowing machine in the world for a reason – it delivers the most natural, smooth, comfortable and reliable rowing experience that you will come across anywhere.
If you want a great rower like the Proform 550, but don’t want an air rower, click the link to check out our list of the Best Magnetic Rowing Machines.