V-fit Tornado Air Rower Rowing Machine Review

After a few months training throughout the summer, including two competitions, I've come to thoroughly enjoy on water rowing. Commitments in the winter months means I have to give real rowing up for now, so I set out to find the best rowing machine for my money.

Rowing is touted as total body workout, using all the major muscle groups (about 84% of the whole body) and is apparently in the top three most effective low impact exercises. Not everybody has access to a boat and a river though. Great rowing machines are available in the gym, and increasingly, in your own home, I purchased a V-Fit Tornado Air Rower so I could get just that.

It's billed as a speed proportionate air resistance system with variable tension control and a single handle rowing style. I picked it because it's relatively small, but still accommodates tall people. It's also affordable.

V-fit Tornado folded up
V-fit Tornado folded up

Construction

Construction is actually reasonable. I haven’t used it for anything near long enough to properly stress test it but the initial impression is that it isn't immediately going to break.

Putting the machine together was easy, most of it was pre-constructed and the rest just required a few bolts, washers and nuts. The hardest thing was getting the plastic end cap on the rail. The instructions are not the clearest in the world but I thought it was fairly obvious where most of the parts went.

Also, if you think you’re missing a bolt or two, check the machine. Most of mine were assembled loose in the correct place on the frame and just required taking off and the part to be slotted on.

The frame quality seems passable. Bolts didn't pull through the steel and aluminium frame parts when tightened, one of the nuts was nylon threaded to counter vibration and everything had a washer. The machine doesn't creak or flex when I sit on it and I don’t get a sense of impending doom when using it.

The tools provided are total rubbish so having your own spanner helps but isn't imperative to construction. I was particularly pleased to find a rigger jigger fits most of the nuts.

I do have to take the knob which holds the central folding mechanism all the way off the bolt to fold and unfold the seat rail but I can put up with that. The mechanism construction possibly leaves a little to be desired. The handle connects to the crank via a bicycle type chain which is solid enough.

The seat return and tensioner, however, is just a piece of elastic run up the underside of the seat rail. It connects to the crank via a flat nylon strap which is just hooked onto the elastic with a couple of metal hooks. These clank against the frame when in use. I’d guess the elastic will wear out eventually, as will the strap. It’s a good enough mechanism but no more than that.

When actually rowing on the machine, with a smooth stroke of between 25 and 30 SPM, it doesn't move too much. It does creep forwards as I row but I have it on a laminate floor. At full power (up to 40) it moves quite a bit and I have bought some rubber matting to help with this problem. I don’t really see what could be changed in the design to help this but it’s worth mentioning.

air rower resistance fan
air rower resistance fan

The Resistance

This is one of the key elements of getting a rowing machine. Too much and you’ll struggle to get a decent length of work out before your muscles are too tired or even injury yourself. Too little and you’ll see no benefit and it’s boring. As the resistance is provided by turning an enclosed fan, the harder and faster your stroke, the higher the level of resistance provided. It is proportional to your stroke.

The average man or woman should have no problem with the level of resistance on this machine. True, you can’t set it so it takes a bit of time to realise the resistance is as high as the stroke you’re pulling, but up to terminal velocity of the fan, the resistance should be high enough for most.

I do find that on 10 firm strokes, it’s perhaps not quite as great as an actual oar in the water. This is applying a lot of power from the legs in the drive, so I might be maxing out the resistance of the fan but I doubt it. After the first ten I don’t really notice anyway.

If you find the resistance too high or you’re just doing warm up, you can pull slower and the resistance will be lower. If it’s still too high for you, (unlikely) you can shorten your stroke by only going half or three quarters of the way up the slide (three-quarters slide).

If the resistance is too low (you’d need to be pretty powerful for this) try putting more explosive power into the drive with the legs and upping the stroke rate. If you are increasing the rate, try to remember to keep the drive phase of the stroke in ratio with the recovery.

footplate supports only the heel and is too low
footplate supports only the heel and is too low

Ergonomics and Design

I am a reasonably tall person (6’ 1”) so a machine where I could use full leg stroke was one of the main factors for selecting the Tornado. It does accommodate a tall person but there are two or three quite serious problems with the design.

If you are tall, there is enough room to go from frontstops to full backstops and still have a couple of inches of rail left. This is the right way round as the more powerful, faster portion is the drive. You don’t want to be crashing into the rubber seat stopper at full backstops.

Part of this space is achieved by putting the footplate (where you strap your feet) quite low down. This is not a great design though. You are pushing at a slight upward angle and have less power on the stroke from the legs. It’s not an efficient stroke and you’ll pop off the seat more.

It’s harder to get good rowing form on the stroke with the Tornado configuration. If you compare the design against the Concept 2 (one of, if not the best rated rowing machine) you can see the footplate on the Concept 2 is set much higher and is much closer to an actual boat.

pivot point on the footplate
pivot point on the footplate

Possibly as a result of the set height, the pivot point of the foot plate is also wrong. When actually rowing, full frontstops should allow you to raise your heel slightly off the footplate, pushing away off the front portion of your foot. If you are flexible, your heel will still be in contact with the plate but your balance is forward.

The strap holds too much of my foot down and the pivot point on the Tornado has me pushing off with the rear portion of my foot, with nothing to brace my toes on. Not only is this less efficient, it’s uncomfortable and probably harmful.

(Note, I know there is discussion about remaining flatfooted on ergos and not weakening your leg drive by too much extension, but the balance of this machine is definitely heel down and wrong.)

high foot plate and longer reach of the concept 2
high foot plate and longer reach of the concept 2

The third major issue with the design is reach. Essentially, during the recovery phase of the rowing stroke, you push your arms away from your body, over your knees and then slide forward on the seat, keeping your arms out. I have long arms and a good reach in a boat but on here, the fan gets in the way.

If you have longish arms, at full reach you will collide with the fan about three-quarters slide. This can be dealt with by sitting more upright and pulling your shoulders back (sounds like good technique but actually isn’t on this machine) but it does feel more like the later strokes of a sprint start. I never feel like I achieve a full, efficient rowing stroke.

Again, the Concept 2 doesn’t have this problem with the fan being set well in front of the rower. It does cut down the overall length quite well, (by half a metre) but ultimately, I’d prefer a better configured rower.

The Noise

I read a lot of reviews before I bought this rower and all of them mentioned how noisy it was. I expected some noise but I wasn't quite prepared for the level it’s at. The resistance fan is, as you’d expect, quite loud. Imagine your washing machine, overloaded and on full spin, add a large desk fan and the cadence of storm waves on the beach and you’ll get a rough idea of the fan noise.

Jerry-rigged clip padding
Jerry-rigged clip padding

Then there are the mechanisms. The seat return clip hits the seat rail all the way back down the slide creating a clanking noise on recovery. I wrapped a paper towel round the clip and this seems to have muted the problem considerably. The chain on the pull handle is set a little too close to the plastic guard and rasps against it if you aren't perfectly aligned.

The seat sliding on the rail makes a bit of noise and clunks if you hit front stops too quickly (which you shouldn't). Also, if your hands away and reach is slightly quicker than the return mechanism, or your hands are too high on the recovery, you get a little bit of slippage on the chain which sounds like crunching the gears on a car.

The upshot is that yes, it is noisy, but you do have to expect that from an air rower. The mechanism noise is not so great but is largely an irritation drowned out by the fan. If noise is a concern, you need to be looking at magnetic resistance rowers which are much quieter. I have also padded the return clip which helps enormously.

a quick row
a quick row

Other Notes

The rowing computer is relatively basic but functional. It has 6 outputs which is ok, but lacks a split time and any kind of programmable input or tracker. It has a timer, stroke counter, stroke per minute counter, distance, calorie counter (not very good!) and speed (which also doesn't seem to work). It displays three of these at any one time. I most often have it set on distance, strokes per minute and timer.

Unfortunately, you can't see the two most important outputs at once, the SPM and the Split time. This is a major flaw on the computer display as these two are to key outputs for an efficient workout on the machine.

You would also need to either keep a note of the work outs you’ve done elsewhere or leave it on cumulative totals if you want to track your progress. The computer does need two AA batteries (not provided) but isn’t necessary to actually use the machine.

Pros and Cons

Pros:
Resistance proportional to input so you can row as hard or easy as you want.
Folds up relatively small for storage
Good price point
Smallish footprint for an air or water rower

Cons:
Cramped design for a full rowing stroke.
Footplates set too low down.
Noisy fan (as it’s an air rower)
Slightly clanky chain pull and seat return
Resistance proportional to input so you might find it difficult to gauge.
Foot plates pivot too close to the heel
Output on the monitor is basic (but functional)

Conclusion

Overall, I’d recommend this rower, simply based on price. This is clearly a reasonable machine at the price point, provided your aim is fitness only.

It is a very noisy machine, but that will be a problem for every air rower. The resistance is great, more versatile than magnetic, and much lower cost than water. The design isn’t great, but that’s a size and cost compromise.

However, if you’re looking for a combination of fitness and practice on your technique for actual on water rowing, I’d probably look elsewhere, especially if you are taller or have longer arms. The design is simply too cramped to get a full stroke and not quite laid out right to mimic a boat.

Similarly, if you’re looking for optimum efficiency when you’re rowing and don’t like to be hemmed in, this probably isn’t for you. If you’re looking for a taxing all body work out in the comfort of your own home though, give it a try!

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