First Degree Fitness (FDF) was founded in 2000 and quickly became a global brand of fitness equipment. This company is focused exclusively on rowing machines and upper-body ergometers, and all of its fitness machines use water resistance. Their patented water tanks have between four and 20 preset resistance settings. First Degree Fitness has various lineups to serve home gyms, light commercial gyms, commercial fitness centers and medical settings.
First Degree Fitness offers a wide selection of rowing machines and upper-body trainers. The five series are the Vortex Fluid Rowers, Evolution Fluid Rowers, the Horizontal Series Rowers, Evolution Upper Body Ergometers and the Medical Device Directives. Altogether there are about two dozen options and the differences among models are sometimes subtle. Here is a summary:
- Generally speaking the Vortex and Evolution Fluid Rower series feature traditional water rowing machines for club use. They have 16 to 20 preset resistance levels.
- Most units in the the Horizontal Series are for home or light commercial use, although there commercial options. These rowing machines are especially easy to store. They have four powerful resistance levels each. The Horizontal Series is the only collection from FDF with some wooden-framed options.
- The Evolution Upper Body Ergometers are designed for everything from home use to industrial use. Some have removable chairs to allow wheelchair access. One hybrid model in this collection can be used for the lower body or upper body.
- Some of the machines in the Medical Device Directives series look similar to the upper-body ergos and Evolution rowers. However, they are slightly upgraded to meet European Union criteria for medical equipment.
- Compact Size: Many of the FDF machines can be folded or require little space when in use. The E720 Cycle XT, for instance, is a two-in-one machine (a bike and a rower) with a footprint of 48” x 37”. All of the Horizontal Series rowers are designed for vertical storage.
- Water Resistance: Water resistance is a top choice for low-impact aerobic exercise, and First Degree Fitness lets people choose from different resistance levels. With other brands the resistance level responds to the user’s effort.
- Upper Body Training: The rowing machines of course train the whole body. With traditional rowing machines though, the legs are actually the focus. The upper body ergometers from First Degree Fitness help train the upper body. Their pedals can be used in two directions and at different heights to isolate different muscle groups.
- Data and Entertainment: First Degree Fitness uses several different monitors. Their most advanced computer has heart rate monitoring and preset programs. Many of their rowers have USB ports for free app integration too. One of the top apps connects trainees for virtual racing.
- Wooden Frames Available: This is one of few brands offering wooden frames.
- High Capacity: A typical maximum capacity for this brand is 330 pounds.
- Good Warranties: A typical First Degree Fitness warranty covers the frame for five or ten years, the water tank for three years, and mechanical parts for two years. Wear parts are covered for one year.
- Customer Service: First Degree Fitness customer service is not readily available by phone.
- Overpriced: Sometimes the prices for FDF rowers seem too high. We’d like to see more expensive components on some of the Horizontal Series rowers in particular. A leading brand to see for comparison is WaterRower.
- Maintenance Required: First Degree Fitness uses the phrase “virtually maintenance free” a lot. Still, their cheaper water rowers use bungee cords instead of chain drives, and these need to be tightened for consistency. For the home models and commercial equipment alike it’s recommended that the belts be checked monthly.
First Degree Fitness has cornered the market on durable upper body ergometers, and it reaches the physical therapy crowd with its specially certified medical collection. For traditional water rowers though, this brand has some strong competition from WaterRower in the residential and commercial markets.