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Everything You Should Know About The First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Indoor Rower [A Review]

first degree fitness newport challenge ar rower review

First Degree Fitness’s Newport Challenge AR Indoor Rower is one of the brand’s most affordable water rowing machines. At roughly $800, this powerful rower comes with plenty of specs and features that give the more expensive models a run for their money.

Highlights for the Newport Challenge include a dual water tank resistance system, a heart rate compatible monitor, and an impressive warranty.

Add this all together and you have the makings for a best in class rowing machine.

But with so many models to choose from these days, you shouldn’t take my word for it. That’s why this review will show you everything this rowing machine does and doesn’t have going for it.

After reading, you’ll know everything you need to in order to decide whether or not this is the right rower for your home gym.

The First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Indoor Rower

I wasn’t very familiar with the First Degree Fitness brand before researching their AR Newport rower. The fitness brand specializes in a pretty interesting niche- all of their exercise machines use fluid resistance.

It makes sense when you think about it- water works great for rowing machines, so why couldn’t you use the same technology to create cycles, upper body ergometers, and even strength training equipment?

Well, turns out you can.

First Degree Fitness has developed a rather immense lineup of residential and commercial grade equipment that uses water resistance.

They offer a ton of rowing machines that differ in the sophistication level of their monitors and the hardiness of their frames. They even took a page out of the WaterRower playbook, offering hardwood models as well.

The Newport Challenge is part of their “AR” lineup and is one of their most affordable (and most popular) models.


  • Adjustable resistance, dual tank system
  • Can accommodate any fitness level
  • Smooth rowing action
  • 300 lb weight capacity
  • Large screen on monitor
  • Good warranty
  • Easy assembly
  • Well priced


  • No workout programs
  • Only compatible with First Degree Fitness heart rate monitor


As a water rower, the Newport Challenge uses a water tank and a flywheel with attached paddles (3 to be exact) to create the resistance for you to row against.

Water rowers are great for people looking to recreate the feel of rowing a boat on the water. And that’s because of all the indoor rowing machines available, water rowers most closely resemble the mechanism of propelling through water (because you’re actually pulling paddles through water).

They’re also great because, just like rowing a real boat, the harder you pull, the more resistance you feel. And vice versa.

This means that technically speaking, there’s no limit to the amount of resistance they can offer. The only limit is how hard you can pull.

The Newport Challenge adds an interesting twist to their resistance system- you can adjust the overall resistance level by turning a dial on the top of the water tank.

This is where the “AR” part of the name comes from- “adjustable resistance”.

You can add or remove water from any water rower to play with the feel and overall resistance provided. But the Newport Challenge has a dual tank system that allows you to play with the water level without having to grab a hose.

There’s a dial on the top of the tank that can be adjusted from level 1 to 4 (1 being the easiest). The water is stored in an internal chamber and is then moved to the active chamber based on your resistance setting.

For example- moving from level 1 to level 2 would add more water from the storage chamber to the active chamber, thus increasing your resistance.

Decreasing from level 3 to level 2 would remove water from the active chamber.

It’s really a genius design idea. It makes it a lot more convenient to adjust the water level on your rower.

Most users agree that the rowing action on the Newport Challenge is smooth and fluid. Overall, this rower scores highly for their innovative dual tank system that makes water adjustments easier than ever.


Frame strength is an important feature to consider when looking at rowers. The last thing you want is a flimsy frame that wobbles and shakes during use.

It can be tough to figure out how tough a frame is before purchasing. The best way in my opinion is to look at the weight capacity- higher limits indicate a stronger frame (I recommend aiming for at least a 300 lb capacity).

The Newport Challenge comes with a 300 lb weight limit, which is pretty standard for a rower in this price range. If a rower in this price range didn’t have at least a 300 lb limit, that would be a big red flag.

The red color scheme makes this rowing machine noticeable from a mile away. Personally, I think it looks pretty good- sharp and energetic.

This rower uses a belt drive, which will help keep the noise down a little. Chain drives tend to last longer, but they do make a little more noise with their rattling.

The seat is contoured and most users find it pretty comfortable to row on. Nothing too exciting to say about the handle, but it’s padded and angled a little for added comfort.

The frame isn’t foldable, but it can be stored vertically, which serves the same space saving purpose.

One of the few complaints some users have had regarding this rower have to do with the foot pedals. Some find them too small and difficult to adjust.

They consist of a thin plastic and do look a bit skimpy. Otherwise, the frame of the Newport Challenge rower scores pretty highly. You shouldn’t have to worry about this rower rocking or feeling flimsy during your workouts.


A lot of home rowers come with tiny LCD “monitors” that simply track your strokes, time, and distance. Others have more advanced monitors that come loaded with workout programs and competitive racing games (like the Concept2’s PM5).

The monitor on the Newport Challenge falls somewhere in between.

The screen is fairly large, making it easy to read during workouts. It also tracks all the metrics you’d like to see on a rower, including time, distance, strokes per minute, and watts.

But it also measures 500m split time and has an input for the water resistance level that corresponds to your water tank level. This is nice because it will give you more accurate readings based on how much water you are rowing against (a lot of water rowers don’t do this).

But there aren’t any workout programs or pacing options.

There is a USB port you can use to connect the rowing machine to your computer if you want, but some users have complained that the software is really archaic

The monitor can track heart rates, but you have to buy one separately through First Degree Fitness (one isn’t included).

Overall, the monitor could use some upgrades, but it’s better than a lot of the ones you see on home rowers. It would also be nice if First Degree Fitness included the heart rate monitor with purchase.


Most users find assembling the Newport Challenge fairly straightforward. The assembly manual is pretty easy to follow, with large images and written cues for each step.

The water tank comes attached to the frame, which is nice because you don’t have to worry about doing it yourself.

Assembly really consists of just attaching the seat to the rail and the rail to the water tank section of the frame. You also have to attach the pedals and do a little fine tuning.

All the necessary tools are included.

Overall, most folks should be able to put this rower together on their own in an hour or so.


The First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Indoor Rower comes with the following warranty:

  • 5 year frame
  • 3 year tank and seals
  • 2 year parts
  • 1 year wear parts

I think this is a pretty generous guarantee for a rower in this price range. Even the more expensive rowing machines rarely offer longer than 5 years on the frame.

Two years on parts is also pretty solid, considering rowers that cost north of a thousand bucks usually max out at 3 years on parts.

Overall, I commend First Degree Fitness for offering a fair warranty on the Newport Challenge.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a true water rower that takes it pretty easy on the wallet, the Newport Challenge AR is a good choice. I think the adjustable resistance system is clever. It definitely makes it easier to adjust the intensity of your workouts based on your fitness level.

The frame is solidly built and the rowing action is smooth and consistent. I also think the warranty is generous for this price range.

The biggest downside I see is that the monitor could use a few upgrades (a few workout programs would go a long way). It would also be nice if it was compatible with other heart rate monitors.

Otherwise, this is a nice water rower for the price. I would even go as far to say that it’s one of the best water rowers available.



Will's a licensed physical therapist (DPT) with over 15 years of experience treating patients from all backgrounds. He's been lifting weights and exercising in one form or another since middle school and has been working out in his own home gym for over a decade. When it comes to fitness equipment, there isn't much he hasn't tried. In his spare time, if he isn't writing or working out, he's likely playing basketball, watching movies, or hanging with his family.

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