First Degree Fitness Vortex VX-3 Fluid Rower

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330 lbsWater,
20 levels
Frame: 10 years
Tank: 3 years
Seals: 3 years
Mechanical: 2 years
Wear: 2 years

The First Degree Fitness Vortex VX-3 fluid rower is quite similar to the FDF E-520 model that we’ve previously reviewed here. There are very few differences between the two units. For example, the VX-3 features a unified heel guard for the footrests, and ovalized bars for the main rail, while the E-520 has square rail side bars. Nonetheless, it’s a commercial standard rowing machine, offering training possibilities for users of all levels.

Technical Details and Specifications

  • Assembled dimensions: 74.8L x 31.5W x 33.5H (190L x 80W x 85H cm)
  • Assembled weight: 148 lbs (67 kg)
  • Supported weight: 330 lbs (150 kg)
  • Frame: Aluminum / steel
  • Footrests: Adjustable, with straps
  • Resistance type: Water, adjustable (20 levels)
  • Fitness computer: Time, distance, strokes per minute, watts, calories/hour, 500m split time, HR capable, USB port, online connectivity
  • Warranty: Frame 10 years / Tank and seals 3 years / Mechanical 2 years / Wear parts 2 years

Frame construction and parts

The First Degree Fitness Vortex VX-3 rowing machine features a frame that combines aluminum and steel components. The dual seat rails are made of anodized aluminum while the rear base and the front part of the frame which sustains the water tank are made of steel tubing. The metallic parts in the frame construction feature a non-corrosive coating finish, gray for the steel parts and light silver for the aluminum rails.

This rowing machine features an extremely sturdy and stable construction. To begin with, it can support users up to 330 lbs (150 kg). It’s rear and front bases feature rubberized caps which provide an excellent grip on the floor preventing the machine to slide forward or backward when in use.

The frame does not fold as for the LifeCore R90, for example. However, the front part of the frame offers the possibility to store the machine vertically. When stored vertically, its footprint is 31.5″ x 33.5″ (80 x 85 cm), so the storage area shouldn’t take more than 2′ x 2′. However, when in the usage position, it does require quite a bit of space, especially lengthwise. It’s 74.8″ (190 cm) long, and 31.5″ (80 cm) wide, and it’s recommended to leave at least two feet of clearance all around it for safe and unhindered operation. Also, in case you’re wondering, the water can remain in the tank when the unit is stored vertically.

The FDF VX-3 rower is also fairly heavy. With water in the tank, it weighs more than 150 lbs. However, the front base bars integrate transport wheels, so moving the unit shouldn’t be too difficult.

The machine’s seat features a contoured surface and incorporates a layer of padding, in order to provide optimal comfort. It glides on a dual rail system. The base of the seat is equipped with a set of 4 heavy-duty, low friction rollers, which offer a very smooth, almost silent glide. The rollers are concealed, moving on the inside parts of the rails, which increases the safety of the ride.

The seat is situated at the average office seat height, offering the possibility of an easy entry and exit. This feature can be extremely useful for elderly users, or users with certain disabilities. Also, a backrest option is available for this seat; however, the backrest accessory is not included.

The machine’s pulling handle features a slight curvature in order to allow a more natural positioning of the hands and to minimize the lateral stress on the wrists. Its grips are made of high-density foam material, delivering excellent comfort. The handle is attached to a heavy-duty nylon strap.

The footrests are equipped with adjustable straps and with a unified heel guard, in order to provide maximum foot stability during rowing. They’re attached to a metallic plate which is directly welded to the front part of the frame. Therefore, the angle of the footrests cannot be adjusted. However, their 45° degree angle placement provides an optimal and natural foot positioning.

Water tank & resistance

The First Degree Fitness Vortex VX-3 rowing machine is equipped with a water tank similar to the E-520 model. It’s a highly durable, polycarbonate tank featuring a storage chamber and an active chamber. The dial on top allows you to adjust the volume of water in the active chamber, thus adjusting the overall resistance of the machine. 

This rower provides 20 levels of resistance. The first levels offer feather light resistance, perfect for elderly users, warm-ups or users who require recovery training. Conversely, the highest settings offer Olympic resistance, delivering the training settings required by professional athletes.

Since it’s a fluid rower, the rowing motion features a dynamic response. In other words, regardless of the selected resistance setting, the tension of each stroke varies with how fast and hard you pull the handle. This is one of the reasons this machine is recommended to professional athletes, as the resistance generates resembles rowing through the water.

The flywheel/impeller inside the water tank is made of stainless steel. It’s designed to deliver a perfect catch, a consistent resistance through the rowing motion and a feel similar to rowing a real boat.

The active recoil system facilitates a rapid stroke rate via extended bungee length and precision (German INA) dual one-way bearings. The rower’s drive system integrates a durable belt drive, smooth, clean, quiet and maintenance free. However, the operation of the machine does generate some noise, it is far less noisy than an air rower, such as the Concept 2, for example.

Ergometer unit

The ergometer included with the FDF Vortex VX-3 rowing machine is an advanced unit. To begin with, it features a multi-panel LCD display, which means it can show all your workout statistics simultaneously. This being said, you don’t have to continuously scroll through the values to lock the ones you’re interested in on the screen. It displays all data required by a professional rower, including time, distance, speed, heart rate, watts, calories, revolutions per minute, strokes per minute, and 500/m units. Distance can be displayed in miles or km, while speed in MPH or km/h.

The ergometer unit is capable of monitoring the user’s heart rate, but in order to do this, an additional heart rate kit is required. This kit, along with a chest strap transmitter, is not included with the rower.

The machine’s tank features 20 distinctive levels of resistance, the console unit also has 20 levels of intensity. Therefore, it’s recommended to correlate the level on the console with the selected water level on the tank, in order to benefit from a correct reading of calories, watts, and other parameters.

The fitness meter offers several onboard, interval-based workout programs and goal setting functions for time and distance. It also has a 6 previous workout memory and a unique pacer system.

But the best part about this computer unit is its online connectivity. The unit has a USB port which makes available its connection to a computer. Differently put, you can connect it to your PC or laptop via USB cable, in order to use various compatible online apps, such as the NetAthlon 2 XF for Rowers, in order to compete with others or train solo in a virtual 3D environment, record your progress, and access web-based logging and ranking systems.

The console unit is battery powered and requires 2 AA batteries.

Assembly and Maintenance

The front part of the VX-3 Vortex fluid rower comes already assembled. Differently put, the water tank, the other resistance and drive elements, the footrests, the pulling handle and the console are already attached to the front part of the frame. Thus, you only need to assemble and attach the dual rail, the seat and the rear base stabilizers. This shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes. All the tools required for the assembly are included, along with a funnel and hose for filling up the tank, are included, while the supplied manual provides excellent assembly instructions.

Maintenance requires you to periodically add a chlorine pill into the water tank to prevent the formation of algae. The chlorine pills are included. Also, it’s recommended to periodically check the integrity of the machine, check for loose or broken bolts and parts and re-tighten / replace them if it’s the case.

The Pros

  • Sturdy construction, commercial-grade construction;
  • High user capacity, up to 330 lbs (150 kg);
  • Dual aluminum rails for extra stability;
  • Superior aesthetics;
  • Rubberized stabilizers which provide an excellent grip on the floor;
  • Transport wheels integrated into the front stabilizers;
  • Can be stored vertically, and the water doesn’t require to be removed for storage;
  • Water resistance system, providing the most natural rowing feel that you can get;
  • Dual-chamber water tank, with 20 distinctive water resistance levels, from feather-light to Olympic level;
  • Contoured and padded, ergonomically designed seat;
  • Backrest for extra lumbar support optional;
  • Office seat placement for an easy entry and exit; 
  • Advanced, multi-panel fitness computer, that tracks time, 500m time, pulse, distance, strokes per minute, watts, RPMs, and calories;
  • USB connection, for online workout data tracking, or competing with other rowers;
  • Smooth and quiet operation;
  • Little maintenance required;
  • Easy to assemble;
  • Tools for assembly included;
  • Excellent warranty.

The Cons

  • Heart rate kit is not included;
  • The ergometer doesn’t have backlight.


The First Degree Fitness Vortex VX-3 is a gym-grade fluid rower, featuring a durable construction, a twin-chamber tank with 20 levels of resistance and an advanced ergometer which covers all the necessary workout metrics and has online connectivity. It’s an excellent cardio machine for users of all levels, from beginners to Olympic level athletes. It’s perfect for interval training, light to intense cardio, muscle toning, endurance and strength development, and of course, for weight loss. A workout on this rowing machine involves multiple muscle groups, including deltoids, rhomboids, biceps, paraspinals, hamstrings, quads and glutes.

With regards to the price, the Vortex VX-3 rower is not exactly one of the most affordable fitness machines. But real quality never comes cheap. In all, the machine offers an outstanding value for the price.

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