The Hydrow rower makes it feel like you’re rowing on the water | CNN Underscored
By now, most people are familiar with the benefits of a rowing machine, which offers a challenging, low-impact, yet effective total body workout. But as high-tech, connected rowers flood the market and make their way into people’s home gyms, it can be easy to forget that these machines were initially invented to help rowers train for rowing boats on the water. The Hydrow Rower ($2,495) takes the rowing workout back to its roots, featuring classes taught by instructors who, instead of broadcasting from a gym or a studio, are paddling a boat in places like the Charles River in Boston, MA or the Potomac River in Washington D.C.
Like most current connected fitness devices and machines, the Hydrow Rower requires an All-Access Membership ($44/month). And in addition to the rowing classes, this membership also includes an app with other workout formats, like strength, pilates and circuit training, which you can then take anywhere you go.
I had a blast rowing with these instructors and following along in real-world locales, but is this pricey rower right for your home gym? Here’s what we thought after spending a few weeks working out with the Hydrow Rower.
The Hydrow Rower is a sleek, premium rowing machine which pairs with a $44/month All-Access membership. Yes, it offers a kicking cardio and full-body workout, but we loved how it takes rowing back to its roots with live classes filmed at real-world locales. If may be pricey, but if you want to feel like you’re rowing on the water, this home gym rowing machine is for you.
Hydrow calls their outdoor, on-the-water rowing workouts Live Outdoor Reality, and that’s exactly what they feel like. When the class begins, you see the instructor (or two, in some cases) in their boat, oars at the ready. There are cameras on the front and back of their boat, as well as on the chase boat for wider angle shots. The instructor has a timer and a device tracking their stroke rate and that’s it; once class starts, they have to lead the workout and offer tips on technique all while navigating bridges, other boaters, chunks of ice, swans, and anything else in their path. And as if this wasn’t enough, the changes in intensity during the workouts were often synched to the excellent playlists, which make the classes really fly (or float) by.
I was super impressed by all the instructors I rowed with, who are referred to as Hydrow Athletes (and include former Olympians, World Champions and collegiate rowers). They were charismatic, engaging and on the ball. But in some cases, the instructor took a back seat to the setting. The nearly 4,000 rowing workouts currently available on the Hydrow feature cities from Boston, Tampa and Chattanooga to more exotic locales like Seward, Alaska; Prague, Czech Republic; and Bergen, Norway. And in my opinion, a sweat with a breathtaking view is much more enjoyable than one spent staring at my basement wall.
The workouts, which are broken up into three categories based on intensity (Breathe, Sweat and Drive) were challenging as well. Since the instructor is rowing on the water, there is no adjusting resistance and no cues regarding speed (AKA split, or how long it would take you to row 500 meters), though that number is featured on the screen. Instead, classes are built around changes in stroke rate, or rhythm as the Hydrow Athletes call it. This rhythm number is measured in strokes per minute and you control it by moving faster or slower up and down the slide. Again, this emphasis on rhythm as opposed to split or resistance aligns with the experience of rowing on the water, when rhythm is the only thing you can control.
Typically, rowing at a higher stroke rate is also going to mean you’re rowing faster, lowering your split (since it will take you a shorter amount of time to row 500 meters). But it is possible to row at a speedy rhythm with less than maximum power. The Ergatta calibrates your fitness level and then gives you split ranges to hit in every workout to help ensure you’re trying your hardest. After a few workouts, I was able to quickly establish a baseline to more easily determine what my split should be — and this helped me challenge myself going forward. So, like most app-based home workouts, whether it’s Peloton or the Lululemon Mirror, you’ll have to be more accountable to hold yourself to a higher standard.
Delivery, set-up and design
After ordering a Hydrow Rower, your machine is delivered, unboxed and assembled by a team of professionals, which is incredibly convenient. All you have to do is plug it in and connect it to WiFi and you’re ready to row.
In terms of design, the Hydrow’s silver body and streamlined front end give it a striking appearance. While it doesn’t feel as close to rowing on the water as the Ergatta Rower, the electromagnetic drag is smooth and responsive. The cushioned seat and handle are comfortable and I liked the thick, webbed strap that connects the handle to the rower. As mentioned, since the instructors are rowing outdoors, there’s no adjusting resistance; so as your rowing gets more powerful and consistent, it feels easier. Hydrow refers to the rower as “virtually silent,” though if you don’t use headphones you’ll likely notice a faint whirring with each stroke.
The screen rotates 25 degrees to either side so you can see it better when you hop off the rower to work out, but it doesn’t rotate as far to the side as the screen on the Echelon Row-S ($1,599). At a little over 7 feet long by 2 feet wide, the physical footprint of the Hydrow is almost identical to the Echelon Row-S and it can also be stored upright, though Hydrow requires the purchase of an Upright Storage Kit that is mounted on the wall for safe standing storage.
Clean and intuitive interface
I liked everything about the Hydrow’s interface. All the design decisions they made felt both thoughtful and user-driven. For beginners, the first thing you see on the home screen is a 15 minute welcome class, followed by two others that make up the Learn to Row section. These helpful introductory classes, coupled with the fact that the Hydrow Athletes are world-class, competitive rowers who have spent years perfecting the stroke and how to teach it, make this an excellent machine for a beginner.
The search functions are easy to use and you can either mark your favorite classes or go into your workout history and replay classes directly from that list. There’s a countdown after you press play before the actual class begins, giving you time to get comfortable and strapped in. Most of the rowing workouts (with the exception of the All in One Rows, which have a warm up, workout and cool down) don’t include a cool down, but I like that that when you’re done rowing, the app automatically feeds you a 5 minute Cool Down Row so you don’t need to seek one out. In addition to that cool down row, the Hydrow will also begin recommending classes based on your previous choices and fitness level.
Perhaps my favorite of these many thoughtful features was that the Circuit classes, which include rowing and floor exercises, show you the entire class plan before you hit play, including each exercise and the lengths of different segments. This helped me avoid a class with a lot of push ups on a day when I simply wasn’t in the mood. At 20 minutes long, the Circuit classes are also great to stack with a 10 minute row or Core Pilates workout.
In addition to rowing workouts and the aforementioned Circuit classes, which were just added to the Hydrow in January, the membership includes strength, Pilates, yoga, and mobility classes. As a fan of Pilates, I appreciated that they differentiate between Classical Pilates and classes they call Whole Body Pilates, which feature more Pilates-inspired bodyweight moves — all of which are a great addition to my rowing workouts.
The strength classes are interesting as well as challenging and the stretch/mobility classes, which focus on the muscles and body parts that require the most love after rowing, feel great. And, of course, all these different formats makes the $44 monthly membership easier to swallow.
Unlike the leaderboards on many connected fitness machines that place you based on Output, the Hydrow leaderboard is based on meters rowed. Given that the workouts are meant to simulate rowing on the water, in which your progress would be determined based on distance, this makes sense. If you were in a boat racing alongside others, your opponent might pull ahead by a few meters, only to get tired and allow you to catch up and maybe pull ahead. But translate this to a leaderboard on a rowing machine and it can get frustrating.
Likewise, if you take a few strokes off to rest on the instructor’s recommendation and the rowers around you on the board do not, be prepared to fall. During one 30 minute row, I followed the instructor and took a full minute of rest in the middle of the class — thus losing 25 spots on the leaderboard (most of which I had proudly gained during the previous set of intervals).
If you’re the type of person who hides the leaderboard or doesn’t pay much attention to it, this won’t bother you at all. But for people who do take motivation from the competition, these features may be irritating.
At over $40 per month, the membership fee for the Hydrow is not cheap. Adding insult to injury, there are only around 10 new live rowing classes per week, and many of them first air in the middle of the workday (for comparison, the Echelon Row-S has around 30 live rowing classes per week and the monthly subscription fee is $35, or less if you pay annually). Considering that they are being broadcast live from the water, this does make sense logistically. And, it must be said, none of the other class formats are broadcast live either.
There are thousands of classes in the on-demand library to choose from, so you’ll never run out of workouts, but with the Hydrow you likely won’t be able to rely on the live class experience for motivation every time you get on the rower.
In addition to the original Hydrow Rower ($2,495), Hydrow also sells the more compact Hydrow Wave Rower ($1,895). While you get access to all the same classes, the screen is smaller (16 inches versus 22 inches) and doesn’t rotate, the rower itself is 30% smaller and lighter, and the slide and track are made of less premium materials.
In price, design and class offerings, the Hydrow most closely compares to the Peloton Row ($3,195, then $44 per month). Both machines are an attractive combination of silver and black, both have a screen that swivels and both offer access to classes in other exercise formats as part of the monthly membership (which costs the same). The biggest difference lies in the rowing classes themselves; on the Peloton Row, the instructors teach from a studio and the Hydrow Athletes teach from the water. In fact, the only other rowing machine that does water-based classes is the NordicTrack RW900 Rower ($1,999). The Peloton Row does give you more personalized workout guidance in the form of personal pace targets and form assistance, which could make up for the discrepancy in price.
As an avid rower, I felt that the rowing classes lived up to the hype and worth the higher cost. The Hydrow Athletes are engaging, motivating and fun to be with and the workouts themselves are challenging. I enjoyed the other class formats as well, particularly the Pilates classes, and the interface was intuitive and easy to navigate. Physically, the machine is attractive and feels good to row — plus you don’t need to assemble it yourself.
All that said, the price is high (only the Peloton Row, at $3,195, is more expensive), as is the monthly membership fee. If you have a limited budget, you can get a well-built rower like the Echelon Row-S that offers engaging and challenging workouts for less. But if you want workout videos that put you in a rowing boat on the water, plus let you travel around the world while you’re doing it, you can’t do better than the Hydrow Rower.