Can live classes on some of the world’s prettiest waterways really make a session on the rowing machine something to look forward to?
There’s a reason you never see a queue for a rowing machine in the gym. It’s a brutal workout, spiking your heart rate in seconds, punishing your lungs and leaving your arms and legs like jelly. It’s the exact opposite of 5km on the treadmill watching Neflix.
And it’s that short, sharp workout that makes a rowing machine ideal for home use, but interestingly, while sales of exercise bikes in the UK – also known as the Peloton effect - grew by over 2,000 per cent during the first lockdown, sales of rowing machines increased by a measly 300 per cent.
It’s an imbalance Hydrow is hoping to redress with their premium Peloton-style connected rowing machine, complete with HD screen and live coaching sessions filmed on location on some of the world’s most picturesque lakes and rivers.
They’re also quick to point out that rowing engages 86 per cent of the body’s muscles, compared to 44 per cent for cycling, and that ‘a Hydrow workout burns more calories than any other home workout’.
At 218cm long and weighing 65kg, the Hydrow is enormous. The sweeping lines of the anthracite polymer body look good, but it needs to, because unless you’ve got a dedicated home gym or large spare room, you’ll not be able to avoid looking at it. To reiterate, in the context of a four-bed London terrace, this thing is huge. You can at least store it upright, which is a weights workout in itself and there’s a wall-mounted safety strap available for £69.
Size implications aside, Hydrow is exceptionally well built. The seat and rail have 10 rollers to ensure the very smoothest ride, while the footrests are well spaced and can accommodate any sized foot. It sits a decent height off the ground, too, so you don’t feel like you’re sat on the floor, which also makes it easy to stagger up from it after a gruelling session.
The 22in HD screen sits on a hinged bracket and can be tilted up/down to make viewing comfortable when rowing, and also left/right 25 degrees for when doing supplementary yoga, strength and Pilates workouts.
Based around an Android platform, the Full HD touchscreen is crisp and responsive, and logging in and activating your profile takes a matter of minutes. The £38-per-month subscription gives you access to over 1,000 pre-recorded river and studio classes and allows for unlimited profiles. Invite the support bubble over and spread the costs?
On screen, your workout metrics are clearly displayed – just like Peloton – with a leader board on the right, duration, speed, stroke-per-minute (S/M), 500m split time, averages, total distance, calories, and heart rate (with a compatible chest strap) all clearly visible.
In stark contrast to the typical set-sweat-and-forget rowing machine experience, Hydrow is keen to teach you how to row properly, and there’s an excellent beginners guide with short, easy workouts to get you started. It’s clear that this machine is designed to be at the centre of your fitness routine, rather than something you tag on at the end to burn a few more calories.
The drag – or resistance - of the rowing machine is set to 104 (goes from 1-300), which best simulates the experience of rowing on water for most people. You can adjust how hard it is to pull, but Hydrow is keen to stress that drag is not intended as a difficulty setting.
Anyone can get on this rowing machine and workout, but unlike traditional fitness equipment, getting fitter and burning more calories means improving your technique. It turns out rowing is a whole lot more complicated than running or cycling, and getting good takes practice, not just grunt.
But with 1,000+ classes, and live sessions each week, there’s plenty of scope for practice. The majority are 20 minutes long, with a smattering of shorter cool downs and warm up rows, plus longer endurance events.