A muscle-bound and joyful young man is cutting down the Charles River like a water strider. His chipper banter distracts you briefly from the whir of an internal flywheel and a constant stream of numbers—split times, speed, strokes per minute—helps keep up the momentum. With a little more push, a little more pull, you climb up a constantly changing leaderboard while the happy, glowingly healthy man talks about James Bond, his climbing experience, and how nice the river is. You breeze through a 20-minute workout that is one part pep talk, one part HIIT workout, and one part race. That’s what rowing is like with the Hydrow and I love it.
The Hydrow is basically a Peloton for rowing. It’s a sleek, well-designed machine with a 22-inch touchscreen display and rugged foot clamps for strapping yourself down. Everything about the $2,245.00$2,245.00 system is automated, from the timing to the resistance, and the service, which costs $456 a year or $38 a month, keeps you energized and eager to return. The UI, a reskinned version of Android, offers multiple profiles for family members and shows you new and archived workouts, most of which max out at about 20 minutes although there are a few 15-minute workouts and fewer 30-minute ones. You can participate in the workouts live if you plan accordingly and the hosts will shout out birthdays and leaderboard positions for an added bit of interactivity.
The whole kit is basically a high- to mid-range rowing machine coupled with an online service. The device itself looks sort of like a Venetian gondola that’s prepared to take you to the stars. The sweeping front prow terminates in the large and bright screen and there is an ergonomic handle and strap that connects to the hidden flywheel. Two large and sturdy foot pads make it easy to lock into the machine and although if you have long legs (and an overhanging belly) it’s a bit hard to grab the handle while seated.
To use the system you create an account and pick a row. Most of them run for 20 minutes and the target strokes-per-minute time is something between 24 and 30. This means you’ll get a solid cardio workout—I’ve gotten regularly winded on this thing - as well as a nice leg and arm workout depending on the resistance you set in the row menu.
Hydrow has a stable of eleven instructors who run you through various exercises. Most of them are HIIT-style workouts that encourage sessions of rapid rowing intermixed with cooldowns. They film the athletes in various locales including Boston’s Charles River and the canals of Miami. They even shot a series in Loch Ness, although they never found the monster. The workouts are folksy and calm, with none of the flash and overproduction of Pelton classes. This is basically a video of someone on the water and the multiple angles and helpful banter keep you engaged and interested.
As with Peloton, whose monthly fee is just a dollar more, the video workouts are what makes Hydrow shine. You can get a regular rowing machine for about $300 online, though with fewer levels of resistance and none of the Hydrow’s visual appeal. This is a very pretty rowing machine. It is quite sleek and the hidden flywheel is far safer than the models with exposed flywheels or water canisters.
The rower is almost completely silent thanks to the hidden flywheel and the glider seat is surprisingly smooth. Because the whole thing is self-contained it’s far more fashionable and might meld with your decor better than, say, a rower that looks like an Erector Set on steroids. Just don’t get this if you’re in a studio apartment.
But the 145lb machine is huge at seven feet long and there’s none of the fancy delivering you get from Peloton. Instead, it’s just left at your front door and you handle moving it inside, and setting it up, yourself. If you live alone best invite a friend over. At least you can store it by lifting up the back and leaning it against a wall but, as you can see in my photos, the Hydrow will be hogging a lot of floor space.
The real draw, as I said before, is the content available. Because the athletes record a few workouts a week there is always something fun to try. Because rowing is a lonely sport there is no shouting out directions or heavy techno music in these videos, just the steady beat of the oars against the water and the patter of the presenters. Like Peloton and other workout gadgets with a screen strapped to a traditional piece of gym equipment, there are a number of non-rowing workouts, as well, including yoga, pilates, and strength training that happen on or off the Hydrow.
The onscreen leaderboard will be familiar to fans of similar exercise services. While rowing you get an up-to-the-minute view of who you’re competing with including their age ranges and locations. It’s unclear how some of these folks are managing to get such amazing distances and split times—I only once cracked the top 20 in a race with a few hundred rowers—but it’s amazing to sneak up a few spots as you go.
The Hydrow has become a family favorite with our 14-year-old hopping on regularly and my wife using it almost daily. As an injured runner and sentient blob of cookie dough, I like hopping on the Hydrow knowing I’ll get a good workout in without much impact on my joints.
Now for the bad news: damn, this thing is expensive. The kit costs about $2,500 with a years’ subscription. This isn’t far off from similar devices like the Peloton everyone keeps talking about. The subscription is Hydrow’s way of locking you into its hardware and recouping the cost of filming eleven athletes in exotic locations around the world. From a financial standpoint, Peloton’s model—expensive hardware and fairly expensive content—is a smart one simply because it allows investors to see the company and the product as a source of regular cash flow rather than a single purchase. Their gain, as it were, is your loss.
Ultimately, however, this is all about rowing and the pleasure of watching a strong human glide along the water like an otter while getting fit in the process. While it doesn’t beat a jaunt on the Danube in a scull made of cedarwood, the Hydrow is almost the next best thing.
- It’s pricey.
- Like really pricey.
- But its also an absolute pleasure to use and much easier on the joints that similar (Peloton) equipment.