Classes filmed in scenic locations
No pause button
Sometimes hard to follow along when instructors are in boats
What is the Hydrow?
The Hydrow is a rowing machine, also known as an ergometer (or “erg” for short). It simulates the action of rowing a boat on the water, so people who row crew often use them for training when they can’t go on the water. Hydrow takes it up a notch, with a WiFi-connected touchscreen that streams rowing and strength workouts in classes as long as 45 minutes, in the Peloton model, for a monthly membership fee. Using a rowing machine is different than using a cardio machine like an exercise bike or treadmill because it engages more parts of the body by working the back, arms, core, and legs all at once—as close as you can get to a total-body workout on a machine, according to Harvard Health. Hydrow's instructors, for their part, will often point out mid-workout that when you are rowing on an erg, you’re activating 86% of your muscles.
How much does the Hydrow cost?
Like other connected exercise machines, you have to purchase the Hydrow machine itself—$2,245 for the least expensive package, which includes the rower and a Polar heart rate monitor. Then, you pay a subscription fee to access the classes, which, in Hydrow’s case, is $38 each month, and allows an unlimited number of accounts. You can also add on a workout kit which includes an under-machine mat, heart rate monitor, wireless headphones, and a workout kit including a foam roller, workout mat, yoga blocks, and resistance bands to the tune of an additional $169.99. There is even an option for purchasing an upright storage kit for $69.99, if you don’t have the space to have your Hydrow out all the time. The Hydrow we tested was professionally set up, and while Hydrow offers free shipping, it currently only offers contact-free delivery—in-home delivery and assembly is suspended due to COVID-19 and won’t be returning anytime soon.
If you already have your own erg at home, you can purchase the monthly class membership without having to purchase the Hydrow, by downloading the Hydrow Digital Basic app and anteing up $19.99 per month. While you can still access on-demand classes with the app, only one user profile is allowed and the only stats you can keep track of are total workout minutes. You also don’t have to purchase any monthly membership at all when you purchase the Hydrow itself, because it has a “Just Row” mode that allows you to freestyle. However, I recommend trying the membership for at least a month or two, because it allows you to experience all the unique features Hydrow offers, which, to me, is the point of investing in one.
You can finance the machine at zero interest starting at $63 per month. Its standard warranty provides five years of protection on the frame, one year of protection on its components, screen, and electronics, and one year of labor. You can also add on an extended warranty when you purchase the Hydrow, which provides one or two extra years of protection for $239 or $329.
How does Hydrow work?
Hydrow looks a little different from a classic rowing machine. The first thing you’ll notice is the attached screen at the front of the erg, which streams live or pre-recorded classes led by Hydrow’s "athletes" (the term used for its coaches or instructors) guiding you every step of the way during your workout. It also uses electromagnetic resistance instead of an enclosed water tank or mechanical resistance, which most other rowers use. This frictionless technology means a quieter workout, compared to rowers that use loud fans or water resistance tanks. All in all, this makes for a sleek, non-intimidating machine, that is easy to get the hang of.
At first, I was confused as to how to turn it on, as the only button on the machine is a volume button on the side of the screen. I ended up googling “how to turn on Hydrow,” which made me feel silly when I saw the answer—to turn it on, make sure it is plugged in, then grab hold of the handle, pull back, and it will come to life. (You can also double-tap the screen.) Still, this was a blessing in disguise. Through my Google search, I landed on Hydrow’s help desk platform, where I watched a few videos about getting started that discussed how your machine should be adjusted to your foot size and proper rowing technique. Would I have watched these if I hadn’t stumbled upon them? Probably not, because as I received a loaner unit, I'm not sure I got all the introductory materials a new purchaser would.
Unlike a treadmill or exercise bike, you can’t easily adjust your resistance while you row, because you need to use both hands the entire time. Before each workout, you can go to the settings on the screen to adjust the drag, which Hydrow automatically sets at 104, or the number it says best simulates the experience of rowing on the water for most people—and that is the setting you will be on the entire workout. Because I’m so used to treadmills and exercise bikes, it felt strange not to be able to change resistance throughout the workout. However, drag is not intended as a difficulty setting, and a heavier drag does not correspond to how strong or fit you are. Plus, the point of Hydrow is to mimic what rowing in the water feels like, which is unlikely to change that much, or at least isn't comparable to road activities where you might encounter a hill. With rowing, it’s all about how hard you’re pushing yourself, not how heavy the drag is, and Hydrow recommends against turning the drag factor way up during workouts.
What is it like to use Hydrow?
On the home screen, you can access introductory videos that walk you through how you should feel when seated, what your technique should look like, and the basics of rowing terminology. I’ve never rowed on a river before, but I’m not a complete novice when it comes to the erg. I’ve taken plenty of rowing classes at boutique fitness studios around my neighborhood, and have been utilizing them at the gym for years. Plus, I like to think that erging is in my blood—big shout-out to my mom, the 1989 erg champion at the Boston Athletic Club.
The first time I sat on the Hydrow, it recommended a 15 minute intro video, which showed an athlete on a Hydrow overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Right away, this hooked me in with the feeling of luxury and the ability to be transported to a beautiful location. (A big upgrade from the brick wall and faded carpet that I was previously staring at.)
The instructor explained what all the metrics on the screen mean—strokes per minute, your average time it takes to row 500 meters, distance rowed, calories burned, and time elapsed, and then demonstrated proper rowing technique. The 15 minutes flew by and I felt much more confident and knowledgeable about how I should be rowing and what everything on my screen meant.
What are Hydrow’s rowing classes like?
Some classes take place with instructors on Hydrows, but most of them are filmed on the water in locations like Miami Beach, Charleston, and Boston, with the athlete in a single skull (also known as a scull, or a boat that holds a single rower, where two oars are used to row). You can select your workout by instructor, length, type of workout—which include cardio pushes, strength-building classes, and interval-based rows—level of difficulty, and location, which makes it easy to customize. As I’m a native Bostononian, and both Reviewed and Hydrow’s offices are located in the heart of Cambridge, Massachusetts, it only seemed right for my first workout to be a 30-minute virtual row on the Charles River.
As the athlete was on the Charles, in an actual boat, it took away all the formality you get with other fitness apps and classes. There was no sterile room, no blank wall (or inspirational quote) behind the instructor. Instead, it was just a woman in the boat, with the scenery changing behind her, with a few shots of the crew following her in a support boat to film her from different angles. (I’ve also seen them filming in person on the Charles, and it’s pretty neat to witness.) Kayakers and other boaters pass by in the background, and at one point the instructor even had to pause and let another boat pass so there wouldn’t be a collision. During the class, I found myself enjoying what was happening in the background the most, noting familiar landmarks as we rowed down the river, like the Harvard boathouses or certain buildings I drive by on my commute.
However, as much as I loved watching the scenery, I felt that I benefited most when the athlete coaching me was also on a Hydrow. When the athletes are in skulls, they call out the strokes per minute number you should be hitting at certain intervals, but I found it much easier to match tempo and form when the athletes were on the same type of machinery as I was. And, although they aren’t on a picturesque river, the settings Hydrow chose to film these workouts are just as beautiful—my favorite was on the rooftop of a hotel in Boston overlooking the harbor. When you’re starting out on a Hydrow, I’d recommend doing these classes first, especially if you’re new to rowing.
Whether you’re taking an open-water or on the Hydrow class, both have a leaderboard on the screen. This tells you how many other people are taking the class (which ranged from 500 to 2,000 during my workouts), where you fall in that ranking, and the age, location, and username of those who you’re next to on the leaderboard (yup, similar to Peloton). I found this incredibly motivating and my eyes were glued to the leaderboard during most of my workouts. Fortunately, if you're not so driven or you need a break from obsessively watching your rank (like I did), it’s possible to hide the leaderboard.
Hydrow also offers two weekly racing challenges, where you can team up with a partner who has a Hydrow to take part virtually in either a Minutes Challenge or a Meters Challenge. The Minutes Challenge is all about total time spent on the Hydrow from Monday through Sunday; at the end of the week, the team with the most total rowing time compared to every other team of two wins. The Meters Challenge focuses on the distance rowed in a particular workout picked by Hydrow that month, and the team that posts the most total meters combined in that specific workout wins. I don’t know anyone else with a Hydrow, so I didn’t participate in these challenges (though there are plenty of Facebook groups for Hydrow rowers to build community and possibly find a teammate) but they seem like a great way for friends to keep each other accountable.
What else can you do with a Hydrow?
Rowing is obviously Hydrow’s main focus, but that’s not the only way to work out with it. It also offers off-boat cross-training classes including strength training, Pilates, yoga, stretching, and HIIT. The screen pivots from side to side to allow you to set up your mat beside the Hydrow. Of these, my favorite Hydrow workouts were its bootcamp-style classes, which combine rowing and mat work. These involve doing sprint sets on the rower, then getting off to do burpees, squats, or other types of bodyweight exercises next to the machine. This made me work just a little bit harder on the erg, because I knew I would get a chance to get off and flex some other muscles. While the erg alone activates all the main muscle groups, getting on the mat to do lunges and pushups made me feel like I was getting an even better workout.
Hydrow also offers cooldown classes, and a notification pops up at the end of every workout to remind you to do one with an option to click directly into it. Although I’m athletic, I always get lazy when it comes to cooldowns. I wouldn’t have sought out a cooldown if I had to touch a couple more buttons on the screen (yes, lazy, I know), but having the option automatically appear was a game changer. The pop-up doesn’t tell you who is leading the cooldown or where it takes place, so I found it a fun surprise to see where in the world you'll be spending your last five minutes and if it will be one of your favorite athletes coaching you after a tough workout. This also provided a great way to try out different coaches, and see what type of instruction style you liked best, without having to commit to a full class.
One of the best workouts I did during testing was a workout with a quad of athletes, or four instructors in a boat together. During the workout, you could clearly see the camaraderie and easy back-and-forth all the athletes had with each other, and it felt much more enjoyable than when just one athlete instructs. Plus, it was amazing to watch people who clearly know what they are doing, and it motivated me more to see an entire boat filled with pros working hard together.
What’s not as great about Hydrow?
One thing that consistently irked me was the feel of the handle's grip while rowing. About 10 minutes into each workout, my hands would get extremely sweaty and start sliding off the grip of the handle. Is this a major issue? Not really. But when you don’t have a proper grip, you may start compromising your form, and it’s not the easiest piece of machinery to take your hands off of mid-workout to wipe down.
What's more, I couldn't rectify the sweaty hands issue by pausing the workout to wipe my palms. Another feature that blew my mind was that I couldn’t find a pause button. On a few occasions, I was interrupted during my workouts and had to stop and get off the erg. Because there’s no pause button, I always had to get off and lose the spot where I was in the workout, as well as my data from that session, and start all over again afterwards. It was frustrating and seemed like a very basic feature that was missing.
I also felt that the fully off-boat classes weren’t quite as plentiful as they could be. The quality is there—health and fitness editor Sara Hendricks tried a lot of the Pilates classes and loved them—but the quantity is a little lacking. Even though there are 197 options for off the boat classes, most are between 10 and 15 minutes, and can be used as a warm-up, not a standalone workout. Hydrow still has some catching up to do when it comes to cardio competitor Peloton, in terms of offering more of a variety of classes, and classes that involve getting on and off the Hydrow. This will probably change over time, but, for now, the main point of the machine is to sit on it and row.
Is Hydrow worth it?
If you are unsure about your passion for rowing, and are mainly looking to get some quality cardio, you may want a different machine. Hydrow can work for beginners, but it’s hard to recommend a $2,000+ machine for someone who doesn’t have some kind of passion for rowing. However, if you love rowing—either at a relative beginner or at more advanced level—and want to improve your technique, like the idea of activating the majority of your muscles while you get a cardio workout taught by charismatic athletes, and don’t mind shelling out a hefty sum for it, the Hydrow is a great option.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Senior Social Media Manager@kateqmccarth
Kate McCarthy is a social media manager, whose main goals are to travel the world and live a life Oprah would approve of.
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