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Is the Hydrow the rowing machine’s answer to Peloton?

It certainly looks the business, but does the rower aid whole-body health?

Jon Axworthy
Wednesday 28 April 2021 06:00
<p>This immersive rowing machine could be set to disrupt the home fitness market</p>

This immersive rowing machine could be set to disrupt the home fitness market

Rowing is a sport unlike any other. A lung-burning, gut-busting workout, where you push yourself to your physical limit, while being shouted at by a diminutive sadist, otherwise known as the cox.

A good indoor rower, or ergo, should be able to replicate that experience (minus the shouting) to deliver the same stand out strength and cardio benefits, without having to get your feet wet.

For many years, Concept 2 has been the leading light, populating the arena floors of ergo competitions, as well as being the go-to training machine for Olympian rowers. However, that dominance has recently been challenged by a number of machines aiming to replace the established rowing experience with something more motivational and connected in the form of live training sessions and on-demand content.

The Hydrow by Crew is the latest machine aiming to do this. A brainchild of former US national team coach, Bruce Smith, it was recently launched in the UK, after disrupting the home fitness market across the pond – aiming to do for the ergo what Peloton did for the stationary cycle.

So, if you’re a rower interested in whether the Hydrow could add an extra dimension to your training, or you think that a rowing workout is what’s missing from your fitness regime, we take a seat and get out on the virtual water.

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Hydrow rower

Buy now: £2,295, Hydrow.co.uk

Design and footprint

Hydrow aims to set itself apart from the ergo crowd right out of the box with a modernist look, crafted from aluminium and steel. The dynamic styling is possible because of its resistance source, which is achieved via magnetic resonance. So, rather than a large, unruly flywheel spoiling the sleek lines its re-engineering means that the machine relies on computer controlled electromagnetism to deliver the all important drag effect of the oars through water.

This means that everything can be housed within the rower’s body – and this design focus is welcome news because ergos aren’t always the most beautiful objects to look at. So, if you don’t have a dedicated room for gym equipment and are looking to locate the rower in a front room or bedroom instead, the Hydrow can actually add something to the space rather than stick out like a sore thumb.

Even though it’s a machine with a big footprint, it doesn’t feel like it takes over a room and its dimensions of 86 inches by 25 inches can be accommodated quite easily. If space is a concern then the Hydrow can be stored using an upright storage kit, (£69.99. Hydrow.co.uk), which sees the machine rest on its end using the front legs and bow as a tripod so that it can stand vertically and be secured to the wall via a strap and wall bracket.

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In place of the regular performance monitor is a 22in touchscreen on a hinged bracket, which adds to the modern feel and look of the machine and is the interface that you will use to interact with the various online content, as well as track your own metrics.

The realism

All ergos stand or fall on how successfully the machine makes each stroke feel like you’re actually out on the water and the Hydrow didn’t disappoint in this crucial area.

The machine uses an algorithm, which feathers the resistance up to 240 times a second to make the catch and drive sections of the rowing stroke, (where the oars are pulled back through the water), feel very realistic. It made us feel like training on the Hydrow would translate very closely to sitting and propelling a rower on the water.

The electromagnetism actually fights back, creating more drag, so the harder you row, exactly what happens if you’re crewing a boat. You can adjust the drag, via the touchscreen – it’s pre-set at 104, which mimics the feel of a two-person boat, but it goes all the way up to 300, so there’s plenty of scope to progressively overload your workouts to improve strength, fitness and technique.

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Ergonomically, the rowing action is very smooth, and the webbed strap and foam handle contribute to the comfort factor, which means that you can just concentrate on what’s going on via the touchscreen and your own technique.

The comfortable padded seat glides back and forth on ten rollers and makes finding and maintaining good form during your workout very easy.

The connected content

The Hydrow looks (and feels) like the next stage in the glamorisation of rowing – whether that’s a good thing, might depend on your own preferences.

In place of the infamous performance monitor is the 22in display and finding your way to the home screen library means that you can scroll through tutorials and over 1000 classes. They’re divided into Breath (easy), Drive (endurance) and Sweat (maximum effort), filmed out on the water and you will also see any upcoming live rows.

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All the classes come with their own soundtracks, played through the very decent built in speakers. Once you choose a workout you will be transported out on to the water with a third-person view of your coach who will begin by explaining very clearly all the metrics that you will see at the bottom of the screen – including data like your 500m split time, metres covered, estimated calories burned, remaining time and heart rate.

Running down the right side of the screen is a leader board, which you can filter by gender and age group, or collapse completely if you just want to concentrate on your own boat and not worry about how other people are doing.

We enjoyed the “journeys” option, which puts you in a boat out on some very famous stretches and expanses of water from the Nile to Loch Ness. You can browse and filter on-demand workouts by duration, workout type (drive, sweat, breathe, warm-up, cooldown, journeys, learn to row, and on the mat), location and athlete.

Speaking of the coaches, or “athletes” as Hydrow calls them, we found that they have been very carefully curated to produce a line-up who clearly know what they’re talking about and are obviously rowers themselves, rather than just personal trainers who have swapped the studio for a boat.

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Having said that, if you like certain teaching styles or are used to the high-energy approach (aka shouty) that are popular on other online fitness platforms then there is an athlete waiting for you.

Plenty of these other rowing platforms teach outdoors on the water, but they don’t seem to do it quite as well as Hydrow. For example, we really liked the third-person perspective because it made the workout engaging and also seeing the athlete in the boat allows you to work on your technique by copying theirs.

It also allows you to try and match their stroke rate, which is a fantastic motivational tool and one of the best ways to make sure you’re getting the whole body health benefits that are the ultimate object of the machine.

The verdict: Hydrow rowing machine

If you’re the kind of person who always gives the rower a wide berth in the gym then the Hydrow could be the gateway to an entirely new route to improve your cardio and your fitness in one shot.

What puts many people off is that rowing is an indisputable technical type of fitness, but the third person view of the workouts that populate the online content really is a game-changer, as by mirroring movement and stroke rate you can work on technique and fitness at the same time.

The quality of the workout content on offer is excellent and the realistic action of the rower itself combines to make this a premium fitness product that, for once, justifies a premium price.

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Replicate a water workout with the best tried and tested at-home rowing machines

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