’ve never been one for indoor cycling or running on a treadmill, especially when it’s sunny outside and I could be plodding or pedalling through the park. But there’s something about sweating through 15 minutes on Hydrow’s indoor rowing machine that feels like a workout and an adventure in one - especially when I can spend my lunch break gliding across Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire rather than the same four streets outside my flat (admittedly, my tanned, six-foot-something instructor, Nick, improves the view a little, too).
It’s a Tuesday lunch time in London and I’m lucky enough to be one of the first to try the latest addition to the new wave of at-home fitness status symbols: Hydrow’s £2,300 high-tech indoor rowing machine, offering more than 2,000 live and on-demand ‘outdoor reality’ workouts for £38 a month. It’s sleek, futuristic-looking and much quieter than the traditional Concept2 rowing machines you’ll find in most gyms. Think of it as Peloton for rowing, but a little bit larger for fitting in your living room (it’s 2.2m long).
Peloton might count Michelle Obama and Rishi Sunak among its disciples but Hydrow is already hot on its heels when it comes to attracting A-listers. The connected rowing startup launched in the US in 2017 and raised $25 million in funding last year alone, with Emmy-nominated producer and actor Kevin Hart brought in as the company’s creative director and members of the US national rowing team among the crew of elite instructors.
TIME Magazine recently named Hydrow as one of the Best Inventions of 2020 and now the high-tech fitness machine has washed up on British shores. It launched in the UK on World Water Day last month and the celebrity endorsements are already rolling in. Strictly star Gorka Marquez and Ellie Goulding and her husband Caspar Jopling (who rowed at Harvard) are among those to join Hydrow’s cross-pond UK crew so far.
The company might be based in the US (founder Bruce Smith is a former USA Rowing national team coach and most instructors are American) but the machine can take you to waterways across the world. Thanks to a patented algorithm-based, electromagnetic and computer-controlled drag mechanism, Hydrow recreates the feeling of rowing directly on the water - and thanks to a 22” HD screen it’ll look like it too.
Select your location from the 2,000+ workout library and you can row past flocks of geese in Boston, dolphins in Miami and cargo tankers in San Francisco Bay. If you fancy something closer to home, try one of dozens of workouts filmed around the UK, from a sunrise paddle past the London Eye to sprints down the rowing straight in Henley-on-Thames. Some workouts are filmed on Hydrows next to the water, but most are filmed on the water itself (on Hydrow-branded rowing boats, of course).
As a former rower, my row down the Thames took me back to my university days, taking the pace up to a 28 for 30-second sprints and adjusting the direction to row under bridges (them, not me, thank goodness). That said, workouts are reassuringly non-intimidating. If you’re a newbie to rowing, you won’t be for long. A 15-minute intro workout takes you to the banks of Lake Winnipesaukee while friendly instructor, Nick, also on a Hydrow machine, talks you through the motions and metrics to keep an eye on.
A quarter of an hour might not sound like long, but if you’ve ever attempted a session on the rower in the gym, you’ll know that’s plenty. The rowing machine is one of the hardest pieces of fitness kit, promising to work 86 per cent of your muscles (legs, back, arms, core) - nearly double that for cycling and running. If you don’t believe the experts, believe the stats on the screen in front of you: you can burn up more than 600 calories in a 30-minute session.
The beauty of rowing is it’s also low-impact, so better on your body than pounding the pavements, and a strength workout as well as cardio. If don’t fancy quite such an endorphin-rush, Hydrow also offers everything from meditative, restorative rows to workouts that get you off the machine and onto a mat for stretching and strength training.
Like Peloton, there’s an expert feel to every session. All Hydrow workouts are coached by world-class athletes, including a selection from the US national rowing team, and just like your favourite spin instructor you’ll get to know their personality and preferences.
Out on the water, everything is on the table for conversation, from their own personal struggles to their favourite foods - a throwback to my university rowing days when the cox chatted you through those early-morning rowing outings (the upside is with Hydrow you can adjust their speaking volume against the backing music).
And just like real-life rowing, Hydrow brings a degree of the unexpected. You’ll have chance encounters with boats, sea creatures and other surroundings as you sightsee and sweat through oar-some (sorry) destinations across the globe.
Of course, there’s the competitive element of being on the water too. Thanks to Hydrow’s leaderboard, you can compete in real-time with other users across the world, from Lenny558 in Colorado to other Londoners new to the Hydrow family. The £38-a-month subscription might sound like a lot on top of an already high-end machine, but the beauty of splitting the cost with your housemates is you can compete against them, too.
If you need an extra dose of motivation, every row counts towards a donation to Water.org, an organisation that brings clean, safe water to the developing world.
Like all modern fitness platforms, there’s an app to go with it. Hydrow’s app allows you to take workouts on-the-go, interact with the community and track your progress, and the company offers a Digital Basic membership for £19.49 a month for anyone interested in having access to the app without the specific Hydrow machine.
So is it worth the money? If you’re looking to invest in a single piece of home workout kit, I’d say yes - but perhaps I’m biased as a former rower who always feels happiest by water. Being transported from one sweaty living room to another sweaty studio has never held much appeal for me, whereas Hydrow is an experience I couldn’t get in a studio - or anywhere, unless I joined an expensive rowing club and risked the great British weather (and faff of getting the boat ready). If immersive fitness is about escapism, Hydrow blows all the others out of the water.