If hours spent trudging on treadmills has soured your relationship with cardio kit, allow us to introduce the Hydrow. This rowing machine does away with the monotonous reputation of endurance workouts by adding a sense of fun and accomplishment to your exercise sessions.
Through its Live Outdoor Reality technology, displayed on a 22” touchscreen display, it transported us to some of the world’s most scenic rivers and lakes for challenging rowing workouts. It provides an opportunity to learn, too, with a collection of elite athletes and former Olympians acting as your coaches. Each one offered an insight into improving our rowing performance with tips applicable to all ability levels, such as subtle form cues or ways to optimize your start. We rate it as one of the best rowing machines (opens in new tab), although it didn't quite nick the top spot.
Dimensions: 218cm/86” (L) x 63cm/25” (W) x 119cm/47” (H)
Smart features: Yes
Workouts: More than 3,000 via the Hydrow app
Warranty: Five years (structural frame and upright storage kit), 12 months (components, screen and other electronics), 12 months (labor).
If you’re wondering why you should choose the Hydrow instead of looking at the best exercise bikes 2022 (opens in new tab) or checking out the best treadmills 2022 (opens in new tab), it’s worth reading our guide to the 10 benefits of using a rowing machine (opens in new tab) to find out why this bit of equipment can have the edge over its competitors.
First and foremost, while static bikes and running machines primarily target the lower body, rowing offers a total-body exercise. In fact, an English Institute Of Sport Study published in the journal Medical Science in Sports & Exercise (opens in new tab) found that each stroke engages 86 percent of muscles.
This is a point the Hydrow prides itself on, and rightfully so. By the end of a half-an-hour “Technique + Power” session on a virtual version of Scotland’s Loch Ness, both our muscles and circulatory system (opens in new tab) felt well and truly worked.
The machine itself is smooth, comfortable and near-silent in use, with the magnetic resistance proving quieter and more neighbor-friendly than air resistance rowers like the all-conquering Concept 2 RowErg (opens in new tab).
The absence of a 'just row' option (unless you pause or cancel your active membership) may not suit seasoned rowers looking to follow a preset training program. However, beginners and those looking to further their fitness will thrive on the Hydrow, with the opportunity to learn, likable instructors and stunning virtual surroundings making it easy to forget you’re exercising at all.
Price and release date
The Hydrow Rower is available now and retails at $2,850 in the US or £2,040 in the UK. You can also purchase an all-access membership to the Hydrow app for $38/month or £38/month, giving you access to more than 3000 live and on-demand classes.
The most impressive design feature of the Hydrow is how smooth each stroke feels. The resistance is computer-controlled, relying on an electromagnetic drag system. We’ve previously found that air and water rowers offer a more realistic rowing experience, but the magnet-based Hydrow proved to be the exception to the rule.
Its industrial-grade webbed strap (rather than the usual chain) moved seamlessly, and our grip didn’t feel fatigued on longer rows thanks to the ergonomic handle. The seat sits quite high for a rowing machine and has a healthy amount of cushioning, while its 10-roller system moves smoothly along the railing, ensuring we maintained a comfortable rowing position throughout.
The machine has to be plugged into a mains power outlet and connected to the internet to work. Hydrow advises placing it as close to your WiFi router as possible to improve performance, though the 3.5 meter power cord means it doesn’t need to be too close to a wall outlet.
In terms of aesthetics, the Hydrow bears more resemblance to a spaceship than a conventional rowing machine. Its tick-shaped body, rounded edges and large screen form a sleek silhouette. This futuristic design may split opinion but we found ourselves firm fans, deciding it offered a stylish alternative to the average bulky exercise machine.
This design does mean it’s on the larger side, however. It’s more than two meters long and, unlike many magnetic rowers, isn’t foldable, so finding a space to accommodate it can be tricky. Nevertheless, this does make it easier to assemble.
When delivered it arrives in just three pieces – the body, front stand and screen. These are connected with eight easy-to-use screws (four for connecting each element) and that’s all there is to the setup. If you don’t want to risk making a mistake, you can pay extra to have it installed.
The machine is quite heavy (approximately 145lb/66kg) and somewhat cumbersome on account of its size, but wheels on the front stand mean you can tip it up and roll it into your position of choice fairly easily before getting started.
Ease of use
After you’ve plugged the rower in and turned it on, using a switch on the front stand, everything is controlled using a responsive touchscreen. If you have plenty of experience using a smartphone or tablet then you’ll be able to take to this intuitive system like a duck (or boat) to water.
We felt comfortable navigating the home screen within moments of switching it on, and were instantly able to sift through Hydrow’s huge selection of workouts using filters such as duration, workout type, coach and location. However, if you do need a helping hand getting started, there’s a useful video tutorial available titled 'navigating Hydrow’s homescreen'.
The video tutorials don’t end there, with further short instructional clips on 'how to row', 'setting your drag', 'optimizing your output', 'rowing with a team' and 'taking care of your Hydrow'. Combine this with beginner sessions, in which clued-up coaches (including the likes of team USA Olympian Aquil Abdullah) talk you through how to improve your technique and understand the metrics on the machine, and you’ve got a complete introduction to indoor rowing.
We found this thorough induction helped us nail down how to use a rowing machine (opens in new tab) properly, before we went onto more advanced classes, making the Hydrow a great fit for beginners or anyone interested in improving their rowing.
Functionality and performance
Ironically, the thought of a lengthy endurance workout has historically sent many exercisers running for the metaphorical hills. What we love most about the Hydrow is its ability to freshen up the classic cardio formula and provide a fun, engaging workout that will keep you coming back for more.
Yes, it follows the Peloton-popularized model of adding smart-tech to exercise machines, but we feel it goes one step further. Rather than just strapping in for a grueling sweat session, instructors encourage you to focus on form in order to improve your technique and performance, helping us stay engaged throughout the workout (if your form fails, your speed will soon follow). Alongside the stunning virtual rows, this made for an altogether more immersive experience than a standard on-screen studio session.
Instructors advise you on the number of strokes per minute you should be hitting at different stages of each session, while also offering advice on how to 'optimize your output' (lower your average time to complete 500 meters or, in layman’s terms, increase your speed).
During a half-an-hour interval row under moody Scottish skies, it was easy to forget we were at our testing site and not speeding across Loch Ness – especially with a pair of wireless headphones, which are easy to connect thanks to an option on the pre-workout page.
There’s a sense of community too, with a dedicated Facebook group and app where you can follow fellow users’ progress. For competitive types like us, there is also a live leaderboard that motivates you to push for a higher finishing position (though you can swipe this out of sight, if racing isn’t your thing).
While we appreciate Hydrow’s catalog of fancy features, don’t let this machines’ many bells and whistles distract you from the fact that, underneath the shiny touchscreen, live classes and likable instructors, this is a quality rower capable of providing an intense workout which will see you build strength, speed and fitness levels in one efficient session.
There are three main types of rowing workout to choose from, beginner, sweat and drive, with each one providing a tougher test than the last. So, whether we wanted an active recovery session or a lung-busting row, there was something to suit and each workout type hit its stimulus well.
The computer-controlled electromagnetic resistance works perfectly, too, providing a realistic on-water experience by offering a smooth stroke action – without the juddering associated with less accomplished rowing machines. The cushioned seat proved comfortable for longer rows and Hydrow’s 10–roller system allowed it to glide along the rail with minimal friction.
Value for money
Combining the cost of a subscription to the app ($38£38 per month) with the price of the machine itself ($2,585/£2,040) means the complete Hydrow Rower package doesn’t come cheap.
However, by offering on-rower and off-rower workouts including functional strength training, yoga and Pilates, it provides a well-rounded at-home alternative to training at the gym. So, you could save some funds by canceling your monthly membership.
Also, if it’s able to help you hit your health goals (as opposed to a seldom-used gym membership that hasn’t earned its keep in years) then we think the Hydrow Rower is worth investing in.
We found being able to take part in live classes, scenic virtual rowing routes and coaching sessions led by elite athletes – as well as the interactive elements such as the live leaderboard – helped keep our motivation levels at a premium. As a result, we kept returning. And with consistent, informed training, users will see their performance and fitness levels soar.
It would be easy to paint the Hydrow with the same brush as the Peloton – an exercise machine with live and on-demand classes delivered via a touchscreen. But, having got our hands on the product and sampled what it has to offer, we found it does things a little differently to other smart-tech on the market in ways we thoroughly approve of.
The focus on sport-specific performance, stunning virtual routes (rather than studio sessions), plus top tips from elite-level rowers in the know, make it an altogether more immersive experience than other machines we’ve tried. We found we were fully engaged with each session, encouraged to push for new PBs and work our way up the virtual leaderboard.
It’s a large piece of equipment and its lack of foldability means it will likely need a permanent position in your home. But, if you’ve got the space and are looking for a fun, fresh way to workout, or want to learn a new skill, this could be exactly what you need to revamp your flagging fitness routine.
If this isn't for you
If you’re a competitive rower in need of the industry-standard machine (which will be used for most boathouses for tests and training) then the Concept2 RowErg (opens in new tab) (pictured above) should be your first port of call. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a more affordable, space-savvy rowing machine, we would recommend the Sunny Health and Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine.
How we test rowing machines
Not all rowing machines are created equal. The experiences on offer can vary immensely depending on the price, features and functionality. So, to make sure every rowing machine on our list can provide a workout worthy of your time, we put each one through a series of trials at our dedicated testing center.
We got to grips with each machine, seeing how easy it was to set up and get started, before making sure they delivered on every innovative feature and claim their makers made. Then, we completed a 500m, 2km and 5km time trial on each one (where possible) to see how they fared at different paces. Where rowing machines had smart features such as touchscreens and interactive workouts, we took part in instructor-led sessions of varying lengths (less than 10 minutes, 10 to 30 minutes and more than 30 minutes).
After accruing hours in the hot seat, we scored each rowing machine on its ease of use, design, functionality and value for money, using these totals to calculate a final rating out of five.