Rowing For All: The Indoor Hydrow Rowing Machine

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HammockLiving is a website dedicated to the outdoors, but these are “unprecedented times.” So, COVID + winter = I am now an indoor rower…?!

Throughout summer, I was taking HIIT classes in small groups at a park via ClassPass, hiking, or “running” the stairs at Red Rocks after work and on the weekends. As the days got shorter and colder, it all became less appealing and less possible. Not having an outlet for a good, hard sweat is just not something I’m comfortable with, and I started panicking. 

During the pandemic, it was also confirmed beyond a reasonable doubt that I’m not a fan of working out at home alone. I just don’t have the discipline to do it. I need others in a class encouraging me to work harder and an instructor to try to impress. Some studios in Colorado were open, but indoors + a mask? Nah, I’m good.

Yoga was about all I could muster, but I was getting bored with that and needed some good old fashioned cardio. More and more friends were jumping on the Peloton train, but I knew I’d never use it and couldn’t fathom the idea of wasting thousands of dollars on something that would ultimately just collect dust.

The Hy-what?

One day, a friend casually mentioned his Hydrow. I pictured a rowing machine with water and thought, “wow, he must be pretty hardcore about this sport.” Fast forward a few darker and colder weeks later, and I learned the Hydrow doesn’t have water and that rowing engages 86% of your muscles (mostly lower body—if you’re doing it right—but also lots of core and upper body). Take that Peloton!

There weren’t a ton of articles on the benefits of rowing, but what I saw was convincing enough. After 30 minutes of Googling, I pretty much willy-nilly forked over $2,000 for a fancy exercise machine to sit in my office that hopefully I would sometimes use. It was delivered on my birthday, and I considered it a splurgy bday gift to myself if nothing else.

My history with rowing: a short story

I don’t have a history with rowing, like a lot of other Hydrow users, I’d come to find out. Sure, I’ve rowed before, during HIIT classes as a cardio station… for like a minute or two at a time… years ago. I remember it being really hard but far more enjoyable than running around the block or silly spinning.

Really the only other thing I knew about rowing at the time of purchase was that it’s a part of the CrossFit Games. If the world’s best athletes/strongest humans have to do it as part of their routine, it’s gotta be good, right?

My Hydrow journey

In my 2.5 months of Hydrowing, I’ve rowed the equivalent of 133 miles. SAY WHAT. In the rowing world distance is counted in meters. 214,062 meters. Kinda more fun to report in meters.

If that sounds impressive, hold onto your hats. I soon learned via the Hydrow Facebook groups that This. Is. Nothing. There are people working on their million-meter milestone, and one dude is nearing TEN MILLION METERS. At this rate, I’ll get there in roughly eight years. (He’s had his machine just over a year.)

To encourage people to keep clocking those meters, Hydrow sends some pretty sweet swag. 100k gets you a free water bottle, and then it’s socks (different colors) for 250, 500k, and 750k. When you enter the million-meter club, you’re onto t-shirts, and there’s no looking back. You’d be surprised how motivational some free swag can be.

My first row  was “Welcome to Hydrow,” a 15-minute workout with the immediately lovable Nick Karwoski. I clocked a whopping 2:41.9 split over 2,780 meters. The split is how long it takes you to row 500 meters averaged out over the course of a workout. Basically, it’s how hard you’re working. The lower, the better. 

As a VERY competitive person—even, and sometimes especially, when it comes to things I’m not particularly good at—I was immediately comparing myself to my friend who introduced me to Hydrow, who happens to be male, 6’4″ and one of Hydrow’s top rowers. I cut myself some slack for being a n00b, but wanted to get better, faster, stronger—ASAP.

Each row, I did get faster. By whole seconds! 2:36.8 on my next 20-minute workout (the longer the row, the harder it is to keep a low split). 2:29.7 (for 30 minutes!). 2:25.5 on the next 30-minute piece (rowing lingo). 

Then I went sub 2:20 and felt unstoppable. It wasn’t getting easier, but I was getting better (life motto), merely by taking cues from the instructors and learning about proper rowing form and technique. 2:13.7 for 20 minutes. 2:15.1 for 30. I did the benchmark 5-minute assessment row and pulled a 2:04.2. WOWIE, we got ourselves a rower!

I was taking live classes with instructors out on the water, streaming right to my office/gym, and watching fellow rowers in real time around the world on the leaderboard. Afterward, the app would blow up with likes and comments from these folks who’d just done the same workout. It was such a supportive group, and the dopamine hit from the app was about as powerful as the endorphins from the workout.

When the holidays rolled around, I kissed my cats and my Hydrow goodbye for 10 days (COVID be damned). At the same time, a lady named April (a stranger at the time, now a good virtual friend) posted in a Hydrow Facebook group looking to sync up with other women who were consistently rowing sub 2:15 in an effort to connect on the app with other strong females for inspiration and encouragement. One thing lead to another, and a group of about a dozen of Hydrow’s top female rowers came together, including one of the instructors’ wives. Somehow, I snuck my way in. I admitted I wasn’t there yet split-wise but dropped my handle in the comments and started following the others.

The Hydrow community

The community is what I loved about structured workout classes in-person and in-studio. Having others to push and motivate me is crucial, but with the integration of fitness and technology, it’s now possible to have a community while working out at home alone.

This recent Wall Street Journal article talks about all of this, and why gyms likely won’t return in the same way post-pandemic, stating, “85% more people stick to their workouts after six months if they use connected fitness equipment,” which is good news for me and my impulse buy.

Over the past couple months, this virtually-connected lady rowing crew from across all four U.S. time zones has taught me so much and humbled me beyond belief. I like to consider myself pretty athletic, typically active and decently strong. With this group, I’m at the back of the pack. At a glance, here are just some of their rowing achievements:

  • Four have hit a million meters on the Hydrow
  • Three have sailed past two million meters
  • Another one is on the brink of three million meters
  • One owns two rowing machines, the Hydrow and the OG indoor rower, Concept2
  • One belongs to a dedicated rowing gym IRL
  • Two row on actual water (!)
  • One runs and co-coaches rowing camps at RowLA, an organization that empowers young women in LA through rowing (Susan also takes ergs—indoor rowing machines—to local middle and high schools to teach kids about rowing)

Several of these ladies—if not all—have weight-lifting and other workout routines beyond rowing with training schedules and real fitness goals. My main consistency in life is happy hour, not workout hour.

Most of our crew celebrating @EngineJen22’s 1MM milestone, where we swept the top 10 on the leaderboard (photo credit: various HydrowNauties; collage credit: Jen Hamner)

Mom, I’ve joined a cult

Initially I told myself, “if I use this machine for even 20 minutes 4x a week, it’s better than nothing. Through winter, I’ll ski as much as I can and hop on the rower sometimes and hopefully not regret this purchase.”

This mighty Hydrow community has changed my entire perception, provided motivation (on and off the leaderboard), taught me so much about rowing, and forced me to carve out actual goals beyond just putting the machine to use on occasion.

I am in awe of what these incredible women (mostly older than me, for what it’s worth) can do on a rower. I’m more excited than ever to get better, and I’m mostly happy I have people to “compare” myself to aside from my very tall, very good male rower friend. 

In a recent chat, the ladies were talking about seeing each other on the leaderboard before our group was created. Noticing who they were often surrounded by, they’d sometimes curse them for passing and oftentimes use each other for motivation to not let up when the legs are on fire and the lower back starts screaming and losing meters to get a sip of water just ain’t worth it. Now, we’re more than anonymous screen names and it’s all cheering, no cursing.

I’ve learned tips on proper form (you want to get fast? dial in your form), the value of warm ups (never bothered with those before!), and the importance of doing lower heart rate rows to build endurance (every workout isn’t a competition).

I’m still learning not to compare myself to them. Sometimes I tell myself not to compare myself to myself. Every day is different, and not every day is going to be a PR (personal record).

I’ve also learned consistency is key. I know I will get better over time. I know I won’t always be in the bottom of the rankings, and I know they will cheer me on no matter what split I manage on any given day.

Aside from this ladies’ group, the Hydrow Facebook pages are ablaze with inspiration and encouragement. They get me on the rower when I don’t feel like it, and I love seeing others’ accomplishments and hearing about their fitness journeys. Everyone is on their own path in life and in fitness, and the online community is full of support.

The great thing about rowing is that it’s a full-body, low-impact workout. So no matter your fitness history (likely rowing isn’t part of that), anyone can hop on a Hydrow and go as fast or slow as they’d like while getting a very worthwhile workout completely at their own pace. 

Hydrow live classes

Some call it the Peloton of rowing machines. I’ve obviously never used a Peloton, but apparently you’re watching an instructor on a stationary bike in a dark room. Okay, so Hydrow’s different.

With Hydrow’s “live virtual reality” workouts, cameras are mounted on the instructor’s scull (single-person rowing boat) showing their form from the bow and stern. More cameras record from the boat carrying the production crew, which follows the instructor and shows their form from side angles, along with the beautiful scenery along the rivers and canals in Boston, Miami, Scotland, etc. You kinda really do feel like you’re out on the Charles River, too, in a weird way. Matching your hands to the instructors’, you don’t have to worry about pacing yourself. Just follow along, giving as much or little effort as you want that day or that moment.

Every week, there are several live workouts. These happen in real time, and they push me harder knowing the leaderboard is full of rowers doing this exact same workout at the exact same time. 

With every workout—live or on-demand—the leaderboard shows your real-time position among other rowers. I can find a workout in the library my friends have done and go “race” them. 

I learned after a few weeks you can filter the leaderboard (by gender and age). That was a real ego boost because racing men was not very encouraging. They’re generally taller and stronger and… who cares. I sort by females most often, and I’m always beat by women in older age brackets, which I truly love. Maybe one day I’ll be smoking 20- and 30-year-olds when I’m in the 40 and 50 brackets.


Hydrow has a massive library of workouts divided into categories:

  • Breathe – slower paced workouts where you still have a hard time breathing (jk, they describe these as stress relief workouts for your body and mind)
  • Sweat – to build endurance and find consistency
  • Drive – to test your limits at maximum effort (cue the high intensity intervals)

There are also Journey workouts without an instructor pacing you. With a camera pointed ahead as if you’re in the boat alone, you just cruise along the water at your own pace. (As a competitive person who doesn’t like working out at home alone, I’m yet to do a Journey.)

Meanwhile, On the Mat workouts can complement your overall fitness with things like pilates, yoga, stretching, strengthening, etc. The machine’s large screen pivots so you can set up a mat nearby and follow along with the instructor.

You can sort by duration (5, 10, 15, 20, 30, and 45 minutes) and add in warm ups and cool downs. If you find an instructor you love, sort by athlete and take all their classes.

Hydrow instructors

The instructors are the face of the company. Some are inspiring in their words, others in their sheer athleticism, and others both. Connecting with fitness instructors is what motivates me to workout harder, and, as it turns out, this rings true if they’re on the other side a screen. 

They talk about digging deep and laying it all out there. They talk about form and the importance of recovery and rest periods. They talk about their fitness journeys. I don’t know how they can talk and row, but they do, and thank goodness because I need to hear all of it. I’ve found different reasons to love rowing with each of them. 

Hydrow machine pricing

It ain’t cheap. But, as they say, health is wealth. At the time of publishing:

  • The Hydrow machine sells for $2,245 on its own (and currently includes a free heart rate monitor)
  • The Hydrow Starter Package includes the machine, machine mat, heart rate monitor, and headphones, priced at $2,520
  • The Hydrow Pro Package includes all that plus a separate workout mat, yoga blocks, foam roller, and resistance bands, priced at $2,705

*Note these prices and any add-ons may fluctuate, so check the website and links above for the latest deals.

Hydrow membership pricing

The Hydrow membership is $38/month ($456 for the year). Through the machine’s monitor and the Hydrow app, you can track your progress and workout history, which logs your meters, splits, and watts for each row.

Technically you could hop on your rower and just go without a membership, but you’d miss out on an essential part of the Hydrow experience, which is the community, and that big fancy screen would be a waste.

The membership also includes:

  • Weekly live workouts with Hydrow’s team of athletes, which impressively includes Olympians and world-class rowers
  • Extensive library of on-demand workouts (rowing and mat work for strengthening, stretching, etc.)
  • A community of rowers to follow and interact with via the app (find me at @HammockLiving)
  • Access to the live leaderboard and weekly team racing challenges
  • Multiple user profiles so everyone in the house can track their stats (unlimited accounts are included in a single membership)

Hydrow rowing machine specs

  • Dimensions setup: 86″ L x 25″ W x 47″ H
  • Dimensions stored upright: 25″ W x 33″ D x 86″ H (kit sold separately for $69.99, though I haven’t seen anyone who does this since you’re going to want to use it often and it’s easier to keep it on the floor)
  • Weight: 145 lbs (it arrives 197 lbs in the box; you’ll likely want it delivered)
  • Height limit: up to 36″ inseam
  • Weight limit: up to 375 lbs 
  • Screen size: 22″
  • Screen resolution: 1920 x 1080 full HD
  • Bluetooth enabled for heart rate monitors and audio
  • Adjustable foot bed
  • Ergonomic handle

Hydrow comes with a year warranty covering most parts of the machine and labor for repairs. The structural frame is covered for five years. They will send someone out to repair it at your house or send you a new machine altogether if you row into trouble. 

Let me know if you have any questions about Hydrow. I’m happy to share more about my experience so far. And if you’re a Hydrow user, find me at HammockLiving, and let’s race! 

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