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Rowing machines are often relegated to the corners of gyms, their low profile semi-hidden amid rows of treadmills and elliptical machines. But rowing is a full-body workout that can strengthen your upper body, core, and lower body while building cardiovascular fitness and going easy on the joints. The rhythm of rowing can be meditative, but it can also get repetitive, particularly on a machine. That’s why I was excited to try the Hydrow Wave, a connected rowing machine that allows users to row on iconic waterways virtually and provides coaching from world-class athletes. And, after five weeks with the rower, I enjoyed exploring new destinations and improving my technique thanks to expert training. Read on to learn what signature features set the Hydrow Wave in the lead by a length.
- The Hydrow Wave is a compact version of the Hydrow Rower, with a 30% smaller footprint.
- The Wave provides access to over 4,000 workouts, many led by world-class rowers.
- The machine comes with a 16-inch Full HD touchscreen that allows you to experience rowing on storied rivers around the globe virtually.
- Coaching by elite athletes
- Live competitions
- Allows you to row on beautiful waterways virtually
- Ability to customize workouts for experience level
- Limited connectivity to fitness trackers and smartwatches
- Fixed screen makes some non-rowing workouts awkward
Verdict: The Hydrow Wave provides an immersive rowing experience led by elite athletes that you can enjoy from your home, but this comes with a premium price tag that requires some extras (such as the $44-a-month membership). You may be better off springing for the classic Hydrow Rower, which comes with a larger, adjustable touchscreen that may facilitate more of the non-rowing workouts included with the membership.
The rowing machine dates back to ancient Greece, when Athenian admiral Chabrias built wooden frames to teach inexperienced oarsmen how to row before they boarded ships for military service. In the mid-19th century, an inventor named W.B. Curtis brought the rowing machine indoors and incorporated the flywheel in its design. In modern iterations of the rowing machine, the flywheel is connected by a chain to the handle, and it starts spinning when a rower pulls on the handle, creating resistance.
Today, rowing machines are made with either air, water, magnetic, or hydraulic resistance. The Hydrow Wave is designed with patented electromagnetic resistance, which uses magnets to mimic the experience of being on the water.
The company was founded by Bruce Smith, who coached the U.S. National Team and is a descendant of master boat builders. Hydrow makes two rowing machines: the Hydrow Rower and the more recently released Hydrow Wave, which is described as a compact model that’s 30% smaller than the original. At $1,895, the Hydrow Wave also costs $600 less than the Hydrow Rower.
You can assemble the Hydrow Wave yourself, or the company offers to set it up for an additional fee. The two workmen who brought it to my home got the machine up and running within a half-hour, as the company promised. The aluminum and steel frame, seat, and 16-inch Full HD touchscreen measure 80 inches long.
What first jumped out at me was that the Hydrow Wave wasn’t particularly small, which could be a benefit or a drawback. The Wave will still take up a good amount of space, a consideration for people living in smaller apartments. The machine does have wheels on the front that allow you to lift and roll it more easily, but at 102 pounds, it may be heavy for some. It’s not a machine you can easily stow in a closet or under a bed. The Wave can be stored upright; however, it requires a vertical anchor you can purchase from Hydrow for an additional $190.
To use the Wave Rower, you’ll also need to purchase a monthly membership that costs $44. That includes live sessions with world-class coaches; simulated rowing on waterways from the fjords of Norway to the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon in Rio de Janeiro; more than 4,000 other workouts, including yoga and mobility exercises; and virtual membership in a community of other Hydrow rowers.
Getting things connected was easy. After plugging the machine in and turning it on, the touchscreen prompted me to enter my WiFi password and set up a profile. The system allows for multiple users, which is handy for families.
Ever since I rowed for a semester in my first year of college, I’ve had a grudging admiration for the rowing machine. A type of ergometer, they measure a user’s work output (typically through calories burned), how far you would have traveled, and the time it would take you to row 500 meters.
Plus, rowing can help you torch as many calories as other aerobic workouts while going easy on the joints. A moderate, 30-minute session of rowing can burn about 252 calories, the equivalent of a high-impact session of aerobics, according to Harvard Health.
After I filled out my profile on the touchscreen, Hydrow encouraged me to take an introductory session with American rower Aquil Abdullah, the first African-American man to qualify for the Olympics in rowing. He explained the components of each stroke (catch, drive, finish, and recovery) and demonstrated good form. Though I have experience with rowing machines, it was a helpful refresher.
A key benefit of the Hydrow Wave is the ability to customize your workouts. The system allows you to pick your instructor; the duration of your workout, from 1 minute to 45; the type of workout, including Drive, Sweat, and Breathe modes; and your workout style, from beginner to advanced, including instructional videos and weekly training sessions. The system will also make recommendations based on your stats.
You can also choose the location of your workout, from 27 states around the United States and the District of Columbia to 10 countries worldwide, Europe, and New Zealand. (It would be great to see some destinations from Asia and Africa added, though.)
Users can also select musical accompaniment from genres including Alternative/Indie to Soul/Funk/Disco. While I appreciated the range, I found some dissonance between the music in the background and trying to listen to the instructor (though I did appreciate the selection of Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces” during a mobility exercise session).
The Hydrow Wave system also offers live classes several times a week for the more competitively inclined. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, I took advantage of the opportunity to virtually row with two Olympians on the Charles River in Cambridge, home to the Head of the Charles Regatta.
Three-time Olympian Buffy Williams and British National Championship winner Mike Dostal led the 20-minute class. As we made our way along the river to background music from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, and Pearl Jam, Williams led us through four 4-minute sequences with rest in between.
Seeing the cadence of her strokes was very helpful, and I was able to match her strokes per minute (albeit at a slower pace). Williams and Dostal kept me moving through the session but I didn’t find the coaching particularly useful. She repeated several times that rowing is just like riding a bike, and I would have preferred more specific advice. I found more value in the pre-recorded instructional videos. And while the screen names of some of the other rowers appeared on my screen, there wasn’t a leaderboard that compared our paces.
The Hydrow system does a great job of tracking your progress in an easy-to-read profile screen that shows your streak, average rate, and how many meters you’ve rowed in the past 30 days. And you can check how you stack up against other Hydrow members in the companion app. You can also follow members and Hydrow sends out a newsletter to let users know about that week’s workouts and new instructors.
Unfurtunately, Hydrow rowers don’t connect with some fitness trackers and smartwatches, but the rowers just became compatible with Apple Watches. They also work with Strava and the system is enabled for Bluetooth 5.0, which means you can use most Bluetooth headphones, earphones, and speakers with it. And they connect with most heart monitors.
Another quibble is that, unlike the pivoting touchscreen of the Hydrow Rower, the Hydrow Wave’s touchscreen is fixed. That made it harder for me to do the non-rowing workouts included in the package, such as yoga and Pilates. I straddled the rower or squinted to see the screen from behind the device.
So, who should buy the Hydrow Wave?
If Olympic athletes inspire you, the Hydrow rowers are an excellent option. My favorite sessions, though, were solo: They allowed me to virtually experience the historic buildings along the Vltava River in Prague and the snow-capped mountains in the Gulf of Alaska, while getting a good workout in. The sensation of a bobbing and the sound of water lapping made it feel authentic. It’s an approach that both experienced rowers and beginners can appreciate.
With the price you’re paying for the package and the negligible difference in size between the Wave and the classic Rower, it may be worth springing for the Hydrow Rower. The difference between the 16-inch and the 22-inch touchscreens is major. And the fact that the Wave’s touchscreen is fixed makes it harder to take advantage of the more than 4,000 other workout options, such as yoga, Pilates, and HIIT training, though you can stream them through the associated app. Whatever option you choose, Hydrow allows you to explore virtually while getting a great workout in. There’s also a 30-day return period if the rower doesn’t meet your expectations. My Hydrow, however, isn’t going anywhere because I love how it keeps me focused by giving me new experiences while improving my fitness.