Hydrow Review

Hydrow rowerHydrow has finally arrived in the UK and having heard such rave reviews of what has been dubbed ‘the Peloton of rowing machines’ from across the Atlantic, we were pretty excited to hear of the launch over on this side of the pond. We quickly managed to get our hands on one and give it a thorough testing over a 4 week period… and now we are here to deliver our verdict on this pricey piece of kit with our full Hydrow review.

Hydrow First Impressions

hydrow in useThere is no getting away from the fact that the Hydrow is a beautifully designed piece of home fitness kit. It is no secret either that we here at Fitness Brain are huge fans of rowing as a home workout option thanks to it hitting more muscle groups than any other form of home exercise and being an optimal choice for those looking to develop strength and cardiovascular fitness.

The Hydrow is one of the most expensive commercially available home rowing machines which means that, rightly so, your expectations should be high – and so were ours.

Upon setting up and feasting your eyes on this rower you should not be disappointed. The flawless lines, impressive 22 inch HD monitor and oversized rowing handles are all designed to impress – as well as being designed to deliver on performance. At 219cm long it is just a smidge shorter than a Concept 2 with a matching width of 64cm. The Hydrow stands at 120cm high when positioned for use which is just a little taller than its more affordable competitor. What the screen promises in terms of functionality though could well be worth the extra space.

It’s worth pointing out that there is no way this machine will not dominate a room – even a large room. There is no way of storing this rower out of site and at a mighty weight of 66kg it is not easy to manoeuvre around a space. You can stand this rower up to store it but if like us you don’t want to risk damaging the unit (and especially that beautiful display) then the chances are you’ll keep it set up in it’s operational position.

The high-def display is crisp and displays at a resolution of 1920x1080p and is operated via touch screen control. This is all very intuitive from first sign on and as you’d expect with a machine like this, it features a wide array of connectivity including Bluetooth 5.0 (allowing audio devices and heart rate monitors to be be connected) and WiFi to make full use of the live and pre-recorded workouts.

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Hydrow Rowing Machine Specs

If you are considering buying a Hydrow then the specs are going to be important. The chances are you will be comparing it to another high end rowing machine, perhaps something like a Concept 2 or perhaps a water rower. The Hydrow is different to both of these in the sense that it operates via digitally controlled magnetic resistance whereas water rowers use water for the resistance and the Concept 2 uses a flywheel and chain.

Up until now, water based rowing machines have tended to come up trumps although there is of course still a huge following behind the Concept 2. The Hydrow could well change this among UK consumers as the digital magnetic resistance used is incredible. Not only does it provide one of the widest ranging levels of resistance we have ever tested on a rowing machine but it also delivers one the smoothest and quietest experiences too (but more on that in the next section).

Let’s take a look at the raw specs of the Hydrow rower.

hydrow frameThe frame is made from a combination of steel and aluminium and it has a deceptively compact design. We say deceptively because it isn’t actually a small machine, in fact, it is rather large and certainly takes up the same amount of space as other rowers. It actually stands at 219cm (l) x 64cm (w) x 120cm (h) when in its working position but can be stored vertically with dimensions of 64cm (w) x 84cm (d) x 219cm (h).

The strong steel and aluminium frame don’t just perform a good job aesthetically, it also creates an incredibly strong and robust base for you to work out from – with a maximum user weight of just over 170kg, you won’t find a better built rowing machine than this. Of course, it’s not just about the base when it comes to a rower with the actual rowing action being just as important and the Hydrow does not disappoint in this regard either. There are 10 specially designed rollers that provide the smoothest gliding action we have experienced to date. The webbed strap that attaches the handles to the resistance mechanism is very quiet in operation too – almost silent in fact.

The seat and handles are padded and the feet pads are well sized with adjustable straps for comfort. The seat itself is ergonomically designed and although we always associate that phrase with marketing speak, it actually is very comfortable to use (even for longer workouts).

The resistance is different to any rowing machine you will have used before and is designed to feel like the real drag of the water when rowing. Hydrow uses computer controlled electro-magnetic resistance to increase or decrease the intensity of the row and their tech is patented so don’t expect to find the same feel anywhere else anytime soon.

Although this is an incredibly well made rowing machine in its own right, it is of course the display and interactive workouts that set it apart from the rest. There is a monthly subscription to pay (much like Peloton and other live coaching apps) and this does make the already expensive upfront payment even more of an expense – however, you do get access to a couple of live workouts each day as well as a massive and growing back catalogue of workouts – all of which are actually on the water and provided by actual athletes – not just performers or actors.

Although it’s not a cheap way to work out, the benefit of Hydrow over any other rowing machine we have seen before is that it engages with its users and motivates you to use it day after day. You may be able to pick up a Concept 2 for half the price of a Hydrow but the chances of you committing to using it half as much as you will with a Hydrow are pretty slim unless you are super motivated.

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Using The Hydrow

You may have already gathered that we are pretty big fans of the Hydrow. It was already off to a winning start by simply arriving in the form of a rowing machine – our preferred option for home workout cardio as it also offers so many strength benefits and will work more muscle groups than any other all in one method of working out.

But that doesn’t mean you should go out and buy a Hydrow – after all, there are plenty of cheaper rowing machines out there that do a decent job.

displayWhere the Hydrow comes in to its own (and where no other rowing machine at the moment can compete) is with its all-in-one integrated live workout experience. And what that inherently creates is a sense of purpose and a greater level of motivation. Hydrow blatantly advertise that their users are some of the most active of any online community, and what that essentially means is that they use their rowing machine more often than those who own other brands of non-connected rowing machines.

It’s not surprising to learn that those who have shelled out for upfront cost of this rower and then pay the monthly subscription of £38 would be using it – after all, you could just join a gym for the same price. That being said, there are plenty of people who buy expensive gym equipment for their home and then use them as overpriced dust collectors or how pay for expensive gym memberships and then don’t attend – this is much less likely to be the case when you buy a Hydrow.

So how does it work?

The Hydrow is pretty easy to use. The basic mechanics of the rowing action are of course the same as any other rowing machine and for those who are new to it there are beginner rows that go through the technique – there may even be scope for one-to-one coaching in the future if you are that serious about your rowing form – there is a built in camera (that is currently not in use) that could be used for coaching purposes further down the line.

Everything is controlled via the touchscreen display and this is easy to use and operates much like a smartphone with swipes for scrolling and tapping to select options – all providing a pretty intuitive interface. The speed at which the system reacts to your input has almost no lag and the software and hardware seem to work seamlessly. The machine itself wakes up when it detects your movement so you don’t even need to switch it on to use it (so long as you have it plugged in – which is required) and you then select your profile. There is an unlimited number of profiles on each machine with your data stored in the cloud – this is great for those who have multiple users in one household as there is no limit on the number of users.

Much like a Netflix experience, the Hydrow learns your behaviours and will recommend rowing sessions based on your previous workouts. You can start at beginner level or move up to more advance workouts if you prefer. You can work out for as little as 10-20 minutes per day if you like and still achieve your fitness goals.

One complaint that some users had about the Hydrow in the United States (where it launched a year earlier than the UK model which launched in March 2021) was that there was no way to just row. Well, Hydrow have listened and added a feature that funnily enough is now called ‘Just Row’, but you should be warned that even to use this you will still need an active membership.

This machine is not about ‘just rowing’ though and the fun of it and the motivation that follows comes from the feeling of working out on the water. Even the live sessions take place on water with real life athletes on the water as you row with them, and then there are hundreds and hundreds of pre-recorded water workouts to take on too.

All of your stats are displayed on the screen and you can measure your heart rate with a Polar compatible heart rate monitor which beams the data over to the machine for you to see. This can then be used to inform your workout with the computer able to tailor your workout depending on the specific aim with the intensity set and changing for you automatically.

And herein lies the beauty of the Hydrow… it is simple to use and it’s fun. There is no faffing around with resistance settings or wondering how long you should row or at what intensity level. For those who are competitive there are weekly competitions that you can play solo or in teams and take on time challenges or races against other users. You can then see where you rank on the leaderboard. All of this is loads of fun and is almost guaranteed to keep you coming back for more.

You can schedule your live sessions and track your progress over time – again, all of which is really simple to do.

The screen is a very good size, has a crisp and clear resolution and can be tilted for the ideal viewing angle. The speakers can be volume adjusted and are of a decent quality – comparable to those you would find on a flat screen TV.

In terms of comfort, the Hydrow is a great rowing machine to use. It is quieter than a Concept 2 and most other rowing machines with a low conversation noise level – something your housemates and neighbours may be thankful for. We tested it with a 6’3″ male and a 5’6″ female and both had no issues with rowing length – and Hydrow suggest that anyone with an inside leg measurement of 35.8 inches or less will be fine using this rower – and we would agree with that.

Overall, this rower is a joy to use. It isn’t cheap, but it will keep you coming back for more.

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A Word On Hydrow Membership

The Hydrow membership is an added cost to the initial expense of this machine. It is £38 per month per rowing machine rather than per user – so the more users you have in your home the more cost effective this becomes. Although this is an added cost we have to say that we think it offers exceptional value when you consider what you get – and that is live workouts every day from leading athletes in their field of rowing and with a growing customer base this is only likely to get better.

The software on this machine is also developing all the time, meaning there are more improvements on the way. But make no mistake, Hydrow is launching in the UK at just the right time, as they have ironed out any of their bugs and have a top quality software combined with a brilliant piece of hardware/fitness equipment to build from.

You do need the membership. The machine is pretty defunct without it – so go in to this with your eyes open. But if you have 2 or 3 people in your home who are likely to use this machine then it is well worth the monthly cost.

Our Verdict

Hydrow have taken one of our favourite forms of cardio and strength training and taken it to another level. It is hard to imagine a platform that can deliver a motivation to work out the way that the Hydrow platform does, and when you combine the quality of the machine itself with the intuitive and engaging software, it looks like it will become a real contender to take on Peloton.

It isn’t a cheap home workout solution, but it is likely to become all you need to workout effectively from home and if you have an ounce of competitiveness in you then it will also become a form of exercise that you are highly motivated to undertake and actively look forward to doing.

This is a top buy for us.

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