Hydrow Indoor Rower Review – 2020

Kristen (Kacey) NelsonKristen (Kacey) Nelson

Last Updated: November 10, 2020
Hydrow rower review 2020
Have you heard of the Hydrow? This new indoor electromagnetic rower takes rowing out of the basement or CrossFit box and makes it something you can do everyday in the comfort of your own home. The Hydrow is a giant step up from traditional indoor ergometers that you had to hide away because they were either noisy or unsightly. The Hydrow is a sleek rower with a nautical design, quiet magnetic resistance, and interactive programming.

We recently tested the Hydrow here in our studio to see if it really held up to all the hype. In this review, we’ll take a look at the construction of the machine, the functionality of the rowing programs and instruction, and the overall feel of the Hydrow during a long rowing session.

At first glance, the main thing we noticed about the Hydrow is the chic design. The graceful shape of the Hydrow resembles a rowing shell. The Hydrow has an aluminum and steel frame and an anthracite polymer body. There are no hanging wires, no random straps or other angular features that hang down. This feels more like furniture than fitness equipment. The monorail is long and smooth with sturdy feet that resemble fins, an ergonomic seat propelled by 10 rollers, and of course, the 22” full color touchscreen attached to the front. The Hydrow offers rowing classes (both live and pre-recorded) led by rowing professionals that provide guidance on proper rowing form and technique.

The goal of the Hydrow is to make the sport of rowing more accessible so regular people can enjoy this exercise in their own homes — much like Peloton did with its bike. Rowing is a low-impact, full body exercise that engages over 85% of the muscles in the body. It strengthens the legs, core, chest, back and arms, as well as builds cardiovascular endurance. Hydrow’s collection of classes begins with introductory practice rows that then lead into longer sessions. While there is some indoor instruction, for the most part, Hydrow classes are filmed outdoors on the water. A professional rowing instructor leads each session with tips on form, technique and breathing as well as provides challenges and customized training — and yes, there is good music in the background. This guided instruction makes the Hydrow an excellent option for experienced rowers who value both the scenery and the expertise as well as newbies who want to capitalize on all the benefits of rowing but may not have the experience or stamina to do it all on their own.

Hydrow’s training content includes over 1700 workouts with gorgeous outdoor rowing routes, a Leaderboard, and connectivity to other Hydrow users. While both the design and content are impressive, the Hydrow carries a $2245 sticker price and is $38 for a monthly subscription which may be a concern for some potential buyers. However, we found the Hydrow to be a quiet, solid machine with exceptional functionality, so you are getting a lot of value for your investment.

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Our Video Review

 

Who It’s For: Those looking for a quiet in-home rower with instructor-guided video content and training

The Hydrow is a great rower for those who:

  • Are new to rowing; it has instructional videos that are very helpful for new users
  • Experienced rowers who want a quiet, ultra-smooth indoor rower with video content
  • Have a dedicated space or gym for rowing. The Hydrow is 86” long and 47” high and does not fold in half.
  • Are able to sit and lean forward while exercising
  • Can bend down to get on, and stand up to get off the seat
  • Desire a chic, streamlined look.
  • Want an attached touchscreen with subscription content
  • Are looking for something low impact that targets more than 85% of muscles in the body
  • Want to increase core, back and arm strength in addition to leg muscles
Pros
  • Exceptional design looks elegant and stately in your home
  • The frame is lightweight but strong with a comfortable seat and rail
  • Foot pedals will accommodate any size athletic shoe and include straps
  • The contoured seat is gently padded and sweat resistant
  • 22” Touchscreen is easy to see and use – buttons are large enough and the screen is water resistant
  • The touchscreen is crisp with impressive graphics
  • Videos load quickly with few buffering issues
  • The Hydrow can be lifted vertically and stored upright (with the $70 storage kit)
  • Supports up to 375 pounds
  • Computer controlled resistance is quieter than air or water resistance
  • You can workout with others around you and not disturb them
Cons
  • Expensive — this rower is at the top of the market for price
  • Requires subscription content to operate which adds $38/month
  • Requires a sizeable footprint when in use; does not fold in half
  • Limited “Free Row” options. Most of the programming is pre-formatted

FeaturesSpecifications
  • 86” L x 25” W x 47” H Footprint when open
    • The Hydrow is a large rower. It does not fold in half, but it can be lifted and stored upright vertically. The rower requires a bit of space in operation, so make sure you have enough floor space.
  • 25” W x 33” D x 86” H Folded Footprint
    • Since the Hydrow lifts vertically, you can store it in a corner or other area out of the way. It weighs 145 pounds, so it can feel a bit heavy to smaller users.
  • Aluminum and steel frame supports 375 pounds
    • The frame is sleek but still sturdy with an aluminum frame that sits up off the floor. This makes it a bit easier to get on and off than rowers that rest right on the ground.
  • Dynamic computer-controlled resistance is silent
    • Unlike comparable air rowers that generate a lot of noise when in use, the Hydrow is extremely quiet due to computer controlled resistance that doesn’t create friction.
  • Foot pedals allow for gentle ankle motion that reduces leg tension and facilitates full knee flexion
    • When sitting at the catch, users can bend fully at the knee with solid foot support and ankle flexion for proper rowing motion.
  • Comfortable Handle, Quiet Strap
    • The ergonomic low-stress grip reduces hand fatigue and allows you to row longer. The strap is also much quieter than a chain and is constructed of a polyester webbing (like a seat belt) that won’t tear or break.
  • 22” Full Color Touchscreen
    • The touchscreen is easy to see with crisp graphics and 1080 resolution. The touchscreen is sensitive even with sweaty hands.
  • Bluetooth 5.0 enabled for heart rate monitors and audio
    • The Hydrow will sync with any number of Bluetooth chest straps so you can read your HR right on the screen.
  • Monitor adjusts 15 degrees and pivots 25 degrees left and right for visibility
    • The screen tilts up and down and also rotates side to side
  • Front facing Speakers
    • This may sound like a no-brainer, but many of the exercise bikes and other fitness equipment with attached touchscreens have speakers in the back of the monitor. This projects volume away from the rower and into your room. Front facing speakers are a very nice upgrade on the Hydrow.

Construction:

  • Footprint: 86” L x 25” W x 47” H (when open)
  • Folded Footprint: 25” W x 33” D x 86” H (when lifted vertically)
  • Inseam length: Fits up to a 36” inseam
  • Frame: Aluminum and steel construction
  • Machine Weight: 145 pounds
  • Weight Limit: 375 pounds
  • Bluetooth: 5.0 enabled for heart rate monitors and audio
  • WiFi: Requires internet connection; 10mbps recommended
  • Drag Mechanism: Dynamic and responsive computer-controlled resistance
  • Electrical: Requires an outlet for power; 120v recommended
  • Foot bed adjustment: Easy adjustment for ankle flexion
  • Handle: Ergonomic low-stress grip
  • Handle Strap: Quieter than a chain; high quality polyester webbing
  • Seat: Cushioned and ergonomic; 10-roller system

Console:

  • 22” Full Color Touchscreen
  • Monitor adjusts 15 degrees
  • Monitor folds flat for storage
  • Monitor pivots 25 degrees left and right for visibility off the rower
  • 1920 x 1080 Full HD Resolution
  • PCAP Screen touch technology
  • Amplifier speakers x2 channel, 3W, front facing

Warranty:

  • 5 Years: Structural frame & upright storage kit
  • 1 Year: Components, screen, other electronics
  • 1 Year: Labor

Quick Summary

We were, quite frankly, impressed with the Hydrow. It’s comfortable, quiet and looks chic. Granted, this is an expensive piece of exercise equipment, but if we’ve learned anything in this industry, it is that you get what you pay for. Significant research and design has been funneled into both the hardware: how the rower looks and feels — and the software: how the app functions. You can tell that Hydrow has been beta-testing this for a while. While there are still a few elements that may need tweaking (more Just Row options), this rower is surprisingly fun and functional. I have a love/hate relationship with rowing. I know it is good for me, but I just can’t stand it for more than about 20 minutes. After that, I’m bored, tired, and my glutes hurt. While water rowers do a nice job of simulating a meditative outdoor experience, air rowers tend to just be work. The Hydrow balances the best of both worlds by providing a smooth, enjoyable experience on a stately machine with programming that will challenge you. Don’t think the Hydrow is going to put you to sleep! One HIIT session with professional rower Aquil Abdullah will kick your trash. But then, you’ll come back ready for more the next day — challenged but not beat up. This may well do for rowing what Peloton did for indoor cycling. I’d love to see more people enjoy and benefit from rowing and the Hydrow is just the machine to do it.

Hydrow Indoor Rower

In Depth Review of the Hydrow Rower


Construction

Hydrow wheels and front legs

Frame

The Hydrow looks like a rowing shell. Even if you aren’t familiar with rowing, the sleek design and streamlined frame are eye-catching and elegant. The lower section of the frame is charcoal, and this would be the part of the shell that is typically in the water. The chrome monorail holds the seat which is propelled by ten wheels for an ultra-smooth glide. The seat, foot straps, handle and pull strap are charcoal as well for nice contrast. The support legs that extend up from the floor look like fins, reinforcing the nautical feel of the Hydrow. The attached 22” touchscreen has good placement and visibility. We’ve tested rowers with screens before and one common problem is the position of the screen can require you to look up unnaturally while your shoulders roll forward in the catch. This position is not ideal, so we are happy to see the Hydrow work out some of the ergonomic features on this rower. You can slide into the catch, keep your spine in alignment, and view the screen simultaneously. The overall feel is smooth and we’d describe the noise as a gentle whirring that ebbs and flows depending on your position in the stroke. In all, we are impressed with the frame design, stability and functionality of the Hydrow.

This rower should work for users of most sizes since the 36” inseam will provide enough length for people up to 6’7” tall. The 375 weight capacity is also sufficient for most users. The foot straps will accommodate any size athletic shoe, so this rower will work for users of all sizes.

Geometry

  • Footprint: 96” L x 24” W x 14” High
  • Pedals: 12” footboard with adjustable pedal
  • Saddle: 12” wide 9” deep, contoured and cushioned
  • Belt Drive: 27” high where it emerges from the machine
  • Track: 16” high x 41” long x 2” wide

Pedals

Hydrow Rower pedals and handle
The pedals are supported by a solid footboard underneath and a molded pedal that holds your shoe securely. The double layer provides stability underfoot while still allowing for a gentle toe flex as you row. A wide adjustable strap secures the user’s feet into position. The adjustable molded overlay is ridged at the top to keep your foot from sliding forward and has several notched positions that shift the heel support upwards to accommodate both smaller and larger feet.

Handle

Hydrow handle
The Hydrow handle is surprisingly comfortable. We’ve tested many rowers and this is nicely cushioned with an ergonomically-designed handle and overmolded soft rubber grips. The handle is sweat resistant and can be easily wiped down to sanitize. The handle is not too large, so it will accommodate the hand size of both men and women. The handle allows users to complete longer rowing routines without hand or shoulder fatigue. The only thing to note about this handle is there are no vents or slots in the center, so you can’t thread your fingers through to modify your grip or use it one handed. If you do plan to row one-handed (which Hydrow doesn’t really recommend), you’ll have to hold the center or just to one side of the handle.

The seat slides right up to the junction between the pedals and the handle for a comfortable catch position. The height of the belt where it emerges from the neck of the rower is 27” high from the floor, which is about 2” higher than on the Concept2. Having the belt lifted slightly enables taller rowers to maintain a level rowing stroke without having to lean down and forward at the catch. It allows users of all sizes to keep their knees together throughout the stroke for proper rowing ergonomics. You can also see the screen during all four segments of the rowing stroke.

Seat

The Hydrow seat is more cushioned than the Concept2 rower, so I found my glutes didn’t get as sore on this seat. It is ergonomically designed with contoured areas for your legs and tail bone. Since users lean back through the drive and finish, the scooped out back section on the seat reduces the likelihood of your tailbone rubbing on the saddle. The seat slides gently along the monorail on ten large rollers.

Resistance

The Hydrow uses electromagnetic resistance which is much quieter than air or water rowers. There is a flywheel inside the body of the Hydrow that rotates with each stroke. You do hear a subtle “whirring” sound during use, but it is significantly less than on other rowers. The Hydrow can easily be used in a shared space or apartment without disturbing neighbors or family.

The resistance on the Hydrow is adjustable via the drag factor which can be modified quickly on the touchscreen. This can be done at any point during a program. “Drag” is a reflection of the amount of resistance felt as you move through the water. The default drag factor is set to around 104. Users can turn it up or down as needed. This way, rowers of different strengths and skill levels can all enjoy the same program by adjusting the drag to match their rowing strength.

Console/Controls

Hydrow main screen

Touchscreen

The Hydrow has a 22” touchscreen attached to the front end. The screen is sleek and narrow so it doesn’t feel heavy. It is also bright and easy to see. I appreciate how the programs are filmed with several different cameras so you get different angles. I’ve used other rowing programs that are only filmed from the rower’s perspective, so basically you just look at their feet and the tip of the boat the whole time. Hydrow programs are engaging with multiple film angles and perspectives.

The console is similar to other fitness touchscreens we’ve used with controls and metrics along the bottom and a leaderboard that pops up on the right side. This keeps the rest of the screen clear so you can see the rowing program easily.

You cannot access external apps or use the web on the Hydrow touchscreen. It is designed to showcase the Hydrow app content only. Also, the screen doesn’t have much functionality at all if you don’t subscribe to the Hydrow content. The main screen just brings up a prompt to log in. If you don’t have an account, the screen doesn’t provide rowing metrics or any other information.

The screen is Bluetooth and ANT+ compatible though, so you can easily sync with headphones or a chest strap. In fact, when you first load a program it will show right on the screen whether you are connected to headphones or a HR strap. The screen has front-facing speakers which makes a huge difference as well. There is also a “balance” function so you can turn the instructor up and music down or music up and instructor down — depending on your preference. And yes, they do have good music! This is another question we get asked a lot.

At the base of the screen the following metrics are displayed:

  • Watts
  • Time remaining
  • Strokes per meter
  • 500m/ average
  • Total meters
  • Calorie
  • Heart Rate

Summary at the end of each workout includes:

  • Date and time completed
  • Total meters rowed
  • 500 meter average
  • Average watts
  • Average strokes per meter
  • Total calories
  • Total time
  • Drag factor

Other Features:

  • Leaderboard
    • This appears on the left side of the screen. You can swipe it off the screen if desired or pull it back anytime. There are filter options on the Leaderboard.
  • Volume settings
    • The Hydrow allows for several different volume settings. You can adjust main volume, trainer volume or music volume. The speakers are on the front of the screen, directed back towards the person rowing.
  • Star Feature
    • Highlight your favorite classes or instructors right on the main screen so you can do them later or easily find them again.

Rowing Programs

Home

Hydrow Library rowing programs

The Home screen loads as soon as you select your profile. A workout of the day will show up on the screen. Hydrow offers Live classes led in real-time by rowing athletes. Rowing routes are filmed all over the world in several different camera angles so you don’t get bored. There is also a new “Star” button that allows you to designate your favorite programs.

One thing we noticed right off is the chat bubble in the top right corner. This allows users to provide instant feedback to Hydrow about any element of the rowing experience or rower itself. We found Hydrow responds to chat suggestions or comments in roughly 48 hours or less. This feedback option is something we haven’t found on other fitness equipment. Usually, you have to log in to your account on a computer and/or type an email to send feedback to a company. Often, doing so was like shouting into the wind — you never hear back and if you do, it’s a preformatted computer response. Hydrow has been Beta-Testing the rower for so long, they are really responsive to customer feedback. We give huge kudos to Hydrow for listening to and responding to what actual users have to say. In the time we’ve owned and used our Hydrow we’ve seen several new added features and functions that are a direct result of user input. (Such as the “star” button and added filter options).

Library

Rowing Programs

A library of classes is displayed with a brief explanation of each. You can select classes based on:

  • Athlete
    • Select one of the rowing athletes to find their classes and routes
  • Duration
    • Class options of different lengths. Only have 5 minutes? There are lots of five minute rows!
  • Workout type
    • Drive
    • Sweat
    • Breathe
    • Warm up
    • Cool down
    • Journeys
    • Learn to Row
    • On the Mat
  • Location
    • Boston
    • Miami Beach
    • Destinations
Journeys

These are outdoor routes that are not guided by a professional rowing instructor. Instead, a video shot from a rowing shell glides through the water, making it feel like you are right there. The videos have audio and include natural sound such as birds, the swish of the water, etc. This is the best way to get a “Just Row” option on the Hydrow. Like Peloton’s outdoor “Landscape” videos, these are filmed without an instructor leading the way. The Journey routes are the best option when you want to do a quick custom program of your own design. This is the closest thing to “manual mode” on the Hydrow.

Off Rower Classes

There are also training classes off the rower. These include yoga and stretching classes that are recommended after a rowing session. There are also strength classes to build an overall balanced musculature for more efficient rowing. The screen both tilts and rotates side to side so you can see it when you are off the rower. Our only advice here is make sure you have sufficient space around your rower to accommodate whatever exercise you are doing.

Feed

This displays what other users have done in the same workout; who is online at the same time; what workouts have been completed by other athletes. You can chat or give thumbs-up to other Hydrow users. This is a big part of the community-building feature on the Hydrow.

Racing

You can join other Hydrow rowers or teammates for weekly challenges on your Hydrow. One weekly race is highlighted that you can do to challenge yourself and others in a race. Races are evaluated by meters and time. You can also create a team if you have other friends on Hydrow you want to race against.

Progress

Keeps track of your workouts and metrics over time.

Special Programs

Special Programs are specific events or challenges that appear for a brief period of time. One of the most recent of these was the Race on the Charles which was hosted by Hydrow on October 17th and 18th in 2020. Filmed at last year’s Race on the Charles, this event was rebroadcast for a limited 48 hour window so users at home could join in and participate in this event as if they were in the competition itself. The Race on the Charles is one of the biggest US events in rowing (kind of like the Boston Marathon), and this gave users the option to participate! These cool promotions further add to the community feel on the Hydrow and bring rowing to life in your living room.

Profile </h5
Each user can create their own profile so calories, wattage, etc., are accurate. You can add a photo and choose a screen name as well. Some of the names are pretty fun. Our “Guru” seemed boring compared to King Row, Sir Rows a Lot and others.
Bluetooth

The Hydrow monitor is bluetooth and ANT+ compatible so it will sync with heart rate chest straps. It will also sync with wireless headphones so you can listen without disturbing those around you.

Power

The Hydrow requires a wall outlet to operate. The rower will not function or do anything unless it is plugged in.

Speakers

Hydrow screen and speakers
As mentioned above, we are thrilled to see the Hydrow have front-facing speakers. Speakers in the back of the console are a frequent irritation on other fitness equipment since they basically project all the volume away from you. The front-facing speakers are a valuable and much-appreciated upgrade.

Accessories

There is no fan on the Hydrow. We’d love to see this as an addition since a good rowing session should leave you nice and sweaty. But you can always set a floor fan or standing fan to the side if needed. The Hydrow doesn’t have a phone holder, water bottle holder or tablet mount either. The console is very streamlined and simple. Any extras will have to be placed close by.

Noise Level

Since the Hydrow uses magnetic resistance, there is hardly any noise from the resistance itself. Even as the resistance level changes, the rower is pretty quiet. The sound of the strap as it comes out of the rower, uncoils through the drive and then recoils in the recovery, does make a bit of a whirring sound. You can hear it, but it’s not bothersome. This isn’t the type of noise that would disturb a downstairs neighbor but you do notice it when rowing. Compared to the noise generated by an air rower this is virtually silent, so we find this to be a great option for those who are concerned about noise output.

Storage / Folding

The Hydrow can be stored vertically to reduce the amount of floor space needed when not in use — but you have to buy an additional $70 storage kit to hold it securely when upright. When open, the Hydrow has a footprint of: 86” L x 25” W x 47” H. When lifted, it is 25” W x 33” D x 86” H. The Hydrow weighs 145 pounds, and while you can lift and roll it, it is a bit heavier than comparable machines. (The Concept2 is 57 pounds). If you don’t opt for the upright storage kit, we do not recommend lifting your Hydrow vertically as it could get knocked over unexpectedly.

When considering where to place your Hydrow, make sure you have enough space to the sides and rear of the rower since you lean back through the drive and finish. Do not place the rear of the rower directly in front of a wall, as you will need at least two feet of clearance behind the Hydrow. Also, there are some off-rower classes that may require space around the rower, so more area may be needed depending on your planned usage.

Hydrow Indoor Rower

Bottom Line:

The Hydrow has been touted as the Peloton of rowers and we find this to be an accurate comparison. Peloton changed the at-home cycling experience, and we think Hydrow is positioned to do the same thing with rowing. The inclusion of a 22” touchscreen with updated classes and content makes the Hydrow a viable option for people who have literally never rowed before.

Rowing is a great exercise for nearly everyone. It is low-impact and can be done sitting down. The Hydrow is well built and will support up to 375 pounds of user weight, making it a good option for larger users — or those who would prefer to sit down on something rather than climb up on something.

The magnetic resistance is silent — regardless of your drag factor — and the monitor has front-facing speakers so you can add just enough volume to enjoy your program (or use Bluetooth headphones). The rowing professionals who lead both the classes and outdoor row sessions provide excellent examples of rowing form and give helpful cues and instructions along the way. Other participants are referred to as “teammates” rather than competitors, which is a nice touch.

The price tag may be a limiting factor for some buyers. The Hydrow is priced at $2245 and the monthly subscription will cost you another $38/month. If you can afford it, this is a good option. The Hydrow classes provide excellent guidance and feedback. The challenges, racing options, Leaderboard and other interactive features in the Hydrow app make it fun to use.

People are typically not as familiar with rowing as they may be with an indoor bike or treadmill. Rowing inside by yourself requires a bit of personal dedication and many people may find they are well-intentioned, but unable to commit as often as they would like. Because the Hydrow is both quiet and has great programming, it has the potential to make rowing a more wide-spread exercise enjoyed by many people.

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