If you want an efficient, full-body workout, it’s hard to beat rowing. And if you want a premium at-home rowing machine, it’s hard to beat the Hydrow. At a hefty $2,199 plus a monthly membership fee, the Hydrow offers a Peloton-like experience, combining sleek hardware with live streaming workouts. Its excellent instructors and competitive leaderboards keep you motivated, and the company gives back to charity, making a donation to the nonprofit Water.org for every 60 days you’re active. The bright 22-inch screen makes it a strong competitor to the NordicTrack RW900, and the Hydrow excels in terms of aesthetics and comfort. It’s not enough to sway us from recommending the RW900 as our Editors’ Choice—it gives you more utility for fewer dollars, and includes a big selection of iFit workouts to boot.
Price and Setup
At $2,199, the Hydrow is one of the most expensive smart rowing machines on the market, but it’s also one of the most aesthetically pleasing. To make its price more manageable, you can finance it for as low as $62 per month for 36 months. The company offers a 30-day trial, so if you’re not satisfied with the machine, you can get a full refund and won’t be charged a return shipping fee. It comes with a five-year structural frame warranty, a one-year components warranty (that covers the handle, strap, seat assembly, screen hinge, screen, and other electronics), and a one-year labor warranty.
As is customary for smart workout machines, you have to pay extra for a class membership. The $38 monthly Hydrow membership gives you access to the company’s live and on-demand workouts and lets you create unlimited user accounts for everyone in your household and keep track of your workout history and progress.
In comparison, the NordicTrack RW900, which also features a 22-inch HD touch screen, costs $1,699, and comes with a free one-year premium iFit class membership. When your free trial is up, an iFit membership costs $15 a month for individuals or $33 a month for families.
The Hydrow (left) has a sleeker design than the NordicTrack RW900 (right)
The gaming-focused Ergatta rower, which features a smaller 17.3-inch touch screen, costs $1,999, plus $29 a month or $290 a year for a class membership.
Due to COVID-19, Hydrow isn’t currently offering in-home delivery or assembly. So for the foreseeable future, all orders are being shipped with Hydrow’s Standard Delivery option, meaning the delivery team will take your Hydrow off the truck and try to place it on a safe, dry area like your garage or front door, but will not carry it into your home or up any flights of stairs. They will leave it in the box, and won’t unpack or assemble it. Hydrow says its in-home delivery and assembly services will not be available anytime in the near future.
The company made an exception for me (the perks of being a product reviewer) and the delivery team carried it into my house, asked me where I wanted it, assembled the machine, plugged it in, and powered it on. All I had to do was connect it to my Wi-Fi and create an account. While I can’t personally speak to the assembly process, I can offer a few notes. For starters, the box weighs 197 pounds, and Hydrow says that assembly is easiest with two people. The two people who assembled it for me got it up and running in about 30 minutes. The assembly instructions don’t look too complicated, but I suggest checking them out before purchasing the machine to see what you’re in for.
To get started, find the power switch—it’s located on the front—and flip it on. After that, follow on-screen instructions to connect to Wi-Fi; there is also an Ethernet port if you want to use a wired connection. Once you get it online, you’ll need to wait for it to install the latest software updates before creating an account. When setting up an account, you need to create a public username for the leaderboard and social features.
Design and Features
The Hydrow has a sleek and fairly compact aluminum and steel frame that rests on soft, rubberized feet to prevent scratching the floor. It measures 86 by 25 by 47 inches (LWH) and weighs 145 pounds unboxed. Hydrow sells an optional $69.99 kit that lets you store the machine vertically to save space when it’s not in use. In the upright storage position, it measures 33 by 25 by 86 inches (LWH).
The Hydrow has adjustable foot beds and a comfortable, cushioned seat. It supports users up to 375 pounds with a 36-inch maximum inseam. The NordicTrack RW900 supports users up to 250 pounds, while the Ergatta supports up to 700 pounds.
Each machine offers a slightly different resistance mechanism. The Hydrow has an electromagnetic resistance drag mechanism. You can adjust your drag level from 1 to 300 for each rowing session. The default drag setting mimics the feel of a two-person boat. You can lower it to mimic the feel of an eight-person boat, and raise it to mimic the feel of a single-person boat.
The RW900 combines magnetic and air resistance, offering 26 digital and 10 manual air resistance levels. The RW900 and other iFit-enabled rowers can automatically adjust your resistance level to match wind and water conditions for outdoor workouts, a feature you won’t find on rival machines. The Ergatta has a water resistance system that naturally adjusts with your effort, so the harder you pull, the more resistance you feel.
The Hydrow’s 22-inch touch screen tilts 15 degrees up and down so you can adjust it for your preferred viewing angle. It also pivots 25 degrees to the left and right for easy viewing during classes that don’t use the machine and folds flat for storage.
The are front-facing speakers below the display, but you can’t stream your own music on them. The instructor leading the workout curates the playlist ahead of time.
The Hydrow Interface
The Hydrow interface is well organized and easy to navigate. At the bottom, there are eight sections: Home, Library, Feed, Racing, Progress, Profile, Help, and Settings.
The Home screen offers a recommended workout, and you can scroll down to browse various training programs, upcoming live rows, featured and popular rows, tutorial videos, and filter workouts by athlete. The company offers two live rows a day,Tuesday through Saturday. If you can’t find a live workout that fits your schedule, there are plenty of prerecorded ones available on demand.
In the Library tab, you can browse on-demand workouts and filter them by athlete, duration (1 to 45 minutes), workout type (drive, sweat, breathe, warm-up, cooldown, journeys, learn to row, and on the mat), and location (Boston, Miami, or destinations).
Hydrow primarily films its rowing workouts on two waterways based on the time of year. In the summer, it films on the Charles River in Boston and in the winter it films on Indian Creek in Miami Beach, Florida.
In the Journeys section, you’ll find scenic unguided workouts filmed in other waterways around California, Florida, London, Massachusetts, New York, Scotland, Texas, and Vermont. But it pales in comparison with the list of locations you can row on the RW900 with an iFit subscription, which gives you access to outdoor workouts filmed in more than 40 countries on all seven continents.
The Feed tab is set up like a social network showing other Hydrow users’ completed rows. You can view their stats for that workout session, give them a thumbs up, and comment. Here, you can also see any likes and comments you have received on your workouts.
In the Racing tab, you can invite other users to be your partner and compete in weekly challenges together against other doubles teams. There’s two challenges each week: a minutes challenge and a meters challenge with leaderboards for each.
The minutes challenge rewards you and your partner’s total rowing time across all of your workouts on the Hydrow that week. For the meters challenge, you can each participate in a featured weekly race and you and your partner’s meters from that workout are added together. As of this writing, the first-place team on the meter leaderboard posted a total of 8,379 meters during the 15-minute featured row, while the first-place team on the minute leaderboard has cumulatively rowed for 1,301 minutes.
In the Progress tab, you can view your workout history and your stats for each session, including your time, meters, estimated calories burned, and average split time. There’s a calendar with blue circles around all the days you have rowed. You can also view your active days, meters rowed, and calories burned for the last week, month, and all time.
One of the coolest things about Hydrow is that the company will make a donation to Water.org, a nonprofit with a mission to provide safe water and sanitation throughout the world, after every 60 days you are active. (The company declined to provide specifics about how much it donates, but a Hydrow spokesperson said, “we’ve helped a total of 3,662 people (number of donations) gain access to safe water in the developing world.”) On top of that, you can earn a Hydrow water bottle after you row 100,000 meters. In the Progress tab, you can see your progress toward these goals.
In the Profile tab, you can view your public and private information, disable or enable the feature that shares your workouts to the social feed, switch profiles, and log out.
In the Help tab, you can view Hydrow 101 videos that cover how to row, setting your drag, optimizing your output, navigating the interface, the leaderboard and racing features, and Hydrow maintenance.
In the Settings tab, you can connect to Wi-Fi or Ethernet, add Bluetooth devices, adjust the sound and display brightness, change the system date and time, factory reset the machine, and view system information.
From any screen, you can press a chat bubble in the upper right corner of the interface to message the company with your feedback.
Working Out With the Hydrow
When you click on a workout, you’ll see a short description of it including the max rhythm (strokes per minute) and a list of the songs you’ll hear. On this preview screen, there are Bluetooth headphone and heart rate monitor buttons; just click them to connect your accessories. Another button lets you adjust the sound and drag settings. In addition to basic volume controls, Hydrow offers a few sound profiles to choose from: more music, original mix, more athlete, and athlete only. I prefer the original mix so I can hear both the music and the trainer.
After you adjust the settings to your preferences and connect your accessories, press Row to start the workout.
During rowing workouts on the Hydrow, there are several stats and metrics on bottom of the screen, including your 500 meter split time (speed), rhythm number (strokes per minute), average 500 meter split time, total meters covered, estimated calories burned, and heart rate (if you have a heart rate monitor connected). It also shows the time remaining in the workout. On the right side of the screen is the leaderboard, which you can optionally filter by gender and age group, or minimize if you’re not into competition. Above the leaderboard is a settings button that lets you adjust the volume and drag, change the sound profile, and connect accessories.
During Hydrow rowing workouts, you have a third-person view of the coach, so you can see them rowing and easily follow along to match their stroke rate. Most of the workouts are filmed live on the water, with the coach in an actual boat, so you never know what might happen. Sometimes the water is flat, other times it’s rough. Coaches often encounter birds, marine life, other boats, and bridges.
At the beginning of a workout, the trainer always explains the stats on the screen. After you complete a rowing workout, Hydrow recommends a short cooldown session you might like to do. The rowing cooldowns are nice because the trainers often break down different aspects of rowing technique.
To supplement your rowing workouts, Hydrow offers a range of mat-based classes. There are functional movement, mobility, pilates, strength, and stretching sessions. Most are just 5 to 10 minutes, though there are a few 30-minute mat classes.
My Experience With the Hydrow
I’m still new to rowing, and one of my biggest challenges is finding a rhythm. When streaming outdoor workouts on the NordicTrack RW900, I have a hard time maintaining the stroke rate the iFit trainer says to hit. That’s because iFit’s outdoor rowing workouts are filmed from a first-person perspective. The trainer wears an action camera so you can see the view, but you can’t see them to match their movements. (Note that iFit also offers a vast library of studio-based workouts during which you can see the trainer rowing on a machine, but I prefer the outdoor rows.)
I don’t have that problem on the Hydrow. I can see the trainer in their boat and follow along with their movements, which has helped me improve my technique tremendously. I also find that the Hydrow offers a smoother, more comfortable ride than the RW900, which is good considering it costs $500 more.
Hydrow’s classes are well planned and produced. Its trainers are knowledgeable, personable, and motivating. They often tell stories about their own lives and rowing careers, which makes the time pass quickly and helps you get to know them. Danielle Hansen (aka Dani Hani) is one of my favorites. She gives it her all during every row, and her energy is contagious. During a recent 20-minute #TBT: Avicii Row, she said something along the lines of, “If not now, then when?” which really hit me. After that row, my Apple Watch popped up a notification saying I earned a new record for the most calories burned in a rowing workout.
Over the past month, I’ve logged more than 50,000 meters on the Hydrow and burned an estimated 2,743 calories. What I value more than my stats is the journey. I’ve had so many memorable rows on the Hydrow. A recent session with trainer Aquil Abdullah caught my eye because of its title, Rage Row, so I decided to see what it was all about. Everyone gets mad, it’s a normal human emotion, he said. He encouraged participants to think about why they are angry, and channel that emotion into the workout. In a way, it was almost like a workout plus a side of therapy.
One of my gripes about Hydrow is that it can be difficult to find a racing partner. The process of inviting another user to be your partner is cumbersome. You have to first think of a team name for the two of you, then manually enter the other person’s screen name to send them an invite. It would be nice if there was a list of other users seeking a teammate. It would also be a lot easier if you could click on a user’s profile in the social feed and invite them with a single click instead of having to type out their screen name and create a team name before sending the invite.
During one live row, I was neck and neck with another user on the leaderboard, and I thought they would make a good partner. I tried to memorize the spelling of their screen name so I could invite them after the race, but once the race ended I forgot it, and the leaderboard went away, so I couldn’t invite them.
I currently have three pending invitations out to other users, and still don’t have a partner. If someone doesn’t accept your invite in a week, it goes away. If anyone reading this wants to be my Hydrow rowing teammate, send me an invite: I’m AngelaPCMag.
Another critique I will bring up is that since it’s so expensive, I wish Hydrow offered a larger selection and variety of mat-based classes. There are plenty of rowing workouts, but the selection beyond that is limited, and most of the mat-based classes are short and meant to be warm-ups and cooldowns.
Comparisons and Conclusions
With many gyms still closed due to COVID-19, the smart home gym equipment market is skyrocketing. If you’re in the market for a connected fitness machine, the Hydrow is worth considering. It’s a premium machine (with a price to match) on which you can stream live and on-demand rows led by excellent instructors, filmed primarily on the scenic and unpredictable waters of Miami Beach and Boston. It brings an element of competition and philanthropy to your workouts with leaderboards, weekly challenges, and company donations to Water.org after every 60 days you’re active.
The Hydrow is better looking and gives you a smoother ride than the NordicTrack RW900, but it’s $500 more and its library of mat-based workouts could use a boost. The RW900’s selection and variety of iFit workouts is unparalleled, offering everything from boxing and HIIT to Pilates, strength training, yoga, and more to supplement your rowing. Hydrow’s workout library will undoubtedly grow over time, but right now the RW900 offers more value, and thus retains our Editors’ Choice. But if money is no object, and rowing is your workout of choice, the Hydrow is worth a serious look.