I’ll admit that rowing has never really been my jam. Aside from a handful of times I’ve used it during an Orangetheory class, it’s a sport I mostly associate with the Winklevoss twins. Still, I’ve seen and heard plenty of folks extoll the virtues of rowing as a highly efficient form of low-impact cardio and strength training — I just didn’t feel interested enough to publicly attempt it on the sad, neglected rower at my local gym. So with that in mind, I was curious but skeptical of the $1,495 Hydrow Wave.
The Wave is Hydrow’s second rower and comes roughly two months after Peloton announced it was getting into the connected rowing space. It’s slimmer, sleeker, and a thousand dollars less than the original $2,495 Hydrow rower. According to Hydrow CEO Bruce Smith, that’s because the machine is meant to address the two main barriers to indoor rowing: price and space.
The original Hydrow measures 86 inches long, 25 inches wide, and 47 inches tall. It also weighs 145 pounds and features a 22-inch HD screen. That’s basically the size of a three-seater couch. Meanwhile, the Wave has a slightly smaller footprint, measuring 80 inches long, 19 inches wide, and 43 inches tall. It’s also a tad lighter at 102 pounds and has a smaller 16-inch touchscreen. Like the original, it supports rowers up to 375 pounds and has a proprietary resistance mechanism that purportedly mimics the feel of water without creating a lot of noise. The Wave’s smaller size means it can be sent directly to customers via UPS, eliminating the need for scheduled deliveries.
If you look at the specs, it doesn’t seem like the Wave is that much smaller or sleeker. However, once it was in my living room, I could see the differences clearly. The base isn’t quite as chunky, and at a glance, it looks quite similar to the Concept2 rower — if you stuck a larger screen on it and moved the flywheel to the bottom. As for whether it fits into any apartment… yes and no.
When the Wave was first delivered to my apartment, I had the delivery crew assemble it in my office. Technically, it fit. Except the end jutted out into the doorway so we couldn’t shut the door, and I banged my shin on it within the first 24 hours. I tried moving it diagonally so we could close the office door, but that just made it impossible to walk from one end of the room to the other.
Ultimately, I had to re-do my entire living room to accommodate the Wave. I also appreciated that this 102-pound device was easy for me to move on my own, thanks to the wheels on the front side of the device. It’s better now, but I don’t love how it’s such a huge focal point of the room now. Sure, it’s sleek and makes our living room look pretty modern. But it’s also the first thing you see when you walk in our front door. I’d have preferred storing it vertically — which you can do if you don’t mind paying $190 for a vertical anchor kit. I’d have done it in a heartbeat, but $190 is too expensive for my tastes.
So when it comes to space, the Wave is more manageable in tight spaces than its predecessor or a traditional treadmill. The slimmer design also gives the illusion that it’s smaller than it is and is more aesthetically pleasing. However, a stationary bike is still way more space-efficient, so I’d take Hydrow’s claim about the Wave’s smaller size with a grain of salt.
As for build quality, the Wave is a nice piece of equipment. I wish the screen were a tad larger since I have poor eyesight. That said, it was easy to read my metrics during a workout, and I could always scooch up closer on the seat when picking a class or reviewing my performance afterward. It’s also one of the quietest exercise machines I’ve ever tested. My husband took several calls while I was using it in the same room and never once complained.
While Hydrow’s space claims were a tad overblown, the Wave makes a stronger case in terms of price. Granted, $1,495 is pricey — especially when compared to the $900 Concept2. You’re basically paying an extra $600 (and monthly $38 membership) for the classes, touchscreen, and smaller footprint. Smith did say that the company is working with Klarna to provide a four-year financing option, meaning you can pay roughly $32 monthly for the machine. Altogether, that’s roughly $70 monthly if you include the subscription. That said, I’d argue that for rowing beginners, it may be worth the extra splurge.
That’s because, as I mentioned earlier, proper rowing form isn’t intuitive. It involves three steps — the catch, the drive, and the recovery. (Rowing, in general, has a lot of jargon that can be intimidating to newcomers.) I’ve heard it described as a waltz since you’re moving your arms, body, and legs before reversing it with legs, body, and arms. For me, it was easier to visualize it as a seated deadlift. Either way, it feels weird, and there’s a reason I never felt confident doing it publicly at the gym.
However, Hydrow’s beginner programming was incredibly helpful in guiding my rowing form. It automatically shows up on the home screen, and the first three 15-minute workouts are dedicated to acclimatizing you to proper form and the three types of Hydrow workouts: Breathe, Sweat, and Drive. Breathe workouts are lower intensity with a focus on form, while Sweat sessions are more intermediate workouts focused on “heart health and toning.” Drive workouts are the most challenging and really push you on both the cardio and strength training front. Immediately after those three workouts, you’ll be prompted into another 10-session program designed to gradually build up your fitness with shorter workouts.
I blasted through all the introductory classes in the first week of using the Wave. To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Part of that was I could experiment and learn at home and not in front of more experienced gym-goers. That’s my own self-consciousness speaking, but it’s a real thing that stops many beginners from going to the gym in the first place.
When it comes to on-demand fitness classes, I’ve been around the block. I wouldn’t say Hydrow’s are revolutionary in the sense that you’re still following along with experts spewing motivational quotes and tips about your form. However, each class is well-crafted and oddly soothing — probably because it’s filmed on an actual body of water, and there’s a meditative quality to rowing workouts because they’re rhythmic by nature. You can tune out the inspirational speeches if you want and focus on matching the instructor’s rowing cadence while also watching their form.
Did I think that after three weeks, I would do a 45-minute Drive session with several all-out effort intervals and have fun doing it? No. Similar workouts on treadmills usually leave me cursing, and I love running. But I did enjoy myself. A lot. I’m a skeptical person. I don’t often find gadgets that pleasantly surprise me. The fact that I actually… enjoy rowing now and plan to take it up as my main form of cross-training going forward is genuinely shocking.
While I have few complaints content-wise, I do wish it was easier to use the Wave with my Apple Watch. Previously, you had to download a third-party app to do that, and it ended up being easier pairing my Polar H10 chest strap over Bluetooth for on-screen heart rate tracking. After initial publication, Hydrow clarified that it recently released a new Apple Health integration via its iOS app. This isn’t out of the ordinary when it comes to integrating third-party apps with fitness equipment — it’s simply annoying. For example, I liked not having to download the Hydrow app on my phone to use the device. But if I want to automatically sync my workouts with Apple Health, I have to.
As with all connected fitness tech, my biggest concern is the health of the company itself. Unlike “dumb” gym equipment, if a connected fitness company goes under, you can end up with a bricked machine. The chances of this happening are higher now that this space is getting real crowded, with several startups coming up with their own takes on equipment to take on more established players. Rowing might be the next big thing in connected fitness, but that doesn’t automatically mean Hydrow will remain the leader forever.
Case in point, while Hydrow’s claim to fame may have been as the “Peloton of rowing,” Peloton itself is coming out with a rower. The company itself might be riding the struggle bus lately, but Peloton is a household name. Hydrow isn’t there yet. There’s also Aviron, another connected rowing company, out here making similar content. Apple Fitness Plus also includes rowing among its classes — and those automatically integrate with the Apple Watch.
Ahead of today’s launch, I asked Smith if Hydrow was feeling the heat. You’d think Hydrow would be a little salty that Peloton (and others) are trying to “encroach on its turf,” so to speak. However, Smith says he isn’t too concerned about the competition.
“Honestly, every single investor that I’ve ever talked to about Hydrow has said, ‘Well, people don’t know about rowing,’” says Smith. “So as a company, we were all praying that they [Peloton] would launch a rower sooner because we want the rest of the world to understand that this is a really great exercise.”
Smith is referring to the fact that studies have found that rowing exercises 86 percent of a person’s muscles in a relatively short 10–15 minute workout. That said, rowers are nowhere near as popular as bikes and treadmills. Some of that is due to the fact that rowing was historically a more exclusive sport, but indoor rowing itself has become increasingly popular in recent years thanks to boutique fitness classes.
“We’ll take full credit, you know, for leading them [Peloton] into the revolution,” says Smith. “We see the bike category and treadmill category declining over the next five years because it’s going to give up market share to the rowing category.”
There may be some truth to what Smith is saying. From 2020 to 2021, Hydrow says its revenue tripled even as consumers started heading back to brick-and-mortar gyms. The company also garnered $255 million in funding, counting celebrities like Lizzo, Justin Timberlake, and Kevin Hart among its investors. But again, the connected fitness industry has more competition now than ever — and the post-pandemic environment hasn’t been entirely kind to some of its biggest players.
It’s hard to predict how this will all shake out. However, if my experience is any indication, I’d say Hydrow has a decent chance of at least maintaining its little niche. Usually, when I send review loaners back to companies, I quickly move on to the next. I keep a tight lid on my spending, and this is one expensive category that doesn’t warrant me using my own money to maintain multiple subscriptions. The fact that I am sitting here debating a $20 app-only Hydrow subscription so I can continue the classes on my gym’s sad, neglected rower? That’s wild.
Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge
Correction, July 7th, 12PM ET: After initial publication, Hydrow reached out to clarify its Apple Health integration, financing options, and vertical storage for the Hydrow Wave. The article has been updated with the correct information.