Any other year, the Peloton Row would’ve made a splash. The long-awaited rower was the “worst-kept secret” in connected fitness, and its launch heralds Peloton’s expansion into a whole new category. But this is a year where Peloton laid off thousands of employees, shuttered its domestic manufacturing, and watched its stock price spiral down the drain. Peloton would have you believe that the Row revolutionizes rowing. But while testing the Row, which costs $3,195, I couldn’t help but wonder how it fits into Peloton’s future.
Tried and true design
I can hardly keep up with Peloton’s business these days. Prices go up, then they go down — for both the stock and products themselves. CEO Barry McCarthy is an idea factory, throwing out a number of different strategies to see what sticks. But if there’s one consistent thing about Peloton, it’s that the company knows how to deliver the experience its members want.
As I wrote in my hands-on, the Row’s design is what you’d expect. It’s not as sleek as the Hydrow Wave, but it looks nicer than the lonely rower in the corner of your gym. There’s Peloton’s signature red-and-black color scheme and the Peloton logo emblazoned just about everywhere it’ll fit. The 23-inch HD touchscreen is easy on the eyes, even if it can’t play anything but Peloton content. Like the Bike Plus, the display swivels, so you can use it for floor workouts like yoga, strength, HIIT, and even meditation. Lastly, the Row can accommodate people between 4 feet 11 inches and 6 feet 5 inches tall who weigh up to 300 pounds.
Overall, it’s a well-made piece of equipment. The handle is comfortable to grip, and I never had to take off my rings as I did with the Wave. The seat is more plush than other rowers I’ve used. My glutes are thankful. The foot straps are sturdy and easy to adjust, though I don’t recommend using the Row with chunky sneakers. All my sneakers are of the chunky variety, and it made strapping in a tad annoying.
My main gripe with the hardware is its size. Connected fitness companies keep trying to convince me that their rowers aren’t gigantic, but the Row takes up a good chunk of my living room. I don’t love that, but it won’t fit anywhere else. It’s 7 feet 10 inches long, two feet wide, and four feet tall. That’s longer than the Peloton Tread. You can use the included wall mount for vertical storage, but unfortunately, I can’t tell you how easy it is to install. My landlord loathes the idea of drilling a hole into the wall for gym equipment. That said, I’m not the biggest person, and I was able to move around this 156-pound rower by myself.
What’s up, Peloton fam?
You get used to hearing that a lot in Peloton classes.
Peloton makes hardware, but its classes are the real product. Its rowing content follows a similar recipe to its Bike and Tread offerings. I tried a mix of classes, ranging from 10-minute beginner rows to brutal Bootcamps that left me huffing and puffing. Bootcamp workouts alternate rowing intervals with floor exercises — strength training, push-ups, burpees, et cetera. They are the bane of my existence. On the opposite end, beginner classes were a good introduction to rowing form, but I wish Peloton had included multiple beginner programs to cement what you’ve learned. Workouts range from five to 60 minutes and cover anything from longer endurance rows, which are meant to be more zen, to high-intensity interval rows. Regardless of workout type, you can choose between beginner, intermediate, and advanced difficulty.
When I first started testing the Row, there were only a handful of available lessons. There’s a lot more variety now, but the catalog isn’t yet what I’d call extensive. Part of this is because the Row won’t start shipping until next month, and with live classes added to the on-demand library, I expect this to improve further over time. But if you intend to row most days of the week, you might need to repeat a class or two in the beginning — especially if you prefer longer workouts. Right now, there are only three 60-minute classes and 10 45-minute classes.
Otherwise, instructors guide classes based on stroke rate and customized pace target ranges. If you’re unfamiliar with rowing metrics, I wouldn’t worry. Instructors go over them each and every class while you strap in and warm up. You can also edit your personal pace targets and “drag” — the overall resistance — in settings.
If classes aren’t your jam, you can also opt for the Just Row or Scenic Row workouts. The former throws up your metrics — stroke rate, pace, etc. — on-screen, while the latter lets you look at calming waterscapes. I say this in every Peloton review, but I wish you could access Netflix or any other streaming service for these types of workouts. Instead, if I want to watch my stories while rowing, I’ve gotta prop my phone in the phone holder.
The class selection should please existing Peloton fans, but whether they’ll appeal to people who aren’t already part of the “Peloton fam” depends on what you’re looking for. I happen to prefer Hydrow’s classes because they’re chill. Rowing, for me, is a form of meditative cross-training, and there’s something soothing about the instructors actually rowing on the water. Peloton’s overall vibe is more upbeat. Peppy, if you will. The instructors are in a studio, and they also ask you to row at a higher intensity than Hydrow. It’s better suited to folks who need a motivational push or want to get the most out of a short workout. One approach isn’t better than the other — it’s simply two different flavors.
I need to work on my drive
None of this so far is what I’d call revolutionary. It’s simply taking what works from Peloton’s other categories and applying it to rowing. What is unique about the Row is it gives you real-time form feedback. The seat and handle contain sensors, and during setup, you go through a roughly five-minute calibration process. That then enables a feature called Form Assist, which is a lil collapsable window on the left-hand side of the screen where you can monitor your technique.
As I mentioned earlier, correct rowing form isn’t intuitive. It consists of four elements: the catch, drive, finish, and recovery. In practice, you move your legs, body, and arms before reversing the sequence. Doing it correctly is harder than it sounds, especially once you start getting tired. Form Assist shows you a figure of yourself as you row, and when you screw up, a portion of the body turns red. For example, if you open up too early in the drive, your core will turn red. At the end of the workout, you get a readout of how well you did in each of the four elements. In the workout summary, there’s also a small breakdown of your most common mistakes.
This is how I know my drive sucks. Whereas my catch, finish, and recovery are usually above 85 percent, my drive is routinely in the 50–60 percent range. In my last workout, I opened up too early in 53 percent of my strokes. But while I’m aware of this, the Peloton Row doesn’t offer any real tips on how to fix this, aside from looking at Form Assist and thinking to myself, “Don’t open up too early! Awww frick, I opened too early.” Still, I started out with my drive in the 40–50 percent range, so I guess I’ve slowly improved over the past two months.
This price is not right
My biggest complaint about the Row is the price. At $3,195, it’s much more expensive than other connected rowers. That doesn’t include accessories like the $90 Peloton Heart Rate Band. Rivals Hydrow, Ergatta, and Aviron sell their connected rowers for around $2,000 to $2,500. Hydrow also has the $1,495 Wave, which is a more compact option. It’s not just the price of the hardware, either. You also have to think about the subscription. Peloton increased its monthly membership to $44 earlier this summer.
In this economy?
I like a lot of things about this rower, but that’s too much money. In this economy? You could buy a Concept2 rower for $990 and an $80 annual Fitness Plus subscription for a little over $1,000. You don’t even need to have the Apple Watch for that anymore. With the Row, you’re really paying a $2,000 premium for Peloton branding and Form Assist. Another bummer is that at launch, Peloton’s rowing classes will be exclusive to the Row. A small number of rowing classes will eventually make it to the app, but that’s about it. That’s clearly a ploy to encourage Row sales, and it likely has something to do with Peloton’s troubled finances.
It’s baffling. Considering Peloton’s future is in flux, you’d think it’d want its products to be as accessible as possible. That’s not likely at this price. Then again, it’s hard to say whether this price will stick long-term. Peloton has experimented a lot with hardware pricing this year. First, it lowered costs to move its bloated inventory and then hiked them back up again months later. This volatility is the danger of connected fitness. You can buy in expecting one thing, but when the winds of fortune change, you’re at the whims of the company. If the company goes under, you could be left with a bricked device you paid way too much for.
You don’t need to be a genius to know the economy isn’t looking so hot right now. Record inflation is squeezing households, and the threat of layoffs looms large. Peloton’s never been cheap, but doubling down on its premium image at this point in time seems misguided. Fitness may be a vital part of your overall health, but paying out the nose for a fancy rower isn’t.
Photography by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge