Over the past decade or two, rowing machines — which once were relegated to dimly-lit boat houses for the long-slog of winter training by crew teams — have come out into the sunlight and into many homes. As people have begun recognizing the superior full-body workout that can be achieved with a rowing machine, it’s becoming a more popular piece of equipment for at-home exercise.
If you’re looking to get fit quickly and with minimal wear-and-tear on joints, you’d be hard pressed to find a better cardiovascular workout than rowing. Vickie Otto, a physical therapist with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, says that “rowing on an indoor rower is truly a full-body workout.”
[Read: Best Rowing Machines.]
The Difference About Ergatta
When it comes to rowing at home, there’s a wide range of options available, from simple air resistance machines that cost a couple hundred dollars to sleek and sophisticated connected machines that cost in the thousands.
A new entrant to the latter group is a company called Ergatta, which makes a connected rowing machine that retails for $2,199, with an additional $199 for shipping and installation and a monthly subscription of $29 per month or $290 for the year. The company offers a 30-day return guarantee.
Ergatta launched in March 2020, just as the coronavirus pandemic hit, and Tom Aulet, co-founder and CEO of Ergatta, the NYC-based company that makes these high-end, connected rowing machines and content for them, says business has been booming ever since. “We don’t really have a before and after” comparison of business prior to the pandemic and after, but “we’ve done really, really, really well. We’ve been sold out for much of the year and growing like crazy.”
Though exact numbers were unavailable, Aulet says the company had grown more than 100% quarter-over-quarter every quarter in 2020, and that trajectory is on pace to continue in 2021.
What makes Ergatta different from other connected fitness equipment and at-home rowing workouts is primarily the type of content the company offers. While many people make the comparison of Ergatta to Peloton, Ergatta doesn’t offer fitness classes like you’d find on Peloton.
Turning Fitness Into a Game
Instead, Ergatta seeks to gamify workouts to keep people who don’t like exercise classes to stay motivated and moving toward their goals. “It’s a gamified take on workout programming,” he says that leverages game theory to make workouts more interesting, dynamic and keeps users wanting to do more.
As you progress further in fitness levels and achievement, you’ll unlock new games and workouts. If you want, you’ll be paired up with other users who are at a similar fitness level, so you can build competition and rivalries.
There’s also a monthly challenge for users that gives back to a different charity each month. For every member who competes the month’s challenge, $5 is donated to the current charity. In February 2021, for example, the challenge was called Meteor Mania. It asks users to complete 15 Meteor workouts — a specific workout type on the platform — with the donation for completed challenges going to Know Your Rights Camp.
Currently, the company offers roughly 1,000 workouts divided into four types of games — though it’s continually working to develop new games and adding workout options to keep users engaged and motivated. Aulet says the company is “super early in our evolution. We know that interactive gaming for cardio equipment will be a huge thing.” Ergatta is aiming to be front of the line in pioneering that approach to fitness.
“We’re trying to make you feel like you’re playing a game or playing a sport,” Aulet says, and for that to work, the equipment has to be connected so that data from your performance can feed back to the game in real time. He says the aim is to provide the challenge and motivation of a competitive sport, whether you’re racing against others or your own previous best.
In terms of the equipment itself, the Ergatta rower can support up to 500 pounds and a 40″ inseam (typical of a 6′ 8″ tall person). Wheels on the back of the rower make it easy to move and store by a single person. When in use, the machine measures 86″ x 23″ x 40″, and when stored upright, it’s 23″ x 22.5″ x 68″. It weighs 103 pounds when set up, and 76.5 pounds without the water. It also includes a 17.3″ touchscreen that’s Bluetooth-enabled for heart rate monitors. Audio Wi-Fi connection required.
The Ergatta rower is designed to look elegant and fit in with the furniture in your home, rather than being relegated to the basement or the garage. Aulet says the machines are hand crafted in Rhode Island of American cherry wood. They can be folded up and stored against a wall or in a closet for those who live in small spaces, but Aulet says they’re beautiful enough to be on display in the living room.
There are several different types of rowers on the market, and these generally fall into three types:
— Air resistance rowers.
— Water resistance rowers.
— Magnetic resistance rowers.
Air Resistance Rowers
This type of rower features a handle that’s attached to a chain connected to a flywheel. These rowers use air to generate resistance. You can adjust the resistance by opening or closing the damper. This device lets in more air for heavier resistance or closes it off for less resistance.
Air resistance rowers typically cost less than water or magnetic resistance rowers. They can be noisy but are durable. These are the old-school rowers that crew teams have been using for eons. Concept2 is widely regarded as the market leader in this type of rowing machine.
Water Resistance Rowers
Water rowers use a similar design except that water, located inside a sealed container attached to the machine, provides the resistance. “With a water rower, you’re making your own resistance,” Otto says.
The harder you row, the more water the paddles move, creating more drag and higher resistance. This makes for a seamless increase in resistance as you work out, which mimics the effects of being on the water and rowing in an actual boat.
This is the type of resistance used in an Ergatta rower, and Aulet says “water resistance has a lot of advantages. It sounds much better, and you can do it in the next room from a sleeping baby. It also feels smoother and more natural because you’re literally pulling a paddle through water.”
He adds that the resistance is distributed throughout the stroke, which can make the workout easier on your back than an air resistance rower that requires overcoming inertia initially to engage the stroke. That can stress the back if your technique isn’t quite right.
Magnetic Resistance Rowers
This is a newer type of rower that uses magnets to generate smooth resistance that can be incrementally adjusted via a dial or a button on a touch screen. It makes for an easy and simple manual adjustment of resistance, and they’re quieter than air resistance machines. Hydrow and the NordicTrack RW900 are two high-end connected rowing machines that use this type of technology.
Which Rower Is Best?
A key difference between Ergatta, other rowing machines and other connected fitness devices is that their content is different from most others currently available. Instead of overly-enthusiastic fitness instructors and classes, with Ergatta, Aulet says, you’re playing a game — whether you choose to compete against other users or just yourself is up to you — and you don’t have to find a favorite instructor.
Aulet notes that if someone asks you who your favorite fitness instructor is “and you have an answer in two seconds, you should probably buy a Peloton bike or a Hydrow.” For some people, that interaction with a class or instructor is really valuable.
But it’s not for everyone. “Half of the fitness industry doesn’t like fitness classes,” and for people who don’t, the Ergatta is a good option for staying motivated and on target without the class feel or an instructor shouting at you, Aulet says.
When all is said and done, the right rower for you is the one that’s going to fit your budget and that you’ll use regularly. Otto recommends “asking around. I think word of mouth is huge on this one.” Talk to other people you know who have or use rowing machines and see what they prefer.
And if you can, try out various machines and their content — if you’re looking at a connected rower — to see what fits your personality and preferences best.
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Update 11/26/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.