Over the past decade or two, rowing machines — which once were relegated to dimly lit boat houses for the winter training by crew teams — have come out into the sunlight and into many people’s homes. As people have begun recognizing the superior full-body workout that can be achieved with a rowing machine, it’s becoming a popular piece of equipment for at-home exercise.
If you’re looking to get fit quickly with minimal wear-and-tear on your 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.”
Rowing is an efficient way to get fit in short order, and it’s low-impact exercise, so it’s suitable for a wide range of people who may have mobility or joint issues or people who can’t run, says Kathleen Uchman, a fitness instructor and personal trainer based in Knoxville, Tennessee. “The capabilities across all lifestyles is huge,” she says, meaning that from the least fitness-oriented neophyte to elite athletes, rowing offers something for everyone, and it can be a great tool to meet anyone where they are right now in terms of fitness. “You can get somebody who’s just beginning their journey and they can use this equipment and this person can feel successful on it.”
[READ: Rowing Machine Workout Benefits.]
The Ergatta Difference
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 delivery and installation, and a monthly subscription of $29 per month or $319 for the first year. After one year, the discounted annual membership offer expires and the annual rate is $348.
Ergatta launched in March 2020, just as the coronavirus pandemic hit, and Tom Aulet, co-founder and CEO of the New York City-based company, says business has been booming ever since.
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, a stationary bike company with an adjoining app that offers on-demand and live-streamed workout classes, Ergatta doesn’t offer the same type of fitness classes like you’d find on Peloton.
Turning Fitness Into a Game
Ergatta seeks to gamify workouts to keep people who don’t like exercise classes 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 and dynamic and keeps users wanting more.
There are a variety of game options on the Ergatta, but in many of them, you’ll watch a ball on the screen that moves in sync with your stroke and that you need to propel along a pathway or to pass certain milestones. Other workout options are set in digital outdoor settings that mimic rowing a boat on water.
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 the designated charity for that month.
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-inch inseam (typical of a 6-foot, 8-inches 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 inches long, 23 inches wide and 40 inches high, and when stored upright, it’s 23 inches long, 22.5 inches wide and 68 inches high. It weighs 103 pounds when set up, and 76.5 pounds without the water. It also includes a 17.3-inch touchscreen that’s Bluetooth-enabled for heart-rate monitors. Audio Wi-Fi connection is also required.
Aulet says the machines are hand-crafted in Rhode Island from American cherry wood. They can be folded up and stored against a wall or in a closet for those who live in small spaces or be left out on display.
[Read: Best Rowing Machines.]
There are several different types of rowers on the market, and these generally fall into three types:
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.
Uchman notes that air rowers require very little maintenance but still offer a fantastic workout.
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. The level of resistance is based entirely on how hard you pull, which is different from magnetic and air rowers where you set the resistance levels before you start rowing.
Ergatta is a water 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.
Uchman, who’s a certified water rower instructor and has taught group water rowing classes for years, says that water rowers require a little more maintenance than air rowers. She also notes that it’s imperative that you have the right amount of water in the tank, as that provides the right resistance level for your workout.
Magnetic Resistance Rowers
This type of rower 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 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.
What Else to Know Before You Buy
Uchman warns that it’s imperative to be sure you’re using correct form when undertaking any kind of rowing workout. “My fear is always injury if you’re not training on how to do it.” She says it’s worth it to connect one-on-one with an instructor or personal trainer who’s well-versed in rowing technique to make sure that your form is correct. She adds that while she loves rowing machines and what they can do, she just wants users to stay injury-free.
“The last thing you want to do is just start pulling with your arms,” she says. Because while it may look like rowing is all about upper body, in fact “60% of the power comes from the legs.” To engage your legs and core to drive the stroke properly requires sitting just right, timing your stroke and not slouching. A coach can help you learn to do that.
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.
Uchman says it’s even more important to try out each option for yourself. “Try every single option that you can find.” She says each type of rower feels a little different and you’ll likely have a preference for one over the other. “You cannot understand how different they each feel until you actually experience them.” She recommends ranking your preferences and then figuring out what will fit in your budget.
She also recommends thinking about what will keep you motivated. “I think a lot of it just comes down to external motivation. What are you motivated by?” If you like games, an Ergatta is probably a great choice. If you’re less interested in that and just want to get a quality cardiovascular workout in, then a less expensive air rower might be the better option. “Do you need someone who’s pushing you, whether you’re in a class or doing it virtually? Or are you able to push yourself via your own goals and expectations?” Figuring out the answers to those questions will help you make the best decision for yourself, Uchman says.
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Update 05/23/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.