Your relationship with the rowing machine to date involves noticing it in the dark corner of a gym. Sound familiar? Don’t worry you’re in good company.
In recent years, while the spin bike has reigned supreme, the rowing machine hasn’t received a lot of attention. But that could be all about to change as rowing is having a big moment.
It was tipped as one of this year’s hottest fitness trends – and a flurry of studios and classes dedicated to rowing-based workouts are now starting to crop up around London.
Rowing is the ultimate full-body scorcher as it uses almost every muscle in your body (85% to be precise). Plus it’s low-impact, which means it’s kinder on your joints than the treadmill or other high impact fat-burning workouts.
DOSE writer Sam tested out three of London’s best indoor group rowing classes and found herself getting 100% onboard…
GROW FITNESS – SOHO
It’d be easy to miss this studio if you weren’t in the know as it’s tucked away down a cul-de-sac off Tottenham Court Road. It’s small but perfectly formed and kitted out with a dozen sleek indoor water rowing machines. After some stretching to loosen everything up, I strap my feet into the rower as our instructor guides us through the technique. There’s much more to rowing than sliding back and forth and yanking the handle. It’s all about driving from the legs and the core is doing a fair amount of work too, he tells us.
After a few minutes on the rower I’m already panting and wiping the sweat off my brow, but the real work is about to begin. The lights go down, the music booms and we’re in pairs swapping between sprints on the rower and lower body weight exercises like squats, ball slams and snatches. Savage is the only word to describe the military-style five-minute finisher. It has all the killers – burpees, press-ups, shoulder punches and more. I don’t make it to the end but I feel less disheartened when I’m told nobody has ever completed it.
I’m a hot mess but leave on a post-class high. I’d recommend this workout to anyone, however, I’d warn them there’s absolutely nowhere to hide.
SWEAT FACTOR: 6/10
FRAME – FARRINGDON AND VICTORIA
One of the trendiest studios around, Frame has an extensive timetable of classes and ‘Power Row’ is the newest addition. I’ve arrived at the Farringdon branch at an ungodly hour wishing I’d had a triple espresso but alas it’s time to put my game face on. Once the banging tunes begin (they’re always a guarantee here) I settle straight into the workout, which begins on the rowing machine. Again technique is emphasised and we’re focusing on taking long and powerful strokes rather than ramping up the speed.
Next we test our stamina and blitz four minutes on the machines jumping off every 100m to do ten press-ups. It’s gruelling but knowing everyone else is suffering too is perversely motivating. You know you’re in for a good time when the TRX gets involved and that’s where we’re moving to next. We do several rounds of arm rows, forearm plank and pike tucks combined with kettlebell deadlifts.
This class is beginner-friendly yet there’s scope for rowing pros to push themselves too. Plus, if you’re short on time there’s a lunchtime ‘Quickie Row’ session. Oh Frame, you think of everything.
SWEAT FACTOR: 5/10
ENGINE ROOM – REGENT’S PARK
It may be the new kid on the block but it’s by far the most revolutionary. Engine Room is a boutique rowing studio located in a converted grade II listed church near Regent’s Park. I’m here on launch day and there’s a buzz of excitement in the air. The building is beautiful with high-vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows but once you’re inside the studio it feels more like a nightclub than a former place of worship.
Chris Heron, who is the brains behind Engine Room and has 20 years experience in the fitness industry, is leading our ‘BEATS’ class. I hop onto one of the state-of-the-art rowing machines and we begin with a technical masterclass, followed by a four-minute row and four minutes on the floor. All the machines are hooked up to a large screen so you can track your performance and compete with yourself (or others!). This really spurs me on and at one point I genuinely thought I was competing in the Oxford and Cambridge boat race. Metrics and numbers feature heavily here – there’s also a body composition machine and a downloadable app where you can record your progress. It’s all very fancy and no expense has been spared.
Chris is yelling for us to push through the pain barrier as we come into the final set of sprint intervals. It’s intense and I have to dig deep but the rush of adrenaline keeps me going. At the end of the class I look around and everyone is smiling and high-fiving. If I wasn’t already convinced that rowing is set to be the new spinning, I am now.
SWEAT FACTOR: 7/10