The room is dark, the music is cranked, and I’m covered in sweat. Instead of my usual beast mode-inducing spin class, however, I’m on a rowing machine at Club Row in Vancouver. Don’t let the cheery flamingos, palm trees, and neon signage at the front fool you, it’s as tough as any Soul Cycle-style class I’ve ever done. Owner Nathan Morris opened his rhythm-based indoor rowing studio last year — the first of its kind in the world — and launched their new location this November. “The whole world is wearing Vancouver’s black stretchy pants and we want them to be doing our workout too,” says Morris.
The trend is catching on. Rowing machines are featured prominently in Orangetheory Fitness workouts, and Scullhouse in Toronto combines indoor rowing with strengthening mat work. Plus, a slew of boutique rowing studios are popping up across the U.S., from New York to Los Angeles. Take another look at the rower collecting dust in your basement or that sad corner at the gym because you can even do the workout on your own time with the CityRow Go app. Here’s why you might want to try rowing your way to better health.
It’s a total-body workout.
“You use 85 percent of the muscles in your body on every stroke,” says Morris. “The biggest misconception is that rowing is all arm work.” Because the rowing machine at Club Row (and other studios like it) uses a sliding seat, it’s a functional movement that engages the core, back, legs, and glutes in addition to working out your arms. The rowing machine also happens to be one of the best gym machines for weight loss.
In between Morris’ motivational mantras, I quickly learn that the initial push should come from my legs, not my arms. Morris says rowing is a more efficient way to burn calories than focusing on the small, isolationist movements in a Pilates or barre class. “That will really only work to tone an already fit body,” says Morris. “Most people should be thinking about what makes them healthier, gets their heart rate up, and puts resistance on their muscles, which rowing does.” (This indoor rowing fusion workout promises to burn up to 1,000 calories in a single class.)
It’s low impact.
Morris started rowing in his garage because of knee pain from years of long-distance running. Because rowing is a seated workout where you control the resistance, it doesn’t put stress on weight-bearing joints like running or cycling does. It’s one of the few forms of exercise that delivers a high-intensity cardiovascular workout while being low impact. Given the growing demand for HILIT (high-intensity, low-impact training) workouts, it’s no surprise that people are turning to rowing. For people with lower back injuries, it’s also a safe way to repair and strengthen those muscles. “Most people shy away from actively exercising their back, but that area of the body will start to break down if it’s not used,” explains Morris.
It’s a fun, social way to sweat.
“You can row by yourself but it’s not a Club Row class until there’s other people there,” says Morris. The owner and instructor says other fitness studios aren’t his biggest competition. Instead, he’s vying for the time people would usually spend at brunch spots, bars, or watching Netflix. “We’re part of a larger movement, rebranding exercise as entertainment,” explains Morris, who left a job in finance consulting when he realized the best part of his day was meeting up with friends at the gym after work. That sense of community still drives his business. “We don’t want our workout to be something people have to endure,” he says. “It’s one of the oldest workouts in the world; people have been rowing together for 10,000 years and there’s something that feels innately good about moving together in rhythm.” Next, read up on the best workout for your age, and check out the top-ranked fitness studios in Canada.