The Water Rower Workout

Anna Magee

glover stanningWhen Helen Glover and Heather Stanning took gold for the women’s rowing last year they made it look so exciting and with their perfect physiques, obviously effective. Even as they crossed the line, they looked effortless and elegant.

But I have always loathed rowing, along with just about just about everyone else that’s ever been near a traditional rowing machine.  They’re clunky and noisy and while most personal trainers love them, I have rarely seen anyone work out on a rower in the gym for more than five minutes.  When I have, they’ve never looked happy.

But recently, my interest in rowing has been piqued. Along with the Glover and Stanning incident, Simon, my business partner starting rowing for 45 minutes three times a week and not only lost a tonne of weight but got fit enough to complete a Durham to London bikeride – my geography is crap but I can tell you that is a bloody long way to cycle.

Then there was Frank Underwood, Kevin Spacey’s irresistible character in Netflix’s compelling House of Cards series whose wife bought him a rowing machine.


In my shallow little mind, Kevin Spacey doing late night workouts on a rowing machine in the basement of his Washington DC brownstone between meetings with heads of state managed to lend the idea of rowing workouts a degree of cool cred.

waterrower-naturalIn fact, Spacey is using a Water Rower, the sleek thinking person’s rowing machine.  Most traditional rowers use air fan technology which gives them a mechanical feel when you row  They have a heavy load at the front and a lighter one at the back because of their build which to the user can feel clunky and awkward.

flywheelWater rowers use only water, which swishes around a drum at the front of the machine known as the Water Flywheel. This mimics the natural dynamics of a boat moving down a river which makes for a more even rowing experience, like rowing on real water.

Believe it or not I have a life couldn’t get to a class last night so I had one delivered to the office on Thursday to do on Friday lunchtime for my 9th in this 30 workouts in 30 days odyssey.

First, it’s relatively beautiful, as far as home gym equipment goes and didn’t offend my colleagues.  Made in sustainably sourced natural ashwood  (it also comes in more expensive cherrywood or walnut) it’s stored standing up so could easily be left in a corner of the office when I wasn’t using it, so clients didn’t think a rowing workout was a compulsory element of all Healthista meetings.

Coming for a meeting at Healthista HQ? We'll make you sweat for it

Coming for a meeting at Healthista HQ? We’ll make you sweat for it

The two biggest differences in using a Water Rower were firstly that although it felt so much smoother than regular rowing machines, it also felt tougher overall because the whole stroke is pushing through water resistance through the Water Flywheel.  Second, you can’t increase resistance by pressing a button.  The only way to increase your load is to use your own weight.

Most people think rowing harder equates to pulling harder with their shoulders and arms.  But the pundits from Water Rower tell me it’s all in the legs.  You want to work harder? Push harder with your feet and legs.  This will hurt.  In fact, my 30 minute rowing workout using the technique I learned form Water Rower worked my abs and legs the most as this is where most of the stroke power comes from.

Five minutes in and not only were my hamstrings and core burning but everything was hurting.  According to Water Rower, rowing uses 84 per cent of your muscles, second only to swimming as a total body exercise.  They suggested I do 20 minutes of interval training which required ten sets of one minute rowing as hard as I could interchanged with one minute rowing moderately.  If it weren’t for the intervals to break it up, I would have been one thing: bored.  Truth is, for me rowing is like spinning.

But there are advantages.  Between repetitive thoughts of ‘When will this be over?’ I managed to use the stroke repetition as a kind of mental meditation in which I ticked off my mental to do list for Saturday: lie in, check. Lie in, check. Lie in, check. Drink tea, eat chocolate, check. Lie in, check.

The other upshot was that it was right there in the office screaming ‘Do me, you lazy mare’ so I couldn’t exactly ignore it without a torrent of guilt. Plus, there is the small detail that it burns masses of calories in a short time – in half an hour I burned 292, amongst my highest burning workouts yet.

Advice: get a good playlist.  I listened to Tre! by Green Day which was boppy enough to keep me feeling upbeat and excited despite the monotony of the rowing.  Anything with fewer beats would have slowed me right down.  Still, others I know watch telly as they row and one of the other big advantages of Water Rower is that it’s so much quieter and has none of the loud panting hiss of regular rowers so you can watch telly while doing it and not disturb your poor old family’s viewing experience.

There are now some new ways to make your row more interesting from Water Rower too.

water rower laptopA laptop stand available for £99 can be attached to the top of the rower though I can see navigation being a problem as your hands are kind of essential to the act of rowing.  Probably good for watching films though.

rowmat app 2Rowmate is also a new free app from Water Rower that allows you to set goals, record your workouts and monitor your progress.  From the iTune App store

waterrower extras 2

And if rowing alone doesn’t cut it for you but you like the idea of the whole home workout thing, Water Rower this year released a Pure Design Fitness Range of workout accessories with the same luscious wood design that includes hand weights, wall bars, cable pulling machines  and cool ‘Swing Bells’ that are like kettlebells but have a wood grip attached to a leather bound weight.

waterrower extras 1

Lastly, there is a whole host of how-to directions for rowing plus training programmes and a specialist training software called Watercoach that users can download for free at

PROS It’s right there so you can’t avoid the workout, it burns tonnes of calories in a short time, it’s quiet and beautiful, it feels smoother than regular rowing machines, it works just about every muscle in the body CONS it’s monotonous, it’s pricey to buy for home use What’s sore today? My hamstrings and tummy


Where: Can be used at home or Water Rowers are now in Fitness First, David Lloyd and Virgin Active Gyms

How much? Water Rowers for home use start at £699.  The one I tried cost £949

Did I pay? No, it was delivered to the office as a press loan

Calories burned: 292 in 30 minutes Calories calculated using the Ki Fit Body Monitor

More info:



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