Is A Rowing Machine A Good Workout?

The Peloton Row launched in Canada recently, and Matt Wilpers came to Toronto (on his birthday!) to share his insights on the brand-spanking new machine, how it can work in your workouts and more. Lucky me, right? But with my home gym already loaded with the brand’s bike, a treadmill, TV and mat space to use the yoga, strength/bootcamp, dancing, barre, boxing and so on, on the Peloton and Alo Moves apps, I can’t help but wonder if I really do need to add rowing to my at-home exercise routine. So, I definitely took the opportunity to meet with Wilpers to find out for myself. Here’s everything I learned about the rowing machine coming to Canada.

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Do you need to add a rowing machine to your workouts?

I like variety in my workouts, and that’s a good thing, says my sports doctor, massage therapist, active release therapist and osteopath (I’ve got a painful condition, don’t ask). I do think it would be a ton of fun to add rowing to my Peloton at-home toolbox. (If you’re not a fan of studios or gyms, you might be wondering if you should buy a rowing machine, too.)

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So, what are the benefits of rowing?

Wilpers, who is one of the rowing class instructors and worked on the development of this rowing machine, tells me that form is key for results. The better the form, the more power, and the better your data, which means a stronger you/me. Rowing on a machine has been shown to improve cardio, especially with interval training, according to The International Journal of Sports Medicine

The rowing movement (pulling the hands to the chest) works the biceps, latissimus dorsi and trapezius. But most of the power will come from the legs when you push backward, targeting the quadriceps and the glutes. And the engagement of the core/abdominal muscles that keep the form firm.

As an endurance coach specialist, many of Wilper’s classes focus on increasing stamina with rowing (as you’ve expected from his Power Zone classes). With rowing, he says, “put the majority of the workload on the biggest muscles.” Focus on the legs and you’ll last longer in your workouts, while still working your upper body, he tells me. 

Is rowing the best form of cardio?

Is rowing better than biking and running? Should we only row three times a week? “It depends on your fitness goals,” Wilpers tells me. For baseline optimal health, Canadian adults should be working out a minimum of two-and-a-half hours a week, which includes aerobic activity and strength training. Rowing includes both strength and cardio benefits because of the resistance and the speed of the movement.  

“The results from a muscular and cardio standpoint are fantastic,” says Wilpers. “So you could do just row, and that’d be great. But as a runner or as a cyclist, rowing is fantastic cross-training, because you’re working the same energy systems. While we might be moving in a different movement pattern, we’re still working the heart and it’s low impact.”

If that sounds like something you want, then rowing could make sense. If you would like rowing or know you do, then it makes sense to add rowing to your fitness regime. The best workouts, the best exercises and the best fitness classes are the ones you actually do. 

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Is the Peloton Row worth it?

At first glance, four Gs is a lot of money. It’s a roundtrip flight to Europe. It’s over $6,500 in 10 years inside a savings account. (I work at MoneySense, and I can’t help but think this way.) So, even considering buying the Peloton Row is about a commitment to exercise. Will you use it? If no, then book yourself a vacay. 

If yes, then your next question likely is about comparing rowing machines.  

Comparing popular rowing machines in Canada

Here’s a quick chart comparing a few popular models in Canada, including the specs of the Peloton Row.

Data pointsPeloton RowJoroto Water Rowing MachineProForm 750R Folding RowingNordicTrack RW900 Rower
Dimensions• 94″ L x 24″ W
• 156.5 lbs
• 70″ L x 17.5″ W x 14″ H 
• 330 lbs
• 87″ L x 22″ W x 46″ H• 82″ L x 22″ W x 54″ H
• 163 lbs
Space-saving optionsWall storageFolds upFolds upFront-mounted wheels
Resistance ElectronicWaterMagneticMagnetic
Smart features • in-app features, such as classes and data• Swivel display
• Automatic resistance adjustments
• household memberships up to 20 profiles
• Form feedback
• in-app features, such as classes and data• in-app features, such as classes and data• in-app features, such as classes and data
• Swivel display
• Automatic resistance adjustments
• Up to five user profiles
Warranty• 5-year frame
• 1-year for parts (touchscreen and other components)• 1-year labour 
• 1-year frame
• 1-year parts
• 5-year frame
• 1-year parts
• 1-year labour
• 10-year frame 
• 2-year parts • 1-year labour
App PelotonKinomapiFIT mobile appiFIT mobile app
Monthly membership for on-demand classes and coaching$55$15$42 $42 
Where to

About those Peloton Row specs

The extra features of the Peloton machine really are a standout, especially if you live in a complex (up to 20 users per household!). But as someone who’s injured myself with bad form with at-home workouts (they’re called accidents, not on-purposes), I can appreciate the feedback on form. And improper form can lead to back and knee pain. The membership is the most expensive of the ones profiled here, but if you are already a Peloton member that fee doesn’t change. That’s kind of the perk when you already own one piece of equipment from the brand, the classes don’t come at an extra cost. It’s all included.

Is the Peloton Row worth it? It will be for some, and not for others. You have to assess if this is a priority for you, your money and your workouts. I know people who’ve used the Peloton app to try the workouts as a test run and ended up hooked. And in Canada, the rowing classes are included on the app. If, after looking at the features, you’re still not sure if you want to buy it, you may as well try it.

Also, check out FLEETSTREET’s Peloton Row review, too.

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How to use Peloton Row

“The Peloton Row is very similar to the user experience on the bike on the Tread and the Bike/Bike Plus,” says Wilpers. The first thing to do is to sit and strap your feet in, adjusting the foot pad so that the straps go across the top of the foot but below the toes (you don’t want to slip out!). Then turn on the screen with a touch, and go to the classes or to the “Form Assist” feature. Grab the handle with palms faced down and wrists extended, not bent. Your grip should be loose but firm so you can wiggle your fingers, and your thumbs wrapped underneath and your pinkies on the edge of the handle. “You’ll notice it’s very quiet,” says Wilpers. 

Proper form for rowing

If you break up the movement, your form will be really good. So don’t think of it as a big swoosh movement, but instead as two phases. British Rowing explains it as the drive phase and the recovery phase. 

Drive phase: Knees to chest, extend the arms. Begin pushing the feet away from the body, extending the knees. Then as you lean back, bend the arms, bringing the handle to the mid-chest (sports bra strap for those of us who wear those!). 

Recovery phase: Begin leaning forward, releasing the handle from the chest to extend the arms. With a slight bend in the knees, lean the upper body forward. As you extend the arms bring your knees toward the chest. 

Using the Peloton Row

When you first unbox your Row, you will go through like a calibration and be taught the correct form. On your Peloton screen, you will see cues for your form, along with other details, such as time, heart rate, strive score, distance, strokes and stroke rate, pace, output, calories and class stats, too. 

Row workouts, like all other Peloton workouts, are viewable under your profile workouts. 

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What to expect with the Peloton Row

Peloton does with the Row what it does to other equipment, like the stationary bike and treadmill. It makes workouts engaging, with data feedback, milestone and birthday shoutouts, and more. But it’s more similar to the Peloton Guide with its form cues shared above. But instead of using a camera to gauge your form, it follows the movement of the seat and handle to track your form.

Wilpers helped develop the machine, getting certified as a rowing coach and calling upon his experience as an endurance athlete and former varsity rower. 

On the Peloton app, you would have access to the following rowing classes: warm-up, cool-down, beginner, “Form & Drills” for perfecting performance, endurance, tabata, HIIT (high-intensity interval training), intervals, boot camp, theme (music, holiday, etc.), “Just Row” to go at your own pace, and “Scenic Row” with videos on the water. All the five- to 60-minute classes are taught by one of the following certified instructors: Adrian Williams (strength-conditioning), Alex Karwoski (Olympic rower), Ash Pryor (former Ohio State rower), Katie Wang (strength conditioning) and, of course, Wilpers.

“Our goal is to – just like with the Bike or the Tread, connect with the broader audience,” says Wilpers. “So if you can’t connect with me, you’re probably gonna connect with one of [other instructors.]” He also says to check out Pryor’s Mission Bay in San Diego scenic rows. “You can also explore British Columbia, Canada, which is cool.”