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Hydrow has this old(ish) guy rowing again

I am not what the experts call a fitness buff. I consider myself reasonably active, biking and hiking regularly; walking for a round of golf where possible; occasionally enjoying sports like paddle tennis and pickle ball. But there are far too many hot dogs and several thousand cans of beer between me and my younger, leaner self.

Which is why my modest success at sticking with our new Hydrow rowing machine is worth noting. I’m not breaking any records on the thing. But I have rowed more than 80 miles since we got it, coming closer with every stroke to my first goal of an imaginary trek up Lake Michigan from Chicago to Mackinac Island. I am, in my mind, off the coast of Milwaukee.

The fact that I know I’ve rowed 80 miles is, of course, the key for me. I am among the last people in the world to figure out that tracking things like exercise - which Hydrow does for you - has the effect of pushing you to row more. Who knew?

The selling point for the thing is the guided workouts. You don’t just sit there and row, watching a screen add up the miles. You can participate in a live row, with professional rowers coaching you from a screen, and the times of fellow Hydrowers displayed to keep you motivated. Or you can call up any of a vast number of pre-taped rows. The model for this is Peleton, of course.

The “guided” part of the experience is essential at first, unless you are already a trained rower. There is a proper technique to rowing, and knowing it can both improve your speed and maximize your work-out.

Like in a real rowing scull, the seat on a Hydrow slides back and forth. Each stroke starts with the rower crouched closest to the screen, legs bent and arms extended forward, holding the tethered handle that simulates the oars. Your feet are strapped into adjustable foot rests, mounted to the machine.

Each stroke starts with the legs, which should drive the body back while the arms are still extended. As the seat slides backward, the rower’s upper body leans up, then back, followed finally by the arms pulling the oars to the chest.

The stroke is then repeated in reverse order – arms releasing forward, upper body leaning up, then forward, and legs returning to the crouch as the seat slides forward. As this description should make clear, the act of rowing exercises many muscles. It’s easy to break a sweat on this thing, and perhaps the most satisfying feeling is that sense you are exercising the core. You feel like you are accomplishing something.

The guided rows are helpful, as the coaches offer both technical advice, observations on life, and good old fashioned motivation. But the Hydrow also offers what it calls “journeys.” Here you simply row while looking at a screen of a scull rowing at various places around the world. I’ve rowed up and down the Cumberland River in Nashville, around Lake Lucerne in Switzerland, up and down the Charles River in Boston, to name a few. These rows tap into the meditative aspect of rowing. Once you feel comfortable with a basic rowing technique, it can be very comforting to simply row, letting yourself fall into a rhythm. I’ll often listen to a playlist on headphones, or maybe a podcast.

It helps that rowing has a special place in my heart. I grew up near the water, a hundred feet or so from Norwalk Harbor in Connecticut, to be exact. And I spent many happy hours in our little rowboat, shuffling up and down the coastline, or around my father’s boat as it sat at its mooring. I was a mostly quiet and solitary kid, and not particularly adventurous until my early teens. Rowing made me feel good, like I could do something that not every kid could do.

It's nice to get that feeling on an exercise machine, racking up the meters while looking out at other boats, or people on the shoreline.

You won’t see me at the Head of the Charles any time soon. And I’m not turning into one of these wiry 50-something guys who are – oh, what’s the phrase I’m looking for? Oh yeah – noticeably physically fit. But I am dropping a few pounds. I’m feeling a little bit stronger, and don’t get winded as easily. Mostly, though, I feel good when I do it, and good about doing it.

That’s good, right?



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