Back in the day when I used to belong to a big box gym I used to avoid the rowing machine like the plague. Just never found it appealing and (erroneously) believed it was purely an upper body exercise. Flash forward four years later and I am a rowing machine believer. It’s regularly featured as part of the workout at one of my favorite HIIT studios. Contrary to what I used to think, the rower is a full body workout. The arms are actually an afterthought. You push off with your legs, then recline your body back and finally pull your arms. Legs Arm Core.Also the mantra of Shaun Jenkins, Cityrow‘s charismatic instructor.
Cityrow is the first rowing studio to open in Manhattan. Williamsburgh’s Brooklyn Crew has been around for a while (also dying to try it). With my newfound love for the rower, I eagerly anticipated Cityrow’s opening. Work schedules and half marathon training has taken away from any free time I have. But I finally got around to it. I have to credit Laura from werkitinnyc (check out her blog-informative and highly entertaining reviews of fitness studios) for taking the initiative and getting us to commit to checking out the studio together.
The studio: Has a super convenient location- right off Union square. Downside is that it is on the 15th floor of a highrise with a very slow elevator. So get there early, as is mentioned on their website. The girls who checked me in were friendly and gave me a run-down of what to expect. I could hear Shaun as I was waiting outside. The man had a booming roar and I was a tad intimidated..
The Class: The class is set up with 17 Indorowers with mats placed right next to each rower. The Indorower is a water-based rower, different from the typical erg seen at the gym or my HIIT class (see in photo below). There is a tub of water at the front and as you row faster you can see the water rush with greater force. We were asked to pick up a set of medium weights. Unsure of what that I meant I picked up a set of 5lbs and a set of 8lbs. I ended up using the 8lbs for the majority of the class. The class is divided into sections that alternated between 6 minutes on the rower and 5-6 minutes on the mat. The rowing sections consisted of smooth rowing and then periods where we would have to pick up speed and then a 30 second sprint. There were also moves where we locked our arms straight while holding onto the rower handles and pushed back and forth solely using our legs, as well as short sections where we held the handles with an underhand grip.
Mat section was heavy on the core. Lots of plank/pushup variations. Plank-ups (push-up to plank), pushup to side plank, plank to squat. There were also squat-dumbell overhead presses, touch-reaches (touch the floor and reach up onto your tippie-toes), crunches, plank rows, plain old fashioned push-ups and probably some more that I am not remembering.
Overall I thought it was a great workout. The sections on the rower definitely got me winded and tired out my shoulders, which made holding a plank right after the rowing section much more challenging. My only issue was that 6 minutes of rowing seemed a bit long. There were moments where I drifted off and I found myself looking at the timer wondering how much longer we had left. Shaun was definitely keeping things interesting by trying to change up the rower moves but I am wondering if the rowing sections should be shorter. Spinning, to me, is an analogous experience to rowing due to the cardio factor, and for me, spinning works because of the music. I have been told that it’s hard to choreograph the rowing motions to a beat as you cannot change the resistance on the rower. But I do think that music could perhaps play a more important role in the class. I would have loved the volume to blast during the sprint sections, for example. The exercises in the mat section were hard-doable, but hard, and I definitely appreciated that.
The Instructor: Shaun is bouncing with energy. His voice boomed throughout the class. “Legs-Core-Arms….Arms-Core-Legs”- to remind everyone of the sequence of movements during a row. In fact, his mantra is still reverberating in my head! He is charismatic, introduced himself to everyone before class, demoed the rower to those that had never done it before and high-fived everyone after. He completely gave the class his all. He clearly loves what he’s doing and it shows.
Overall: I enjoyed the class. I just feel that with a greater emphasis on music the class could be amazing. The Indorower is a smoother rowing experience than the erg and rowing in and of itself is a great low-impact alternative to spinning or running. Rowing is clearly on the rise in the city and props to Cityrow for being the first dedicated studio in Manhattan.