Rowing machines and I go way back. Our relationship started with a four-year stint on my school’s varsity crew team and ended—or so I thought—with me, (several) years later, struggling to catch my breath at a Planet Fitness and vowing between pants and wheezes to never strap myself into one again. So when I texted my former teammates and current best friends to tell them that I’d agreed to test-drive the new Hydrow Wave rowing machine, their responses were mostly versions of, “Why?”
But I was intrigued by this newest model of the Hydrow, and I had to try it for myself. The lightweight Wave is 30 percent smaller than the original Hydrow, meaning for the first time, I finally felt like I could fit a full-blown cardio machine in my small New York City apartment. It’s also designed to feel like you’re actually rowing on the water—a feeling that, if you’ve ever experienced it, truly can’t be beat.
So did it really feel like I was reliving my glory days on the Allegheny River in an eight-person shell with my besties? Here are my honest thoughts on what I loved (and didn’t!) so you can decide if it’s right for your home gym.
All in all, it took about 20 minutes to get the Wave set up, plugged in, and ready to use, and probably half of that time was the installation pros explaining how to fold it up and store it.
Once you’re ready for your first class, there’s a relatively easy signup process using the 16-inch high-definition touchscreen. The settings section also makes it simple to connect your bluetooth headphones and/or a heart rate monitor and calibrate the drag to make sure you’re using the right kind of resistance for you and your fitness level. You get unlimited accounts so each member of your family can customize their experience.
If you’re new to the sport, you can also take intro classes to make sure you’ve got your form down and to help you understand the different data points in a workout. (I promise, you do not need any sort of rowing experience to use this.)
Size And Storage
As mentioned, the Wave’s biggest selling point is that it’s 30 percent smaller than its predecessor, the original Hydrow. Where the OG is 86 inches long and 25 inches wide, the Wave comes in at 80 inches by 19 inches. When stored upright, the Wave sits at 82 inches tall compared to the Hydrow’s 86 inches. Four to six inches may not seem like a huge difference, but when you live in a small space, that’s everything.
Here’s my thing with the size, though: I recently moved, and in my current apartment, the Wave lives in my spare bedroom. If I still lived in my teeny-tiny Brooklyn one-bedroom, there’s no chance I would have been able to fit this in my space, even stored upright. It’s definitely the slimmest ergometer I’ve ever used, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal.
When it comes to upright storage, Hydrow recommends purchasing a vertical anchor (sold separately) to secure the machine safely to your wall. I didn’t get to try this part out, but the guys who installed the machine for me said it wasn’t technically necessary to have it. I do think if you planned to store it upright most of the time, you’d probably want to get the wall anchor for peace of mind.
Honestly, I keep my Wave out on the floor because I actually really like the sleek, black polycarbonate design. As far as cardio machines go, this one really is not an eyesore compared to others I’ve seen.
The Wave is also easy to move around and store based on how you need to use your space. It has wheels on one end, so you can effectively parallel park it wherever you need to.
I’ve used a lot of different rowers over the years, and I love the way this one feels. Hydrow’s patented electromagnetic drag technology is meant to mimic the feeling of rowing on the water, and while that’s a pretty tough thing to accomplish, the drag really is crazy-smooth.
My favorite part, though, is how quiet it is compared to other ergs I’ve tried. It’s not a totally silent machine, but if I use my headphones for a class, I can totally row while my husband is nearby on a Zoom call. (He’s also used it while I was asleep in the next room, and it didn’t disturb me at all.)
In my humble opinion, the 3,000+ guided workouts are the real gem of having a Hydrow machine. Sessions are led by actual world-class rowers—we’re talking Olympians and Paralympians, National Team members, and NCAA Division 1 athletes—from different iconic bodies of water all over the world. I love that you can search for classes by location, so I can choose to row anywhere from the Charles River in Boston to Switzerland’s Lake Lucerne. And the instructors are fun, wildly talented, and tell great stories to keep you entertained (and not feeling low-key tortured) during class.
You can also search for classes by length of time, or by type—for example, Sweat classes are more HIIT-style cardio intervals, while Drive classes are intense, all-out effort endurance rows. While rowing is said to burn up to 500 calories in an hour, I find that the 10- or 15-minute Sweat sessions are a real conditioning sweet spot to add on to the strength training program I'm already doing. Hydrow also offers warmups, cooldowns, form drills, and even meditation rows, which might be my favorite type of class they offer. (I can't get over that rowing is now a thing I actually do to relax.)
One thing you can't do with the Hydrow Wave is program your own workouts. They do have unguided rows where you can choose your location and coast freely along the water, but you aren't able to program custom intervals like you would on a more traditional rower like the Concept 2. Personally, I'm content with the guided classes—especially the ability to mimic an instructor's stroke rate by watching them, instead of just staring at a number, which is how real-life team rowing works. But my husband, who is not typically into fitness classes, said he really craved the freedom to program his own thing.
While I’ve primarily tested out the classes that actually use the Wave machine, the platform also offers yoga, Pilates, and strength training—perfect if you’re looking for a well-rounded fitness program. I do find myself wishing the screen was on a swivel so I could more easily stack a series of classes both on and next to my rower, but you can stream classes in the Hydrow app (available for iOS and Android) if you need to take them in a totally different location.
Connectivity and Data
Hydrow's workouts include a Peloton-esque leaderboard that allow you to compare your output to other users who are taking the same class. They also host live classes where you can do this in real time. Leaderboards tend to stress me out, so I actually like that you can minimize that tab during your workout if you're like me.
When it comes to data, the screen clearly gives you everything you need during your class: stroke rate, 500-meter split (both for your current strokes and your average for the class), and how much time is left in your workout. It also stashes some of this data in your account, so you can easily scroll back and see how your average splits are improving over time.
As a longtime Apple Watch devotee, I will say I was pretty bummed that the Hydrow Wave doesn't have built-in integration with my beloved fitness tracker, though it does have the ability connect to other kinds of heart rate monitors. And like I mentioned, you can still connect AirPods or other bluetooth headphones so your workout isn't bugging anyone around you.
At $1,495, the Hydrow Wave is a full $1,000 cheaper than the original Hydrow, and definitely on the affordable end when it comes to at-home cardio machines. You'll also need a membership to access the classes, which starts at $38 per month.
For $1,895, you can get the "Works Package," which includes a mat, resistance bands, yoga blocks, a foam roller, Jaybird Vista wireless earbuds, and a heart rate monitor—aka everything you'd need for the full Hydrow experience. If you need a vertical anchor for your wall, that'll run you an additional $190.
Buying any at-home cardio machine is of course an investment, but I do think the Hydrow Wave gives you a huge bang for your buck. If you're looking for a low-impact cardio machine that can replace all your other fitness classes, this one's for you.
Amanda Lucci is the deputy editor of content strategy at Women’s Health and a NASM-certified personal trainer. She has more than 10 years of experience writing, editing, and managing social media strategy for national and international publications.