Think of rowing, and images of a river at dusk spring to mind, boats gliding along with the gentle swish of the oars. Or you might conjure up memories of watching the annual boat race between Oxford and Cambridge, or the Olympics. But, when it comes to the gym, the rowing machines often sit empty as people queue up for bikes or treadmills.
And when it comes to class activities, the bike takes centre stage, with Spin classes more popular than ever. But one company is on a mission to change that. Enter the Engine Room, just one of many indoor rowing studios popping up around the UK.
In fact, there is a British Indoor Rowing Championships, which saw athletes including Sir Bradley Wiggins taking part. Another of those was Chris Heron – the brains behind the Engine Room.
Heron wanted to create a space where people could find a measured approach to group fitness, he explains. “I love that we teach people a skill in rowing – most people have never been taught how to row and this is fundamental to our philosophy. Those who are new to the Engine Room are required to do a technique session before joining one of our class formats.
They can choose to join a group lesson called ROW 101, or they can choose to do a rowing one to one – this is a 30-minute session with a coach, to help fast track the learning curve.”
It’s a good job, really, because the classes themselves are quite intense. Not that it’s a bad thing – we all want to burn as many calories as we can, in as short amount a time as possible, right?
During my particular class, inside a converted church, rowing machines sit like batmobiles, the walls jet black, with LED arrows flashing along them. The power and pace you get with a Spin class is hard to replicate – after all, we’re arguably all stronger in our legs than our arms. But don’t be mistaken, these new studios aren’t just about rowing.
So how does rowing measure up to other fitness classes? Heron says: “We take a fully integrated approach to fitness. If you want to see results, get fit, learn more about rowing, or just perfect your technique in a fun, competitive group setting – then look no further.”
The machines they use are called SKILLROW: “The first gym rowing machine capable of improving anaerobic power, aerobic capacity and neuromuscular abilities in a single solution. Visitors to The Engine Room can also track their progress with a specially-designed app, and test body composition and fitness levels.”
So, does an intense rowing class hit the spot in the same way Spin does? I went along to find out – and I can confirm that I was certainly sweating and panting more than I do at Spin. Putting my body out of its comfort zone was hard at first, but rewarding as those endorphins started to flow. The sound of Club Tropicana as a warm-down track definitely helped, too.
Introductory classes seem like a good idea, so members can get the hang of using the machines; I felt a little out of my depth with the numbers on a big screen in front of me as I rowed.
After 10 minutes monitoring our pace and distance, we were off the rowing machines and into some HIIT (High intensity Interval Training) moves using a weightball. Yes, that’s burpees and lunges, to the uninitiated.
Not sure they do that on the riverbank mid-row, alongside the ducks.
Will rowing take over from Spin? I can see it as part of my training, for sure. Rowing certainly works the upper and lower body while Spin focuses more on the legs. I won’t ignore that machine in the gym so often now.
Heron adds: “You’ll be taken on a similar intensity journey that you experience with Spin, but the metrics mean you get a personalised session and, as you learn about the numbers, you’ll only get better and better.
Rowing also trains 85% of the muscles in the body and, as such, is a much more effective full-body workout. Couple all of this with the skill element, and it becomes very addictive.”
At the end of our 45-minute class, I certainly feel like I’d had a full-on workout. With the rise in trendy Spin studios, where dimmed lights and ramped up tunes keep people pushing themselves to the limit, the Engine Room could be onto something with rowing. And not a duck or chilly riverbank in sight.
Find an indoor rowing class near you, by going to British Rowing (britishrowing.org/indoor-rowing).