Rowing My Way to a Rock Hard-Bod at CITYROW

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When we heard about CITYROW, a boutique gym that specializes in rowing, we were intrigued. Rowing can burn as much as 255 calories* in a thirty minute session and is a great low impact workout that also sculpts muscles. Some classes teach the fundamentals of rowing while others throw yoga and even strength training into the mix. All machines are water-based and if you’re sick of running on the treadmill , this unique sweat sesh may be up your alley.  CITYROW has won rave reviews from the likes of The New York Times, SELF Magazine, and many other publications and sites. Naturally, we thought it was worth checking out. Lead Fitness Writer, Alyson Kaufman, decided to be our guinea pig. Read more about her experience below.

*Based on 125 pound person.



Photo Credit: CITYROW

Author: Alyson Kaufman


When I first received notice that I’d be taking a rowing class, I pictured myself sitting in a boat on the Hudson River—a bit illogical in the midst of January, but I was down. Then, when I read that rowing is the new spinning, I started to panic. I hate spinning. I tried it years ago and thought I might actually pass out halfway through. Granted, I wasn’t in the best shape four years ago, but the memory left a sour taste for any such classes. Luckily, rowing was nothing like that. This two-year-old fitness concept focuses on sculpting your arms, legs, and core with a cardio workout that is easy on the joints and therefore comfortable to perform. (As comfortable as cardio can ever be, anyway.)

I arrived at the Union Square studio, one of CITYROW’s two Manhattan locations, five minutes into the 5:30 class on a Wednesday. There were about ten people in the class, most of them women in their twenties or thirties, one possibly in her forties, and two men. As soon as I stumbled in one of the girls grabbed a set of dumbbells and helped me strap my feet onto the pedals of this odd machine called a WaterRower, which uses water to create dynamic resistance. To clarify, I was not in a boat, nor on a bicycle. My feet were only used to keep my body pushed back so that my legs were horizontal as I gripped a lever with each hand, which I would push and pull repeatedly. This motion was similar to the arm movements you’d make while rowing an actual boat—I guess that explains the name.

I liked our coach right away; He had an easy enthusiasm that was both sweet and motivating, and he spoke with the rhythm of an 80’s aerobics instructor. “And push, and pull, and push, and pull, and breathe in, breathe out, breathe in and breathe out, great job! And push…

About ten minutes into the class, I could already feel my arm muscles growing. The repetitive motion felt natural and easy, but undeniably effective. It was a powerful feeling, and as I continued to follow the coach’s rhythm I imagined myself turning into the Hulk: (except, you know, a less green and more attractive version.)


Lead Fitness Writer, Alyson Kaufman flexes her impressive guns.

Just as I was starting to feel cocky about how easy this was, we were told to get into a plank position on the mat beside our machines. I missed several reps of whatever happened at that moment as I tried to unfasten my chambered feet. I caught up in time for push-ups, which I was glad I had practiced at home. The mat exercises mostly combined Pilates with a set of dumbbells. My favorite workout involved holding a dumbbell on our pelvis while thrusting upwardly: knees bent and head on the mat. Our instructor had (pardon my observation) buns of steel, and after several reps of this I understood why.

We switched back and fourth between mat exercises and rowing. The class moved at an extremely fast pace, which was only bothersome because I struggled to get in and out of those foot cages. The constant motion served as cardio, and it was only a matter of time before I was desperately clawing at my water bottle, gulping like I’d been thirsty for years. “Do not negotiate with fatigue,” our coach said as we rowed. “Do not negotiate with ‘I can’t.’” His words helped me push through, and I picked up my momentum. “Don’t forget to breathe!” he said when we were back on the mat. “I promise, there’s enough air in this room for everyone. We’re not going to run out.

That one didn’t work for me. Silly as it may seem, in a moment when I was panting excessively, the thought of air running out put me into a panic. I knew it wasn’t actually possible for the world to run out of air, but imagine if it was! Oh my gosh, that would be terrifying! What would I do?

Luckily, I was able to talk myself out of a panic attack and made it to the stretches that signified the end of class. The lights were turned low and the music slowed, and I felt incredible for having made it all the way through. On my way home, I stumbled down the subway stairs, taking my struggle with pride–for it meant I had worked hard, and I was bound to see results the next day.



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