It's been too long since I last posted on my blog, so apologies for that, but then again, I don't expect many are waiting with bated breath for me to write something :0)
But things have moved on at a pace since my last post, and since then I've tried out a number of the new generation rowing machines with their hi-tech (fancy) new display monitors.
But does it make a difference? Should you buy a rower based on whether the screen shows real people rowing on a river?
Here I'll look at the latest developments and whether they're just gimmicks or if they really do add value.
The rowing machine monitor's first purpose is to give you the all-important workout data. If you're going to progress and achieve your goals, you need to know about your performance. How far are you rowing? How fast? And what are your splits, if you race. To train, you need to be motivated, and nothing motivates more than the desire to set a new personal best (PB), or beat your partner.
Rowing machines have been slow to incorporate hi-tech displays compared to exercise bikes and treadmills, choosing instead to use the no-nonsense 'just show 'em the numbers' approach. The best-selling Concept2 updates its basic monitor once every decade or so, but it never stops it being the first choice for many serious rowers. In recent years they've gone online and added connectivity to bring apps in to the picture - see below.
Concept2's ErgData app allows you to track more accurate data from your workout, store it on your PC for comparison with your previous performances, and even other rowers. But note, you need the adapter to fit your iPhone. If you're like me, you'll love the rows of numbers and will have a spreadsheet to do all the analysis. I like to crunch the numbers in my head while rowing to assess whether I'm on for a good or bad time.
With experience, just a glance at the display will tell you all you need to know, which remember, is the primary function of your monitor.
So why go all hi-tech and fancy? The impressive-looking display on the Hydrow - see below, shows less data (although there options to display more), but boy, does it look good.
However, you're not just getting nice pictures of some guy in a boat - in the example above, he's your coach for the season. And just like Peloton, you can also participate in live sessions racing against over rowers.
But does it add value? I count myself as a bit of a traditionalist and always a little wary of new stuff, but I have to say when I tried the Hydrow (see my review here), I absolutely loved it! And I found it a great motivator to keep training. If you've had a stressful day at work (or with the kids), a gentle row on a river of your choice (more added every month), is a great way to relax as you glide along with the swoosh of the water as you row. You can store all the data as with the Concept2, but I found you connect more with the workout if you see and feel the movement.
So tech for tech sake? Maybe in some cases, but if it's well-designed, sits on a first-class rower (btw the Hydrow fits that bill), and you enjoy the whole experience, then it DOES add value. Who knows what developments we'll see in the years to come. Virtual reality headsets feature in gaming and are making an appearance in the fitness market. Perhaps you'll get a machine that will blow wind and rain in your face for that authentic feel - but then you can always train outside for that.
Roy Palmer is an athletics coach, teacher of The Alexander Technique and a rowing fanatic.