The Ergatta Rower review | CNN Underscored

Did you know that a whopping 66% of Americans play video games and only 23% exercise regularly? With its game-based approach to fitness, the Ergatta Rower is looking to close this gap. Instead of using the instructor-led workouts that many other home rowers utilize (including the Echelon Row-S, Peloton Row and the Hydrow), the Ergatta features video-game-style workouts, similar to the Aviron Rower, that allow you to compete against yourself or other rowers for points, tokens or wins

Like the other rowers on the market, the Ergatta requires a monthly membership fee of $29, or a discounted $319 per year. This gives you access to the full library of rowing workouts, plus 40 new workouts each month, in addition to new programs to choose from.

How does this game-based approach to rowing measure up? I tested the Ergatta for two weeks to find out.

If you’re looking to add a rower to your home gym, the Ergatta is likely the best-looking piece of equipment you’ll find. A sleek, water-based rower crafted from cherrywood, it’s compact and easy to fold up when not in use, and most importantly, offers a super-competitive rowing experience for any type of exercise buff.

It’s one of their selling points, and the Ergatta is indeed a good-looking machine. Made from cherrywood, it plays more like a stylish piece of furniture than exercise equipment. With its petite footprint of just over 7 feet long and just under 2 feet wide, it’s super easy to fold down the screen arm and stand the rower on end for storage without any additional parts required. Which is good news for those living in smaller spaces.

The Ergatta is a WaterRower, like the Vortex VX3, meaning it uses what is called a WaterFlyWheel to replicate the feeling of rowing on water. The mechanics include a tank of water that sits at the front of the machine, connected to a paddle and then your handle (if it looks familiar, that’s because it’s the same rower used at Orangetheory and CityRow). And if you’re wondering, no, the water never needs to be changed and Ergatta even includes purification tablets you drop in the tank every six to 12 months.

As you row, the paddle turns and the water generates resistance. The more powerful your strokes, the easier it feels. While rowers that use other types of resistance are comfortable in their own right, rowing on the Ergatta using the water resistance just feels good on your body. Plus, I appreciated that it’s impossible to set the resistance too high, which could force you to yank the handle back with poor form.

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One of the most frustrating aspects of exercising at home, all by yourself, is never knowing if you’re working hard enough to see results — or at least as hard as you would be in a gym or a class surrounded by other competitive rowers.

The Ergatta solves this accountability problem. In setting up your profile, you’ll be asked to row 1,000 meters to calibrate your fitness level. The Ergatta will then create four personalized intensity zones around which all your solo workouts will be structured (your fitness level will also be used to select your competition for community-based workouts, like races). This makes it impossible to skimp on effort — in some of the workout formats, the timer on your interval will even pause if you fall out of the appointed zone, regardless of whether you’re going too hard or not hard enough. And in case you start to feel a little too comfortable with your workouts, the Ergatta automatically stores all your workout information and uses it to recalibrate your fitness level every 20 or so sessions, just to keep you honest (and sweaty).

During setup, there is also a robust and detailed set of introductory videos that break down proper rowing technique and all of the metrics you will utilize during the workouts, which is great for new-to-rowing and new-to-Ergatta users alike. While I think the Ergatta’s workouts are well-suited to competitive, current or former athletes, like myself, I appreciated all the introductory information. The creators know that almost everything about the Ergatta (the physical rowing, the structure of the game-based workouts) is brand-new to most folks, and they take the time to make sure you feel comfortable before you get started.

Many of the workouts on the Ergatta, from the single-player workouts to the community-based races, are just high-intensity interval training in disguise. To get the study-proven benefits of this popular form of exercise, you’re supposed to push yourself as hard as you can for short bursts, then rest in between — which is precisely how the race workouts are structured.

A 4,500-meter race was broken up into five legs of 500 m, 1,000 m, 1,500 m, 1,000 m and 500 m with rest in between, while a 900-meter race was broken into legs of 150 m, 200 m, 250 m and 300 m. And here’s the fun part: You are racing against real people, alongside one another on a track on screen, moving ahead or falling behind as you go. There are four live race times per week, but if you can’t make it in real time, you can still compete on-demand against virtual rowers (who have already completed the race).

I don’t fall into the 66% of Americans who play video games, but I know that the curving, swooping race course will be recognizable to folks who have played a racing game. And meter markers along the course alert you to how far you’ve gone and how far you have left in each leg. Plus, the machine is smart enough to select participants closest to your fitness level, so every race is competitive.

These gaming-type races pushed me to exercise harder, and it felt amazing to cross the finish line first (woohoo!) during my first try. So awesome, in fact, that I forgot that I also just finished a high-level HIIT workout. And let’s face it, that’s what most of us are hoping for when we try to fit exercise into our busy days.


Alyssa Sybertz

While the Ergatta Rower looks and feels great, I didn’t love the foot plates, which are too close together (much closer than a more-traditional rowing machine). As someone with flat feet and a history of knee problems, I found this uncomfortable, and I suspect other people with knee issues or minimal hip flexibility might feel the same.

The handle is also shorter than most rowers; a narrower grip makes it slightly more difficult to engage through your lats (the large muscles of the upper back that proper rowing form dictates you use) as opposed to pulling with your shoulders and arms. And, though it’s not a deal breaker, the seat is narrow and sadly cushion-free.

There are a number of fun and engaging rowing workout formats on the Ergatta. In addition to the races, I especially like the new Vortex game, in which you collect tokens based on how hard you’re rowing and compete against other users. And if you’re unsure of what type of workout to do on any given day, the Ergatta also features Push Programs, which are goal-oriented programs with up to as many as 50 sequential workouts to take the guesswork out of formatting your exercise regimen. But while most of the workouts do include a warm-up and a cool-down, there are currently no stretching routines on the rower to do post-workout.

Floor workouts, which are available through monthly memberships of other rowers like the Echelon Row-S and the Peloton Row, and boot-camp-style workouts that move between the floor and the rower, are also absent here. And I had to dig into the library to find workouts that utilized all four intensity zones, which are simply more varied workouts with endurance and intervals, as opposed to just two zones like interval training.

That said, the rowing workouts are challenging and interesting. But the Ergatta is never going to take the place of all your workout needs.

There are two visual formats for single-player, interval-based workouts on the Ergatta: Pulse and Meteor. The look of Pulse is simple — the screen is broken up into four sections that represent the four intensity zones and a spinning circle moves through the zones to show you which one you’re in — but it keeps you on track and in your intensity zones. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of Meteor; I wear glasses to read and work on my computer (but not to exercise) and the ball zipping across the screen with a tail of tiny dots was a little blurry and unpleasant to watch.

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The Ergatta most closely compares to the Aviron Rower ($2,199) which also uses game-based workouts. It is slightly more expensive in purchase price ($2,499) and monthly membership ($25 versus $29), but the Ergatta is a foot shorter and folds up smaller, plus it’s much more attractive and offers the optimal water-based resistance.

Rowers like the Echelon Row-S ($1,599), Hydrow ($2,495) and Peloton Row ($3,195) offer instructor-led workouts, which are a completely different exercise experience. But it’s worth noting that for slightly more per month in membership fees ($35, $38 and $44, respectively), they deliver a plethora of other workout formats besides rowing.

The Ergatta is probably the prettiest piece of exercise equipment you can find, though in a few cases it prioritizes its sleek looks over ergonomics. Add the engaging and clever ways it coerces the user to interval train via fun game-based workouts like races and Vortex, and it can be a great addition to any home gym.

While it offers a robust set of introductory material for the beginner rower, the workouts are tough; even though the intensity zones are personalized, I could see it getting discouraging for newbie exercisers to repeatedly come in last or fall out of the appointed zone.

But for the gamer looking to change up their workout routine or the bored former athlete who needs to scratch that itch, they need look no further: The Ergatta is it.