No longer the overlooked machine next to the treadmill and elliptical at the gym, the steadfast rowing machine is having a renaissance. With the proliferation of sleeker, connected rowers designed for working out at home, more and more people are discovering the powerful, total body workout that is rowing. One of these at-home options is the Echelon Row-S Smart Rowing Machine, which, at $1,599, is considerably less expensive than other popular rowers on the market, including the Aviron Rower ($2,199), Peloton Row ($3,195) and Hydrow ($2,495).
Like its pricier brethren (and most home gym alternatives these days), the Echelon Row-S requires a paid subscription to access the full library of on-demand classes in multiple formats as well as daily live workouts and scenic rows to keep things interesting, and you can rotate the screen to incorporate any of its numerous floor workouts to your routine. The required Premier Membership is $35 per month, though you have the option to pay for one or two years at a time, which drops it to $33 and $29 per month, respectively.
If you’re looking for a more reasonable entry into the world of rowing, here’s what you should know before you invest in an Echelon Row-S.
The Echelon Row-S is a thoughtfully designed rowing machine that offers a variety of challenging and fun workouts.
What we liked about it
The Echelon Row-S is thoughtfully designed. The rowing is smooth and silent (both the movement of the seat up and down the slide and the band that glides in and out of the flywheel as you row), and the cushioned seat is extra comfortable. My favorite part is the buttons in the middle of the handlebar that allow you to simply and easily adjust the resistance (which goes from 1 to 32). As a former college rower, this makes it more fun and interactive, and less like the ergometers I remember — my heart rate spiking rapidly and the urging of the coxswain in my ear to go faster.
The rotating HD touchscreen makes the experience more fun as well. It’s 22 inches wide, just 2 inches smaller than the Peloton Row and the same size as the Hydrow. The entire rower also has a relatively small footprint at 7 feet by 2.15 feet, with wheels on the front end for simple maneuvering — and it weighs in at 114.5 pounds. With wheels on the front end, it’s easy to maneuver. I especially like its foldable design, which makes it easy to store out of the way. This final aspect is quite clever, as the slide portion of the rower folds up so that the machine can stand on its own — no leaning or securing it to the wall necessary.
The variety of workouts
For people who are new to rowing, there is a series of short Beginner Row classes that focus on form and how to row properly while also offering a taste of some of the different class formats. But even in the longer, more advanced classes, almost all the instructors will review proper rowing form during the warm-up — some even do drills breaking down the stroke — to ensure you’re rowing correctly. Since proper form is so critical to avoiding injury and getting the most out of your rowing workout, the constant reminders are a big plus.
Echelon recently released its winter schedule of live rowing classes and it features 30 live classes every week, which comes to about two to eight per day. Most of the classes are 20 or 30 minutes long, but there are some 45-minute classes in the on-demand library (which currently has more than 3,600 classes) for the more hardcore rowers. Among these are speed rows, which focus on sprinting; endurance rows, which focus on maintaining a steady pace; and fusion rows, which are a combination of speed, endurance and power. A Fusion 30 is the perfect one-stop workout if you’re looking to burn out your muscles as well as get some cardio. I also love the Bootcamp classes, which focus on total body, core, upper body or lower body, and are a combination of rowing and floor exercises with or without free weights.
In addition to rowing workouts, the Premier Membership gives you access to FitPass, the extensive library of nearly 6,000 live and on-demand floor classes that include formats like strength training, boxing, yoga, Pilates and stretching. The strength classes feature creative and challenging mixes of exercises, are mostly 10 or 20 minutes long and meant to be stacked; I like to start with a 10-minute HIIT class to get my heart rate up, followed by 20 minutes of total body strength. In the on-demand library, classes like Boxing Bootcamp and HIIT and Core offer stellar full-body workouts in just 30 minutes.
The instructors are supportive and inspiring across all exercise formats. While some are all about the workout — and for good reason, as their classes are challenging — others bring a bit more personality and ease while keeping the workouts tough. Like the one that tells a dad joke in every class while flaunting her super-aspirational arms, obliques and fashion sense, and another who offers peeks into her home life while holding a plank for much longer than I can.
What we didn’t like about it
Some interface issues
Echelon has a companion app that looks exactly the same as what you see on the screen on the rower, which I appreciate. Once you complete a workout, row or otherwise, it goes under My Workouts on your Progress screen. But once there, the date on the workout changes from the day it aired to the day you completed it. If you like saving your favorite workouts to go back to more than once, you can star a class and it will appear in your Favorites section on the Featured screen. Personally, I don’t like repeating workouts, so there’s no way for me to tell which classes I’ve done in order to avoid them — unless I were to star every class as I go and use that Favorites tag as a tell to choose a different class.
If you want to search for a rowing class taught by your favorite instructor, you can type in their name. But if you want to use any other search filters — which include type of workout, length and genre of music — there are more than 100 instructors to scroll through, many of which don’t even teach rowing. Finally, during classes you have the ability to change the metric that’s the largest on your screen, either output, resistance or cadence, depending on the type of workout or what you want to focus on. That’s great for the individual, but I have heard instructors reference a metric on my screen that is not where they say it is. That said, these are minor nuisances that don’t detract from the quality of the workout.
While not an absolute must, I do love when the music I’m working out to helps me find that next gear or pushes me to reach a new best. Unfortunately, that has not been my experience with Echelon. Playlists typically feature workout or dance remixes of songs and a lot of music released in the late 2000s and early 2010s — so if that’s not your bag, you’re out of luck. Meanwhile, some instructors will use the same songs a lot, which can get repetitive.
How it compares
The Row-S isn’t Echelon’s only rower; the company also sells the Row ($1,000), which instead of an attached screen has a built-in holder for your smartphone or tablet. The handlebars are also shaped differently than the “competition-style handlebars” on the Row-S.
The Echelon Row-S is similar to home rowing machines like the Hydrow ($2,495), NordicTrack RW900 ($1,799) and Peloton Row ($3,195). The only feature the Echelon Row-S lacks that both the Hydrow and NordicTrack rowers do have are classes taught by instructors rowing on the water, while the Peloton Row offers real-time feedback on form.
But what makes Echelon so special is the fact that it offers machines of equal quality at more affordable, and therefore more accessible, price points. This is true across all of its equipment — the brand also makes connected bikes, treadmills and fitness mirrors — with each modality available at two or more different prices in order to make a first-rate fitness experience available to a wider range of people who want it.
Research shows that rowing engages over 85% of your muscles at the same time, a workout experience that’s worth an investment in a quality machine. The Echelon Row-S offers that type of quality without breaking the bank. The varied rowing workouts are challenging and fun, the rower itself is thoughtfully designed and the instructors are engaging and inspiring — though it could be easier to search for them. With so many floor classes included with your membership, it also allows you to change up your exercise format on a daily or weekly basis if you want.
It took me a long time to return to a rowing machine after my years of college rowing, but the Echelon Row-S allows me to get the perks of rowing as an efficient total body workout without feeling too much like work.