underscored vortex rower lead
CNN  — 

We’ve been doing everything we can to upgrade our at-home workout setup. From smaller equipment to a stationary bike to at-home boxing, we thought we’d tried it all. But then we came across the Vortex VX3 Fluid Assist AR Water Rower ($2,100, down from $3,195 with coupon code VORTEX18).

These machines mimic the experience of competitive rowing and work large muscle groups in your legs, back and arms. The Vortex VX3 isn’t compact by any means — about the size of a futon — but the shining light is built-in wheels that make it easy to push out of the way.

The Vortex VX3 gave us a great workout, both during assembly and during our exercise session. Let’s dive into what we like and what we wish were different.

Setup could be better

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The instructions are not helpful. While there aren’t many steps to putting the machine together, the pamphlet doesn’t make it easy to figure out what goes where. It approaches the left and right sides from behind the main part of the machine, but after a lengthy install, we found the easiest way to attach everything is from the front, so you’ll have to swap your lefts and rights as you follow along. And you’ll need two people to get the job done.

The most difficult part was attaching the side frames to the main piece; it involved lifting and turning and reading the instructions multiple times in order to make sure everything is properly set up. We would have appreciated more detail in both the written and illustrated instructions.

The unique feature of the Vortex V3? The resistance isn’t just created by belts and machinery, but comes from actual water, to give you a “true-to-rowing” experience. Essentially, it creates a water fan, which is easy to fill. It comes with a funnel and hose that fit into the plug (which easily unscrews and screws back in). Using a gallon pitcher, it took around three trips and five minutes to fill the reservoir to the calibration line. We poured slowly so as not to overflow the funnel, which was the perfect size to hold while pouring.

The line was difficult to see, as it was a black line against a gray piece of transparent plastic, so we marked it with a piece of painter’s tape to be as precise as possible.

Once we found the port for the power source (it took us a minute, since the illustration pointed us in a general direction rather than a specific one) and plugged in the rower, we calibrated it. You do this simply by turning it on and letting it run its course. The screen will change when it’s time to start rowing.

The workout

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Adjust the footboard to your sneakers so that you’re properly fitted to use the machine before you start your workout. The instruction manual offers a guide on how to make sure your feet are fitted properly, and this (surprisingly) turned out to be helpful. Once the calibration was finished and our feet were locked in, we checked the manual again for a guide on how to use the machine and then got to work.

Rowing machines mostly work your legs, but you also work your back and arms. Our biceps and forearm muscles, thighs, and shoulders were sore the morning after our workout, a sign we put in good work (not to mention the sweat). You feel your muscles working as you row, and we loved that the instruction manual showed visuals of proper form and positioning so that you reduce the risk of injury.

Your legs push against the footboard to propel your body backward while you hold the handle of the machine, which is attached to a fabric belt. This creates resistance as the belt turns the wheel in the water fan.

You can adjust resistance levels using the buttons on the handle. If you press the button on the right side, you’ll hear a beep as the resistance increases. The left button decreases the resistance.

The higher the resistance, the more strength you’ll need to pull the handle back and push with your feet. Adjusting the resistance was easy, but we had to be careful throughout the workout not to accidentally press the buttons with our thumbs. The placement of the control buttons is convenient as long as you adjust your hands before your workout.

When you pull the handle, you’ll hear and see the water spin inside the water fan, since that provides the resistance. You can get the same workout from a regular rowing machine, but something about hearing and seeing the water elevated the overall experience and was a reminder of the real-life workout that the machine was simulating.

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The Vortex VX3 keeps track of a variety of stats. There’s a small screen above the handle and belt, and you can adjust the angle and position depending on your height. You’ll see your average speed per 500 meters, the amount of time you’ve been rowing, the distance you’ve rowed, the calories you’ve burned and your output of watts.

The rower also comes with a heart rate monitor you can set up, but you can’t link it to a smart watch to track your workouts, which we would have liked to see. The data resets every time you turn on the machine, so you’re not logging in and out of accounts.

Everything is concisely positioned where you’re able to see your progress throughout your workout. We liked having all of this info ready and accessible, which helped us when we wanted to hit certain goals and also showed us how we could set goals and achieve them.

Final thoughts

The Vortex VX3 Fluid Assist AR Water Rower is an awesome addition to an at-home gym. At $2,100 with the exclusive coupon, the price is still steep for many, but worth it for the quality of the machine.

We struggled with the setup due to the instructions not being as specific as we’d have liked, but this isn’t a deal breaker. The rower and rowing experience make it worth the hour of hassle to assemble it.

Trust us (and our sore muscles): You’ll get a full-body workout with the Vortex VX3. We like that it makes all of your workout stats accessible so you can set and ultimately achieve your goals.