Rowing is more than an upper body workout, discovers a newbie.
I approached RowFit with trepidation, knowing the gym is an affiliate of CrossFit, a fitness company that incorporates hard-core moves like climbing ropes and flipping tires. The gym, located on an industrial stretch of Hubbard Street, isn’t well marked; that, teamed with the Metallica blasting from the speakers pre-7am, made me even more intimidated. The ten or so other students, mostly women, were already warming up on rowing machines (or “ergs”) when I arrived. I told Spyro, the muscled instructor, that I’d never rowed before but wanted to gain upper-body strength. He offered an overview on proper form, and then, faster than a Lars Ulrich double bass drum fill, we were off and rowing.
Each hour-long session features a different workout, offering speed and distance challenges. My first class moved through a sequence of various strokes per minute: 22, then 24, then 26…. Throughout, Spyro corrected my form. I learned there are four steps to rowing: catch, drive, finish and recovery. It was all I could do to focus on these elements, never mind my speed, but the vibe was unexpectedly upbeat and motivating. Rowers cheer each other on, giving plenty of high-fives.
In subsequent classes, I continued to work on my form with help from attentive instructors. They act as personal trainers, encouraging each class member to push beyond his or her perceived limits. Contrary to popular belief, rowing isn’t just an upper-body exercise—glad I learned this sooner rather than a lower-back injury later—but targets the whole body. Much of the drive is reliant upon your legs, and when you activate those muscles and really blast off the flywheel, it’s an intense calorie-burning workout. Surprised by how much I enjoyed it, I realized that if I can dig up the steep monthly fee, I’ll be back in a heartbeat. Pricey, but worth it. 1455 W Hubbard St (773-351-9834, rowfitchicago.com). $120–$199 per month.