The Rise of Rowing in Health Clubs

Rowing machines have always had a place in clubs but rowing itself—aided by more versatile programming—is growing in popularity.

During the past decade, the place of the rowing machine in fitness has shifted. Once considered a tool to aid in sport-specific and cardio training, rowers are becoming increasingly integrated into group training and individual regimens.

Spurred by increased involvement in programming and the growing spate of rowing-only facilities—such as New York City-based Row House and CITYROW, iROW Fitness Studio in Los Angeles, Power Twenty Rowing in Seattle, and more—the use of rowers and the market for rowing machines are both growing at a healthy clip.

As far as growing interest among enthusiasts goes, the Sports and Fitness Industry Association notes that the number of people rowing indoors has grown by almost 20% since 2014. On the sales side, according to Transparency Market Research, for the forecast period between 2021-2031, the global rowing machine market—fueled largely by clubs—is projected to exceed $1.8 billion in value by 2031, expanding at a CAGR of approximately 5% during that period.

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“In general, we’ve seen a massive rise in popularity in rowing during the past three to five years,” says Trevor Doden, national account manager at TRUE Fitness and Octane Fitness. “From a sales aspect, the rower used to be something that was mentioned at the end of the conversation—almost as a throw-in—but it’s now become an integral part of the fitness floor for many operators and there has been an increased focus and dedicated floorspace to accommodate the needs of trainers and members.”

A View from the Fitness Floor

Richard Johnson, general manager at the Pivotal Fitness location in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, can speak directly to the growth of rowers and related programming. (Pivotal serves roughly 12,000 members through its six clubs in the Charleston, South Carolina area.)

“A year ago, we had a couple of older rowers and we didn’t see a lot of activity on them,” he says. “We saw that rowing was growing in popularity, so we added new machines and programming to our mix. We have a room called the Red Zone for higher-intensity workouts and we added six rowers there and four in other areas of the club. Our members love them in the programming and as standalone machines.”

One thing that’s changed, says Johnson, is who’s actually using the rowers.

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“The rowers are great for a full-body workout, and they certainly fit in perfectly with our Red Zone, HIIT, and other group training programs,” he says. “But the biggest difference we’re seeing is that almost every type of member—from beginners to endurance athletes—is using them now. The increased activity is due, in part, to the evolution of these machines. They feature big, user-friendly digital screens, neutral grips that make it easier to shift your grip, and more easily adjustable intensity. That overall ease of use and versatility simply appeals to a much broader range of our members.”

That flexibility has also led Pivotal trainers to use the rowers as standalone stations during workouts. They have members doing Russian twists in the seats, core work, pikes, curls with the bar, and more.

Johnson adds that rowing has helped Pivotal introduce new members to a different way of working out; a regimen they tend to stick to. In addition, rowing, in any programming, personal training, or individual regimen, offers inherent safety.

“Higher-intensity training, like CrossFit, is increasingly incorporating rowing,” he notes. “And that makes sense. Rowing gets your heart rate up and helps burn a ton of calories without a lot of stress on the joints. You rarely see injuries from rowing workouts as compared to sprints, jumping, and burpees.”

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“Rowing used to have a fairly narrow focus for users and operators,” sums up Doden. “But there are now far more training methodologies and business models geared to it, and members that seek out the rower as a focal point of their workout. We’ve seen the rower become an integral part of HIIT workouts, circuit-style workouts, and warm-up and cool-downs. We’ve also seen the rower used as a tool to aid in weight loss, strength gain, and overall cardio health—the rower has quickly become one of the most important pieces on the floor.”

Features That Fit User Needs

The features Johnson mentions as those that make current, updated rowers more popular and versatile, along with several more, can be found in the Octane Rō.

“Octane is relatively new to the scene when it comes to rowers, however, the Rō went through many iterations in product development that included a mountain of customer feedback and a comprehensive pilot process,” Doden says. “Because of the extensive development process, we went from a rather standard unit to a rower that now has standard wide-grip handles that allow for many hand positions and workouts styles; quick-release, adjustment foot-straps that help users easily enter and exit the unit; a large back-lit monitor with several workout options and plenty of feedback; and more.”

Other user- and operator-friendly features of the self-powered Octane Rō include combined fan and magnetic brake resistance; a Max 14 Interval workout; an enhanced console with calorie meter; an oversized handlebar catch; and a small footprint and easy storage.

To learn more about the Rō and the range of Octane products, visit their website.

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Jon Feld

Jon Feld is a contributor to