Indoor Rowing Makes It to the Big Leagues

It was only a matter of time before the exercise-cultists discovered the rowing machine, aka “ergometer”, aka “erg.”  I wondered why the concept of group rowing classes haven’t taken off — Chris Ives sort of pioneered the concept in the 90s, Swiss sculler Xeno Mueller has a devoted following out of his studio in Newport Beach, Josh Crosby breathed a new life into the Water Rower (the stylish piece of furniture rowed by Kevin Spacey in House of Cards) and now, thanks to Crossfit, the wheel-of-pain has come into its own as the flavor of the month for gym rats seeking the next big thing to go along with their smart wristbands and perpetual search for the new and different.

While it would be tempting to point at the Sunday New York Times Style Section article as either the moment in time when ergs came into their own …. or jumped the shark, it is good to see the misunderstood, much maligned erg make its debut in the national press as something other than a weird thing used by masochists.

You can read the piece here.

Here’s where Crossfit gets credit for taking the erg out of the boathouse and into the gym:

“Why the surge in popularity? Thank CrossFit — and nearly everybody selling indoor rowing does. That craze’s high-intensity strength and conditioning workouts sometimes require ergs, and CrossFit offers rowing certification for instructors. Some CrossFit boxes, as the gyms are called, offer temporary homes for group indoor rowing start-ups as they already have the machines and the space.”

My Yale buddy and fellow-rower Mike Ives gets a prominent mention in the piece:

“And on a steamy recent Tuesday at the West Side Y.M.C.A. in Manhattan, Michael Ives, 55, a former Yale rower (toting the gold medal he and his team had recently won at the Henley Masters Regatta in England) had to turn away some 10 hopefuls from one of his evening classes.

“I don’t think it’s a case of misery loves company,” Mr. Ives said. “It feels good, and it sounds good,” he added, referring to the rhythmic, almost meditative, whooshing of all of the ergs moving in unison. His class — pioneered by his younger brother Chris, widely credited with being the first to offer indoor group rowing, in 1995 — is a polished version of what crew teams might do off-season. There is no music, only the sound of Mr. Ives’s preternaturally calm voice offering pacing instructions.”

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

3 thoughts on “Indoor Rowing Makes It to the Big Leagues”

  1. We like to think this is more of the indoor rower coming into its own. My business partner, Terry Smythe, was interviewed at length for the story and we talked quite a bit about how the sport is great, and growing, for people of all ages, sizes and abilities. We wish the reporter would have made more of a point about the importance of seeking out certified instructors (like your buddy Mike Ives), especially now that the sport is starting to grow, but all publicity is good publicity, right?

    Sarah Fuhrmann

  2. Thanks Sarah,
    My point re ergs coming into their own via CrossFit was that the machines have indeed been the abandoned devices in the corner of most health club/gyms for the past 20 years, largely because trainers don’t know how to teach novices the stroke, and because they are excruciating, difficult monsters when used correctly.

    CrossFit was (other than college and high school rowing teams) the first institution to take an erg and make it a staple of its program. I’ve seen dozens of novices take to the machines at my local CrossFit box because they don’t have an option. Over time they all want more tips on getting more out of the wheel of pain and begin to prefer it over running.

    I have never been in a group rowing class, but imagine it would be very cool. I’ve heard about Chris Ives’ legendary 100K sessions and feel sick to my stomach. Your point re: certification is dead on. I know Crossfit has a specific rower certification, and wish Concept2 could get more trainers to complete something similar. Bad technique on an erg is a terrible thing to witness.

  3. Group rowing can be a lot of fun, as even some CrossFit boxes are discovering. Check out RowFit Chicago as one excellent example if you’re ever there.

    Concept2 does support certification for group exercise – through us at UCanRow2! We run about two trainings a month all over the US and Canada and, I’m happy to say, are getting more and more requests for certification.

    As we like to say, Stamp Out Bad Rowing – Get Certified! If you’d like more info on what we’re doing follow us on Facebook and Twitter or check out our website at:

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