HFB 2012: Rise of rowers

SNEWS found that rowers are on the rise in popularity at the latest Health & Fitness Business Expo. The fact that it was a Summer Olympics year has helped. Check out what's coming down the pipe in rowers.

As one walked the floor of the Health & Fitness Business Expo held a few weeks ago in Las Vegas, they probably noticed that everybody and their sister had a rowing machine in their booth.

Credit the rise in rowing to it being a Summer Olympics year, when the sport gets a global spotlight, sources told us.

“It’s a great exercise,” said Bruce Velich, Stamina’s regional manager. Stamina came out with a new programmable rower under its Avari brand at HFB this year. “We’re coming off an Olympic year and it’s one of the better cardio exercises out there.” 

“Rowing machines are doing really well right now,” echoed Roger Bates, president of Lifecore Fitness. As a result, more companies are coming out with new products, he said. Lifecore Fitness brought two of its new fold-up rowers (photo, right) – the R88 Pro (MSRP $899), and the R99 Pro (MSRP $999). The R88 Pro is manual while the R99 Pro includes preset programs.

“There have been a lot of other companies making rowing machines and other companies reinventing what they we're already producing,” said Water Rower’s David Jones.

BodyCraft’s booth was abuzz with people checking out its new product, the VR500 Rowing Simulator (MSRP $1,299, photo, left). Though it’s designed for commercial use, the piece has 48 present programs, is heart-rate controlled and users can control the resistance right from the handles. The VR500 uses a combination of air and eddy current resistance for an extremely smooth simulation of rowing in water.

BodyCraft co-owner Alan Gore said the rower has been in development for nearly two years.

“We’ve consulted the rowing community and it’s been in development for a year-and-a-half,” Gore explained. “We focused on all the different things important to the rowing community.

The Avari Programmable Rower from Stamina (MSRP $1,000, photo, below) has 12 programs, seven preset programs, an InTouch Fitness Monitor that allows all readouts to be monitored on one screen and molded-foam padded seat. The product, which folds up, also comes with a chest strap to monitor heart rate for the heart-rate specific programs.

Over at First Degree Fitness, the rowers made their second appearance but the reinvigorated Vortex Series rowers featured rounded scratch-resistant tubing, versus last year’s models, which had rectangular tubing. Plus, the units (which include the VX-3, retailing for $2,999; and the VX-2, retailing for $2,799) have a new handle design that makes for a more stable workout.

SNEWS can’t possibly mention rowers without mentioning Water Rower. Though the company didn’t showcase any new equipment at HFB, it did throw a new home-training DVD into the mix, said David Jones.

One thing about rowing, said Water Rower’s Ben Rymer, is that once you learn about it and figure out how to do it, you’re hooked for life. Being from the United Kingdom, Rymer said, he learned how to row at a young age. He noted the gyms and fitness facilities there have rowing machines the way ours have treadmills.

“Very few fitness facilities have rowers like that,” in such a high volume, Jones said, but more facilities are adding more rowers to their inventory now that it’s becoming more popular.

Kettler offers something for every level of rowers. Its Favorit, which is designed for beginners, has two swiveling rowing arms with variable resistance adjustment instead of a cable system. Its Kadett has a hydraulic cylinder with resistance adjustment and an easy-to-use training computer. The Stroker is for advanced users and has an integrated pulse sensor (chest strap is included), manually adjustable magnetic brake system, and the unit folds up.

BH offers its light commercial LK580 Rower, which includes 16 levels of resistance, a fan and magnetic resistance system, an 87-inch handle pull length. The piece has a multi-color backlit LCD dislay that includes time of workout, distance, strokes, watts, speed, calories and pulse. It also includes six different programs including race and heart-rate programs.

--Ana Trujillo