As is inevitable when undertaking any new life experience (read: workout), we brought with us to CityRow our past perceptions, impressions and knowledge. Specifically, memories of the rowers we knew in college and how they made the erg sound like nothing short of a torture device, the extended use of which is surefire way to puke and/or collapse. With every intention of taking a water break prior to the aforementioned outcomes, we showed up to CityRow anticipating intensity, and then some. What ensued was an interval-based class with equal parts rowing and strength training, but at a pace that threw us for a loop. Look, we’ve never participated in a regatta, and maybe it’s insider knowledge that a slow start and a steady clip promises a first-place finish. But CityRow’s even-keeled tempo and emphasis throughout class on remaining in sync with the “crew” capped the potency of the workout, for us. And rather than the workout demanding 100% of our effort, we had to push ourself pretty aggressively to make the 50 minutes worth the big bucks.

Getting situated at our first CityRow class, we experienced an array of emotions. Inspiring optimism, our instructor was making the rounds helping newbies get comfortable on their rowers (and with the free weights we would be using for strength work), before hopping on her own to demonstrate proper form, and cuing some practice strokes all together. There’s lots of togetherness at CityRow (our instructor was quick to remind the crew to match her speed on the rower), offering beginners a level playing field, which is one reason why we’d be likely to recommend this class to someone just getting back on the workout train, versus a balls-to-the-walls fitness junkie. As we eased into the warm-up with more slow, form-focused strokes (to be revisited throughout class as “recovery”), the lack of music in the room aroused discomfort bordering on fear (we may not be scared of the dark, but complete silence during a workout makes the hair on the back of our neck stand up). Eventually, our instructor hopped up to turn on an unrecognizable playlist, and while thankful for the (faint) tunes, the beats situation definitely stood out as a weak spot at CityRow.

Just as our heart rate started to climb after the first go-round on the rower, we hopped down onto our adjacent yoga mat and got into some very, well, yoga-like moves (CityRow offers a Row & Flow class, but this wasn’t it), which felt nice, but dialed down the intensity just as we were beginning to feel the sweat percolating. Rotating back onto the rower, we synced up with the rest of the class on some recovery strokes (recovering from what, we weren’t sure), before getting to the meat of the workout. Seemingly a CityRow standard, we rowed for a set time (usually a circuit of pushes at 30 or 45 seconds, and then a few at a minute), aiming for our best split time (without exceeding some other mysterious number on our rower that our instructor kept referencing; speed? quantity of burgers earned?); not not exhausting.

Foreshadowing the cadence for the remainder of class, on the buzzer, we returned to the mat for strength exercise like lunges, shoulder presses, rows, shoulder taps in plank, and the likes (all of which were combined, mixed and matched in subsequent strength sections). After completing a set number of reps, usually just 5-10, we were back on the rower for – you guessed it – recovery. Then more rowing for time, and around we go. If that sounds to you like a lot of back and forth, starting and stopping, you’d be right. Trust, we appreciate the balance of cardio and strength work. But between the transitions, the planned recoveries, and the time spent chilling on the rower, if you happen to be quick on the strength work, the overall intensity can languish, sometimes at the risk of the workout flatlining.

Gonna Cost You
$32/class. Technically, CityRow is on ClassPass, but it feels a bit like whack-a-mole trying to snag a spot that way.

Instructor Vibe
It’s hard to say anything negative about CityRow instructors, all of whom seem universally nice, positive, welcoming, genuine, not to mention very fit. That said, we’ve yet to find a star here who overcomes the aforementioned pitfalls of the CityRow style.

Studio Sitch
Imagine a studio with amenities for days. Pore-refining facial cleanser, three kinds of body lotion, seven blade razors, warmed towels. Well, CityRow Union Square is the exact opposite of that. The bathroom is actually outside the studio (given CityRow is on the 15th floor of a commercial building, it’s shared with other suites on the floor) and there’s no where to freshen up, much less shower, so plan accordingly.