Rowbots, the fitness class supported by the former Tottenham Hotspur, Real Madrid and Wales footballer, claims to deliver both mental and physical conditioning. We tried out a class to see the results for ourselves.
‘Bringing mental and physical health together in a workout.’
It’s a phrase that’s been claimed by many fitness brands and exercise classes over recent years. It sounds revolutionary, that a class can leverage the mind-body connection to create physical results, but it isn’t. There’s a multitude of fitness programmes out there that describe themselves as focusing on the symbiotic relationship between mental and physical health, including MindGym, Third Space and its intrinsic to both yoga and Pilates practice.
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But Rowbots, a London-based fitness studio supported by footballing legend Gareth Bale, describes itself as standing out from the crowd. How, you ask?
“Through its emphasis on rowing,” answers Greg Zimmerman, chief experience officer and co-founder.
“Our classes aim to create an environment that serves as a refuge from daily stressors,” explains Greg. “The rhythmic motion of rowing, coupled with the intentional integration of mindfulness principles, provides participants with an opportunity to unwind, de-stress and fosters a positive mental state.”
The first Rowbots studio opened in Fitzrovia in 2019 and now the business has a second site in Shoreditch. Claiming to offer participants a ‘complete workout for your body and mind’, each 50-minute class is high-intensity interval training where floor-focused exercises are combined with, of course, rowing.
In addition to the concept itself, Greg suggests it’s the team behind it, which includes Olympic gold medallist Will Satch and former international rower Ben Tipney, that gives the brand its edge.
“The decision to assemble a diverse team of advisors was driven by a profound commitment to deliver a truly impactful fitness experience. By involving individuals who’ve excelled at the highest levels of sport, we’ve tapped into a wealth of knowledge regarding conditioning and interval training.”
But it’s the inclusion of psychologists and mental health professionals in the programming team that particularly draws my interest. According to the brand’s website, the expertise of these individuals ensures that the classes provide a real opportunity for mindfulness and mental rejuvenation.
So, I tested out a class to see whether it warranted all the hype.
If you’ve never rowed before (like me), you may initially be put off by the seemingly endless line of high-tech rowing machines that greet you upon entering the room. But worry not, your trainer will likely advice you that it’s fine to be a first-timer.
As we got started, I soon found it wasn’t the rowing aspect that was confusing (mastering the machine was relatively simple), but instead it was keeping up with the fast-paced exercises in-between rowing bouts that was tricky. The bright board in the centre of the room displays a list of exercises (split squats, bicep curls and so on) that you need to complete in-between rowing sessions, and it can be easy to lose track of your reps when everyone else in the class is working at a different pace.
But after a while, I found my groove and began to enjoy the competitive nature of the class. And that’s where I think the mental benefits are supposed to kick in.
A Rowbots Switch On class is structured so that you work in a team of two, and if you haven’t come with a friend or partner, then you’ll be paired up with a stranger. While this could potentially feel quite awkward, the sheer pace of the class doesn’t allow you time to dwell on it, and you’ll soon find yourself cheering on your teammate as they row.
“My favourite aspect of the class is undoubtedly the sense of community that permeates every session,” says Greg. “It’s incredibly rewarding to see our vision of building not just a gym, but a community, come to life. Beyond this, there’s an unparalleled feeling of accomplishment that comes from completing a Rowbots class.”
By the end of the class, I was maxed out. Rowbots is definitely not one for the faint-hearted, and you have to enjoy a fast-paced momentum that allows little rest. While I struggled throughout, I must admit that I felt a sense of triumph as the trainer, Matteo, signalled the end of the class. It’s a rewarding feeling, having completed something so intense.
As soothing music began to permeate through the speakers, we were told to lie down, close our eyes and revel in our accomplishment.
“This class starts and ends with kindness,” said Matteo. He encouraged us to celebrate our gain at having completed such a taxing workout, and to lead the rest of our day with the same sense of community and compassion that was cultivated during the class. And before I knew it, the lights were back on, Murder on the Dancefloor was bursting through the speakers and we were taking a group picture together. A ritual that I assume occurs after every class.
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I think that, in reality, any type of workout will benefit your mood and mental health. Releasing endorphins ultimately lowers stress and enhances wellbeing. But the benefit of a class like Rowbots is that you burn a hell of a lot of calories while also gaining a huge feeling of accomplishment at the same time.
In addition to that, its social nature and the teamwork required to complete the class does add to its appeal, and I found myself laughing frequently as my partner and I tried to finish our reps as fast as possible, simultaneously. So, in that sense, it’s more than just a workout, and I did feel just that little bit more positive than I usually do after my normal workout (despite being the slowest rower).
You can book a Rowbots class at rowbots.co.uk