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Old Town Row House Studio Review

Row, row, row your boat, quickly to the beat! Merrily, merrily, merrily? Well… that’s up for debate.

Old Town Row House

I decided to check out Old Town Row House for a rowing-based workout. This studio chain has locations around the United States, but Chicago’s Old Town’s branch just opened this year. They plan to expand to other neighborhoods and the suburbs this year.

For my first visit, I signed up for the “body” class, which is a combination of dumbbells and rowing. There are five variations of classes. “Body” being 60 percent rowing, 40 percent floor work, and 100 percent difficult! I was extremely relieved to know I was not expected to have the cardio to row for 45 minutes straight, and I generally enjoy station-based workouts to break up the time.

Old Town Row House

When you enter the gym, you’ll check in and be assigned your erg (rowing) machine. There are lockers with built-in locks so that you can put your personal items away and set your own combination. There are also private bathrooms so that you can change. As for #amenities: the bathroom is equipped with q-tips, hair dryer and sprays, lotion, makeup wipes, and feminine products. The front desk sells water bottles and offers earplugs if you’re sensitive to loud music. Towels are provided, which is great because you will need them!

After I got everything locked up and felt secure, the instructor, Todd, helped fit me for my erg. If you’re new to this workout, plan to be about 15 minutes early to be fitted and learn the basics. Any gym shoes work for a Row House class, but flat trainers are recommended.

Old Town Row House

I had not rowed before (unless you count sitting on a row machine while waiting for someone to vacate a treadmill), so after Todd fit the footholds to my feet, he went over proper form and technique. Proper rowing technique requires thrusting back from the legs, leaning back with the core to a 45-degree angle, and pulling the handle to your chest with your arm muscles. Then on the return, you do arms, core, legs. Todd made it all sound fluid, but it took chanting it under my breath not to incorrectly do core, arms, then legs, which felt more intuitive. Luckily, instructors continually help you check-in on form and technique, so you will be able to quickly pick it up.


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The machines are self-resistant, so even though some of the rowing is a slower tempo, you control how hard you are working. This also makes it easy to cheat yourself and not work as hard, but don’t do that. Instructor Todd explained that during slow songs, I would want to power more through my legs in order to improve my “split.” The split measurement is the holy grail of Row House. You want that number as low as possible, it is representative of how long it would take you to row 500 meters.

After class, you are emailed your average split and best split. As you get better at rowing, the gap between the numbers should lessen. You’ll also learn how far you row in meters, which is clutch because if in your first 30 days, you row 50,000 meters, you’ll get a t-shirt and Polaroid and entry into the famed 50,000-meter club.

As class began, the room got dark and Todd took the front machine, walking us through the warm-up and explaining the format of the class. He joked with some of the regulars, and it was a very informal, friendly feel.

Old Town Row House

The friendliness of the workout was one of the things I liked best. Blazed on the wall is “Row Together” and the mentality that you’re all in the same boat is prevalent. The woman to my right immediately introduced herself before class and was happy to offer high fives as we finished sets. You row in sync as a room and are only focused on your own split-times instead of trying to compete.

The music was upbeat, pop songs that I recognized, and we did a great mix of speed work and slow, hard rows. The dumbbell sets each focused on a muscle set and went by quickly. You alternate between light and heavy weights, so you can challenge yourself. The 45 minutes fly by, which is not something I can say about all workout classes. And afterward, you can treat yourself to a wine carafe at BomboBar

My abs and back muscles were sore the following day, but it was a great workout and I definitely would return to try to earn my 50,000-meter shirt.

The Bitches say: 3.5 sweat drops.

Row House is a great workout if you’re looking for low-impact, cardio, strength-training, and new friends. And who isn’t?

It can be challenging to push yourself on a machine on which you’re driving the difficulty, but the instructors are motivating and music is excellent. Old Town’s studio is clean, friendly, and fun. 

Row House offers your first class free but also has membership-based packages. Old Town offers an 11-pack of classes, and then monthly deals for four times a month, eight times a month, and unlimited. The brand is not on ClassPass at this time.

Kirsten Ballard

Chicago Food Editor & Social Manager

Kirsten is our Chicago Food Editor & Social Manager. From 9-5, she works at a Great Lakes nonprofit, but after hours she loves exploring Chicago, looking for dog-friendly bars and good Southern biscuits.

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