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Quarantine workout: Ergatta digital rower is a competition with others at home

Race against others with a rowing machine that makes exercise a competitive game.

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The Ergatta digital rower is a home workout machine that challenges you with personal goals and races against others -- if you subscribe to the monthly service. 

Ergatta

It's important to stay fit, even if you're stuck at home. But it doesn't have to be a solo endeavor. A new home rower machine called the Ergatta turns a full-body rowing workout into a competitive game, putting you in a race against other owners. 

In the age of Peloton and livestreamed fitness class subscriptions, the Brooklyn-based Ergatta is taking a different approach: Create a machine that can challenge people through race competitions and personal goals, not perky instructors on a screen. The system will assess your performance, give you custom targets to reach and sort you in races with users who are similar to your level. Enter a race, and see if you can beat other dots on the screen that represent others who've taken the challenge. 

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Ergatta worked with a popular maker of wooden indoor rowing machines, WaterRower, to design its own version -- one that comes with a touchscreen attached to a moveable arm, keeping track of stroke rate, speed and time. That data is translated into distance traveled and a number of other metrics, and it also syncs up with fitness trackers to measure heart rate. 

The basic WaterRower machine doesn't need to be plugged in to work -- it harnesses the power of the resistance of water being moved in a tank, making it a smooth and quiet workout compared to other rowing machines you may have seen at a typical gym. And the design can match your home decor, with wood frames in a variety of styles. It easily stores upright to save space, just wheel it out when you're ready to work out.

Read more: Best yoga mat for 2020    

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Like other WaterRowers, the Ergatta can be stored upright to save space.

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The catch, as with most of these connected fitness machines, is that you need to pay a $30 monthly subscription to tap into the games and challenges that continuously update as it measures your progress on screen. (And that screen does require to be plugged into an outlet.) The Regatta machine itself is $2,000 -- about $1,000 more than a basic home WaterRower you can get without the tech.

That said, Ergatta is still a functioning machine even if you don't pay for the subscription. The screen can be used for anything you want -- plenty of ports make it easy to stream anything.

The same can't be said for another new high-tech rowing machine with a large screen, the Hydrow, which is unusable without internet access or a monthly subscription.

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The display on the Ergatta can be used for anything -- not just the workout service.

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I got the chance to try out the Ergatta three weeks ago. The on-screen display animation is minimalist, with lines and bars telling you how you're doing. My first race I lost, but I can see myself wanting to try again to outdo the other users -- and the short demo made me push harder than I would if I was just on the machine by myself. 

As someone who has a hard time getting motivated to work out and doesn't care for an instructor to tell me to keep going, I can appreciate the approach to do it on my own terms, with the drive to be better than other racers. 

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There are several types of challenges and structured workouts to select, which are to be updated regularly by the Ergatta team.

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Several months back I was shopping around for a home workout machine. I needed something that was small enough for an apartment, that would keep me motivated, and that would be quiet when my kids are sleeping. I tried out a few machines in stores, including the Hydrow, but my husband and I sprung for a WaterRower machine called the CityRow Go, which has an arm to attach a phone or tablet and the option to subscribe instructor-led classes, if we wanted. 

I love being motivated by games, and I think Ergatta gets the blend just right. It's exactly what I wanted -- something that doesn't require me to log in at a certain time, but I could still push myself to go a little further than I would otherwise.

Read more: Nintendo Ring Fit Adventure is a legit workout

In a time where folks are isolated but in search of community, I hope the Ergatta team can upgrade the platform to offer more connection. Make some races live events. Let me invite specific users to a challenge, or let me send messages to others in my race. 

That's going to be the key to success here. The more people that can engage with the platform, the more fun the competition will be.

For those interested in getting one now, the company says is waving delivery fees and will include two months of the subscription service for customers to try it out. Right now the company says there are more than 500 users to compete against. Ergatta will also donate $100 of the purchase to the Meals on Wheels COVID-19 response fund

Read more: Best home workout options

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.