This column really should be called "How SmartShanghai tortures its out of shape editors". This week we take a look at indoor rowing, a low-impact cardio exercise that uses 84% of the body's muscles. I took a beginner class at Base Body Fitness, a newly opened gym that is betting money on rowing as the next craze in Shanghai's burgeoning health swing.
Phoebe Wu used to work for Hearst, Vogue, and Ebay. Now she runs and owns Base Body, a gym opened last month that focuses on personal training, hip hop dancing, and rowing classes. Max Trullas' MTM Design designed the place, and it's hip and modern looking inside with white and wood panel walls, tall windows, and top-of-the-line exercise equipment. The rowing machines are from WaterRower, and Phoebe claims theirs is the same model used by Frank Underwood in House Of Cards.
So if you always wanted to kill your way to the US presidency, get started here.
So the deal is this: The water-based rowing machines utilized at Base Body don't have resistance settings; instead, resistance is self-regulated through speed, much like rowing on water. The greater intensity you row at, the greater force required. Everything else, however, feels the same as a wind resistance rowing machine, which you can find at a lot of gyms. But Base Body claims to be the only one in Shanghai that does rowing as part of a class.
What You Need
Workout clothes, shoes, and a water bottle. Towels and lockers are provided at no extra charge, and their showers have soap and shampoo. Men's room has just two showers. Didn't check the ladies room, but apparently that's bigger.
Who Goes in for This
Base Body is new, so most people attending the classes now are white collar workers who work in the area. One guy in my class found out about it on Dianping; others saw it on their friend's WeChat Moments. The people in the class were generally fit, but none had done rowing before as a routine exercise.
Oh, and they were mostly ladies. The class size had nine people in it and seven were female. Do what you will with that information.
Phoebe hired professional rowers to design their classes and train their instructors. My instructor called himself Clark. He was a well-built Chinese guy with a friendly, humble demeanor. First impressions: Good guy; the type you could go camping with.
And then about seven minutes into the class I was plotting Clark's murder.
The class started out with some light stretching and basics on technique. Extend your legs first, then lean back, then pull in with arms, etc. Then we tried rowing for a few minutes at a moderate pace. All was going well. Then Clark asked us to take the pace up and hold it for a few minutes. Not easy, and I was barely keeping up. Then he did it again. And again. While we rowed, Clark would walk around and whisper in your ear, "Come on, you can go harder than that. Use more force." Clark isn't invited to camping anymore.
Afterwards, we did a session of intense interval training, followed by some time off the rowing machine, doing three sets of jumping jacks, squats, planking, and lunges, a minute each, with a 20 second break in between each set. This part of the class is just as demanding. Clark will get into your face with his humble attitude and ask you to keep going if you slow down.
Finally, we got back on the rowing machines and did a 600 meter sprint, or 700 meters if you were male. I deeply regretted sitting next to the only other dude in the class. It was a full on race between us to see who could finish first. (I won, haha, yes.) The presence of girls in the class did not factor into this. There is a chance he did not realize we were racing.
A variety of music accompanied our workout session including the Star Wars theme, "Royals" by Lorde, and "Die Young" by Kesha, the last of which was particularly fitting.
How Much of Your Life Will This Take Up?
The beginner class is 45 minutes long. At the end of it, the instructor will give you a score of your fitness level out of three, and give a "yes" or "no" on the areas of technique, intensity, rhythm and ratio, and speed. If you get an overall "Ok", it means you can move on to the intermediate class. Intermediate classes are hour long sessions that focus on either butt and legs, arms and core, shoulder and back, or full body.
Base Body is a seven minute walk from the Changping Lu subway station, and you'll want to arrive 10 minutes early to change and what not. When you start taking the intermediate classes, you'll probably do this a couple times a week, spending about an hour and a half total each time.
How Much Does It Cost?
Base Body lets you try out the beginner class for free. If you pass, you don't have to take it again and you can move up to the hour-long intermediate class when you actually start paying. Classes are 200rmb for a one time drop in. Packages of 10 classes are 1800rmb, 20 class packages 3200rmb (160rmb per class), and 40 class packages are 5600rmb (140rmb per class). Not cheap, especially considering that spinning classes are free at several of the larger gym chains in town, but a rowing class is unique and this is much more of a boutique experience.
Also, note that only classes are offered at Base Body, so you can't use the rowing machines like a regular gym without an instructor. If you really fell in love with rowing and had the cash, you could buy one, but you’re going to the class for someone like Clark to be on your ass.
Should You Do It?
If you're tired of the treadmill or the bicycle, not a fan of what pool water does to your skin, and want a full body cardio workout, definitely give rowing a try. The classes at Base Body are relatively small, which means you'll get more attention from the instructors, who are there to push you farther than you'd go if you were doing it on your own. And that's really the point of these classes. Doing it with others and someone on your back when you slack off gives you a far better workout then personal willpower.
However, if you're a fitness freak, you might want something a bit more intensive. Currently Base Body's classes are designed for people with average to intermediate fitness levels. People there looked like they worked out, but not like they were competing. So keep that in mind.
If you want to sign up, you can try out a free beginner class by calling Base Body. You'll also be able to schedule classes as well as track progress on their app that comes out on iOS at the end of the month. The app is in both English and Chinese, though currently the rowing classes are offered primarily in Chinese. They do have English classes planned, and as more foreigners sign up, they'll offer more bilingual versions (their hip hop dancing class is currently bi-lingual).
Base Body is still working out the details of their gym, but they've got a lot going for it, and they're already planning on expanding to new locations in the future. We just hope they don't get ahead of themselves before securing a strong base.