When I first played the game, I was so caught up trying to hit the targets that I didn’t realize I was working out until it was over. I was breathing hard and soaked in sweat, my legs were aching, and I was obsessed about the four targets I missed. I actually went back later that day for another workout so I could try to beat my last score. In fact, I just headed to the rower to fact-check the intensity zones and hopped on for a 10-minute Meteor session, where I beat my previous high score by 8 points. This pleases me.

This fits perfectly with Ergatta’s gaming-inspired programming. The races and game ranking systems aren’t designed to make you feel like you need to do better or to beat the other users around the world racing next to your avatar, but to give you goals to achieve and more motivation to throw on some shorts and go try to beat your high score.

And on days when you don’t feel like competing, there’s also an Open Row setting, where you pick a time or distance and row at your own pace. Watching the ball on the screen that represents my rowing rate drift up and down with my strokes, combined with the gentle swish of the water in the reservoir, was oddly soothing. It was the first time I’ve actually found cardio to be relaxing.

As an added piece of motivation, Ergatta also offers “push challenges” with an added philanthropic perk. For January, Ergatta released a push challenge that asks users to complete 15 workouts over the course of the month. For each person who completed all 15 workouts, Ergatta donated $5 to one of a changing selection of nonprofit organizations. It’s a clever motivational tool: On days when I didn’t feel like working out, I thought about the nonprofit, hopped on the rower, and went to work.

If you’re looking for a variety of workout options, this isn’t the system for you. Ergatta doesn’t offer any off-the-rower workouts, so everything you do will be on the rower itself. Also, there aren’t any coach-led classes, and you don’t get any instruction on your rowing form other than the short video. If you’re aiming to improve your rowing technique, you’re going to have to hit up YouTube.

Money, Money

Photograph: Ergatta

At $2,199 plus $199 for shipping and installation, the Ergatta is priced on the higher end of at-home rowing machines, but if you have the funds, the eye-pleasing design and gaming-inspired programming are well worth the investment. This is especially true considering how rare it is to find workout equipment that you’d rather keep in your living room than hide away in your garage.

More importantly, the programming options are the most fun I’ve seen to date on any workout device. If you’re not an intrinsically motivated person when it comes to fitness, this is key. Rather than forcing myself to wake up early and get my workout in, I found myself taking breaks in the middle of the day to go “play” on my rower.

Getting a piece of equipment for home workouts is the easy part. Actually getting on it and doing the work is the real challenge. With the low-impact, mid- to high-intensity workouts and gaming-inspired motivational tools, Ergatta has actually made fitness feel more like recess than phys ed class.

Plus, you don’t have to worry about getting plowed over by a speedboat.

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