This Top-Ranked Triathlete Rows All Over the World

by Hydrow

We sat down with Nick Karwoski to hear why he took on rowing after an illustrious career in triathlons. He told us about traveling the world as a Hydrow Athlete, and how the USAT + Hydrow Transformation Program is delivering the cross-training necessary for triathletes. 

Hi Nick! Tell us a little bit about yourself! When did you start your athletic career?

In 2013, I was a part of a collegiate recruitment program for triathletes. My college coach told me about the program, and they flew me down to Florida and onto Phoenix to train with the USA National Triathlon team. At one point in my journey, I was ranked 9th in the U.S. I got to race in twelve different countries in seventeen different races. I got to compete with some of the best athletes in the world.

That said, one of the most important things I noticed when we would travel was how critical it was to have access to a rowing machine. For cross training, especially, it was a great way to incorporate all of the triathlon disciplines in one piece of equipment when I didn’t have access to my bike or to water.

For those who don’t know, what is a Hydrow Athlete?

Hydrow is a connective fitness rowing machine, and Hydrow Athletes guide those rows. If you train on a Hydrow, you have a variety of workouts to choose from on your screen. I’m one of the athletes who leads those workouts.

I joined Hydrow in 2018. We’re based in Boston, so we often row on the Charles River from May to October. It can range from low intensity to high intensity.

As coaches, we work with you on getting your split lower. We walk you through workouts and tell stories to tie you into themes of rowing. We’re leading the workout while also doing the workout with you. You’re not even looking the way you’re going. We try to make things as fun as we can!

How do you think rowing can benefit triathletes?

Rowing is a whole-body sport. It uses 86% of your muscles. Triathlon training is also a whole body sport. However, in triathlons, your physical engagement is broken out between the three disciplines — you’re using your lats more on swimming, your glutes on the bike, and your hamstrings on the running.  You need to know how to train each of these muscle groups, from brick workouts to learning how to fire certain muscle patterns. Most triathletes are usually type A and feel they have to be methodical, organized, planning, cadence, foot striking pattern on a bike.

When you’re rowing, though, you’re forced to incorporate all of your muscles at once, as well as engage muscles you don’t normally use. There’s also a parallel in the methodical nature of rowing. Most triathletes are a little Type A and feel they have to be methodical, organized, and plan the perfect cadence for their movements. This structure is flattered in rowing, too.

How does Hydrow specifically improve the experience of rowing for athletes?

What Hydrow does differently is that we’re outside. We call it Live Outdoor Reality. We’re not in the studio, so things aren’t going to be perfect (the same is true in triathlons). When you’re rowing outside, there are so many things you don’t have control over, and Hydrow highlights those challenges: changes in weather, water, equipment needs, the pressure of other athletes, etc.

Sitting on an indoor rowing machine can become monotonous — but Hydrow keeps you engaged by taking the sport to such beautiful places. My favorite memories as a triathlete were being able to see amazing places while competing — from the Fjords of Alaska to the streets of Downtown Chicago. The Live Outdoor Reality component of Hydrow is a great way to deliver that spirit of exploration and make the whole thing a little more fun.

What tips would you give to someone who’s new to indoor rowing?

First, be patient. Rowing takes time to acquire proper form and technique. You need 100,000s of strokes to perfect the body position, and even then, it’s tough.

Next, know that you don’t need to go fast to go hard. You can go very slowly and rhythmically. You learn more about your biomechanics and muscle memory when you’re using your entire body on the rower.

Rowing is a unique combo of strength and cardio. You don’t get that with most sports. Swimming is up there — you have to be entirely powerful and quick — but your limit in the water is the need for oxygen. Rowing combines the limitlessness of running, the strength demands of swimming / biking.

As a triathlete who’s traveled the globe, what do you love about Hydrow?

The thing that got me so excited about Hydrow is that it’s outside. It’s real. It’s not perfect. There’s no lighting. There’s no makeup. You get to know what the sport is all about. Hydrow allows people to experience the live outdoor reality of rowing (some days we’re out in pouring rain). All of these elements make it a little more exciting, and makes rowers want to do another workout. 

What are Hydrow members like?

Members are passionate and loyal. They’ll send messages about something particular that I said on the rower (months or years ago) that meant something to them. With the amount they have access to videos we’ve made, it’s so fun to hear their progress to hear about weight loss, or injury, or coming back from pregnancy. It’s inspiring.

I had heart surgery years ago and told that story. I heard from others about the same thing. I don’t think they understand how inspiring it is to hear their stories.

If it were up to you, what three segments would you want to see in a “triathlon”?

I’m a big runner, so let’s keep that.

I’d keep biking.

It took me the entire length of my career to become a swimmer, so that’s out. I’d trade it for rowing. Ultimately, the equipment logistics around rowing on the water would be similar to a triathlon rowing: it’s either the bike bag or the paddles, etc. If you had to figure out the logistics of getting to a boat, that’d be a super-jacked up transition.

What does a day in your workout day look like?

I love to run. Running is my church. That’s what I did throughout college. I do way more strength training than I used to do — free weights, mobility, etc. Every once in a while, I like to get out there on my bike or go out for a row.

I find that rowing is very therapeutic and methodical. There are so many different metrics to consider on each stroke. You can learn what you’re doing right or wrong based on your split, and the methodology of it all is what keeps me interested.

Do people make assumptions about what sports you Hydrow Athletes play?

All of us Hydrow Athletes are pretty tall. When we travel as a group, people say, “What are you?” They assume we’re basketball players, for sure.

Rowing is so much more fun to do when you have people to do it with. And, of course, the same is true of triathlons.

Whether you’re an experienced athlete or a budding at-home rower, Hydrow expands your training repertoire. Hydrow workouts bring the outdoors in with patented Live Outdoor Reality technology, making it feel like you’re right on the water. With both on-demand and live workouts, you’ll build your rowing skills alongside passionate Hydrow Athletes while inspiring new goals that make exercise interesting all year long.

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