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Chats / Helaine Knapp: Founder + CEO of CITYROW

It’s no secret that boutique workouts are the latest craze in fitness. New to the scene is CITYROW, a unique rowing gym that will have you signing up again and again. Their signature class ($32) is a low-impact, total-body burn that balances both cardio and strength training. We sat down with Helaine Knapp, the founder of this boutique fitness studio, to discuss healthy lifestyles, entrepreneurship and her New York favorites.

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How did you come up with the concept for CITYROW?

I was a consumer who was looking for something better, a smarter and more effective way to work my body. Working in the media and tech world, I quickly found myself falling in love with boutique fitness. It was perfect to pepper in between the traditional happy hour with co-workers or clients and with a crazy work schedule. It actually held me accountable to get to the gym (I was notoriously working late and never getting there). With boutique fitness, if I paid for it and signed up, I was going to leave my desk and make it there.

I fell in love with the lifestyle and community of boutique fitness, but I was left with little results and injuries. I found myself looking for a low-impact workout, but something that was still a high-intensity sweat; there was nothing. A trainer mentioned rowing, but I quickly wrote it off. In my mind it was ugly. I pictured a metal machine collecting dust in the corner, maybe a few guys using it briefly before lifting the heaviest things in the gym, and of course I thought of collegiate rowers.


I knew it had benefits, but I was skeptical – until I found the WaterRower. It was stunning, sexy and had all the amazing benefits I’d been hearing and reading about: low impact, total body, and a major calorie crusher. I thought; why is there a spin studio on every corner, but nowhere to do this seemingly better workout? That’s when I started to investigate the wonderful world of rowing.

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As a consumer, I always loved a high-intensity cardio sweat and also how I felt after a personal training session. When building CITYROW, I combined them: intervals of rowing on the incredible WaterRowers, intermixed with intervals on a mat doing a combination of body weight and weighted exercises with dumbbells. Targeting all muscle groups leaves you with an incredible workout – but without the high impact and strain on your joints. It’s everything I was looking for: a smart, yet fun workout, sure to deliver results.


How is CITYROW redefining rowing?

We’re putting a spotlight on a fantastic machine that is traditionally found in a dusty corner of the gym. Consumers today are extremely attuned to their bodies and the right way to treat them. They’re constantly seeking a better and smarter way to get and stay fit. CITYROW delivers a HIIT class that is also low-impact, while making it accessible and teaching people how to row properly.

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Most people grew up running and biking, so hoping on a treadmill or stationary bike is familiar. A majority of people are not as familiar with rowing, so it’s something new – and just like me, many have preconceived notions. Some think it is all arms, others think it is just for guys and some have the same negative associations I did. So we’re re-branding this unsung hero of the gym and educating the masses on why it’s THAT much better.

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What type of person is CITYROW best for?

Truly anyone. CITYROW is a way to get the results while keeping your body safe. We see a wide range of people coming through our doors, both men & women of all ages who are looking to get in a great burn while taking care of their bodies. CITYROW is designed to challenge any fitness level, whether you’re a novice or an Ironman/woman.

Are you planning to bring this experience outside of New York?

Yes, we have big expansion plans both inside and out of NYC!

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?

Always stay humble and hungry. If you think you can, you can. Confidence is key. When starting out, there are going to be the highs of highs and lows of lows; try to look at all experiences with perspective.

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Let’s talk about favorites. Where do you like to shop for workout apparel?

Bandier’s has a great selection of all the top brands (including my top faves, Nesh and Koral).  I also sport Lululemon, Sweaty Betty and Tory Sport.

Where do you like to get your nails done?

Paintbox in Soho. They do incredible gel manicures with designs and include a side of champagne.

Favorite NYC activity?

Yankees game (warm weather only)

What are you currently reading?

Fates and Furies / by Lauren Groff and Why Not Me? / by Mindy Kaling

Where do you like to sip cocktails?

I like to start my nights at the Ace Hotel (mainly for the photobooth). I’m also a sucker for the Pickle Martini at Penrose.

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Favorite Manhattan restaurant for:

Date night: Resto
Casual: Pizza Beach
Italian: Locanda Verde
Japanese: Yama
Burger: Rare (The burger is good, but the french fry basket is out of this world)
Mediterranean: Beyoglu
Dessert: Big Gay Ice Cream
Brunch: The Penrose and The Smith
Pizza: Keste

Favorite place to travel to?


What tops your travel destination bucket list?

Fiji, Bali, Thailand and Iceland.

What do you love most about New York City?

Growing up in Westchester, this was (and still is) the only city for me. I’ve traveled and visited a lot of cities domestically and internationally, but this one really feels like home. It also happens to be where the top hustlers are hustling; if I’m going play, I want to play with the best.


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Click to contact your lifestyle curator to take advantage of an exclusive CR perk: 10% off CITYROW packages, plus get your first class FREE!

Click to purchase your very own sexy black CITYROW WaterRower