Oar inspiring

by agwelch

‘Briefcase’ feature from New Design 125 exploring LA Design’s development of the Float Rower, an innovative training aid for rowers.

Reaching the top in any given sport requires hard work, determination, and a good dose of talent. Key also is a training regime that helps an athlete to perform at their optimum. Few know this better than Anthony Hamilton, father of three-time Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton. Anthony supported his son through his early days in karting and formative years in Formula Renault and Formula Three and was regularly seen in team garages following Lewis on the F1 circuit.

Building on his experience of elite sporting performance, Anthony Hamilton has started a business based around training aid products. Already in his portfolio is KickTrix, a ‘keepy-uppy’ machine that helps youngster to hone their soccer skills. As the ball is attached to the device, would-be Beckhams can even practice at home without the danger of smashing the china. His latest innovation is the Float Rower – a rowing machine that simulates the experience of rowing on water in order to deliver a more comprehensive workout and prepare the high-level rower more immersively for on-water competition.


The concept emerged following conversations with Berkhamsted-based product development consultancy LA Design. Indeed, LA Design director Les Stokes recalls that originally Hamilton was considering a driver training aid before the idea for a ‘floating’ rowing machine developed.

The fundamental task for the LA Design team was to devise a system that improved on the conventional static rowing machine that is found in gyms across the country by developing a method of simulating the experience of rowing on water. “The idea was that if you could create an experience of floating on water, the user is exercising more muscle groups and [the machine] is a training aid for serious rowers,” says Stokes. “The potential for these two things – creating something for performance rowers and something for the recreational gym user to get a hugely better workout – is a compelling proposition.”

Prototyping was crucial to the success of the project with LA Design constructing a number of rough prototypes at an early stage to explore how to create a rowing machine that might behave as if it were on water.

Matthew Brown, an LA Design director and himself a keen rower, explains that competitive rowers were invited in to test the proof of principal rigs. “Because we are trying to create a feeling of being on water, without creating prototypes if would be very difficult to get the experience of the float. We were looking at the ability to create the float and roll – for the machine to do everything apart from capsize,” he adds. “We created various methods of ‘floating’ and tested them to make sure they are durable. Some methods proved better than others for use in a gym.”


He continues: “The original rigs were quite basic – you could hang parts off them to test different floating mechanisms and the rolling geometry. As we refined the mechanism the form evolved and we and tried to integrate the engineering into the desired form.”

Unlike a conventional rowing machine which uses a single blade, the Float Rower offers a dual resistance mechanism. This means that the left and right hands can work independently, potentially spinning the mechanism at different speeds, a feature that is useful in highlighting technical aspects of a rower’s stroke.

In order to create the ‘float and roll’ sensation, the Float Rower’s resistance mechanism slides back and forth and will tilt from side to side (on your average rowing machine it is just the seat that moves). “When you row on water the boat is moving underneath you – you are effectively levering the boat,” explains Brown. “This machine gives you a similar sensation.”


In addition to the machine itself, LA Design developed a user interface that collects and presents data that can examine performance and inform training regimes. The interface unit is charged by the power generated by rowing so the machine does not need to be plugged in.

A further training benefit of the machine is that individual Float Rowers can be linked together. “You can connect up multiple machines allowing you to row as a crew,” suggests Brown. “It is possible to connect multiple units so you can feel each other’ float and roll and thus practice as a crew before you get on the water.”


Stokes explains that the Float Rower does not incorporate any “really specialized or esoteric materials.” He continues: “Our objective was to translate the right user experience into a product that was workable in a short space of time. The result is an elegant solution: there is no waste, no redundant mechanisms, everything is there for the right reason.”

The Float Rower is currently nearing commercial launch. A website promoting the product has been built and final refinements to the machine are being made in response to feedback from test users. “We know the market can take a new product at a higher cost than what was already on the market because [the Float Rower] provides so much more of a realistic rowing experience,” states Stokes. “Our biggest challenge was to get the feeling of rowing on water in a way that was elegant and commercially viable. I’m happy to say that everyone who tries it comes away with a smile on their face.”