The COVID-19 pandemic has been all about adapting to new circumstances – whether they’re favorable or not.

So when Catalyst Rowing Fitness, 507 Bruce St., had to close its fitness studio a month after opening in February, head coach and co-owner Martha Laugen said shuttering the indoor services was a “no brainer.” Laugen, who has a public health background, knew she was doing the best thing she could for Catalyst Rowing clients.

Then, those members returned the favor when the studio was able to resume outdoor rowing classes with social distancing protocols in May. Athletes use stationary rowing machines to achieve a full body yet low impact workout, Laugen said, where they engage their core, legs, arms and even the mind.

“We had a tremendously supportive and flexible community,” she said. “We conveyed those values to our athletes and we’ve leveraged that through the pandemic. We didn’t have any members who demanded refunds of their classes.”

The Catalyst Rowing concept “grew out of a vision that was a long time coming,” Laugen said. She had worked as a rowing coach and as a personal trainer on and off since 1996. Through that, Laugen also maintained a competitive rowing practice.

Then Laugen met Jessica Laufenburg, fellow Catalyst Rowing owner through coaching for triathlon sports including biking, swimming and running.

“I told her about my history with rowing,” Laugen said. “For several years, we (had) conceptualized this idea of an indoor fitness facility.”

Together, the duo incorporated the best practices of endurance training into their rowing business model.

Now, since Catalyst Rowing reopened in May, the business continues to develop its guidelines on the latest information from Public Health Madison and Dane County, Laugen said.

The Bruce Street location also serves as the home for several other fitness-based businesses: Laufenburg’s SBR Endurance, Rocket Bicycle Studio run by business partner Peter Oyen and n+1 Coffee and Beer Cafe.

Classes occur typically on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, according to the business website, with morning and evening time slots. Morning classes are held in the back of the building, whereas evenings are in the front of the n+1 Cafe rolling door. Tents, tarps and cooling equipment are provided, the website states. In the case of severe weather, workouts are held inside the studio, but athletes are asked to wear a mask.

The website states the course is all about treating oneself to a rower workout, followed by some stretching, reflection and mindfulness. The overall workout includes 80% “on-rower” work and 20% “off-rower” strength training.

“Why not leverage the community support that we’ve built?” Laugen said. “It gives people the opportunity to relax on a Monday night.”

During a time when laughter and fun can be hard to find, Catalyst Rowing is there to offer that kind of environment, she said.

Laugen said Catalyst Rowing also offers classes where people can do partner work.

“We are trying to think creatively about how we can inspire that competition while keeping far apart from each other,” she said.

Email Emilie Heidemann at or follow her on Twitter at @HeidemannEmilie.

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