At first glance, rowing seems to belong to the well-heeled and faintly evil. In House of Cards the Underwoods stoically row their way into the right fitness level for world domination. The Winklevosses, those large adult twins, rowed big boats at the real Harvard and at the thinly fictionalized Harvard of the The Social Network. Before their time, way back in 1852, Harvard raced Yale in the U.S. first-ever intercollegiate sporting event. Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie built a 262-acre manmade lake in Princeton, New Jersey just so the university’s varsity crew team could have a less crowded place to train.
The sport is premised on privilege: access to sleek, expensive boats and a body of water big and calm enough to row through. But thanks to the prevalence of ergometers—all the health benefits of rowing, minus the joy of being on the water—even a landlocked plebe can access this low-impact workout in his or her gym. We do it all the time. It’s good and cathartic.
We visited the U.S. Olympic Rowing Team to watch them train out on Lake Carnegie in Princeton. Then Matt Miller (who rows in the men’s four) and Adrienne Martelli (who rows in the women’s quadruple sculls, and snagged a bronze medal at the last Games) took time out of their Rio training regimen to teach us how to operate this machine, so our readers can be less inept at the gym. Hint: don’t use the erg for goofy-ass bicep curls.