Frank Underwood and Emotional Rowing

Let’s talk about the cast of House of Cards, shall we? No, no, not Kevin Spacey or Robin Wright, but their amazing co-star, The Rowing Machine.

As discussed in earlier posts, it’s painful to see someone abusing themselves on a machine like Frank does on this show. His form needs a lot of help. But I love that he uses the machine to let off steam as he plans to take over the world.

The show's writers have picked up on something most rowers already know--there’s an intense emotional aspect to this sport. I find that a rowing workout never leaves me where it found me. If I start my row happy, I tend to end happier. If I’m angry when I row, which doesn’t happen often, I row very poorly. This in turn makes me angrier. (It can get ugly, fast.) If I have events going on in my life that worry me or are downright scary, rowing helps me to accomplish them with a degree of boldness and confidence that might have been missing otherwise.

To use a recent example: my mom became ill for two months during my rowing “high season.” She came to stay near my boathouse for treatment. I’d row at 5:30am, finish by 7:15, and eat breakfast with Mom by 7:45 (smelling and looking horrible, but she didn’t mind). During this very difficult time for my family and me, I found that rowing was one of the quivers in my bow to keep me balanced and give me moments of peace. This made me braver. I was better able to do what had to be done, say things that encouraged and strengthened others, and better handle the inevitable hard stuff. I had an outlet that was a constant when everything in my life seemed extremely inconsistent.

Why is rowing so emotional—in fact, emotional to the extent that House of Cards uses it nearly every show to exorcise Frank’s demons? My theory is that rowing is an intense and forceful series of movements, all requiring a good deal of concentration:

PUSH your feet off of the foot stretchers!

PIVOT your hips and shoulders backward!

PULL the handle into your body!


When you row until your breath comes out in gasps, your core threatens to collapse, and your legs feel like expired green Jell-O, something magical happens. You’ll feel your emotions morph into something either more intense or totally different. And hopefully, dear novice rower, it brings you the peace you need.

Photo: Netflix