Rowing machines were first used in Archaic Greece. Chabrias, an Athenian military general in 4th Century B.C., invented wooden rowing simulators for his inexperienced oarsmen. This enabled them to learn technique and timing before stepping foot on actual water crafts. And it must have worked — Chabrias successfully led numerous naval attacks against the Spartans.
In the empty-lung technique, rowers inhale during the drive, and exhale during the recovery so that they have empty lungs at the catch. Because the knees come up to the chest when the lungs are empty, this technique allows the rower to reach a little bit further than if the lungs were full of air. Full lungs at the release also can help the rower to maintain a straighter back, a style encouraged by many coaches.