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Rowing is unusual in the demands it places on competitors. The standard world championship race distance of 2,000 metres is long enough to have a large endurance element, but short enough (typically 5.5 to 7.5 minutes) to feel like a sprint. This means that rowers have some of the highest power outputs of athletes in any sport.[35] At the same time the motion involved in the sport compresses the rowers' lungs, limiting the amount of oxygen available to them. This requires rowers to tailor their breathing to the stroke, typically inhaling and exhaling twice per stroke, unlike most other sports such as cycling where competitors can breathe freely.


John Duke, creator of the WaterRower, was inspired to try his hand at invention while working at a subsidiary for U.S. Steel. He wanted to make an indoor machine that felt as much like real rowing as possible, with a focus on aesthetics. It took him two years to get the design right, moving past failed ideas such as a flipper in the tank instead of a clutch. What began as a series of doodles at his desk turned into a sculptural piece of exercise equipment that upends expectations in two ways: by bringing water indoors, and by looking elegant and artful when stored.
Outside of resistance type, we found the number-one arbiter of ride feel to be cord quality. Water ergometers tend to employ nylon cords, while air ergometers feature metal chains — a durability factor we anticipated would result in our favoring air. But while all three water rowers aced our expectation of smooth, high-tension strokes, perfecting the chain seems to be more difficult: Some tug with just a slight rumble, others feature bouncy, grinding chains that are incredibly loud, something akin to angry snoring. As for nylon, the best wind and unwind like elastic silk — no slack, no sound, no catching, just perfectly even tension throughout the stroke.
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