It's all legs.
Credit: Photograph by John Loomis

From a distance, rowing looks like it's all about pulling with your arms, but the truth is almost the opposite. "I'll see some people hop on the rowing machine, jack the resistance all the way to 10, and just start pulling with the arms," says Brett Newlin, the tallest guy in the 2012 U.S. Men's Eight at 6'9" and, therefore, not surprisingly, seat number 8 (or, the stroke, because he's the guy who sets the pace for all the other rowers in the seats after him). Jake Cornelius, in seat 7, agrees. "It's tempting to want to pull with your arms immediately," says the 27-year-old native of upstate New York, who got his start rowing in high school at Ithaca's Cascadilla Boat Club before going on to the big time at Stanford, Cambridge, and now, the Olympics. "But you really have to keep the arms straight and let your legs do the work at the beginning of the stroke, then let your back or core do the work, and then your arms." It's not unlike lifting a heavy piece of furniture – use your legs first for the heavy lifting, then ease your back and core into it. As with lifting, it's ultimately one fluid motion.