House of Cards Rowing Machine

House of cards rowing machine featured image

Between 2013 and 2018, the TV series House of Cards was one of the hottest things on the tube. Fast forward to 2021 and the career of its star, Kevin Spacey, may have fallen like the proverbial series title but there’s another star of the show that remains very popular. 

That’s the water rowing machine that Spacey, aka Frank Underwood, sweated his stress out within his basement after being persuaded to do so by his wife. 

In this article, we’ll shine a spotlight on the House of Cards rowing machine so you can decide whether it deserves pride of place in your home gym. 

With our decades of experience as fitness experts and trainers involving thousands of hours on rowing machines of all types, we’ve got the experience to provide you with the hype-free facts you need to know to make the most informed buying decision. 

In the paragraphs to come, we’ll identify just what model the House of Cards rowing machine is, how it’s used in the show, and the features, benefits, and drawbacks of buying this machine. 

Identifying the House of Cards Rowing Machine

The rowing machine that is featured in the House of Cards TV show looked pretty out there when it first appeared. With its water tank and polished timber finish, it bore no resemblance to the typical gym rowing machine that we were used to seeing. That’s because it is a water rower. 

Water rowing machines have become more mainstream over the last few years. They work on the same variable resistance principle as air-powered rowers like the Concept 2 RowErg. But, instead of having a flywheel that pushes air, it has a water tank with paddles in it that allows you to work against water resistance. That more accurately simulates what is happening when you’re rowing on the water. 

House of Cards Rowing Machine Symbolism

The scenes with Frank Underwood exercising on the water rower usually happened at the end of the episodes, taking place at the close of his day. After spending his day wheeling and dealing, ripping people off, backstabbing, and engrossing himself in all sorts of underhanded political machinations, he sweats out his stress on the rower before heading to bed. 

The rower, therefore, acts as a buffer between the outside world and his personal life. It allows him to purge the dirtiness of the day so he can live with himself through the night.

On another level, the water rower is a symbol of the futility of Frank’s life. He is working at maximum exertion but not actually making any forward progress. Likewise, his political career is constantly mired in controversy expending every ounce of his physical and mental energy but never moving forward.

In one episode of House of Cards, Frank is sweating his heart out on the WaterRower when the rowing machine strap snaps. This is used to foreshadow the upheaval that is about to occur in Frank’s life. 

The creator of the show Bill Willimon said in an interview that he was going to use a treadmill but decided that the rowing machine would provide a better metaphor for the idea of working hard but never making any progress. 

YouTube video

The WaterRower Up Close

Best water rower


  • Most realistic rowing simulation of any rower
  • Stylish wooden design
  • Strong polycarbonate tank
  • Ergonomically designed handles and seat
  • Great for weight loss
  • Easy WaterRower assembly


  • Sloshing water noise (though some people do like this)
  • Polyester rather than chain strap
  • Can’t be folded for storage (though why would you want to – its beautiful!)

The WaterRower used in the House of Cards TV show was manufactured by the WaterRower company. The WaterRower company manufactures and markets 10 home rowers, including the WaterRower classic, the WaterRower Oxbridge, and the WaterRower a1. 

The WaterRower Company is based in Germany and has been operating since 1994. Their wooden water rowers are built in the United States. Each piece is handcrafted from sustainably produced forests in the USA. 

The model featured in the show is the WaterRower Natural rowing machine. This model stores upright when not being used, taking up as much room as a dining chair! The polished wooden styling of the WaterRower compliments any decor.


The unique flywheel design of the WaterRower combines the tranquility of moving water with the power of water resistance to perfectly simulate open water rowing. The unique patented flywheel design more perfectly simulates the dynamics of on-water rowing than anything else on the market. 

The paddles that turn within the water have been specially designed to cup the water as it moves to make the rowing experience as near to the real thing as possible. 

If you’re used to rowing on magnetic resistance, or even some air resistance, rowing machines you probably know that your workouts can be compromised by periods of jerkiness with forced stops and starts when you don’t need them. You’ll never have to worry about that when you row on a water rower. You get a smooth, even load to deliver a rhythmic, natural motion. 

The WaterRower is manufactured in the USA under the most exacting conditions to ensure that every rower is a piece of art!

Water Tank

The polycarbonate tank of the WaterRower makes it one of the toughest plastic tanks on the market. The rest of the unit is made from wood. This provides the advantages of strength, sound absorption, vibration, and imperviousness to moisture and sweat. The use of a sprag clutch rather than an index clutch provides zero-backlash and smoother action.

Ergonomic Design

The WaterRower has been ergonomically designed for both comfort and performance. The handles are foam-coated and contoured to allow for a natural, firm grip. The drive strap is made from military-grade polyester strapping. 

It is super strong, corrosion-resistant, and requires no lubrication. All of this adds up to a very stylish, functional rower that gives you an amazingly realistic and comfortable rowing experience.

The Rest of the Water Rower Range

As mentioned, the WaterRower rowing machine stable features 10 machines. Here’s an overview of the rest of the line-up:

WaterRower Club

The WaterRower Club is the commercial gym version of the WaterRower. This model is created from stained ash and features black rails. It is finished in Danish oil and urethane for extra protection in high-traffic areas. This model is fitted with Waterrower’s high-end, S4 performance monitor. 

WaterRower Classic

The WaterRower Classic is handcrafted in solid American black walnut. This premium hardwood is renowned for its strength and longevity. It also looks fantastic when polished and finished in Danish oil. As with all timber used in making WaterRower machines, the wood is harvested from replenishable forests.

Waterrower Oxbridge

The Oxbridge is made from solid cherry wood. This finish looks great but it will darken under light. For that reason, WaterRower recommends that this machine be placed in light-free areas. To help preserve the natural lighter color, the machine is covered in 3 coats of Danish oil. The S4 high-performance monitor is fitted on this machine. 

A1 Home Rowing Machine

The A1 rowing machine is Waterrower’s entry-level home use rowing machine. Rather than the dual rails used on the other models, this one has just one rail. It is made from premium Ash hardwood with an aluminum monorail. The A1 performance monitor is not as advanced as the S4. 

A1 Studio Rowing Machine

This is the light commercial version of the A1 WaterRower. It is lightweight, portable, and space-saving, with the ability to be stored vertically. This version also features the A1 monitor, along with upgraded 17-inch handles. 

WaterRower Xeno Müller Signature Edition

The WaterRower Xeno Müller Signature Edition was created directly in consultation with US olympian rower Xeno Müller. It features a wider 17-inch handle along with lower footrests to ensure better biomechanics for the rowing action. Xeno’s signature is also featured on the rails.

WaterRower S1

The S1 is a limited edition that is made from brushed stainless steel rather than timber. Apart from the frame material, it has similar specs to Waterrower Classic and is fitted with the S4 monitor. This model is manufactured in Germany. 

M1 LoRise Rowing Machine

The M1 LoRise Waterrower is a commercial model with a low-level entry point, being set as 12 inches. This machine is made from powder-coated aluminum. It has 17-inch handles and is fitted with the S4 monitor. 

M1 HiRise Rowing Machine

The M1 HiRise WaterRower is yet another commercial model. The difference is that this one has a higher level entry point, at 20 inches. This machine is made from powder-coated aluminum. It also has 17-inch handles and is fitted with the S4 monitor. 


The WaterRower provides the most realistic simulation of on-the-water-rowing that you are likely to find. It is also the most stylish rower that you will encounter, being finished in polished timber with a high spec polycarbonate water tank. 

The WaterRower has an ergonomic design and level of seat, handle and foot comfort that makes the rowing more bearable. The WaterRower is a great machine for those wanting a realistic, functional rowing experience.

WaterRower also manufactures rowers for both Ergatta and CITYROW GO. So if you’re interested in a WaterRower but want a more interactive workout experience then check these rowers out!


What kind of rowing machine is used in House of Cards?

The rowing machine in House of Cards is a WaterRower. The specific model Frank uses in the show is the WaterRower Natural rowing machine.  

What is the significance of the rowing machine in House of Cards?

The rowing machine acts as a buffer for Frank between the outside world and his personal life. It is a  symbol of the futility of Frank’s life. The rower is a metaphor for the idea of working hard but never making any progress. 

Steve Theunissen


Steve Theunissen is a freelance writer living in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is a former gym owner, personal trainer, and school teacher and is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, and fat loss. Steve also writes history books with a focus on the history of warfare. He is married and has two daughters.