rowing technique

Story time!!

Yesterday I went white water rafting for the first time. (I don’t have photos to show you yet, but they exist so I will sometime soon.) I was def the fattest girl in our group by 100 lbs, at least. I was scared out of my mind, so I sat in the back but got into a groove once we got out on the water. I was huffing and puffing and seemed to be sweating more than most of our crew, but I was having fun so I didn’t care.There was a time where I would have been really self conscious about that, but I was enjoying the feel of the water and helping to navigate around obstacles so much that it was worth it. As it turns out, I am apparently quite badass at rowing! Halfway through our run, our guide stopped us and had me demonstrate my rowing technique to everyone else. On land he told everyone that I was the best rower of the bunch, and insisted that I sit up front the second time around! Another guide pulled me aside said that she was hoping I would be in her boat because when she first saw me she immediately thought “That girl can row!” and wanted me on her rowing dream team. I’m definitely sore today, but had a blast and feel more like a badass than I have in awhile. 

The point of all of this is that fitness doesn’t necessarily mean thinness. For a long time I assumed that thin people were automatically much more fit and better at doing things than I am. As I explore and try new things I’m learning more and more that being heavy can be a positive when it comes to many different physical challenges. I’m not saying that all fat people are automatically going to be awesome at rowing, my arms/shoulders are strong from lifting heavy things at work, and I do squats pretty regularly, but I am still fat as hell. So while my awesome, thin roommates have me beat when it comes to stamina (I’ve huffed and puffed through a number of hikes these last few months,) I still get picked first in gym class sometimes. 

-on athletic finishes

I’ve had a lot of guys brush me off when I correct their posture–like, they kinda give me this look, “come on now, really? It’s the finish.” Which is exactly the reason I hate calling it the finish. Rowers have this tendency to think that it’s called the finish because the stroke’s finished. 


It’s the finish of the drive–which is not at all the same thing as the finish of the stroke. Especially male rowers want to focus on the drive as the most important part of the stroke, when in fact I would argue that if anything, you should spend the least attention to the drive. 

All the body prep, getting in position, setting your blade up for a strong drive happens when? During the recovery. And when does your recovery start? At the release. In other words, if your finish is substandard–if you’re slouching, for instance–you’re setting yourself up for failure on the drive.

Something I’ve noticed a lot with my novice rowers is that when they slouch at the finish, their hands automatically lower into their lap. Then when they’re compressing towards the catch, they have to compensate by tensing their outside shoulder to raise their hands to get over the knees in this awkward circular motion of their arms.

Now, the reason coaches and coxswains tell rowers to think of straight lines during rowing is that when you start moving your handle in a circle, every part of your stroke becomes inefficient. 

During the recovery, your blade skies like crazy (my coach calls it waving to your parents), so that when you come up to the catch, your blade isn’t in a good position for direct entry at all–in fact it’s at completely the opposite. If you simply unweight the handle like you’re supposed to, your catch timing’s going to be late, so you have to forcefully lift the handle into the catch–which not only results in a sloppy catch, but also results in digging, more often than not. It’s very difficult to only lift the handle until the blade is buried. Generally speaking, a rower who lifts the handle into the catch keeps lifting until about an extra foot of oar is also underwater.

Then with all that added drag on the blade, no matter how hard you pull? You’ll still be creating an immense extra drag on the speed of the boat. So if it feels like you’re pulling and pulling and not going any faster, this could be something to stop and think about. Are you sitting up into athletic finishes, with your elbows down and your hands coming up to your sternum?