• As a competitive sport, rowing dates back several hundred years and was an original sport in the modern Olympic Games.

  • First intercollegiate sport in the United States; initial race held in 1852 (Harvard vs. Yale).

  • With the adoption of Title IX regulations, the participation of women in collegiate rowing has surged, from roughly 1000 in 1981–1982 to approximately 7300 today, now surpassing males.

General Principles



  • On-water: Usually high volume (one to three times daily, 1–2 hours in length), with higher-intensity pieces and intervals during the summer racing season.

  • Indoor: On rowing ergometer (dynamic and static options); simulates water training and monitors fitness.

  • Cross-training: Resistance training, running, cycling, and cross-country skiing; used to supplement water training or during winter. Injuries may result from inappropriate transition to cross-training from on-water practices (and vice versa) or via resistance training.


  • Anaerobic portion 10%–30%; aerobic system supplies remainder.

  • Ranks among the most strenuous of sports with high cardiovascular strain and lactate measurements of ≥15–20 mmol; V.O 2 max values can exceed 70 mL/kg/min in elite rowers.

Race Distances

  • 2000 meters: Olympic distance and standard for collegiate and club spring/summer racing; boats line up side by side at starting gates in up to six lanes. Races typically last for ≥5.5–8 minutes, depending on event, weather, and rowers’ ability. World record in Olympic men’s eight event is under 5 minutes 20 seconds.

  • 1000 meters: Paralympic distance and standard for adaptive (para-rowing) and Masters competitions.

  • Head racing: Predominantly in the fall season; distance usually is ≥3 miles against the clock from a moving start and involves steering on rivers that bend and turn.

  • Open water/coastal rowing: The “adventure” side of rowing—along a seacoast or inland on some lakes or rivers where water is rough. Boats are wider and sturdier: singles (solo) and doubles and coxed quadruple sculls (also used for recreational rowing touring). Requires knowledge of tides, currents, and maritime traffic. Races typically 4000 m for heats and 6000 m for finals, with buoyed turns. Beach sprints are shorter distances with a running start to the boats, sometimes relay format ( Fig. 85.1 ).

    Figure 85.1, Coastal rowing: Beach sprint.

Athlete Classification

  • Rowers are classified by sex (male or female), age, weight, and ability (para-rowing).

  • Age categories are Junior (age ≤18 years), Under 23 (<23 years), Senior (open), and Masters, ranging from “A” (age ≥27 years) to “M” (age ≥89 years).

  • Weight categories are lightweight and heavyweight/open.

    • Both types of rowers have similar builds, although lightweights (because of the need to “make weight”) typically have lower body fat, have more muscle mass, and may be slightly shorter.

    • Being tall and lean allows maximum stroke length while minimizing drag on the boat.

  • Weight restrictions: Lightweight rowers typically weigh in 1–2 hours before racing at or below the maximal weight. Weight restrictions are as follows:

    • Men: 70-kg crew average, 72.5-kg individual maximum.

    • Women: 57-kg crew average, 59-kg individual maximum for an international competition. National rules vary.

  • Coxswains: Steer the boat using a rope attached to the rudder; make technical and motivational calls and decisions about strategy; minimum weight is 55 kg (international regulations); if underweight, must carry weight for racing to a maximum of 15 kg. As of 2017, coxswains can be gender-neutral (i.e., women can cox men’s crews, and vice versa).

  • Para-rowing comprises three classifications based on the nature of the disability:

    • PR1 (Para Rowing One, formerly known as AS or Arms and Shoulders): Rowers are effectively rowing with arms and shoulders alone.

    • PR2 (Para Rowing Two, formerly known as TA or Trunk and Arms): Rowers whose movements include use of arms, shoulders, and trunk.

    • PR3 (Para Rowing Three, formerly LTA or Legs, Trunk, and Arms): Rowers with essentially full range of movement with restricted ability in areas such as vision or digit loss on the hand.

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