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Rowing is one of the original sports in the modern Olympic Games, in fact, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, was a rower. In the United States, rowing is the oldest intercollegiate sport, the well-known Harvard-Yale race dates back to 1852. FISA, the international governing body of rowing is the oldest international sports federation, it was founded in 1892.

Modern rowing boats are called “shells” and are typically made of carbon-fiber. There are one person, two person, four person, and eight person shells. The rowers sit facing stern. The rowers’ feet are tied in to the shell and they sit on a sliding seat so that they can push with their legs during the stroke.

The athletes

There are two positions one can have on a rowing team: a rower or a coxswain. The coxswain is an athlete who is typically small in size and stature. His or her job is to steer the boat and motivate the crew. Rowers are typically tall and have lean muscle mass. One does not have to be tall to row just as one does not have to be tall to play basketball, but, along with proper conditioning and nutrition, it can give you an advantage over your competitors.

Most countries have lightweight rowing (under 160 lbs for men and under 130 lbs for women) and heavyweight or “openweight” rowing. Anyone can row as a heavyweight, however, if you are of smaller stature, you would probably be more competitive as a lightweight. Some countries even have flyweight rowing (145 lbs or less for men and 120 lbs or less for women). Rowing is the only non-combat sport with weight classes.

Rowing is also categorized by age and sex. There is juniors rowing for athletes under 18 who are usually enrolled in high school. There are three divisions of collegiate rowing. Many regattas have an “open” category in which anyone from any age or weight class may compete. Masters rowing is divided by age group. There are races for rowers who are in their twenties as well as races for rowers in their eighties or older.

Types of rowing

The two types of rowing are sculling and sweeping. Scullers use two oars per rower while sweep rowers use just one. Sweep boats include the eight, the four, and the pair. All sweep boats can be coxed, but only the eight requires one. Sculling boats include the octuple, the quad, the double, and the single. The octuple is an eight person boat with a coxswain that is primarily used for training, international rowing laws prohibit the racing of an octuple. These boats are capable of rowing so fast that the scullers risk breaking their wrists. Doubles are very rarely coxed and singles are never coxed. A quad may be rowed with or without coxswain. Rowing a boat without a coxswain is commonly referred to as “straight rowing,” i.e., rowing a “straight quad,” or a “straight four".


A rowing race is referred to as a regatta. Typically, a rowing race is 2,000 metres. It can consist of two to eight boats that all start from a dead stop at the same time. These are typically referred to as sprint races. In Masters rowing (rowers over the age of 27) sprint races are usually 1,000 metres. In the fall, rowers may compete in a “head race” in which the boats are started at intervals and race the clock. Head races can range from 5,000 to 10,000 metres.

Physiology of rowing

Rowers are some of the world’s best and most fit athletes, they are superb examples of physical conditioning. To a spectator, rowing only looks like an upper body sport. However, most of the strength of the rowing stroke comes from the legs. Rowing is one of the few athletic activities that involves all of the body’s major muscle groups. It is a great aerobic workout and is also low impact on the athlete’s joints. Rowing demands endurance, strength, balance, mental discipline, and an ability to continue on when your body is telling you that you can’t. Cross-country skiing and long distance speed skating are comparable to rowing in terms of physical demands on the athlete. Physiologist claim that rowing a 2,000 metre race is equivalent to playing back-to-back basketball games.