Published: 23-Nov-2021

A beginner's guide to rowing

Many parents have asked us for a guide to rowing. This guide is edited from the original version from Darryn Roff, Master in Charge of Rowing at St Benedicts.

Adapted from the original guide by Darryn Roff, Master in Charge of Rowing at St Benedicts

Know your boat – glossary of terms

  • Backstop - a piece of plastic at the end of the RUNNER, which prevents the slide from coming off
  • Blade - the rowing term for oar
  • Bow - the front of the boat or the person who rows at the front position. Note. The front of the boat is the opposite end to the RUDDER
  • Bow-side - the side on the left of the seated oarsman (marked green)
  • Button the disc on the BLADE LOOM which prevents it from slipping through the GATE
  • Canvas the closed-in section at both ends of the boat
  • Cleaver - shorter modern blades with a greater surface area, now allowed for all boats except octuples, where macon blades are still used
  • Cox - abbreviation for “coxswain” (pronounced “coxen”). The person who steers the boat and who is in charge of the crew
  • Ergo - an “ergometer” – a rowing machine used for training and for crew selection
  • Fin - the small vertical metal plate at the STERN on the bottom of the boat which prevents the boat from rolling too much and helps it to go straight
  • Footboard - the adjustable wooden board to which the shoes are connected
  • Front end loader - a four or quad where the cox sits behind the bowman (opposite end to the RUDDER)
  • Front-stop - same as a BACKSTOP, but at the opposite end of the RUNNER
  • Gate - the plastic object connected to the RIGGER which holds the BLADE in position
  • Gunwale -- pronounced “gunnel”. The strips running along the length of the side of the boat to which the RIBS and RIGGERS are connected
  • Handle - the part of the BLADE held by the oarsman
  • Loom - the shaft of the BLADE
  • Macon - older type blades, now generally replaced by “cleaver blades”
  • Pin - the vertical steel hinge which is connected at the bottom to the RIGGER and holds the GATE
  • Rib - the wooden strut which goes around the boat at 90 degrees to the length of the boat and to which the RIGGER is connected
  • Rigging - the series of measurements giving the correct adjustments of the RIGGER, BLADE and SLIDE
  • Rigger - the triangular shaped fitting made from steel piping which is removable from the boat and holds the GATE
  • Rudder - the device for steering the boat
  • Runners - metal strips on which the SLIDE runs
  • Scull - a boat for a single person or the term used to describe the smaller BLADE used in such a boat
  • Slide - a seat on wheels on which the oarsman sits
  • Span - the distance between the center of the boat and the PIN (in the case of sculling boats, the distance between the PINS)
  • Stern - the rear of the boat (RUDDER end)
  • Stroke - the person who rows at the back of the boat (the person in front of whom nobody sits except for perhaps the cox). Also the action of leading the rest of the crew
  • Stroke side - the side on the right of the seated oarsman (marked red)

Coaching terms

  • Rate - the number of strokes per minute
  • Percent - the amount of power applied to the blade and ultimately the water
  • Rushing - incorrectly coming up your slide too quickly or moving your hands away too quickly
  • Drop and drive - drop the rate (or stop rushing) and increase the power
  • Gather - continue rowing after a problem or after briefly stopping
  • Shooting the slide - your slide is going back before the blade is in the water, thus wasting leg power
  • Skying- your blade is too high off the water at the catch
  • Digging - your blade is being put into the water too deep, or it becomes to deep
  • Squeeze - row slightly harder and longer with special attention to the finish

Rowing symbol descriptions

Boat type Symbol
Eight 8+
Octuple scull 8x
Coxed fou 4+
Coxless four 4-
Coxed quad scull 4x
Coxless pair 2-
Double scull 2x
Single scull 1x

Types of training

Training for successful rowing consists of the following five basic ingredients:

  1. Ergo meter training:
    This is useful in teaching basic techniques and helps enormously to improve fitness and strength endurance (the ability to continue to be strong even when tired). Initial selection for Provincial and National crews depends totally on ergo times.
  2. Alternate training:
    This consists of training such as running, swimming, cycling and circuit training or aerobics. It is helpful in achieving fitness and preventing injury. It is used to achieve long-term stamina.
  3. Flexibility training:
    This is a vital aspect of rowing and is unfortunately often overlooked. It is vital to be flexible so that one can get the full use of one’s required rowing muscles. If you are not flexible, then energy will be wasted during recovery periods (example between races), as you cannot relax properly and become tense.
  4. Weight training:
    All successful oarsmen spend many hours in the weights gym improving and building their strength.
  5. Training on the water:
    This is obviously the most important type of training. It achieves many things such as fitness, endurance, strength, and stamina of muscle groups and most importantly the confidence of being able to row well and properly under stressful situations. Quality training on the water is most important.

Aerobic vs anaerobic training

All types of training are aerobic or anaerobic, or somewhere in between. It is important to know the difference and ensure that the correct mixture of the training types is done.

  • Aerobic training is the type where at no stage do you feel completely breathless and can not talk. It is low intensity, long-distance training typical of the early season. One recovers fully from this type of training with 24 hours.
  • Anaerobic training is when you are very tired afterwards, and feel as if you can do no more. This type of training causes lactic acid, which can be detrimental to performance if produced in large amounts. This training will help oarsmen to continue rowing well at the end of a race when one is very tired, but it takes about 72 hours to recover fully.

Rowing technique illustrated

It is important to visualize the stroke. It is proven that if a rower has a mental image of what it is that he/she is trying to achieve, then it is far easier for that rower to achieve that objective.

Note: Diagrams 1 to 5 : hands draw blades in a straight line to the body I.e. direction of travel is parallel to the water.

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