• 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)

  • Since the introduction of Title IX regulations requiring equal proportions of male and female athletes in collegiate sports, the participation of women in collegiate rowing has surged, from roughly 1000 in 1981–1982 to approximately 7500 today.

General Principles



  • On-water: Usually high volume (1–3 times daily, 1–2 hours in length), with higher intensity pieces and intervals during the summer racing season

  • Indoor: On rowing ergometer; simulates water training and monitors fitness

  • Cross-training: Weights, running, cycling, and cross-country skiing; used to supplement water training or during winter. Several injuries result from inappropriate transition to cross-training from on-water practices (and vice versa ).


  • Anaerobic contribution 10%–30%; the aerobic system supplies the remainder

  • Ranks among the most strenuous of sports with high cardiovascular strain and lactate measurements of ≥15–20 mmol; V̇O 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 the event, weather, and rowers’ ability. The World Best Time in the 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.

Athlete Classification

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

  • Age categories are Junior (age ≤18 years), Senior B or U23 (<23 years), Senior (open), and Masters (≥27 years).

  • Weight categories are lightweight and heavyweight/open.

    • Both types of rowers have similar build, although lightweights typically have lower body fat.

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

  • Weight restrictions: Lightweight rowers typically weigh-in 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, and domestically, 130 pounds with no average

  • Coxswains: Steer the boat using a rope attached to the rudder; make technical and motivational calls and decisions about strategy; minimum weight:120 pounds (men’s crews) and 100 pounds (women’s crews); if underweight, must carry weight for racing

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

    • AS: Arms and Shoulders

    • TA: Trunk and Arms

    • LTA: Legs, Trunk, and Arms; further divided into PD (physical disability), VI (visually impaired), and ID (intellectually disabled)

Equipment and Safety Issues

Boat Types

  • Sweep: Rower uses one oar, placed on starboard or port (left and right, respectively, from rower’s perspective); available boats: pair, four, and eight; the eight is the only boat to always use a coxswain ( Fig. 85.1A )

    Figure 85.1

    Types of rowing boats.

    (Photographs © Dr. Volker Nolte.)

  • Sculling: Rower uses two oars; available boats: single, double, and quadruple sculls ( Fig. 85.1B )

  • Rowing shell: Classically wooden, now constructed of synthetic materials such as carbon fiber; seats with wheels roll along fixed tracks. Athlete faces backward and pushes away from fixed shoes. The oar is held in an oarlock attached to a rigger that extends out from the shell. Equipment can be adjusted within a range (e.g., changing placement of feet or oar lengths to aid in loading), called “rigging” ( Fig. 85.1C ).

  • Oars: Classically wooden, now primarily carbon fiber; consists of a handle with varying grip sizes and material, a collar and sleeve that fits into oarlock, and a blade that enters water and provides resistance to move boat. Oar design has changed over time to generate more force per stroke, typically through shorter overall length and greater surface area, which may account for an increase in injury rate.

  • Indoor rowing ergometer (colloquially “erg”): Used for fitness testing, training, and racing, primarily during winter, although erg testing is often used selectively throughout the year. Most common models consist of a sliding seat on a single rail, a fixed footplate, and a handle attached to a chain. The chain spins a flywheel that creates resistance, and small monitor displays power output, split times, and stroke rate. In addition to stationary erg, dynamic erg systems are available where flywheel and footplate also move, resulting in lower load per stroke and, theoretically, fewer injuries.

Phases of Rowing Stroke

  • Catch: Legs and back fully flexed, arms fully extended; rower’s seat is at front of slides and the blade enters water in a “squared” position (blade perpendicular to water) ( Fig. 85.2A ).

    Figure 85.2

    Phases of rowing stroke.

    (Photographs © Dr. Volker Nolte.)

  • Drive: Legs extend and back begins to extend slightly, while arms and shoulders remain relatively fixed; once back has extended to neutral position, arms begin to flex and continue acceleration of blade through water ( Fig. 85.2B ).

  • Finish or release: Legs flat and fully extended, shoulders behind hips but back still slightly flexed, arms flexed; blade is removed from water by simultaneously putting weight on handle (tapping down) and feathering (turning the wrist so that the blade is parallel to water) ( Fig. 85.2C ).

  • Recovery: Reverse of drive sequence; arms extend to move the oar handle forward, back becomes more flexed, and knees are flexed to bring rower into position for next catch.

Approach to Injury Evaluation

  • A vast majority of injuries to competitive rowers of all ages/abilities are overuse injuries.

  • Inappropriate stroke mechanics and asymmetries can predispose a rower to injury.

  • Other factors include poor weather conditions that affect stroke mechanics, fit of equipment and rigging, and inappropriate transition from indoor to on-water training.

  • If possible, observe rowing technique on water or by using an ergometer. Watch for compensatory behavior related to poor flexibility, muscle or strength deficiencies, abnormal asymmetrical movements, or undue force placed on the injury site in question.

  • Most common injury sites for males: lumbar spine, forearm/wrist, and knee; for females: chest, lumbar spine, and forearm/wrist

  • Rib stress fractures are also typical and generally unique to rowing.

Common Injuries and Medical Problems

Low Back

  • Description: Most frequently injured region, accounts for up to 25% of all reported rowing injuries

  • Mechanism of injury: Large loads are placed on lower back; lower back muscles are relatively relaxed as rower approaches catch position. At catch, spinal extensors are quickly loaded with resulting compressive forces at the spine, building and reaching peak compressive forces at approximately mid-drive (estimated at >4 times a rower’s body mass). Sweep rowing introduces increased rotation through spine because rower reaches at catch to maximize stroke length. Fatigue of spinal extensor muscles, training intensity, and skill level may result in decreased ability of lumbar spine to resist forces during drive on passive spinal structures (e.g., ligaments and discs). Onset of low back pain is generally associated with a prior history of injury and ergometer training sessions of >30 minutes.

  • Types of injury:

Jul 19, 2019 | Posted by in SPORT MEDICINE | Comments Off on Rowing

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