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Introduction to Rowing
All parents of new Stone Bridge Rowing Club (SBRC) rowers should review the SBRC Parents Survival Guide. It will help familiarize parents with important things that they need to know about the crew team.

Rowing: What is it?

Rowing is one of the few non-weight bearing sports that exercises all major muscle groups including quads, biceps, triceps, lats, glutes, and abdominal muscles. Rowing improves cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength. High-performance rowers tend to be tall and muscular. Although extra weight does increase the drag on a boat, the larger athlete’s increased power tends to be more significant. The increased power is achieved through increased length of leverage on the oar through the longer limbs of the athlete. In multi-rower boats (2, 4, or 8), the lightest person typically rows in the bow seat at the front of the boat.

While rowing, the athlete sits in the boat on a sliding seat facing the stern (back) with their feet secured and uses oars held in place by oarlocks to propel the boat forward (towards the bow). It is a demanding sport requiring strong core balance, physical strength, and cardiovascular endurance. Rowing is a low-impact activity with movement only in defined ranges, so twist and sprain injuries are rare. However, the repetitive rowing action can put strain on knee joints, the spine, and tendons of the forearm; inflammation of these areas are the most common rowing injuries. If one rows with poor technique, especially rowing with a curved rather than straight back, other injuries may surface. Blisters on the hands are a common problem until calluses are formed.

Forms of Rowing

While the action of rowing and the equipment used remain fairly consistent throughout the world, there are many different types of competition. These include endurance races, time trials, stake racing, bumps racing, and the side-by-side format used in the Olympic Games. The many different formats are a result of the long history of the sport, its development in different regions of the world, and specific local requirements and restrictions.

In sweep rowing, each rower has one oar, held with both hands. This can be done in pairs, fours, and eights. Each rower in a sweep boat is referred to as either a port or starboard, depending on which side of the boat the rower’s oar extends to. Fours and eights also have a coxswain to steer the boat and motivate and direct the rowers. A four-man shell with coxswain is typically about 40 ft long with oars that are 12 ft 4 in long. An eight-man shell is typically 55 ft.

In sculling, each rower has two oars, one in each hand; each oar is 9 ft 6 in. Sculling is usually done without a coxswain in singles, doubles, or quads. The oar in the sculler’s right hand extends to port (stroke side) and the oar in the left hand extends to starboard (bow side).

Regattas

A regatta is a series of boat races. Most regattas are held in the spring and summer features side by side racing. Boats start at the same time from a stationary position and the winner is the boat that crosses the finish line first. The number of boats in a race typically varies between two (sometimes referred to as a dual race) to six, but any number of boats can start together if the course is wide enough. Usually, multi-boat competitions are organized in heats; first, second, and sometimes third-place finishers of each heat compete in a final race.

The standard length of Olympic and World Rowing Championship races is 2,000 m. US high school races on the east coast are 1,500 – 2,000 m. Masters rowers (rowers older than 27) race 1,000 m.

Rowing Positions

In all boats, with the exception of single sculls, each rower is numbered in sequential order; low numbers at the bow, the highest at the stern. The person seated on the first seat is called the bowman, or just ‘bow’, the rower closest to the stern is called the ‘stroke’.

Certain crew members have additional titles and roles. In an 8+ the stern pair is responsible for setting the stroke rate and rhythm for the rest of the boat to follow. The middle four (called the “engine room”) are usually the less technical but more powerful rowers in the crew. The bow pair is the more technical and generally regarded as the pair to set up the balance of the boat. They also have the most influence on the line the boat steers.

Weight Classes

In most levels of rowing, there are different weight classes – typically “open” or “heavyweight” and “lightweight.” Competitive rowing favors tall, muscular athletes due to the additional leverage that the height provides in pulling the oar through the water and the explosive power needed to propel the boat at high speed. Open or heavyweight rowers of both genders tend to be very tall, broad-shouldered, have long arms and legs, tremendous cardiovascular capacity, and very low body fat ratios. Olympic or International level heavyweight male oarsmen are typically anywhere between 6’3″ and 6’9″ (190 cm to 206 cm) tall with most being around 6’6″ (198 cm) and weighing approximately 225 lbs (102 kg) with about 6 to 7% body fat. Heavyweight women are slightly shorter at around 6’1″ (180 cm) and lighter than their male counterparts.

Lightweight Class

According to FISA, the lightweight category was introduced “to encourage more universality in the sport, especially among nations with less statuesque people.” The first lightweight events were held at the World Championships in 1974 for men and 1985 for women. Lightweight rowing was added to the Olympics in 1996. At the junior level in the United States, regattas require each rower to weigh in before their race; they are sometimes given two chances to make weight at smaller regattas, with the exception of older more prestigious regattas, which allow only one opportunity to make weight. For juniors in the United States, the lightweight cutoff is 150 lbs for men and 130 lbs for women. At the collegiate level (in the United States), the lightweight weight requirements can be different depending on the competitive season. For fall regattas (typically head races), the lightweight cutoff for men is 160 lbs and 135 lbs for women. In the spring season (typically sprint races), the lightweight cutoff for men is 160 lbs, with a boat average of 155 lbs for the crew; for women, the lightweight cutoff is 130 lbs.

Women in Rowing

Stone Bridge Rowing Club is a co-ed club and growing in popularity among women athletes. However, for most of its history, rowing has been a male-dominated sport. Although rowing’s roots as a sport in the modern Olympics can be traced back to the original 1896 games in Athens, it was not until the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal that women were allowed to participate – well after their fellow athletes in similar sports such as swimming, athletics, cycling, and canoeing.

Due to Title IX, there has been a surge in women’s collegiate rowing. Because Title IX mandates equal money spent on men’s and women’s sports, rowing is particularly useful due to the extremely high costs of equipment per athlete. Therefore, many schools open a rowing program only to women to financially counteract the prevalence of men’s sports. In the United States, it is important to note that Women’s Rowing is an NCAA sport, while Men’s Rowing chooses to remain governed by its own regulatory body, the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA). The IRA, formed in 1895, preceded the NCAA by at least ten years and provided a guideline for the rules of eligibility and sportsmanship later adopted by the NCAA when it was first formed.