Alternatives to weight limits for rowing

Lightweight men rowing

Should the rowing community be looking to alternatives to weight limited classes for racing rowing?  Thanks to Georgia who wrote this comment on our article Why Lightweight Rowing can be Dangerous.

Lightweight men rowing
Lightweight men rowing Photo Credit: TownTopics



In a sport where height and lever length is everything, the focus is on weight!

Take the focus away from weight and put it on a factor that is not a variable and cannot be influenced by training. Let the tall people be as light or heavy as they need to be to be a fully fit and healthy athlete. Then create a height-limited category – e.g. under 175cm for the rest of the general population.

Controversial? Yes.
Easy to implement? Incredibly.
Will make for fairer racing for all? Definitely.
Will make for a sport that is perceived as more accessibly to all? Hell yeah.
Will mean that crews are not watching every calorie or taking extreme measures to make a weight limit? Absolutely.

Interesting ideas.  What do you think?  Should we be considering alternatives e.g. for juniors.  I know in Australia and New Zealand they allow lightweight categories for schools regattas – nowhere else in the world, I believe.  Would a height limit be more appropriate, especially for growing youth athletes?


11 thoughts on “Alternatives to weight limits for rowing

  1. Dr Alex Emodi says:

    This is a brilliant and easily achieveable idea. It could also be extended to adults say at 180cm as the over and under mark….

  2. Alan McCartney says:

    I think the height idea is great. I would like to see it in masters rowing also.In Australia at masters state and national events the same people win or place year after year which leaves no incentive for the under 175 cm height people to compete.The average competitor these days are competing against x elite and tall people.

  3. Deirdre O’Hara says:

    LW rowing is being phased out by the OCI because there is no equivalent in track and field or in other team sports. There isn’t basketball or 100m sprints for short people or shot put for skinny people. I have seen a very good point elsewhere that the issue was standardising the distance, which favours one body type, while diversifying the boat sizes. If we stuck to singles and eights and raced at, say, 1000m, 10,000 and (?) marathon distances we would see a much wider range of body types among successful rowers. Maybe the introduction of coastal rowing as an Olympic event will have a similar effect?

  4. Mike De Petris says:

    Unfortunately height is not a fixed value in human body, varies some one or two centimeters during the day. I can easily imagine an 181 cm athlete sleeping in a standing position all night, maybe with some weight to press him down to get the required measurement value.

  5. Ian Bardrick says:

    Some years ago a letter from me proposing that height rather than weight should be used to differentiate crews was published in the ARA magazine (which is now Rowing and Regatta). That proposal arose from attending a presentation at a Coaches’ Meeting at St Paul’s School when at one time the diet of a well known lightweight female athlete had been found to consist solely of laxatives and Coca Cola.

  6. Clytie says:

    At 5’1″ and 118# I think this is a brilliant idea. Even rowing lightweight I am often rowing against people much taller than I am and the longer levers are a definite advantage that all my strength and endurance cannot make up for.

  7. Henry Law says:

    There is no measurement that cannot be gamed, and none for which people will not undergo extraordinary privations in order to pass (vide the “size zero” controversy, or even — nearer to home — the ridiculous antics UK crews used to perform in order to avoid accumulating racing points). So, with respect to Mike DeP who’s right in theory, we simply have to choose the least worst, and that to me is height and not weight. It’s more relevant to power output, and it’s probably less easily gamed.

  8. Daniel Eck says:

    We have many regattas for juniors in the USA that have lightweight events in all boat categories. We could have safe lightweight rowing if the adults in the sport would provide the proper supervision of weight loss programs similar to the program used by high school wrestling in the USA.

  9. Craig Allely says:

    An overreaction to a problem that does not exist , Because of few foolish young women trying to make Light weight limit when they cant .We have an overreaction to a problem that does not exist .
    FISA had a ruling that Lightweights had to weigh in within 6 kilos during any time during a prescribed
    period .It would seem in a commonsense approach that unless you reasonably close to the limit you are not going to make it,if you can want to put your self at risk by some ill concieved means to achieve the unachievable then you are foolish The sport should not be restructured because a few stupid people can not work it out themselves.
    Now we have proposals to exclude taller people from sport that they are naturally suited.
    We have lightweight rowing being killed at International Level ,now a proposal to exclude taller people,Total madness.
    Its oxygen uptake, dedication to training
    and a competitive nature that dedicate success if you have these you will suceed even if you are
    not perfectly suited to the sport

  10. Brian Colgan says:

    Having weight limits as a basis for a rowing category can be be ripe for abuse in certain cases. And in the case of juniors, is it unhealthy for them to restrict their food intake while they are still growing. Recognizing this, USRowing convened a task force to discuss the problem and propose solutions.
    While we are still working on a long term solution, in April we published recommended health and safety guidelines:

    You will see at the bottom we have BMI index charts for boys and girls, where we determined that competing at a BMI lower than 20 was deemed unhealthy. Therefore, we do not recommend girls over 5′ 8″ or boys over 6’1″ compete as lightweights. Height is easier and less expensive to measure than body fat percentages, so it has some real advantages. Weight should also be monitored all during the season to ensure no extreme measures are needed to make weight for racing.

    Still under discussion is whether long-term we eliminate junior lightweight rowing altogether, and move to U13/U15/U17/U19, as most other countries have done.

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