Grip in Rowing – a controversial suggestion

How to hold a rowing oar or scull isn’t often a cause for controversy but David Harralson, a reader from Casitas Rowing Club, USA commented on our article about Drills and Exercises Fingers Flat on the Recovery.  Read his comment below the article

Hand position on the oar for scullers and sweep rowers

Rowing looks easy.  Wrap fingers and thumb around the oar, move forward to the catch, square up, pull through, feather, and push forward on the recovery.  Piece of cake.  Everybody does it roughly this way.

However, this did not work so well for me.  I have transitioned to this.

Sculling Grip

For each hand, place the first three fingers on the oar handle.  Place the second joint approximately on top of the oar handle, so that there is

Handle grip for sculling
Handle grip for sculling

roughly a straight line from the finger to the shoulder.  Place the first joint partly around the oar handle.  Place the thumb on the bottom outside of the oar to keep the oar against the oarlock, establish the proper distance away from the oar handle and hand, and aid in feathering.  At the catch, square up, place the oar blade, pull straight back, tap down and using thumb and finger feather the oars, and recover.

Scull feathered grip
Scull feathered grip


Sweep rowing grip

For the outside arm, place the small finger on the outside of the oar.  Place the next three fingers on the oar handle.  The second joint is approximately on top to make an approximately a straight line from the finger to the shoulder.  Curve the first joint partly around the oar handle.  Establish the proper distance of the oar handle from the palm of the hand with the thumb, which keeps the fingers straight.  The inside arm has a choice.  Either wrap the finger slightly more around the oar handle, have a slight crook to the arm, or a combination of the two.

Grip holding a rowing oar
Grip holding a rowing oar

Erg rowing

Sweep feathered grip
Sweep feathered grip

The same technique works on an Erg.  Hold the handle as far from the palm of the hand as possible.


If the rower’s finger strength is not enough to pull the oar with this grip, increase rip strength by doing dead lifts with heavy weights, hanging from a chinning bar with additional weight, or using grip strengtheners.

A benefit of this grip is that the oar is now further away from the body.  This translates to a longer stroke or the legs have a better mechanical advantage at the catch.

This works for me, try it and see if it helps you.

David Harralson

The Rowperfect Rowing Coach article on Grip is here – for comparison purposes – this is the “classical” grip taught to many rowers.

2 thoughts on “Grip in Rowing – a controversial suggestion

  1. Pingback: I grip rowing oars too tight - how to cure it? • Rowperfect UK

  2. Carol Dailey says:

    Peter Haining (if you don’t know who he is, look him up!) advocates precisely this sculling grip. He’s incredibly generous and has a few videos on Vimeo that he made to help some school kids. Watch this for sculling grip and squaring and feathering:

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