Rigging for people of different heights and widths, Part 2


A reader, in the Rowperfect reader questionnaire has asked about rigging. Sarah W in the UK would like more information on:

“Rigging details according to the height of the rower and also his/her shoulder width.”

Previous article:
“Rigging for people of different heights and widths, Part 1”  covered what to think about regarding different peoples height when rigging, this article is an extension of the previous and will cover the width. 


This is fairly straightforward and I get my “method” from rigging lectures given by Volker Nolte while he was on sabbatical in New Zealand, in 2007. So it’s not new.

Humans have approximately the same width of rib cage. Most men have the same width of rib cage, and most women have the same width of rib cage. Approximately. We all have different amounts of muscle and adipose tissue sitting on top of the ribs, but in the population that rows, these are similar (not identical).

As well, if you think ‘teleologically’ (intelligent design?) we humans have muscle systems that are “designed” (evolved to work this way?) to pull towards the armpit. And because most of our rib cages are about the same distance from the midline of our bodies, so are most of our armpits.

So you can rig to rib cage width, and it’s mostly accounted for by moving the foot-stretchers toward the bow or toward the stern.

Rowing exercise

  • Sit at the “finish” position.
  • Place your outside hand against your rib cage, just under your pectoral muscle, with the heel of your palm touching the ribcage at its (the ribcage’s) widest point, and with the hand and fingers pointing straight aft – parallel to the keel, back toward the start line (for reference)
  • Bring the oar handle to the rib cage while you’re in this position and check:
  • Does the end of the oar handle fit snugly against your palm in this position? – If so, you’re good to go.
  • If the handle sticks out past your outside hand, try moving your foot-stretcher toward the bow until the handle is snug against your palm.
  • If the handle end is somewhere between your outside hand and your sternum, move your foot-stretcher toward the stern until the handle is snug against your outside hand.
  • To give yourself a slightly longer catch move the foot-stretcher another notch aft so that there’s a little more handle for you to pull in towards your armpit – this will also lengthen your catch slightly, shorten your “finish” slightly and require you to be more precise releasing the water.
Photo from scullingboat.com
Photo from scullingboat.com

Sculling exercise

  • Sit at the “upright” position – legs “down” and body straight up and down – not in the “layback”.
  • With thumbs on the ends of the oar handles, try to pull the handles past your body – you should not be able to – your thumbs (actually the thumb/metacarpal joint) should get stuck in your ribs.
  • Then, when you “lay-back” you should be able to just brush your thumb (on the end of the handle) on your body. When you take your boat to motion and actually finish a stroke, you will probably lay back slightly more than the static position, and you should have JUST enough room to pull your oar handles in the direction of your armpits – but don’t pull them all that way out.
  • From a technique perspective, if you end the stroke pulling the handles towards the armpits you’re using the muscles of your shoulder girdle and arm in the motion in which they’re strongest.
  • At the other end of the stroke, you should be able to get into a “good” catch position with your arms fully extended, and with your handles well apart to give you a long arc at the catch. The extent to which you can do this will depend on height, how long the inboards are, how high your foot stretchers are, foot-stretcher angle, and body proportions.

Rowing is not a “one size fits all” sport – so any boat set up for a crew of people who are not identical clones will have a compromise of heights and spans.

rowing-red-oar_97675-1440x900Loading the work

An entire blog could be based on loading (oar length, spread/span, inboard measurement, gearing). The short and sweet description is: If the crew cannot row at “race rates” while rowing at “race pressure” (and these vary for every crew), you need to lighten up the load. In most cases, with modern oars, you can achieve this by shortening the oars/sculls. Adjust the overall length of the blade, and continue to use the same inboard measurement.

A basic example:

If a crew (say, 16 year-old novice men) is in an 8+, with 84 cm span, 114 cm inboard on 376 cm oars, struggles to race at higher stroke rates than (say) 28/minute without the appearance of “rushing”, you can try changing to (say) 373 cm length – yes, 3 cm shorter – with the same 114 cm inboard.

You’ll likely find that the crew can complete the drive more dynamically, accelerating their masses (and the boat) more than with the heavier rig. The crew will complete the drive portion in less time than before, and will have more time available during the recovery to take up the stroke rate before they look like they’re rushing again.

I can’t provide empirical evidence – but – try it – you might like the result. If the crew is rating 28/minute and looking comfortable, and 33/minute looks rushed, it may pay to lighten the rig so that 33/minute looks comfortable – the crew will be advancing the boat perhaps slightly less distance per stroke, but they will be advancing the boat 5 more strokes worth of distance each minute.

(Just suppose the crew is going 28/minute, and getting 10 m/stroke at 28, and your lightening their load makes them able to rate 33, but they’re only clearing 9.5 m/stroke.  At 28/minute with the heavy rig, they’re going 280 metres per minute, while at 33 with the lighter rig, they’re going 313.5 metres per minute.  These are made-up numbers but they’re not too far off – if you can row “well” at a higher stroke rate, you cover more distance every minute, which gets you to the finish line in a race sooner – as long as you have the training background to survive the high-rate rowing for the race distance.)

Hope this has helped – it’s “rigging without the measurements” – there are lots of sources for the measurements, from coaching manuals, Nolte’s books on rowing, Rowing Faster, Kleshnev’s rigging calculator, and Davenport’s rigging calculator, and the Rowing New Zealand page.

Walter MartindaleIf you like to get more from Walter Martindale, you can go and buy his coaching advice in the Rowperfect shop.

Rigging books:

  • Rowing Faster – 2nd Edition by Volker Nolte
  • Nuts Bolts Guide to Rigging e-book
  • Rig Up Your Life – free rigging advice
  • Absolutely Maximise Your Rigging Numbers ebook

Subscribe to our Newsletter for more information:

Our Rowing Network

Did you like this post? Support this blog and our network by donating

Feel like Rowing again? Visit the Shop at coastal-boats.eu!

Accessories, equipment, boats, clothing

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Posts

Whether it’s sports, nutrition or equipment, you’ll find what you’re looking for in one of these categories


Everything about rowing – browse through our large archive or search for articles of your choice


Search Blog


Rowing Network

Do you like our posts? Support this blog and our network by donating


Get all latest content and news!