Sit up

Posture is the way you hold yourself as you row.

Good rowing posture has the pelvis in a neutral position i.e. tilted in line with the lower spine.

  • NEUTRAL – pelvis and lower spine aligned. Lower back is FLAT.
  • ‘COUCH POTATO’ – pelvis tilted back more than lower spine.  Lower back is BOWED, curved outwards.
  • ‘GYMNAST’ – pelvis is tilted further forward than lower spine.  Lower back is HOLLOW, curved inwards.

How to find the correct rowing posture for you

  • Sit down on an erg or at the kitchen table – somewhere un-upholstered so that you can tell how much sagging is you and not the soft cushions. Slump a little, let your back relax. Now have someone press firmly on the top of your head. Push your head up against this hand until you are sitting tall. Notice how you lengthen your spine.
  • Which muscles did you feel moving first?
  • What happens to your shoulders as you push your head up more firmly?

That’s right – the higher you try to go the more you pull your shoulders down.  It is a long lower back that makes you taller.

Good rowing posture requires core strength.  If the athlete is weak and lacks control of the muscles in the core then sitting well is not possible for long periods.

A brief description of the rowing posture

Good posture in sculling or rowing requires that the pelvis be in neutral position and the lower spine straight. The upper body is free to stretch forward during the recovery towards the catch and will be slightly rounded.

In order for the pelvis to be in the neutral position the athlete should sit well on the seat rather than on the front edge. The athlete should have contact between the upper thigh and the seat rather than the lower back and the seat.

How to coach rowing posture

Sit on an erg

in your usual TV-watching slumped position, feet unstrapped. Your tailbone will be somewhere near the middle of the seat and your back curved. Now stretch forward as far as you can.

  • Where do your fingers reach to?
  • How do the muscles round your shoulders and chest feel?
  • What happens to your feet when you stretch forward?

Now roll forward until your shins are vertical.

  • How far has your handle moved?

Go back to the finish position

Shuffle back on the seat until your tailbone is at the back and you can feel the front of the seat against your hamstrings.  Stretch forward again.

  • There may be some protest from your hamstrings but how far can you reach forward now?
  • How do the muscles round your shoulders and chest feel?
  • What happens to your feet when you stretch forward?

Now roll forward again

  • How long is your stroke now?

Benefits of a Good Posture

Sitting towards the back of the seat allows the pelvis to tilt, increasing the range of movement in your lower back and increasing the length of your stroke.

Rocking your pelvis forwards brings your weight onto your feet adding to your poise and balance.

Using the pelvis and the muscles around it to stretch forward relaxes the upper body.  This will make it easier to move your arms and thus control the blade as well as making it easier to breathe.

Moving the pelvis means that you’re using the large muscle groups around it; using them through a greater distance and making it possible for them to do more work generate more power and accelerate the boat better.

15 thoughts on “Posture

  1. Sara Brewer says:

    I regularly find that my tailbone is rubbed raw at the end of a long outing – could this be due to not sitting far enough back on the seat? I have tried seat pads but they do not seem to help, in fact if anything they exacerbate the problem. Thank you.

    • Rebecca Caroe says:

      This is a problem that I also experience particularly when rowing with Janousek Stampfli seats! I put this down to the design of their seat shape because I don’t get it with Filippi seats.

      I think it’s due to
      1 – sitting too far back on the seat which encourages (2) below
      2 – leaning back and collapsing back onto my tailbone at the finish of the stroke

      Seat pads won’t help with number 2.

      May I suggest you get someone to film you when you are tired because that is when your technique is most likely to become erratic? And send us the photos

      My “cure” is to put micropore tape onto my tailbone before the outing over the areas where it rubs raw – you need a friend to do this for you as it’s pretty funny and impossible to position correctly yourself.
      And speak to your coach and get them to look at your posture at the finish – are you rotating your pelvis downwards or not?

      Best of luck with this challenge.

    • Rebecca Caroe says:

      a reply written by Raf Wyatt – expert rowing coach you can hire

      Do we assume you’re doing what you can to lengthen your hamstrings and strengthen your core muscles already?

      And that you’ve raised and tilted your seat and/or lowered your feet in the boat?

      And that you’re sitting forward on the seat, sit-bones located in the holes provided?

      Then my favourite exercise is backing down:

      Sit at backstops, legs straight, blades square in the water.
      Keeping the blades in the water, start by pushing the handle(s) away, say until the handles are over your knees.
      Then, without moving your seat, let the movement of the boat and your handle(s) stretch you forward.

      Lift your knees lightly once your hamstrings start complaining and just keep on following the handle(s) to the catch.

      You can stop the handle(s) moving forward at any part of the stroke by putting pressure on your feet and taking a stroke.

      I find there’s something about letting the boat move you into position that has the movement start in your hips rather than back and shoulders.

  2. Shane says:

    A tilted seat seat? I have heard of these on row perfects and other egos for core strength but not on a boat. What is the theory behind them and results does anyone know?

    Thanks Shane

  3. graham cawood says:

    Most rowing boat seats are recessed on one end. This should be BEHIND you, to prevent pressure on the tailbone.
    My erg seat doesn’t have this recess, so I add a recessed foam cushion.
    My seat also doesn’t have holes for the sitbones. Why provide these holes since the sitbones are so called ‘cos we’re supposed to sit on ’em – I thought?
    Have fun.

  4. James says:

    I have been sculling for about two years now nearly always in a single scull. When I started in crew boats a few weeks ago I realised that I am leaning my back to the rIght and because of this my left shoulder is higher than my right. The thing is I cant sit straight in the boat without my left blade dragging along the water. I also lean a small bit in the singIe scull but it is not as severe and i have adjusted to it. I was wondering how I could fix this and I was thinking it might be due to a very tight back?

  5. Nikolas says:

    Thanks for a very thorough description. Do you have any illustrations or images to show the wrong vs right position? I am afraid that I am not keeping my lower back straight enough….and need to stretch and/or strengthen to get it right. But first I want to understand if I am really not in the right position. I started rowing not so long ago, but have a lot of leg power from other sports. Now I want to ensure I don’t ruin my back by using all the leg (and arm) power….but with the back incorrectly positioned….

  6. Nikolas says:

    Something rather simple like this would really help to better understand your guidance. While this YouTube only shows back, I really would love to better understand your above guidance

  7. Duncan Holland says:

    Hi Nikolas,
    The YouTube link above seems to be broken or wrong – if you post a new link I’ll have a look and make some comments for you.


  8. Kate says:

    When I am rowing I am reaching to far which is then causing my back to arch to much could u tell me how to fix because I have been trying to fix for about 2 years now but it just doesn’t seem to get bette

    • Tom Wall says:

      Dear Kate, I have the same issue, for me this caused by poor ankle and hip flexibility and I over-reach to compensate. Once you know what is causing the problem you’re halfway to fixing it. You don’t say if you’re a Masters rower, but flexibility is a very common issue as we get older. What have you tried to improve your known issue? My approach is flexibility exercises, stretching before and after sessions, plus experimenting with lowering the shoes on the foot stretcher to allow my upper body to get over the feet, even with my poor flexibility. This way I don’t try to compensate with over-reaching at the catch. I am seeing improvement. I hope this helps.

  9. graham cawood says:

    Greetings. Suggest you don’t straighten your arms fully during the recovery. For the catch – separate body and hand movement. Stop and reverse up to your shoulders as is comfortable. Let the force needed to stop the blades straighten your arms. Let them square and drop the spoons into the water at full stretch, and rebound, to give a little bend in the arms. Your reversed shoulders now take the strain.
    The jerk of the swift reversal of the blade is now taken by the arms, not the shoulders.
    This catch should get the blade in at more angle, which allows it to knife further forward- free distance gained!
    Recommend you do 26+ s.p.m. always, with 1:1 in:out. 2 breaths per stroke – out at catch and release. No pausing!!!!!!!!!!!!

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