Rowing slow for beginners


I started rowing 12 months ago and can achieve good power on the erg however I don’t seem to be able to transfer this to the boat. I think I’m using my arms to pull too early in the stroke when I should be pressing with my legs? Could you offer any advice on how I could correct this mistake?

You are experiencing a common issue – the main problem is that handling the oars and applying power in the unstable environment of the boat is much more challenging than on the ergo.  This takes time to learn and so what you’re experiencing may not be anything to do with pulling your arms early (though you may do this too), it’s ONLY about learning to handle the oars.  This is the reason beginners need to gain fitness on the erg because they are unable to work hard in a boat due to lack of skill.  Let’s set about changing that for you.

How to apply power in a rowing boat

This photo is a slide from the British Rowing Technique slide deck.  It shows what you are trying to achieve.  A strong suspension of your body weight off the handle of the oar (yes, it’s photoshopped!).

Rowing suspend weight off handle Rowing suspend weight off handle

Here’s a similar photo on the erg.

Erg suspend weight off handle Erg suspend weight off handle

So the same body position and application of power is possible in both situations. The athlete is sitting very lightly on the seat and her body weight isn’t “Down” on the seat, but is “Light on the seat” almost so that you could slide a sheet of paper between the seat and her shorts.

How to transition your power from erg into the boat

This is one sequence of drills which you can do which will help you to work out how to load up your body from the oar(s) when in a rowing boat so you start to feel you’re working hard,  It helps you to see how to change your bladework as more crew mates join in and the boat starts to go faster.

  1. When you get into your crew and are warming up, I recommend you row with only half the crew. When it’s your half of the crew that’s rowing, the load will be high. You are carrying passengers.
  2. Get the stroke person to slow down the stroke rate – 18 – 20, no more.
  3. As you row, try to work hard, like on the erg
  4. You will find that you become more skilful at picking up the water and loading your blade and your body.
  5. Then try rowing at a stroke rate that’s a bit higher 22-24. Can you maintain the feeling of load? Then go back to the lower stroke rate. Can you maintain the load?
  6. If possible (do you row on a large body of water?) try rowing with even fewer people, if you are in an 8, can one pair row? If you are in a four, can you row alone – let the boat go in a circle.
  7. Then get more athletes to join in – so if you’re in an 8, join in the pairs. In the four, get one more athlete to join in at a time so you get 1,2,3 and then 4 people rowing,
  8. As each one joins in, the loading on you reduces as there are fewer people just sitting still, try to maintain the feeling of load on your oar and your body. You achieve this by moving your oar more speedily into the water at the beginning of the power phase and then working hard through the power phase. Expect to move more slowly in the recovery phase as this balances the increase in work in the power phase.  You are trying to keep the feeling of load as more people join in.
  9. Do this drill rowing square blade and then try it rowing feathered blades. Is there a difference? Why?

Try this for a while and tell me how it goes. If you can get video, all the better.

Tell me how you get on.

For others, who carefully contemplate their rowing, have you read Rowing Slow, the secret to going fast.  A philosophical treatise on how to get more enjoyment from rowing, by Mike Davenport.  He’s the author of the Nuts and Bolts Guide to Rigging bestseller. 


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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Michael Hawkins

    Rowing as hard as you can during the warm up, particularly if only some of the crew are rowing, puts the rower at risk of injury. Much safer tactic is to row full slide immediately and postpone drills and postpone power strokes until rowers are warmed up.

  2. Albert Willem Knop

    I think trying to work hard. Is not the way to go. I think you have to try to be relaxed and feel the oar moving and only apply horizontal force on the handle. Then try to slowly increase the application of force (only horizontal) and keep to the order of using legs, back and arms. When novices try to put all energy in the stroke they tend to throw their backs in directly after the catch and use their arms to soon. Rowing is managing the unbearable lightness of the movement and from that start building the power. Don’t force fast rowing by throwing in power in an uncontrolled way. Rowing is not equal to yanking or yerking the handle but by applying force in in very controled way. When you master this the force can grow into enormous proportions, but never loose control and relaxation. The way to solve the stated problem as described in this article is many steps ahead of where the person that stated this question is. First good and precise then fast and powerfull.

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