About Technique (Page 1 of 2)

Rowing is an endurance sport which requires a high level of skill. This skill is based on the co-ordination of the legs (which create the most amount of driving force of the rowing action), torso and arms in propelling the boat across the water. The rowing action comprises of both fast (drive phase) and slow (recovery phase) movements. Skill is also required in combining these movements into a rhythm in order to create a smooth, flowing, unhurried rowing action (what we call in this section ratio and rhythm).

The correct rowing action can be a difficult to grasp especially if not having experienced rowing in an actual boat. In this section, About Technique we outline a variety of ways in order to learn the correct rowing technique.



Proper Rowing Action



Elements of Rowing Technique

Rowing is unique amongst other whole bodied exercises in that it strengthens the static muscle groups of the torso (strengthening posture) and simultaneously it uses the muscle groups of the upper and lower body dynamically and in a full range of motion (length).

The work of the static muscles of the torso is done without them moving. They work to brace the torso (keep a strong postural position) to allow it to transfer work from the lower to upper body. The majority of the range of motion in the rowing stroke is created by the dynamic muscle groups of the arms and legs.

It is a combination of these muscle groups that form the rowing action, this combination then needs to be a smooth, flowing continuous motion and is achieved with the correct ratio and rhythm .

The elements of technique (discussed in the next few pages) combine all the above key issues of the rowing action and are crucial to realizing the unique physiological and psychological benefits of rowing.

There key elements of the rowing technique are:

  • Posture and Stroke Length

  • Lower Body Movement

  • Upper Body Movement

  • Rhythm and Ratio and Speed vs. Stroke Rate

  • Synchronization (Timing)




One of the main elements of the rowing action is posture; poor posture in the rowing stroke will result in injury and unrealized benefits of rowing.

It is therefore essential that a strong postural position throughout the rowing action.


Rowers use length to gain speed, a short rowing stroke will result in a higher stroke rate and low speed. Whereas a long rowing stroke will result in a lower stroke rate and quicker speed.

To achieve full range of motion, the user must think of reaching as far forward with the handle and compressing the legs as much as possible whilst maintaining a strong upright position. This can be difficult for certain body types and those users who have poor flexibility.

A common problem when rowing is using movement of the torso to contribute to the range of motion. This is usually done by bending the torso at the lower back, weakening the posture (most lower back injuries occur when work is being transmitted through a weak posture).

Beginning each stroke with the correct posture will ensure a positive workout.

To achieve correct posture, the torso is simply rocked at the pelvis from a backward (11 o’clock) position to a forward (1 o’clock) position (this is known as the Rock Over phase and is discussed in more detail later on in this section).



Lower Body Movement

The muscles of the legs are the largest and strongest muscle group in the body, and therefore contribute a large portion of the work during the rowing stroke. The muscles of the upper body and torso simply add to the work of the legs as the angle between the calf and the thigh increases and the effectiveness of the legs declines.


The speed at which the leg angle opens is related to the speed of the boat moving through the water and is relatively slow. The speed of the drive phase is anything from ½ second to 1 second (discussed later in section in Ratio and Rhythm).



Upper Body Movement

As the leg angle passes through 90 degrees the contribution of the legs lessens bio-mechanically. At this point the muscles of the upper body and torso are recruited to add to or maintain the acceleration initiated by the lower body. The transition between the two is made seamless by maintaining a flowing motion.


The hands are drawn into the body so that the forearms are horizontal. This is at about the height of the second bottom rib. The hands do not stop at the end of the drive, they flow back out and into the recovery phase, moving in and out from the body at a constant speed.


A common problem when rowing is stopping at the end of the drive. This encourages "two-piecing" of the stroke where the drive and recovery are two separate actions. "Two-piecing" often allows the rower to slump at the release position, encouraging poor posture. The rowing action needs to be smooth and seamless with each phase transitioning into the next.



Rhythm and Ratio

Ratio is the relationship between the work phase (the drive) and the recovery phase (rock-over and return) of the rowing action.The correct ratio in rowing is 1:2 - spending twice as long to "recover" and come back up the slide as was spent in driving the legs down. When the correct ratio is achieved, there is a satisfying rhythm to the continuous flow of the rowing stroke.

A common problem in rowing is that people "rush" up the slide, meaning that the ratio of drive to return is more one to one, rather than one to two. This is because most user’s rowing strokes are too short and they do not finish off the rowing stroke (their knees bounce upwards and there is no rock over), and hence they row with a ‘ding dong’ effect.


Poor Ratio (above)



Good Ratio (below)







Speed vs. Stroke Rate


A common misconception with rowing machine users is that the faster you move up & down the slide the quicker your ‘speed’. Speed in rowing is referred to the speed of the boat through the water, not the person moving up & down the slide on the seat which is known as stroke rate.


Speed should increase with an increase in stroke rate but rowing machine users tend to row at higher stroke rates with a low speed. As an instructor use the speed shown on the WaterRower monitor to instruct users to try and obtain a high speed (shown in meters per second, miles per hour & split times), at a low stroke rate (18-22spm).








Synchronization or Timing

Synchronization or timing relates to the co-ordination of the rowing action between each member of a crew.


Co-ordinating technique so that everyone does the same thing at the same time improves efficiency and hence speed, and is essential to on-water elements such as boat balance.


In a WaterCrew class, timing is functional and aesthetic. Encouraging correct synchronization between WaterCrew participants will enhance the feeling of rowing in a real crew boat.





The Rowing Action

As discussed previously the rowing action should not be considered to have any distinct parts but be one smooth, flowing, uniform action. However for instruction purposes it can help to break the rowing action into its three phases and three corresponding positions.

Position 1 - The Release Position

The release position is at the end of the drive phase. The release is where active propulsion of the boat ceases and the oar is removed from the water. This is not the end of the stroke but simply the change in direction of the handle.






Phase 1 - The Rock-Over Phase


The rock over phase begins at the release position and ends at the rock over position. The arms extend and the torso rocks over from the pelvis (not the lower back).







Position 2 - The Rocked Over Position

The rocked over position occurs at the end of the rock-over phase. The arms are extended and the torso is rocked over adopting the upper body positioning of the catch.






Phase 2 - The Recovery Phase

The recovery phase begins at the rock-over position and ends at the catch position. No active propulsion takes place at this point. There is no movement of the upper body and torso during the recovery phase, just the legs. All torso and upper body positions have been set at the rocked over position.






Position 3 - The Catch Position

The catch position is the position of the body at the end of the recovery phase and the beginning of the drive phase. The body is coiled like a spring, ready to release.







Phase 3 - The Drive Phase

The drive phase is the work phase of the rowing action beginning at the catch position and ending at the release position.







Instructing Rowing Technique


Blending the elements of rowing into the rowing action is the art of rowing technique instruction. Here we cover several methods of instruction. While none is preferred to the other, you will note that individuals will respond differently to various forms of instruction. Having a broad range of tools will assist in getting your message across.



Technique Check Points- the positions through which the body moves. This breaks down the stroke into its constituent elements, assists instruction and helps develop co-ordination.


Focus Points - the points of focus for each of the phases and positions of the rowing stroke. This assists in honing the rowing action, adding movement to the Check Points and making the action more fluid.


Technique Drills- assist in coordinating the Check Point and Focus Point instruction and smooth the action into one flowing stroke.


Technique Calls- ways of expressing the desired technique element which may assist instructors to teach correct rowing style.






Technique Check Points

For ease of instruction the rowing stroke may be paused at several steps in order to check body position and technique. The positions where one pauses are known as Check Points. Remember, the rowing stroke itself is a continuous, smooth and flowing action.




At each Check Point use focus points (in the next few slides) to reinforce technique. For example, at Check Point One ensure that you are sitting tall, shoulders relaxed, handle drawn into the chest.


Check Point One - The Release


Check: Legs straight, feet in contact with footboard, sitting tall, head up, eyes forward, shoulders relaxed, elbows behind, handle drawn to chest and wrists flat.












Check Point Two - The Rock Over


Check: Body rocked over from the pelvis not lower back, arms straight, shoulders relaxed, head up, eyes forward, legs straight, feet in contact with footboard and wrists flat.












Check Point Three - The Recovery (half slide position)


Check: Body maintains rocked over from the pelvis not lower back, arms straight, shoulders relaxed, head up, eyes forward, legs bent to half slide position, feet in contact with footboard and wrists flat.












Check Point Four - The Catch


Check: Body again maintains the rocked over position, arms straight and in full reach, shoulders relaxed, head up, eyes forward, legs fully compressed, feet in contact with footboard and wrists flat.









Instruction Technique - Focus Points

Focus points are areas of focus for each phase or position of the rowing action. They may take the form of calls or simple instructions. These points can be used either during warm up, workout or cool down. They may be particularly useful during Check Point drills.

Release Position Focus Points

Rocked Over Position Focus Points

Recovery Phase Focus Points

Catch Position Focus Points

Drive Phase Focus Points

Additional information