A beginner’s guide to rowing technique

Sweep rowing, sculling and the rowing stroke explained

When you first start out in rowing, it’s important to know what kinds of strokes you should be adopting to get the best out of your exercise. Here’s our quick guide to basic rowing techniques.

There are essentially two types of rowing: sculling and sweeping.

Beginner rowing technique

Sculling is carried out with two oars (or ‘blades’) per person. It is done either in singles, doubles or quads.

Sweep rowing is carried out with just one oar per person and is done in either: pairs, fours and eights.

The cox steers the boat and acts as a coach for the rowers. Generally only eights, fours and pairs are coxed, and out of these, the fours and eights are by far the most common. An eight is the only boat that will always have a cox.

Boats seat between one and eight rowers who face backward to the direction of travel and might also include a seat for a cox, who faces forwards.

The rowing stroke
The motion of each stroke is made up of four parts that flow into one another. These are the catch, the drive, the finish, and the recovery.

Catch — signals the start of the stroke and is the point where the crew put their oars into the water together.

Drive — the point at which the boat is levered along using a combination of legs, body and arms the legs doing most of the work as they slide back along the rail.

Finish — once the legs are fully extended, the oar is pulled out of the water.

Recovery — rolling the hand away from the body, the rowers finally bring themselves forward on the slide, and complete the stroke. Mistimed strokes can result in what is known as ‘catching a crab’, when a rower fails to raise the oar clear of the water or misses the water altogether in making a stroke.

Oars are rotated flat to the water surface at the finish to minimize air resistance and are vertical at the catch to maximize water resistance or the pull.

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