Every four years, during TV coverage of the Olympic Games, the world gets to see a sport that is usually ignored by all but those who participate in it—rowing. The sport of rowing is an old one, and in the early days of the 20th century was popular enough to be a professional sport. Rich with tradition and beautiful to watch, rowing is not a sport that's easy to pick up on your own. You generally have to learn it in school or be lucky enough to live in an area where you can learn it as an adult. back to top
Isn't rowing for rich kids?
Rowing is well established in areas of the country where there are a lot of private schools and Ivy League universities—Boston and Philadelphia are two cities with large rowing communities. However, in recent years the sport has grown tremendously, and you can find rowing clubs and school programs in almost every state in the country. Look for it at the Olympics this week! back to top
Do you need a special boat?
Yes. The boats used in rowing are called shells. They are long, narrow boats with moving seats. The rowers sit on the seats facing backward and push off with their feet. Rowing shells and oars are very expensive and fragile, so they must be treated carefully. back to top
Do you need strong arms?
Yes and no. Most people think that rowing is mostly an arm activity, but it's really the legs that do most of the work. Rowing is an excellent total-body exercise, and you get to do it with your friends! Best of all, you row outside in the fresh (sometimes cold!) air. It takes some time to learn the basics of rowing, the rules of the river (or wherever you're rowing), and how to use and take care of the equipment. back to top
What is sweep rowing?
There are two types of rowing: sweep and scull. Sweep rowing is the one most people have seen—that's where each rower has one oar and there's a person called a coxswain (pronounced cox'n) who sits at the stern (back) of the boat and steers. Half the rowers in the boat row port (with the oar on the rower's right side) and half row starboard (oar on the rower's left side).
Sweep boats carry 8, 4, or just 2 rowers. The important thing with sweep rowing is that each rower has to row in time with the person in front of him or her. The first person in the boat sets the rhythm, and it's up to each person to match that rhythm. Sweep rowing favors the person who can become one with the other rowers, not the person who prefers to shine as an individual star. back to top
What is sculling?
Sculling is the type of rowing you do on your own. The rower has two oars and there is no coxswain. The most common type of sculling is done in a single, or one-person, boat, but doubles (two people) and even quads (four people) are common. The hard part about sculling is that you have to steer for yourself, even though you are facing backward as you row. You have to have a lot of confidence in your ability to steer and remain on course, constantly looking out for things (like bridges and other boats) that can get in your way. back to top
How do I train for rowing?
Rowers train hard. When bad weather keeps rowers off the river, they do weight training, and practice in indoor rowing tanks and with rowing machines. Rowing tanks simulate what it's like to row in a boat—your oar is in the water and you are on a moving seat. Rowing machines, also known as ergometers, are also important training tools. These machines have computers that tell you how fast you can row for a certain length of time or distance. Coaches use these to assess your fitness level
Rowers also do cross-training, such as cycling or running. If you have a sports stadium nearby, you can "run stadiums," which means you run up and down the stairs to strengthen your legs. back to top