The beauty of a perfect stroke

To some, rowing is a simple matter of moving a boat from A to B. To others it is a passion, a fascinating routine, possible to dissect into pieces and be perfected down to the smallest muscular movement. We’re the latter.

There is always beauty in putting the human body to perfect use; finding a rhythm and a flow, whilst making it look both simple and meant to be. This is perhaps appreciated most by those who know the number of hours you need to invest to succeed. Rowing is where we’ve spent those hours, sometimes wondering why, but always fascinated by the complexity of forces and the human body’s ability to overcome them.

“There is always beauty in finding a rhythm and a flow in the task ahead of you, making it look both simple and meant to be.”

The movement

Performed correctly, rowing is a full body workout. The fluid movement engages the bigger muscle groups in the body, and develops a strong cardiovascular base. In addition, rowing demands the heart to work hard — to supply fresh blood filled with oxygen to the muscles activated.
The rowing motion is intended to be a fluid, continuous movement, as if to complete each stroke without stop. The movement can be divided into a work phase, “the drive”, and one relaxation/preparation phase, known as the “the recovery”. The drive begins as soon as the oar’s blade is fully submerged beneath the water. This is where one would initiate pressure from the legs, and a relaxed grip from the arms. From this position, you push with your legs to get the boat moving. The idea is to let the blade get a good grip in the water, and then follow that by accelerating the motion of your oar handle. Another way to think of it is that the boat is moving around the fixed point were the blade is connected to the water.

“The rowing motion is supposed to be a fluid, continuous movement, completing each stroke without stop.”

Pushing or pulling?

One question popularly discussed is— during the drive, what are you actually doing? Is rowing a push or pull movement? In order to answer, the different stages of the drive need to be reviewed methodically. Study someone who does it right and you will find that compartmentalized within the drive, he or she will do both.

A skilled rower will push really hard with his/her legs during the initial phase of the drive. At this stage, one would hang on to the oar handle with straight arms, trying not to slip and lose their grip. Once the legs are straightening out, having done most of their pushing movement, it’s time for your hamstring, glutes, and back to kick in. The activation of these muscle groups will work to keep up the pressure on the blade for a while, before the conclusion of the stroke, where you start pulling with your arms.
This is where you activate your whole upper back including your arms, pulling the handle in towards your sternum and leaning backwards.


Once through the drive phase you need to get your oar out of the water in a smooth but determined motion, leaving the boat at its top speed with as little disturbance as possible. At the beginning of the “recovery”, you should find yourself hanging slightly backwards towards the stern and your abdominal muscles are fully engaged.
Firstly, it is important that the rower remains relaxed throughout his body, and then start by moving your arms away from your body, followed by a forward lean of your back, and smoothly compressing your legs in preparation for the next stroke.

Making it look easy

Anyone with the ability to control the different phases of the stroke will be rewarded with a boat that moves efficiently through the water. The hardest thing about the equation is being able to work with extremely high power for tenths of seconds and then suddenly switch off, to get as much relaxation as possible for a half a second before it’s time to switch to maximum power again. It is very evident that the more time a rower spends on getting it right, the more effortless it looks in the end.

“Anyone able to control the different phases of the stroke will be rewarded with a boat that moves efficiently through the water.”