The seemingly effortless glide of a racing shell over the water is really the product of a great deal of effort and discipline. Among rowing’s great rewards are not only the joy of feeling the boat move, but the high fitness level to be gained by learning how to make it go so smoothly and powerfully.
Centuries ago, in the sport’s infancy in England, all rowboats had fixed seats. Most of the effort necessarily came from the back and arms. Modern racing shells have wheeled seats — referred to as “the slide” — that roll back and forth on wheels in special tracks. This brings the legs into play, and allows the body to apply serious power to the stroke. From the explosive leg drive comes great strength and speed.
The advent of the slide also brought the entire body into competitive rowing, and that is its chief physical benefit: rowing is one of the best full-body workouts in sports. Not only do the big power muscles — such as in the thighs and back — get strong, but so do the many stabilizing muscles that allow rowers to hold their positions consistently in making a stroke. The result, when done by experts, is a powerful move that makes the most of physical work and wastes little.
Add speed and repetition, and you have a peerless aerobic workout. Rowers are some of the fittest athletes in the world, with cardiovascular abilities to rival those of marathoners and other elite competitors.
But the benefits of rowing aren’t reserved only for the upper echelon of athletic fitness. With certain minimum requirements and precautions, almost anyone can participate and rise to a level of challenge that suits them. All this with less stress on the joints than running and other high-impact sports.
Rowers, and more notably their parents, have also noted time and again that the commitment and discipline that rowing fosters transfer easily into other parts of a rower’s life. Any person, but especially a young one, can discover that if you have the spirit and willingness to take on rowing’s challenges — to deal with both its joys and frustrations, to continue to strive for perfection while knowing that attaining it is unlikely and the effort alone is worthwhile — to such a person, very little in life will seem impossible.
Finally, the teamwork involved in rowing leads to a deeply felt camaraderie that is the core of most rowers’ best memories of their time in the sport.
Here are some representative stores from the popular press about rowing’s many benefits (PDF reader required):