A Guide to Novice Rowing


Rowing is a great all round and team sport, exercising a large number of muscle groups. It can seem quite daunting at first with many new things to learn, but most people pick it up relatively quickly. This leaflet is intended as a guide on the basics of rowing as there can be a lot to take in during the first few outings. Use it to get a headstart, or as a reference if you forget something and want to refresh. If there are any other questions just ask your coach.

Boat Terminology

Coxing Vocabulary

  • Number off from bow – when you are in the boat and ready to push off, each person shouts their number from Bow to Stroke.
  • Square blades – keep the blade at right angles to the water throughout the whole stroke.
  • Feathered blades – after the blade comes out of the water, turn it parallel to the water.
  • Backstops – a starting position with legs extended and arms pulled up to the chest, blades square and buried in the water.
  • Frontstops a starting position with legs compressed and arms out in front, blades in the water ready to take a stroke.
  • Easy there … drop – Everyone finishes the current stroke and sits at backstops with arms extended, then drop the blades onto the water. (feathered)
  • Hold it up! – Everyone squares the blades in the water to stop the boat as quickly as possible.
  • Sit the boat – when not rowing, sit in the boat with blades feathered on the water. Keep hold of the blade and change the height of your hands to keep the boat balanced.
  • Bow 4 – bow, 2, 3 and 4
  • Stern 4 – 5, 6, 7 and stroke

Basic Rowing Technique

The rowing stroke should be a relaxed and continuous movement, combining a power and recovery phase. The back should be in a neutral sitting position, neither straight up nor slouching. There is usually a 2:1 ratio of recovery to power phase.

Rowing Technique

Power Phase

  1. With legs compressed and arms straight out in front, blade in the water, pressure is put down by the legs. The back is held firm with shoulders and arms relaxed, connecting the legs and the water.
  2. The leg drive commences with the rower ‘suspended’ off the handle of the blade. At the end of the leg drive the back is opened up to about 15 degrees past the vertical.
  3. At the back end of the slide the arm draw commences pulling the handle with the elbows and triceps.

Recovery Phase

  1. At the finish the blade is released from the water by pushing down with the arms. The blade is feathered by turning it using the inside hand, keeping the wrist flat. The handle is then moved away from the body.
  2. When the blade handle is past the knees the body is then rocked over to one side, pivoting at the hips and keeping shoulders relaxed.
  3. The slide then commences, matching the boat speed and letting the boat travel under you. The oar is squared when the hands pass the ankles and placed in the water at the catch.

Adapted from Harry Mahon’s guide to rowing technique.


If you need more information you can contact any member of the rowing committee by email.

Practical Tips

  • Wear warm clothes (fleeces are good) and old shoes.
  • Buy/Borrow a Bike, especially if you have 9am lectures.
  • Leave your phone on loud the night before an outing.
  • Always buy drinks for your coach.
  • Turn up on time!