Next Race 150th Boat Race, March 28th 6pm sponsored by Aberdeen Asset Management
Search the site
Last updated 2 Nov 2003 - Low Graphics    

Rowing is a thriving, exciting sport, and anybody can get involved.

What is rowing about, and who does it?

Wherever there is a river you'll find a rowing club. The sport is carried out across the country by all ages. It is great all-round exercise and can bring major health benefits.

Rowing is made up of two types - sculling and sweep. Sculling is carried out with two oars (or 'blades') per person and sweep rowing is with just one. Sculling is carried out in singles (1 person), doubles (2 people) and quads (4 people) whereas sweep rowing is carried out in pairs, fours and eights.
The role of the cox is to steer, give commands and act as an in-boat coach. Generally only eights, fours and pairs are coxed, and out of these fours and eights are by far the most common. An eight is the only boat that will always have a cox.

Beginners can expect to train once or twice a week whereas the Boat Race crews train almost every day.

If you are interested in taking up rowing you can find your nearest club by ringing the Amateur Rowing Association on 020 8237 6700 or visit their website at

What are the commentators talking about?

Some of the rowing terms may be confusing to those not initiated in the sport, so here is a basic guide to the jargon.

A rowing stroke can be thought of as two separate parts - the drive and recovery.
The drive is where the boat is moved along using a combination of legs, body and arms, the legs doing most of the work.
The crew put their oars into the water together at the start of the stroke, know as the 'catch'.
The point at which they release the oars from the water is known as the 'finish'.
The recovery begins after the finish, when the crew comes forward to take the next stroke. This is made as smooth and controlled as possible so as not to disturb the run on the boat.

Boat Race crews will in fact spend about twice as much time in the recovery as they will in the drive. This ratio helps set the rhythm.

Timing is essential - the catch will take just a tenth of a second! With such precision it is the miniscule differences in performance that put a boat in front.

The number of strokes a minute the crews will take is also important. Too slow and they won't travel fast enough, too fast and they will tire out too quickly.
A Boat Race crew will normally cover the course somewhere between 34 and 36 strokes a minute. However in bursts they will bring the rating up to 40 strokes a minute or more.

Oxford stay in touch
Oxford working hard to stay in touch

The importance of the mental aspect of rowing cannot be overstated. A crew that is passed can no longer see its opponent and this can have a demoralising effect.

The squads employ sports psychologists to help them cope with this, and other matters, as part of the race build-up. Race tactics, and how well crews can carry them out, can decide the outcome.