If You've Never Tried Rowing...

I’m a junior completing my fourth semester on the club rowing team at SLU. This my experience in becoming a rower and a coxswain for anyone who’s even marginally interested in learning more about the sport that changed my life. Finally, I’ll give 5 reasons why you should consider crew as well.  


When I was in high school, I played varsity volleyball and softball all 4 years and became accustomed to having practice every afternoon, tournaments on Saturdays and operating with a team dynamic, no matter the time of the year. After arriving to SLU, I was definitely not proficient enough to be a D1 athlete in either of my sports and like most freshmen, I hopped around trying out clubs but none seemed to fit. I went to an open gym for the club volleyball team and realized I was burnt out on volleyball practice. I laid low for a while and went to class, did homework and worked out from time to time. I found myself feeling off, having no cohesive team dynamic in my life, no constant practice or itch to improve on anything sports-wise. 


A semester went by and I was talking to a friend who had recently joined the rowing team. I really had no idea what rowing actually was or where you could even fit a boat on campus to practice. After becoming interested enough to attend a practice, I dragged myself out of bed at 5:45 AM for my first 6 AM training session. I was taught to properly use a rowing machine, which made me realize how wrong my technique was prior. Despite this early wake up call, I was hooked. I hadn’t been on a physical boat yet, but the team dynamic I felt during those first few morning practices inspired me to get into shape and pull as hard as I possibly could on that rowing machine. I regained the fire in my heart that I once had in high school to improve my skills not just for myself, but for my team and it truly made me realize how much I had missed that. 


A few weeks later, the weather became warm enough that we could take the boats out on the lake at Creve Coeur, a suburb a few miles away from SLU. There, I learned how to operate at a boat house safely and how to use the oar to move a boat. Being on a boat the first time was overwhelming, as I’d never had to use my muscles in that way prior. It made me realize that rowing is first and foremost, a team sport. All of the rowers in the boat must match up with each other and become one. All oars must enter the water at the same time, deliver pressure, and exit the water at the same time to effectively move the boat across the water. If there are any falters, everyone is affected and the true pursuit of rowing is having 4 or 8 members perfectly synched up to become one. In addition, I learned about the role of the coxswain in a boat. They are the boss of the boat and strive to unite every rower while keeping everyone safe and steer.


With that introduction, here’s why you should give rowing a try, even if it’s just on a rowing machine: 


1. Rowing workouts are incredibly low-impact.

 When on a rowing machine, you’re primarily using your legs to deliver your stroke, followed by pressure from your core and arms. Rowing is a full-body workout which will allow for many more muscle groups to work than using an elliptical or stationary bike. According to Strong Fitness Mag, “Rowing allows both toning and burning to happen in unison.” In addition, rowing machines put considerably less stress on your knee and ankle joints than running or walking do. For this reason, rowing machines are a common choice for seniors and injured people to get effective, full-body cardio in. It’s a workout that will match your fitness level.


2. There’s no limit to the variety in workout.

Many people are under the assumption that rowing is long and tedious because it’s the same motion repeatedly both on a rowing machine and on the water. When simplified to its core, this is true but rowers are consistently in pursuit of perfecting their stroke. During every practice, there are notes for every rower about things they could do to improve their stroke to better match the boat, get more reach with their oar, and to improve the timing of the boat. The pursuit of a lower split time or to perfectly match up with the boat is the challenge of rowing and drives athletes to pick up the sport. If rowing were boring, it wouldn’t have nearly as many athletes dedicating their lives to it. On a boat or on the rowing machine, there’s no limit to the variability or workouts, as a mix of workouts best strengthen muscles. Some rowing workouts will be for distance, time, sprints, and for proper technique. 


3. Rowing takes you outdoors, which lessens anxiety.

Rowing practice is an activity that must occur on a body of water in order to get the proper distance desired. SLU Crew rows on the Creve Coeur lake, the site of where the 1904 Olympics rowing races occured. Most crews practice on lakes, rivers, bayous and any body of water that will lend itself to an effective practice. This means you’ll get to witness some of the most breathtaking views accessible by boat while being surrounded by rushing water and any variety of wildlife that will greet you. Being outside in nature directly correlated to lessened anxiety and stress, According to the American heart Association. Rowing several times is beneficial to your heart health cardio-wise also mentally. 


4. The team dynamic is like no other sport.

Most sports have several positions that are easily specialized. For example, in volleyball there are people designated for each of the three hits on each side of the net. In sweep rowing, there are 4 or 8 people on a boat accompanied by a coxswain. Each rower must be in the moment, with the rhythm of the boat to get every meter possible on the water. All oars must enter and exit the water simultaneously to keep the boat level while moving across the water. There’s a million nuances that go into a rower’s stroke and it takes true teamwork to move a boat. In addition, while not on the water there is a constant push for each rower to condition effectively. Being able to give more pressure on a rowing machine correlates to a stronger boat, which will be able to win races. Rowing involves a personal drive to constantly improve yourself and better your split time. However, the ultimate motivator is to overcome those obstacles for your team and for the strength of your boat. 


5. Crew is for everyone and it’s a lifelong sport.

Rowing is truly for everyone, as cities have programs that range from middle school to seniors. Rowing is low-impact and is extremely accessible as a full body workout. Unlike other sports, rowing exists outside of high school and college and you can be as involved as you’d like to be well into adulthood. Large rowing communities exist internationally as well. At SLU, we have fostered a close-knit team of about 25 people with rowing as a passion. Rowing has significantly changed my life for the better and for that reason, anyone who’s interested should try out a rowing machine next time they’re at the gym. Definitely don’t let the early wake up times scare you!