Rowing is one of the oldest and most physically challenging sports still in existence today. Like swimming, rowing uses every major muscle group in the body: legs, abdomen, chest, back, and arms. Rowing originated not as a sport, but as a means of warfare and transportation. All of the major ancient civilizations used rowing to advance their cultures, both in war and while at peace.
The sport of rowing unofficially began in the 1700s when watermen would race in long barges on the river Thames in England. The sport began its modem incarnation when “gentlemen’ created the Oxford-Cambridge race in 1829. The Henley Royal Regatta was started in 1839.
The Yale-Harvard race on the Charles River marked the beginning of competitive rowing in the United States in 1852. Rowing became the first organized collegiate sport in the U.S., complete with its own governing body. International championships were first arranged in 1893, and remain under the direction of the Federation International des Societas d’Aviron (FISA).
International rowing (and collegiate) competitions are standardized at 2000 meters. Masters championships (both national and international) are contested over a distance of 1000 meters. At the elite level, 2000 meter race times average between 5:20 and 7:30 depending on boat type. Masters races last between 2:50 and 5:00, again depending on boat type as well as age of the contestants.
Rowing is divided into two distinct disciplines: ‘sweep’ rowing, where each oarsman handles one oar, and ‘sculling’, where he uses two smaller oars.
Sweep oared races are contested in 2, 4, and 8 person boats (known as pairs, fours, and eights respectively). Sculling races are contested in 1, 2, and 4 man shells (single, double, and quad).
Steering in sweep oared boats is accomplished with the use of a movable rudder. (It is handled by either a steersman (known as a coxswain) who sits in the bow or stern of the boat (depending on the construction and size of the shell), or a rower in bow or stroke seat using a foot-controlled rudder (‘toeing’). Singles and doubles are usually maneuvered by a change in pressure between the port and starboard oars. A quad is typically controlled with a foot rudder
International rowing is contested in two weight categories for men and women, lightweight and open. Lightweight oarsmen are restricted to a body weight of 72.5 kg/160 lbs. (men) and 59 kg/130 lbs. (women). The average weight of the open class (heavyweight) in international competition is about 92 kg/200 lbs. and 79 kg/173 lbs. respectively.