Help!! I’m not the right body shape to row!!
One of THE MOST common questions we get on asked I would say at least once a week is generally along the lines of, “Am I too short to row?” or “How do I keep up with all the athletic people?” or “Help I’m only 6’9”!!” Okay we’re joking about the last one, but these really are common questions that require a little breaking down to help everyone understand that it really doesn’t matter how tall or the shape of your body, it’s about how you move one the machine.
Before we dig too deep into this, here’s a little bit of context for you and a bit of background anatomically on the type of athlete we see using rowing machines as part of their fitness journey.
First off, we can’t change our physical stature no more than we can change the colour of the sky. We get to thank our parents for that! However what we can do is explore the genetics we do have and try to maximise them to our fullest potential.
There are 3 different body types as coined by Shledon (1940) that describe the type, size and composition of our bodies. They are Endomorph, Ectomorph and Mesomorph (remember those from high school biology?).
An endomorphic individual typically has short arms and legs and a large amount of mass on their frame. Their mass hampers their ability to compete in sports requiring high levels of agility or speed and perform sustained weight-bearing aerobic activities such as running. Sports of pure strength, like powerlifting, are perfect for an endomorph.
A mesomorphic individual excels in strength, agility, and speed. Their medium structure and height, along with their tendency to gain muscle and strength, easily make them a strong candidate for a top athlete in any sport.
A predominantly ectomorphic individual is long, slender and thin, and therefore power and strength sports are perhaps not suitable as their slight build leaves them susceptible to injuries. While they can easily get lean and hard, their lack of musculature severely limits their chances in sports requiring mass. Ectomorphs dominate endurance sports and gymnastics.
Less science, more rowing!
Okay I hear you, I know it’s easy to think “you’re not this body type so you aren’t ever going to be a good rower,” however we need to understand the basics here as each sport has its own subtleties.
Let’s talk rowing, if you want a seat in either the Oxford or Cambridge boat you need to be on ave 178.9 cm (5 ft 101⁄2 in) if you are a female and 194.6 cm (6 ft 4 1⁄2) if you are male. That puts us squarely in the ectomorphic camp and you also need to be a phenomenal athlete, a student at one of the world’s best universities and have probably sacrificed 4-10 years of your life to the sport of rowing to be in with a shot so let’s leave that one there!
What about indoor rowing then?
Well indoor rowing, whilst not exactly the same as water rowing still carries over a lot of the same characteristics so if you are over 6ft then you certainly have a massive advantage. However I know a lot of guys over that height that are not good rowers and row like Bambi on ice because of the amount of coordination required to move all that limb length all in one smooth movement.
That means that regardless of your body type or height, you are going to be able to row. It’s about finding that movement pattern that suits your body type and ensuring you are able to maximise the potential you do have.
Here’s how each body type can maximise their rowing stroke on the indoor rower.
Work on positioning of the knees & hips. Remember when you move to the catch position your knees are what allows you to bring your hips down the rail. That may mean you need to think about pushing out with your knees to create space rather than having your knees pointing up at the ceiling. Think about knees coming under your armpits.
Remember to keep your chest tall. It’s too easy for all body types to round your shoulders as you’re on the recovery part of the stroke. Remember as you drop your chin it also shortens your airway so chin up & chest up and keep it there!
Legs, Legs, Legs!!! Yes you may have Hulk Hogan 21” arms but they don’t squat for you on the row stroke so you need to remember to work those legs. They give you 60% of the power on your stroke so you need to be using that.
Work on that aerobic capacity. Yes its great to work on those short sprints because you like to make each workout hurt. However, in order to get really good on a rower you need to be working on that aerobic game and learn to embrace longer distances at different stroke rates. Thats how you really maximise that athletic potential.
Sit back with a beer and appreciate that you have found a sport that suits your build. Joking!! Work harder than anyone out there as you know that they all want to topple the guy/gal that is built to be good at this sport!
Focus on the technique of the stroke and making sure you are flowing with each movement. You know that it’s meant to be legs → torso → arms so make sure you nail this and are spot on making sure each stroke is picture perfect. It takes a lot to move 6ft+ of frame so this needs to be the focal point and it needs to be effortless.
There you have it!! How to appreciate the fact we can’t all be 6ft+ but we can all be good on a rowing machine.
If you want to know more about how to row and the techniques involved we put out a course just for you! Head here http://babblecafe.com/workout and subscribe to our Launch Your Rowing course for only $9 a month!!!
Yours in fitness, education and rowing no matter what your height!