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Why Rowing Will Make You A Better Runner

With Henley Royal Regatta upon us this week, we've asked Head Junior Coach at Team Keane Sculling School, George New to explain the often misunderstood relationship between rowing and running. 

Runners often supplement their training with rowing and vice versa

Whilst rowers often supplement their training with running, runners view rowing as a refreshing twist to break up a relentless running training regime and a fun element to getting fit. Whilst getting the basic technique right can be tricky at first - trying not to hit your knees for instance - once grasped, it can be a great way of building up muscle and core integrity that can improve your running ability without risk of causing injury through lifting weights.

Rowers employ primarily legs, trunk and shoulders....

Rowing is essentially a sport where a person or persons, depending on the number in the boat, sits in a craft about 12ft long and 12 inches wide and go as fast as they can over a set distance - usually 2000m. They can have either one blade (oar), which is called rowing, or two, which is called sculling. The blades vary in length depending on the height, weight and number of individuals in a boat.  Because of the power-endurance nature of the sport, it requires athletes to be able to move their body weight efficiently as possible. Utilising the ‘big’ muscles in the body- primarily legs, trunk and shoulders - rowers must exert a monumental amount of effort from as little as 2 minutes to the Oxford-Cambridge Boat race course which roughly takes 20 minutes.

Why Rowing Will Make You A Better RunnerRowing at Henley

Often completing 100km a week

To build up the fitness to last - let alone win - these distances, rowers typically spend most of the winter months of the season on the rowing machine (ergo); often completing as much as 100km a week. This is supplemented by time spent in the gym lifting weights to add or maintain strength and technical sessions on the water, increasing a rower’s ability to move quickly and efficiently.  

Typically the ration of effort between rowing and running is 1:1

Whilst one of the benefits of being a ‘sitting down sport’ is that there is very little risk of impact injuries to muscles and joints that recur in sports such as rugby and hockey, rowing can sometimes lead to inflammation in the lower back muscles; as they can be put under tremendous pressure in racing environments. To prevent these injuries from happening, coaches often supplement training on the ergo with running. Typically, the ratio of effort between rowing and running is normally acknowledged as being 1:1. Meaning that rowers will typically run between 40-120 minutes a workout to mirror training that would be done on the rowing machine.  

Why Rowing Will Make You A Better RunnerRunning along the River Thames, Richmond

Running and rowing require completely different body types

That being said, rowers are not the most agile of creatures. Male rowers are often taller than 6ft 2’ and weigh between 85-110kgs. Used to sitting down and hauling themselves across water, the idea of running is often met with fear and dread by most rowers as it means that even those who are the ‘Mo Farahs’ of the rowing world, suddenly resemble your local, overweight individual from the pub as soon as they slip into a pair of trainers.

The fundamental difference between rowing and running: technique and equipment

The fundamental difference between rowing and running is technique and equipment. Whilst a runner needs a pair of trainers and just their human instincts, rowers require boats which can cost up to £50,000 and years of technical training to move a boat as smoothly as those seen at the Olympics and the Boat Race. There are hundreds of clubs across the country that offer Learn To Row courses, often over a period of six weeks. Rowing clubs can be a great place to socialise and meet new people, whilst also learn a new skill and get fitter in the process. 

You never know, you might one day find yourself lining up on the start line at Henley Royal Regatta.

George New

Head Rowing Coach

George is Head Junior Coach at Team Keane Sculling School based in Chiswick. Team Keane is a community-charity club that emphasises rowing for all, whether it be an athlete targeting Henley Royal Regatta or simply someone looking to try something new/supplement their training regime.