Rowing Drills


Mastering rowing technique requires a combination of strength, endurance, and proper form—to paraphrase the legendary Steve Gladstone, rowing requires the agility of a dancer and the strength of a Greco-Roman wrestler. 

A photo from the coaches' launch at the University of Washington, showing the view of a crew rowing through the Montlake Cut, Seattle

In this guide:

To develop these skills, rowers must practice a variety of drills and exercises both on land and on the water.

Rowing Drills on Land

On land, rowers should take pains to accurately simulate the motion of rowing. Focus on the technical aspects of the stroke without the distractions of wind and water. 

Reverse pick drill

One of the best ways to get started on the rowing machine is with the reverse pick drill. This is a great way to kick off a session because it forces you to focus your efforts on the legs, and helps inexperienced rowers understand the correct body position at the catch, as well as how to accelerate with the leg drive without yanking or pulling with the arms and body. 

The reverse pick drill is, of course, the reverse of the regular pick drill, which can also be a good way to begin a session on land (if nothing else, burning up the arms early on can keep your rowers from over-leveraging their biceps during the rest of the workout). 

More solid rowing drills for land workouts include:

  • Catch drill/top quarter drill: This is like a modified legs-only drill, where the goal is to just pick up the catch and then release the pressure. The goal is to build the right mechanics at the front end of the stroke, while also developing a feel for how to pick up the weight.
  • One-leg drill: This drill is a good way to help instill the right leg and knee position for your rowers — by placing one foot on the floor and the other on the foot stretchers, rowers will find that they need to have their leg in the correct position, with the knee moving up and down in a single, vertical plane, in order to get the leg drive going. It's not a drill that should last too long, but it's illustrative — make sure to switch legs frequently.
  • One-arm drill: For this drill, have your rowers hang onto the middle of the handle with one hand, placing the other arm at their sides or behind their backs. Leg the one-leg drill, this emphasizes the need to hang on the handle by making it virtually impossible to tug or yank the handle early in the stroke. Again, switch arms frequently and this is only meant to last for a few strokes. 
Which erg is best? Read our rowing machine reviews:

Rowing Drills on the Water

On the water, we rowers face additional challenges such as wind, waves, and currents. To master rowing technique on the water, you must develop the ability to adjust to changing conditions while maintaining proper form and balance. This requires a combination of skill, experience, and physical conditioning. 

It's important to practice a variety of drills and exercises in order to develop a well-rounded set of rowing skills. Mastering the fundamentals of rowing technique means rowers can increase their efficiency, speed, and power on the water. And, by practicing a range of drills and exercises, rowers can help prevent injuries and maintain their overall physical fitness.

In light of all of the above, we've interviewed some of the top performers in our sport, from Olympic athletes to the winningest coaches in the country, to get their insights into developing the right technique.

The RR Best Rowing Drills series: 

7 Questions with World Champion Coxswain Phelan Hill

  • We connect with Olympic champion Phelan Hill about his favorite drills from his experience as coxswain of the GB men's eight. 

Finding Effective Stroke Length with Frank Biller of Virginia

  • Hoos coach Frank Biller, who helped build his ACRA program into a national contender beginning in 2011 and 2012, has a series of ways to maximize your effective length on the water. 

Keeping It Moving with Ohio State's Andy Teitelbaum

  • NCAA Champion coach Andy Teitelbaum has some solid advice for how to run a training session that is effective — and efficient. 

5 Favorites of Olympic Champion Esther Lofgren

  • The Olympic champion in the USA women's eight offers some of her favorite drills for boat feel and mechanics. 

Newport Aquatic Center's Nick D'Antoni on Sequencing and Drive Mechanics

  • Multiple national champion junior rowing coach Nick D'Antoni shares how he instills the right sequence into the drive and ensures that his rowers know how to accelerate the shell through the water. 

3 Top Skill Drills from Michigan's Gregg Hartsuff

  • Michigan Wolverines' head coach Gregg Hartsuff — the winningest ACRA coach of all time — offers his three favorite drills to develop boat skills. 

Carlos Dinares on Body Awareness Drills for Rowing

  • International sculling and rowing coach Carlos Dinares discusses how to help athletes develop an understanding for how to engage with the boat and understand how their movements affect boat speed.

The Athlete's Perspective, with Olympic Bronze Medalist Megan Kalmoe

  • USRowing's Megan Kalmoe talks us through how she approaches drills with a touch of gamification and fun to keep things interesting as an athlete. 

Dartmouth Women's Head Coach Linda Muri Talks Technique

  • Coach Muri tells us three of her favorite drills for developing the finer points of technique and body control, including feet-out and inside-arm only. 

Addressing limiting technical factors with Cal Crew's Mike Teti

  • Longtime USRowing men's coach Mike Teti walks through some of the ways that he finds and addresses the central issue that may be holding a particular athlete or crew back — and how to fix it. 

Two-Time NCAA Champion Kevin Sauer of Virginia's Fave 5

  • Veteran coach of the Cavalier women Kevin Sauer's unique twists on rowing drills include a characteristic bit of humor — and subsequent free speed. 
Have an idea to add to our list? Send us an email at rowingrelated [at] gmail [dot] com, and we'll get in touch!

For further technique and training tips, be sure to check out our Coaching page.

-The RR Team

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