Anatomy of a rowing stroke

The two fundamental reference points in the anatomy of a rowing stroke are the catch where the oar blade is placed in the water,[1] and the extraction (also known as the 'finish', 'release' or 'tapping down') where the oar blade is removed from the water.[2] After the blade is placed in the water at the catch, the rower applies pressure to the oar levering the boat forward which is called the drive phase of the stroke.[3] Once the rower extracts the oar from the water, the recovery phase begins, setting up the rower's body for the next stroke.[4]

Sweep vs sculling

Sweep rowers (one oar per person) and scullers (two oars, one in each hand) have similar stroke styles, with some differences to accommodate the number of oars held by the rower. The most notable difference is that the oar handles overlap in sculling at the midpoint of the drive, and again during the recovery. This requires the sculler to cross one hand over (left over right) and/or in front of the other hand to avoid the oar handles colliding. While sculling is a fully symmetrical movement (with exception of the handle overlap), sweep oar rowing is slightly asymmetrical and many rowers strongly prefer one side to the other.

Also, sweep oar rowers usually feather and square the oar with the inside hand (the one closer to the rowlock), allowing the handle to turn within the outside hand, whose wrist remains flat throughout. This is obviously not possible in sculling, and scullers tend to feather and square by holding the oar handle in the extended fingers when feathered, and rolling it into the palm of the hand to square it, the wrist remaining flat throughout.

The average speed of a boat increases with the crew size and sculling boats are slightly faster than the equivalent sweep boats.

Stages of a stroke


The drive is the phase from the catch to the extraction.


The recovery follows the drive and returns the oar and the rower from the point of extraction to the catch.

Local differences

The rowing stroke differs slightly depending on location and coaching technique and especially the coach. Differences (especially between experienced rowers) are only marginal and can often only be seen by detailed video-analysis. For example, sometimes the Canadian eight team used a style where the body was swung more during the drive.

See also


  1. The catch; the last part of the recovery , where the oars are placed into the water.
  2. The extraction; the end of the drive, where the oars are taken out of the water.
  3. The drive; when the oars are in the water, and power is applied to move the boat.
  4. The recovery; when the oars are out of the water, and the preparation for the catch occurs
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