Rowing Performance Dependent on Height

Recipe for the perfect rower

As we’ve seen elsewhere in this issue, the anthropometric characteristics of a rower (eg limb lengths and girth, height etc) can, and do, impact on their potential rowing performance capabilities. But exactly what makes the perfect rower? That’s the question that Australian scientists have been trying to answer in a newly published study.

In the study, rowers competing at the 2000 Olympic games were measured for 38 anthropometric dimensions, including body mass, sitting height, hip and arm girths, thigh length, chest, waist, and thigh dimensions, and skinfold thicknesses. The participants included 140 male open-class (heavyweight) rowers, 69 female open-class rowers, 50 male lightweight rowers, and 14 female lightweight rowers. In addition to the rowers, a group of healthy young adult ‘non-rowers’ (42 males, 71 females) were assessed for comparison. The researchers found the following:

  • After scaling for stature, the open-class rowers remained proportionally heavier than the non-rowers, with greater proportional chest, waist, and thigh dimensions;
  • Rowers across all weight and gender categories possessed a proportionally smaller hip girth than the non-rowers;
  • Top-ranked male open-class rowers were significantly taller and heavier and had a greater sitting height than their lower-ranked counterparts. They were also more muscular in the upper body, as indicated by a larger relaxed arm girth and forearm girth;
  • In male lightweight rowers, longer thigh lengths were associated with the best performers;
  • In female open weight rowers, lower skinfold thicknesses were associated with better performance.

It was also observed that all rowers across all categories tended to have lower hip girths than non-rowers. However the scientists cautioned that this might simply reflect the fact that the equipment demands of rowing disadvantages those with large hip girths, rather than lower hip girth actually conferring enhanced performance.

J Sports Sci 2007 Jan; 25(1):43-53

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