Rowing is a regional sport and it can be difficult for some athletes to get access to rowing if they do not live near a body of water, and hence, a rowing team. This accounts for why men’s collegiate rowing has a relatively high ratio of walk-on athletes. For athletes that don’t have rowing experience, there are plenty of opportunities to compete at the college level. For the most part, if you have good academics, are strategic about where you attend school and are set on rowing in college, it is likely that you will get a chance to row—either for a varsity or club team. In this section, we provide information about basic rowing terminology and how to walk on to a men’s college rowing team.
Walk-ons make up a good portion of varsity rowing rosters at all but the most accomplished teams. While there may be few walk-on spots available at elite programs, there are plenty of athletes without rowing experience that earn roster spots on strong teams. However, tryouts and competition for varsity programs can be intense, and walk-ons will have to exhibit raw athletic ability.
In regard to non-varsity club programs, some teams entirely avoid cutting athletes from their roster as long as they are willing to show up and give 100% effort on a daily basis. The top tier of club programs includes teams that usually have experienced high school and club rowers on their roster, but most rowers start as novices. While it may be difficult to win a seat in the varsity eight at a club program, there are many opportunities to row in smaller boats and non-championship races.
Because rowing is such a technical sport and there are many walk-ons just learning how to row in college, races have a category for novices, meaning first-year college rowers. However, novices can also row for varsity boats if a coach deems them good enough to compete at that level. This depends on the program.
There are many boating-related terms in rowing that beginners are unlikely to know. Here are just some that USRowing recommends reviewing:
There are several different types of boats that are raced on the college level, though the focus in American rowing is on sweep rowing (one oar per person) and the coxed eight (8+). Here is a rundown of different boat types:
A split time on the erg (the rowing machine) simply shows how long it will take you to row 500 meters at your current speed. Another way to explain it is to just determine what ¼ of your 2000-meter erg time is. So, to row a 2k in 7:00, you’ll need a split time of 1:45. (As 1:45 times four equals 7 minutes.) You can reference the 2k erg time recruiting numbers to figure out split times.
For strong varsity eight crews racing in the spring during championship season, a good rowing pace in the middle of the race piece ranges from 32 strokes per minute to 38 strokes per minute, with sprints at the start and finish going up into the 40s. Crews that shorten their stroke for sprints can reach strokes per minute in the mid to high 40s.
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