Cross-country athletes have said for centuries that their sport is every other sports' punishment. A similar sentiment could be said about the sport of rowing.
Rowing is an activity that has become one of the most popular indoor workouts for a variety of athletes - from older individuals looking for a leisurely full-body workout to the top Crossfit athletes racing to 1,000 meters in the middle of a circuit. Rowing machines can be found in local gyms, college weight rooms, or a relative's basement and have been helping athletes with all different abilities develop strength in their arms, back, core, and legs with repetitive, measured motions.
So, if cross country is evocative of a punishment, rowing on the other hand stems from many other sports' daily workouts.
But it can be punishing... which some athletes really get excited about.
Rowing is widely considered by those within international sports as the most physically demanding in the Olympic program. It not only requires extreme endurance and strength, but also considerable mental strength and the ability to push yourself well past your limits.
And the U.S. Rowing Team is always looking for athletes from other sports with these characteristics to give the sport a try. Below are some of the sports that could produce some of the best rowing talent.
If you are a high school athlete involved in any of these sports, check out the U.S. Rowing U19 Tryout to give rowing a try and be discovered by Team USA coaches.
From an early age, swimmers learn some of the most important aspects of rowing: Muscle memory and repetition. Pair that with years of training your biceps, triceps, and back muscles and without knowing it, you could breed a champion on top of the water as well as in it.
Rowing is not as much about hand-eye coordination as most other major sports. Training specific muscle groups for endurance and speed is something that swimmers and rowers share. Long, synchronized arms moving with powerful legs and a mental edge that most athletes never develop are a recipe that both sports share.
And generally - similar to our the next two sports - the top competitive swimmers have long torsos and extended wingspans that could propel a scull more efficiently. From a video published by the Olympic Channel, former U.S. Rower turned sports scientist Greg Whyte described the type of athlete U.S. Rowing is always on the lookout for:
"We are looking for very tall, very muscular, very lean individuals to become elite rowers."
While taller swimmers may take a while to get comfortable in the skinny boat, they'll get hooked after the first few hundred meters.
Two words: Height and Wingspan. If you spend even a few minutes around a college volleyball team or a high-level rowing team, you'll most likely point out those two things. For rowing coaches, seeing a tall outside hitter or middle blocker make a play above the net will remind them of the force they could create with each rowing stroke.
At the Olympic level, most rowing teams are full of tall athletes because of one essential attribute: Longer limbs are able to make longer strokes with an oar. The more distance an athlete can cover with each stroke, the fewer strokes it takes to complete a 1000-meter or 2,000-meter race.
While rowing may sound foreign to athletes used to team sports with a ball and net, the competitiveness involved in rowing and the importance of camaraderie is second to none. If you're a front row player who loves to train and compete, rowing may be a great offseason sport for you.
For liberos, defensive players, and setters who may not have the height that college rowing coaches are looking for in team events, there are always opportunities for loud, outspoken athletes as a coxswain.
Similar to swimmers and volleyball players, basketball athletes are more often than not the ideal candidates for a rowing team. Tall, slender, with strong arms and uncanny balance as they move towards the rim, basketball players could pick up an oar and really generate some power.
It can't be overstated that the taller a rower is, the more potential energy they can create in each stroke and the faster the boat will move. Shooting guards and stretch-fours, who are weeded out by coaches early for their long wingspan and strength to go up against anyone have that potential to be great in rowing.
Imagine the power Lebron James, Kevin Durant, or Brittney Griner - each with a 7-foot wingspan (i.e. the average person has a a 5.5-foot wingspan) - could generate if they trained as a rower and mastered the mechanics of their arms and legs.
Additionally, among the most popular sports in America, basketball requires the most stamina and endurance of any. It's rare that athletes stop moving around the court and the strength built up from running could be a positive attribute in creating a powerful rower.
Similar to basketball, rowing also has a position for athletes who may not have the height and wingspan of a power-forward. The coxswain is a rowing athlete who is loud and outspoken, always seated at the front of the boat to manage the rest of the team - like a point guard!
Track & Cross Country
Ask anyone who has had a career in rowing and they will tell you that success begins with training. The same goes for sprinters and distance runners who also get one race - lasting only seconds or minutes - to make it all happen.
Rowing and track athletes both spend their lives in the weight room or on the treadmill - and the time in between is dedicated to studying technique and massaging their muscles. Racing is not just a hobby, it is a motivating factor in everything these athletes do. And it is hard to teach.
For track athletes looking for another opportunity to find that competition, rowing is an excellent alternative that will showcase the muscles you've been developing for years and test the mental strength that really wins a race. With powerful arms and elite leg power all working in unison, track athletes and distance runners alike could find a lot of success in the water.
Other track and field athletes, like javelin and discus throwers, pole vaulters, pentathletes and decathletes, could also find a lot of success if they get into rowing. Elite rowers are built from arm strength, a love of training, and meticulous attention to form and technique - attributes shared by the most competitive track and field athletes.
If there is one group of athletes with the most untapped potential for rowing, it has to be cyclists. Like rowers in the water, cyclists spend all of their time in the saddle of their bike pushing the limits of their body and testing their endurance across miles and miles of open road. When they aren't on their own building their mental fortitude, they are in the wight room or on the treadmill, honing the muscles they need to get faster and faster.
Oddly enough, cyclists and rowers could have very different muscle types as a result of a lifetime of training.
Elite cyclists are easy to identify by their stone-like thigh muscles and bulging calves from climbing and sprinting for a hundred-some in the course of a training day. Rowers on the other hand, are a bit more top-heavy focusing most of their training on the their shoulders, and chest, as their legs steadily move their buttocks back and forth.
Besides their muscles, both rowers and cyclists are easy to identify by their sunburn around their sunglasses at the end of a day of training.
For cyclists looking for a new way to test a new muscle group in a sport with the same fast pace and physical demands, rowing is an excellent option. And cyclists who get into the sport of rowing at a younger age will have the best chance to build the necessary muscle groups to complement their powerful legs.