Head of the Charles
Ready all? Row!
There are four distinct phases in a rowing stroke:
1Catch
In this phase the rower’s legs and back are fully compressed while the arms and shoulders are fully extended. With the blade perpendicular to the water, a quick upward movement of the handle allows the blade to “catch” water.
2Drive
Rowers propel shells with many muscle groups, transferring power to the oars, then the boat. Power sources:
3Release (finish)
At the end of the stroke, the buttocks exert maximum pressure through the feet; the trunk is strong.
In a swift motion, rowers brush their abdomens as they tap the oars down.
Finally, a turn of the wrist is done to lay the blade flat.
4Recovery
Drawing the oarblade out of the water, the rower “feathers” the oar — turns the oar handle — so that the oarblade is horizontal. With the oar out of the water, the rower moves the hands away from the body and past the knees. The body follows the hands, until the rower is ready for the next catch.
Race strategy
1At start
Crews row fastest in the opening third of a mile to give them the best strategic advantage.
2Most of the race course
They ease off thereafter, settling in a steady rhythm, to work off built up lactic acid in their muscles. With obstacles, bridges, and turns, rowing steady is challenging.
3Final push
With conserved energy, they increase their stroke rate in the final third of a mile.
Know your boats
There are two types of boats and rowers:
Sculler vs. sweepsers
Scullers are rowers that row with an oar in each hand. Sweep rowers row with one oar in both hands.
Sculls
Single scull
Double scull
Quad scull
Sweeps
Pairs sweep
Fours sweep
Eights sweep
Navigating the Charles
An Olympic race course is like a drag race. The Head of the Charles feels more like an Indy Car track and steeplechase event combined. Bridges, errant race boats, buoys, ducks and geese, and passing boats need to be navigated over the three-mile course. Add turns and you can see how it is challenging to steer an optimal line.
Rowing as a team
No one oarsman will win a race through an individual performance. The eight rower shell rows as a unit with each member playing an important, slightly different, role.
Bow pair
12Two and one make up the Bow Pair. As the first blades to catch the water at the front of the boat, they must be the sharpest members of the crew at the beginning of the stroke. Together they keep the boat balanced in the water.
Engine room
3456The most powerful and heaviest rowers row are here. Being closer to the boat’s center of mass and buoyancy, the rowers focus more on pulling as hard as they can than on balancing the boat.
7 seat
7The translator for the front rowers on the boat, seat seven takes Stroke’s rhythm and acts. The rest of the crew responds to his actions.
The stroke
8A strong rower with excellent technique, this rower sets the rhythm and number of strokes per minute the rest of the crew must follow.
Coxswain
CThe coxswain or “cox,” steers the boat, encourages the crew, and monitors the stroke rate.

SOURCES: USRowing; Head of the Charles Regatta; “The Head of the Charles Regatta: First 50,” John Powers

James Abundis/ Globe Staff