Although lightweight rowers can be considered as “small” heavyweight rowers, in reality their respective sports are two different disciplines. Lightweight rowers rely on their ideal body composition and perfect technique, while heavyweights on the other hand are characterized more by their general strength capabilities.
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Sports Scientist (PhD),
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Body-build of lightweight rowers
In lightweight rowing, the maximal body mass may reach 72.5 kg and 59 kg and the
average of a crew 70.0 kg and 57 kg in male and female rowers, respectively.
Although lightweight rowers can be considered as “small” heavyweight rowers, in reality
their respective sports are two different disciplines. Lightweight rowers rely on their ideal
body composition and perfect technique, while heavyweights on the other hand are
characterized more by their general strength capabilities.
It is of advantage for a rower to be tall with long arms that give the extra leverage. Ideally
the body mass of rowers should contain a high proportion of muscle mass, which
however, is somewhat complicated in lightweights due to the weight limit. Therefore ideal
body composition is very important for lightweights. Successful lightweights can reduce
their body fat by 2-5% without any changes in fat-free mass. However, if initial body fat
values are low, muscle mass decrease occurs.
Table 1. Comparison of main anthropometrical parameters of lightweight rowers
USA Olympic team (n=12)
Participants of world
Slater et al
Morris et al
Physique traits of lightweight rowers have
remained quite stable for the past two
decades (Figure 1), indicating that the weight
limits have a big impact on the body
composition of lightweight rowers and they
can not focus on building muscle mass. This
was also indicated in a study of Mäestu et al.
(2000), where 2000 m ergometer performance
of lightweight rowers was mainly characterized
(99,2%) by metabolic parameters (anaerobic
threshold and maximal oxygen consumption).
Although not precisely comparable with the
previously mentioned results, heavyweight
rowers’ performance was characterized by
61.5% using muscle mass and anaerobic
Figure 1. Somatotype of male lightweight
rowers from 1985 to 2005. Read more about
A successful lightweight rower has to be relatively tall (approximately 180-185 cm and
170-175 cm for males and females, respectively). Obtaining high proportion of muscle
mass means minimizing the body fat mass, contrary to heavyweights where body fat
mass is not monitored that strictly.
The performance of a lightweight rower depends more on the physiological parameters
compared to anthropometrical parameters.
• Hagerman F., Staron R. Seasonal variables among physiological variables in elite
oarsmen. Can J Appl Sports Sci, 1983, 8: 143 – 148.
• Jensen K. Test procedures for rowing. FISA Coach, 1994, 4: 1 – 6.
• Morris F., Payne W. Seasonal variables in the body composition of lightweight rowers.
Br J Sports Med, 1996, 30: 301 – 304.
• Mäestu J., Jürimäe J., Jürimäe T. Prediction of rowing performance from selected
physiological variables. Differences between lightweight and open class rowers.
Medicina Dello Sport, 2000, 53: 247-254.
• Slater GJ, Rice AJ, Mujika I, Hahn AG, Sharpe K, Jenkins DG. Physique traits of
lightweight rowers and their relationship to competitive success. Br J Sports Med,
2005, 39: 736-741.
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More related reading
Heavyweight to lightweight rowing (research)
A battle of rowing styles (technique analysis of lightweight rowers)
Rowing ergometer performance and World Rowing Championships
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