Breathing technique while rowing.

Hello Rowers,

It came to my attention that breathing technique is not a commonly understood in rowing.
I had two Olympic coaches, Harry Mahon, and Marty Aikten.  They were respectively from New Zealand and Australia.
Harry and Marty taught me to row effortlessly.
Here is in words what such rowing technique is:  At the catch ready to engage the leg drive, the upper body is at a “forward body angle” with the lower back supported so that the tilt occurs by hinging at the hip joint.  The shoulders are set forward relaxed, arms are straight at the elbow, handle held in the finger tips.  The head neck and back form an ergonomic line.  The shins are vertical, and for most the ball of the foot is connected to the foot board, while the heels are off the board.  
The drive is started through the legs, the heels descend onto the foot board as soon as the first quarter of the seat travels on the track.  The body angle starts engaging the swing in the last quarter of the leg drive, when the legs are the most powerful and the seat travels the least.  Engaging the upper body swing in the last quarter of the leg drive is key to being able to lever the short yet powerful travel of the seat/body.
The finish position has a supported lower back.  The upper body is slightly beyond vertical.  The forearms are parallel to the ground/water.  Wrists are flush with the back of the hand, forearm, and first two row of knuckles.  Chest is “out” because throughout the entire stroke cycle the back is ALWAYS supported.  The handle travels to the body through the CONTRACTION of the latissimus muscle.
Recovery has the entire body relaxed.  Hands travel away from the chest.  Arms and upper body REST on the handle of the oars or the handle of the rowing machine.  As the arms straighten out at the elbow, the shoulders and then the upper body follow, HINGING at the HIP JOINT.  The knees stay straight until the hamstrings feel engaged, the rolling back into the catch occurs because of the contraction of the hamstring, AND NOT THE contraction of the hip flexor.
Key to efficient rowing is to HANG off the leg drive, letting the legs do the work,  while the shoulders and arms hang straight.  
Therefore breathing is key to the above technique:  Absolute relaxation occurs through exhaling.  With lose lungs, hanging of the leg drive is natural.  As the acceleration progresses and the upper body swings OPEN the lungs fill with air and provide a strong finish position.  
At higher intensity the breathing is doubled up.
Some rowers breath in on the recovery and exhale at the finish.  This leads to a shorter stroke length and early use of the upper body.  A the finish when exhaling the posture “crumbles” on the lower back, and usually knees buckle, instead of staying straight to connect through the foot board.
That is it for now.
Xeno Muller, Olympic gold and silver medalist, indoor rowing, rowing technique.
Xeno Muller, Olympic gold and silver medalist, writes about indoor rowing, rowing technique, coaching, staying motivated and injury free.
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4 thoughts on “Breathing technique while rowing.”

  1. Xeno,

    Yes, this breathing is important (and confusing to me).

    I have always thought, and been taught, inhale on the recovery, hold breath through drive, and exhale on hands away.

    You put it opposite.

    Of the top international scullers, do most agree with you? I would think with something so fundamental it would be only one way, but you obviously have had huge success with your method.

    And does double breaths change this? Is that what you used on 2km races, what about head races?

    And how would double breathing work, sequence-wise.

    thanks for the great advise.

  2. Hello,
    Because I was short and heavy in comparison to other scullers, I had to make sure I rowed efficiently. What you see at the Olympics is for most of the time far from being highly efficient. The one super example for great rowing technique is demonstrated by Kathrin Rutschow Stomporofski at the 2004 Olympics when she won the gold in the women's single scull. Her technique was superb, however, to be honest, I have not checked how she breathed. There is going be a book that will come out soon, by a writer called Peter Malleroy, about the evolution of rowing technique, a true treasure trove.
    You asked about doubling up with the breathing when the going gets tough. For me it was key that I would roll into the catch by relaxing my body and that is only possible by exhaling.
    Rowing is the succession of strokes that are in comparison to weight lifting very light, therefore the need to protect the back with lungs full of air is not a necessity. Does this help you?

  3. Do you have an ISBN NR or some more information on this book?
    Sounds very promising.

    Since I am also of a more short and heavy build I am going to try your breathing technique to see how it works.

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