Olympian Pete Reed's Rowing Form Guide

Olympic rower Pete Reed on a rowing machine
(Image credit: Unknown)

“Rowing is one of the best forms of cardiovascular exercise because it provides a whole-body workout and isn’t load-bearing, so it’s great if you’ve had joint injuries in the past,” says Pete Reed, whose performance at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 helped his four-man crew win gold. “A rowing stroke breaks down into four parts, but they are performed together in a fluid and controlled action. The smoother the action, the more efficient the stroke.”

The catch “Reach forward with knees bent and arms extended, with your body leaning towards the flywheel. Hold your head high. Your arms should be straight, your shoulders relaxed and your back neutral.”

The drive “The drive begins with the legs and back doing all the work. Straighten the legs and push through your back. Your arms should remain straight until the end of the drive when your knees are almost straight, so keep your shoulders relaxed. Pulling with your arms too early will reduce leg power and you may hit your knees with the handle.”

The finish “Retract your shoulder blades and pull the handle into the abs. Any higher and it will make you lean back too far, but any lower and it will get caught by your knees. The legs should be straight and the body leaning slightly back.”

The recovery “After the finish, begin the recovery by letting your hands move back towards the flywheel. Always let your arms straighten before bending your legs to avoid hitting your thighs as the seat moves forward, which would make you lose all your momentum.’”

The catch (again) “The recovery takes you back to the catch position as your arms straighten and your knees bend up, ready to pull again. Make sure your legs do all the work during the drive and don’t pull with your arms until it’s complete. This will allow your action to be as continuous as a conveyor belt and is the only way to ensure that your stroke is as efficient as possible.”

Once you’ve mastered your rowing technique, put it to good use by attempting these rowing workouts, this rowing workout plan or challenge yourself with this ultimate 2K rowing plan.

Nick Hutchings worked for Men’s Fitness UK, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Nick worked as digital editor from 2008 to 2011, head of content until 2014, and finally editor-in-chief until 2015.