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A Guide to Adapting Rowing for Masters Rowers

A Guide to Adapting Rowing for Masters Rowers

Hi friends. It’s Rebecca again, and today, I want to address something very few people talk about—adapting rowing. 

While there is adaptive rowing for the differently-abled, in this article, I want to talk about making changes or adapting rowing to our needs as we age. 

I suppose I could have called this “making rigging changes for old people”, but I think “adapting rowing” to your age and condition is a more apt and all-inclusive term.

While Masters rowers are no different than most other rowers, the fact is that things change as we age. If that’s true for you, then why not consider making rigging changes to accommodate that? 

Regular competitors know that flexibility and strength change as we get older, so I suggest that we stop pretending that we will be 35 forever and make a few adjustments. 

Let’s talk about how we can re-assess our rigging and set up the boat differently to everyone’s benefit. 

Comfort in the Shell

What is the goal of rigging for both sweep rowing and sculling for Master rowers? It is to improve the rower’s ability to move through the entire stroke cycle and be comfortable while doing it. 

master rowers training on water

For those over 50 years of age, their most important goals should be prevention of injury, strength training, and performance improvement—in that order. 

We want to avoid injury at all costs not only because of the pain involved but also because, as we age, our ability to recover slows down. 

This means that a 35-year-old may take 6 weeks to fully recover from a pulled muscle, while a 65-year-old may take 3 months! 

Don’t let anyone tell you that “no pain equals no gain.” I say that no pain means you are doing it right! 

Now, let’s talk about adjustments that we can make to the shell and oars. 

Adjusting the Shell and Oars

Master Rowers show how to measure row boat oars

There are parts of the boat and oars that are easily changed and some that aren’t, and I grouped these items according to the ease or difficulty of adjusting them. 


  • The length of the oar(s) 
  • The oar inboard
  • The seat height 
  • The foot stretcher position 
  • The oarlock height 


  • The oar handle size
  • The slide/track position
  • The shoe height 


  • The foot stretcher angle or rake
  • The rigger pin position (span or spread)
  • The rigger pin pitch 

I’m basing this mainly on the amount of time, skill, and tools required to make a change. If you have your own shell, you can make modifications permanently, whether they are difficult or easy. 

However, on a club boat or a borrowed boat, you will probably want to limit your changes to the easier ones. 

For example, if you are using a club boat that has snap-lock type washers on the oarlocks, you will find that it’s very easy to change the oarlock height, even on the water. 

On the other hand, changing your slide position is fairly easy on land but very difficult on the water. 

I believe that knowledge is power, so knowing what is easy to change is a good place to start. 

This is why I often say that rowers should have at least some basic knowledge about rigging, how it works, and how to make simple changes or repairs. 

Important Rowing Rig Positions for Masters Rowers

As Masters rowers, what you lose in recovery ability, you make up for with many years of experience (in most cases), training abilities, knowledge, and willpower to stick with a consistent program. 

team of master rowers showing rowing boat rigging

There are a few important rowing rig positions that Masters rowers may find helpful. 

  1. The sill of the oarlock should be relative to the water
  2. The shoe height should be relative to the seat height
  3. The oar handle should be relative to the body at the finish (for both sweep and sculling) 

Make your adjustments as needed and you will find that your comfort in the shell translates to less fatigue during training. 

Positions Rowers Should Achieve

While many will be able to get into the positions I’m about to mention when the shell is stationary, it’s important to see that these same rowers can get into these positions while rowing. 

Some of the fixed positions that you should be able to manage include: 

  1. Mid-recovery oar spoons capable of square blades above the water surface
  2. Full compression at the catch, meaning vertical shins, hips square off from the pin, and oar spoons buried under the water
  3. For scullers, the finish blades should be buried under the water, wrist and forearms should be flat and the elbows should be at 90 degrees to the oar shaft, with the thumbs brushing the lower rib cage 
  4. For sweep rowing, finish blades should be buried under the water, outside hand thumb brushing over the lower rib cage

I hope these tips give you clear points to check during the rowing stroke cycle. Have someone film you or your crew if you aren’t sure that you are maintaining these positions as you row, especially after you start to become tired. 

Easy Rowing Rigging Fixes for Masters

For every problem there’s a solution, right? (Or so I’ve been told!) 

Here are a few fixes that I’ve found to work well for common problems: 


Guide of Rowing Rigging Fixes for Masters Rowers

You will find that solving most rigging issues are a combination of recognizing the basic problem and then knowing what you can try to change as a solution to this problem. 

I suggest making only one change at a time, go rowing for a bit, and see how this change works before you add another change or try a completely new adaptation. 

At the End of the Day

Believe it or not, the average age at the regatta is 50 years of age for men and 47 for women, but I’ve seen plenty of athletes in the 65-85 age range! 

Team of Master Rowers showing proper oar length

This means that no matter what your age, you can still learn to row and row competitively while enjoying fitness, camaraderie, and friendly races. 

We modify many things as we age to make our lives easier, so there is no reason not to modify your shell’s rigging to make yourself more comfortable if necessary. 

Rowing is a terrific sport and one that doesn’t come with age limitations. As long as you are willing to learn the proper technique to avoid injury and you want to compete with others your own age, there is a place in the boat and on the water for you! 

Keep rowing, folks, it helps us age happily and beautifully!