Rowing Crazy


“We Don’t Just Talk About Rowing
We Actually Row!”

“We Don’t Just Talk About Rowing – We Actually Row!”

Rowing Height Requirements – Can Shorter Athletes Succeed?

This post contains links that we may earn a small commission for at no cost to you read more

Rowing height requirements - Can shorter athletes succeed?

Hello, and welcome to Rowing Crazy. My name is Rachael Taylor, and I’m a professional rower and silver medal winner in the 2000 and 2002 Olympic Games.

Rachael Taylor - Profile Picture
Rachael Taylor

Would you like to do competitive rowing? You may have your eye on the Olympics or even local regattas, but someone rained on your parade when they said that you were too short, right?

Rubbish! It is true that taller people are the rule when it comes to rowing, but this doesn’t mean that shorter people will never be chosen for the team.

Let’s look at what average heights are and whether it really matters when it comes to competition.

Is There a Height Requirement in Rowing?

Rachael Taylor Sydney Olympics 2000 - pulling into the poontoon with olympic medals
Rachael Taylor Sydney Olympics 2000

The short answer is no. While there are plenty of body weight requirements, height (or a lack of it) is not an issue.

Yes, you will find that most rowers (male or female) tend to be tall, with long arms and legs.

This is because longer limbs mean a longer stroke length. A longer stroke length means more power output, which means a faster boat.

You can see why most coaches and coxswains tend to pick tall rowers for their team, but this still doesn’t mean that you can’t compete.

What Is the Average Heights for Male and Female Rowers?

average height for male and female rowers in different race categories - an infographic

We will need to break this down just a bit because the “average” varies depending on what type of race you are talking about.

For Olympic rowers, you will find that they are very tall, averaging:

  • Between 6 foot 3 inches and 6 foot 5 inches for the men
  • Typically 5 feet 11 inches to 6 feet one inch or more for the women

For National competitions, the heights are not that much different, but you will probably see a few shorter people, with the following average heights:

  • For men, it is 6 feet 1 inch
  • For women rowers, it is 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet tall

For lightweight rowers, the average heights are:

  • 6 feet for men
  • 5 feet 9 inches for women rowers

The last would be college rowing.

  • For women’s college rowing, you’ll see women of nearly all sizes, from 5 feet 6 inches on up.
  • For men, it is common to see 5 feet 10 inches and up.

Elite rowers need to be tall, but again, let me say that you don’t have to be tall to compete.

Do Tall Rowers Have an Advantage?

a male Ukrainian rower sculling solo on a lake

Yes, they certainly do.

Tall people tend to have longer arms and legs, which act as natural levers. As in many sports, longer arms and legs offer a mechanical advantage. Think basketball or boxing.

You do see shorter people in all types of sports, including the ones mentioned above, and you will see them in rowing, but not usually in Olympic rowing, other than the coxswains.

If you see applications for rowing teams, especially college teams, that ask for women 5′ 10″ or taller and men 6 feet or taller, don’t be discouraged.

Shorter people will end up in the bow seats because those positions rely more on skill and technique than strength or long-stroke length.

Let’s Talk about the Coxswains

a female coxswain shouting instructions at an all-male rowing team

This is where many shorter rowers end up. If you didn’t make the team, there is always the chance that you can be the coxswain.

Coxswains are the people you see (or that you barely see) sitting in the rear of the boat. They aren’t rowing, and many times, all you can see is their head.

The job of the coxswain is similar to college coaches. A good coxswain knows the raw athletic ability of every person on the team. They also know their weaknesses, their favorite pal, and all the factors that go into a good rowing crew member ( learn about crew positions ).

The coxswain must also know good technique and strategy. The cox will not only encourage their team, but they will also give directions depending on the race and the strategy they have chosen.

You may not be actively rowing, but as a coxswain, you literally control the boat. Think of yourself as the driver of a car. You aren’t the engine, the wheels, or the transmission, but you control how that power is used.

Tall, heavier rowers may power the shell, but it’s the coxswain who is in control. If you are shorter than average, consider taking on this very important role.

Can You Be 5’5″ and Still Be a Rower?

Maybe, maybe not.

If there are a great many other taller rowers in your college/club/team, chances are that you are not going to be chosen. You may be a backup in case of an emergency, but with so many taller rowers to choose from, you’ll probably be overlooked.

You can aspire for the coxswain’s position, which is a very crucial role in every rowing team, so take heart! Start learning about what coxswains do!

However, if your local club has a great many shorter rowers, then you have a shot at making the team!

What Is the Average Weight of a Rower?

Rachael Taylor Olympic Rower
Rachael Taylor Olympic Rower

There are strict rules when it comes to weight classification.

The average weight for women rowers is between 110 and 180 pounds. This is a huge difference, but it all depends on the race rules and the weight classification you want to enter.

For lightweight female rowers, you cannot compete if you weigh more than 130 pounds.

The average weight of a male rower is between 180 and 220 pounds.

For lightweight male rowers, you cannot compete in this division if you weigh more than 160 pounds.

There is no minimum weight, but there are plenty of maximum weight limits. You should also check that the average weight of the crew is within range.

Will College Coaches Ignore Me If I’m Short?

No, not at all.

One of the great things about taking rowing in college is that everyone will get their chance to row.

Your coach will probably pay a fair amount of attention to your rowing ergometer performance, so don’t neglect your time on the rowing machine ( learn how to improve your 2000 meter rowing time ) thinking that it’s not “real rowing.

male and female rowers wearing their team uniform and standing on the shoreline of a lake

Be sure to work on your technique. I’ve seen college coaches pick a shorter rower who had perfect technique over a taller rower who hadn’t worked as hard and didn’t get down the proper technique.

While rowing performance is all about generating power, and longer limbs can generate a lot of power, there are other positions you might get chosen for.

I think many rowing coaches will take a shorter hardworking athlete who takes criticism well and shows up for every training session over someone who is lazy but has the classic physical characteristics of an elite rower.

To Sum Things Up on Rower Height

Whether you are short or tall, chances are that there is a place for you.

Not everyone can be an Olympic rower, and not everyone has the time and dedication to be at an elite level, but I know that college coaches and your local club has a place just for you, no matter how short or tall you are!

There’s an old saying that goes something like, “If everyone was a lumberjack and there were no carpenters, we would all be sitting on logs.”

This means that there is a place in this world for everyone, and that includes shorter people in the world of competitive rowing!