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Rowing Fitness Testing

There are many physical attributes that are important for success in rowing. It is very important that rowers have a very good endurance capacity. Power and strength endurance are also important. Body size and composition also play an important role in the success of a rower - a low body fat level and being tall with a good reach. For more details see our discussion of the Fitness Components for Rowing.

Listed below are the different components of fitness and some suggested tests. There are tests created specifically for rowers, and many other tests that you could use. See also an example of tests that were used for the recruiting rowers for the AIS eTID program and the Australian Rowing NTID Program.


Athletes struggling to keep within their weight category need to have their body composition monitored regularly. Long levers of the arms and legs are important to obtain maximum propulsion. Athletes with an arm span greater than their height indicate greater lever length. Low body fat improves the power-to-weight ratio. See more about anthropometry for rowing.

Some of the anthropometric tests you could do include: Height, Sitting Height, Arm Span, Body mass and Skinfolds.


Flexibility is the ability to move segments of the body throughout their range. Good flexibility for rowers is important to have a large range of motion in the rowing stroke. Flexibility of the hamstrings and back is important for reaching forward as you come up the slide into the catch position.

An appropriate test of flexibility is Sit and Reach test.

power and endurance are important in rowing racingpower and endurance are important in rowing racing

Muscular Power

Muscular power is a combination of speed and strength - the ability of a muscle to produce as much strength in the fastest possible time. In rowing, it is very important to accelerate and move the boat quickly.

A test for muscular power is the vertical jump for leg power, and 500m rowing ergometer test for whole body rowing specific power.

Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance is the ability to contract the muscles repeatedly in the face of fatigue, important in rowing where high intensity is needed to be maintained throughout the race.

Muscular endurance tests include sit-up, chin-up and push-up tests.


The ability to produce maximum force, important in rowing to exert maximum force against the water with each stroke. You can test strength using one-rep max tests (1RM) for bench pull, squat.


Coordination is the ability of the body to link a series of movements together in a one fluid motion, such as in the rowing motion, which is comprised of many different movements.

A simple test for coordination is the wall toss test.

Reaction Time

Reaction time is the ability to respond to an external stimulus. This is important in rowing as you need a fast reaction time at the start of a race, where important seconds can be lost.

There are many reaction time tests. A simple test is the stick reaction time.

Aerobic 'Endurance' Capacity

The aerobic capacity is the ability of the heart and lungs to provide the body with oxygen for exercise. This is important in rowing for the cardiovascular system to continuously provide the muscle with adequate levels of oxygen throughout the race.

A beep test can be used to measure aerobic capacity. A more accurate and rowing specific test would be measuring VO2max on a rowing ergometer, or endurance test using an arm/leg cycle ergometer.

Rowing Specific

While field tests are important to identify which areas of fitness may need improvement and to monitor changes in fitness with training, it is also important to make sure the tests are specific to the sport of rowing. The best way to do this is to conduct tests on a rowing ergometer. Such tests include the 500m and 2km and 5km rowing ergo test, and the Rowing Beep Test.

Example Results for a Rower

Here is an example of a series of tests performed on Australian Olympic rower, Drew Ginn, conducted in 2009 (as detailed in the Herald Sun Newspaper). A summary of his results is in the table below. He has a very good aerobic score on the VO2max test, as expected for a rower. More important though is his absolute VO2max score (l/min not per kg body weight), as rowers have their body weight supported by the boat.

Fitness Test Result
body mass (kg) 85.7
height (cm) 195.6
Skinfolds, sum of 7 sites (mm) 33.3
Grip Strength (kg) 52
1RM Bench Press (kg) 100
Vertical Jump (cm) 53
Sit and Reach (cm) +18
VO2max (ml/kg/min) 67

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