What should you expect from rowing as you age?

These observations are from my experience and there certainly are variations between different people but these are some trends.

Womens Quad racing starts

Port Chalmers United womens quad

20s and 30s

If you are a former student athlete and you continue to train as you start your career, work, or family, you can maintain a high level of fitness close to that of your university years and even surpass that fitness. Provided that you are living a reasonable “athletic-lifestyle” your body has a great recovery capacity and you can certainly push your limits. Many single scullers reach their peak in their late 20s early 30s. In masters rowing, high-energy athletes in this age group often train 6 to 9 sessions per week including land and water workouts. If you are new to the sport 3 to 4 sessions per week will provide a good base for technique, for additional fitness you can include more land-based training.


You will often have limited time in this decade and have to weave your rowing in between your career and family demands. So the key here is making sure that you get adequate training to support the level of your goals and to put a priority on quality workouts versus quantity. Getting enough sleep and recovery is an important training factor not to be overlooked. Top masters in this age group are likely to train 5 to 7 sessions per week; newcomers should aim for 3 to 4 rowing sessions complemented with cross training until a good base is established.


This is one of the most competitively-minded groups in masters rowing; especially among women. This is often a time when your career is well-developed, the children are a bit older allowing more personal time for pursuing rowing goals and motivation is very high. It can also be a time when many new masters join the sport because they now have some additional time to follow personal interests or have the opportunity to pursue athletic goals they had earlier in life but put on hold.

With your 50s come metabolic and hormonal changes in both men and women. Sleep patterns may be disrupted, unwanted weight gain can happen easily, so diet and sleep need to be watched carefully. If you are lacking sleep at night it is important to take short power naps before or after training so that your workout has quality. Recovery has to be monitored more closely and if you are feeling run down, boost your protein intake and take additional rest. Always err on the side of caution. The top competitors in this age group train 5 to 7 sessions per week. Newcomers must take care not to over do it, your body needs time to adapt to the training and doing too much too soon can cause over-use injuries or set backs. Your body must adapt on the cellular level and this takes time.


The body undergoes greater metabolic changes during the 50s decade and so your 60s can be a fairly stable decade provided you have no major or unfortunate health issues to deal with. Retirement offers more training time, at much as one can tolerate safely, and also allows for more recovery time. With each additional year of age, recovery becomes paramount to success. You may not be hitting personal best times compared to when you were 40 but you can certainly maintain a high level of competitiveness and fitness through this decade and keep your erg score pretty steady. Technical improvements become more and more critical as the ability to increase hours of training is limited for recovery reasons. It’s far better to get coaching and gain boat speed technically than trying to pile on extra training hours. Maintaining flexibility, proper recovery, and injury prevention must be closely attended. Top masters in this age group train 5 to 6 sessions per week. Novices may want to aim for 3 sessions and gradually build up as tolerated.


Seasoned rowers, in their 70s are some of the first humans to have been athletic most of their lives. This age group is no less competitive than any younger age group especially on the international masters level. Athletes have reported to me that when they turn 70 their body goes through another major change as it did in their 50s, primarily that the body’s response to exercise becomes more unpredictable. 

Typical workouts now require much more recovery, two to three days compared to one day in years past but it can change from week to week. The main factor here is to continue your training but be flexible to adjust for your recovery needs. Some days you may need to simply go for a walk if it means the next day you can again have a quality workout. You may want to look at varying your weekly schedule to be one day on one day off or two training days followed by a rest day, or include active rest days between harder rows. Again, it is very individual and one has to be prepared to adjust as your body dictates. There is every reason to continue to get coaching to row better, to maintain flexibility and muscle mass, and to maximise your time on the water. It’s also a great way to get out in team boats and row for health, friendship, and well-being.

80s and 90s

This age class is growing and I suspect it will only continue to grow in years to come. Already 70-year olds tell me that they can’t wait to move into the next age group. I repeat all the same points for the 70-year olds with an even great emphasis on recovery and injury prevention. Always err on the side of caution. Safety concerns should be paramount in conjunction with health and well-being.


I am sure this age group will expand.


Lee Spear – World Rowing’s man in NZ

How does a kiwi get to represent the Pacific region at the highest level for World Rowing?

I was reading the World Rowing website and noticed a formal announcement that Lee Spear (New Zealand) was retiring from his position. I was intrigued and delighted – it’s great that we have local folks working for global organisations and so I decided to ask Lesley Milne (who knows everyone) if she could introduce me… 

Lee Spear FISA umpire

Lee Spear – World Rowing Umpire

Lee told me a bit about his background in rowing (a bit at University and then a renewed interest when his children started rowing). He qualified as a NZ umpire in 2000 and as an international umpire in 2007 after which he was appointed the Competition Director for the 2010 World Rowing Championships at Karapiro. This was  a giant job involving responsibility for the umpire, umpiring launches, control commission, weighing and safety.  Lee confesses it was a bit more than he’d expected, it took 3 years’ work but he got noticed for his expertise.

His interest in the administration of international rowing had begun. He said “I like to make sure things are set up and run correctly.” So when work took him to Vanuatu for 3 years in 2011 he was instrumental in getting an international rowing programme going there – the crews got some creditable results too. 

Having come to the notice of World Rowing, they invited Lee to join the World Rowing Council as the “Continental Representative for Oceania”. The job is to represent World Rowing in this region. Lee is only the third person ever to hold this position – Don Rowlands did 23 years, John Coates of Australia did 17 years, and Lee has just completed 7 years until forced to retire, being 70 last year.

What does the World Rowing Council do?

Lee explained that the Council is responsible for ensuring compliance with the statutes and rules of  World Rowing. They make decisions around allocation of venues for international events (World Cups, World Championships) these follow an elaborate evaluation process. There are usually 3 Council meetings a year of which two are in Europe and one is normally after the World Championships. 

It may sound glamorous travelling to Europe, but Lee assured me that usually he went to London, stayed at an airport hotel for 3 days for the Council meeting, and then got on an airport bus back to Heathrow to come home. The travel wasn’t much fun. 

Lee has been involved in some meaty issues during his time ranging from gender identity (he drafted the rules to establish a gender advisory panel), lightweights at the Olympics, and dealing with the fallout from the Russian Olympic drugs scandal. He mentions that he’s particularly proud of the gender equity in World Rowing Executive Committee and Council (50:50) and the recent change to include the Chair of the Athletes Commission (currently, Frida Svensson) on the Executive Committee.

Mostly his expertise has been called on for the Rules Working Group. Every Olympic Cycle the rules of racing are reviewed. Changes can be made by Congress after each Olympics. There’s a small team who spend time reviewing the rules and rewriting them to reflect new situations and needs. His legal brain has been much in demand for this work.  Notwithstanding that he has retired from the World Rowing Council, he has recently been reappointed to the Rules Working Group for the current Olympic Cycle to 2024.

Is the LA short course rumour true?

Yes it is true, the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic rowing regatta will be run on about a 1,500 meter course at Long Beach.  Lee explained, “The Long Beach location was chosen for many good reasons. There is a lake venue but it is a long way away and has no buildings and no amenities meaning everything would have to be brought in compared to the established Long Beach location.  Long Beach will be a dynamic rowing venue.” 

The shorter course requirements are being reviewed by Paul Fuchs from the Technical Commission. He’s a naval architect and is working with other marine specialists on the movement of tide and current to ensure that the racing will be fair.  It’s likely the races will be at different times on different days.

These days Lee paddles his coastal single on Lake Tarawira when he’s not at home in Hamilton. And he hasn’t stopped working for Rowing – he is the current President of the Oceania Rowing Confederation, (ORCON) that includes Rowing Australia, Rowing New Zealand, the Vanuatu Rowing Association and the American Samoa Rowing Association.  The focus of ORCON is to grow the sport of rowing in the Pacific Island countries with an emphasis on coastal rowing as that is more suited to both the physical environment and the available athletes. Coastal rowing is also likely to be included as a sport in the 2028 Olympics at Los Angeles.

Types of coastal rowing boat

I have provided a focus on the basic dimensions of the boats used in this type of rowing.

Because the sport is so new to New Zealand it is unlikely many will be aware of what the sport is, and the boat differences between Coastal and traditional flat-water rowing in New Zealand.

In many aspects Coastal Rowing assists several areas of rowing that have been a challenge for rowers in the learning pathway to racing/rowing flat water boats as well as bringing a unique flavour of its own. This is a bonus over and above its racing in a category of its own.

Novice Rowing

They provide an easy pathway for novices learning to row. Their extra width provides stability which allows much faster technique coaching.

For Masters they provide instant stability that assists those with limited flexibility.

Tour/Adventure Rowing

The boats are designed to be “unswampable” allowing for greater safety when engaging in rowing adventures, they also accommodate a much larger range of the population because of their large volume. It is very difficult to adequately boat people over 100kg average in flat water boats.

This has opened up a much larger range of “adventure” possibilities because the boats’ sea-keeping abilities have significantly improved from the previous designs.

World Rowing Coastal endurance and Beach sprint racing

Here the boats come into their own, as previously mentioned the large volume means racing is held in very rough conditions and adds to the excitement and complexity of being a fast coastal racer, without sacrificing safety. Not only do navigation skills come into play but the ability to catch and ride waves as well as strength and endurance play a part.

Below is a chart giving the basic differences in size and weight to flat water boats. The Oars and sculls used are by and large the same both in size and design and this is true for most of the fittings, shoes, foot stretchers etc. It is valid to note however that these boats are relatively new to the rowing family and significant development is ongoing to customise them within the rules.

Please note also that the World Rowing (FISA) rulebook goes into greater detail on the minimum width rule to eliminate narrow boats with wide decks from attempting to compete with an advantage. If you have aspirations to design your own boat, check the rules!!

compare coastal flat water rowing boats,

Rowing Boat weights comparing flat water and coastal rowing boat specifications.

As always if you have any questions don’t hesitate to get in touch. greg@customcarbon.co.nz

This article first appeared in the Legion of Rowers newsletter

Covid Rowing Announcement

Good Afternoon Associations, Clubs, Schools and Universities,

On Thursday 2 December at 11.59pm, all of New Zealand will move to the COVID-19 Protection Framework. Auckland will move to traffic light red, while settings for the rest of New Zealand are due to be announced on Monday 29 November 2021

We are currently reviewing the new framework and developing guidelines for the ongoing delivery of community rowing across Aotearoa, before publishing any guidelines, Rowing NZ must wait for final guidance and information from Sport NZ, which we expect to be on Monday 29 November 2021.

Sport NZ is the crown entity responsible for sport and recreation in New Zealand and are working collaboratively with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, to establish how sport and recreation will fit into the Covid Protection Framework. We have today meet with a large number for other National Sport organisations and Sport New Zealand to further understand the new Covid Framework.

After receiving final guidance and information from Sport NZ, Rowing NZ will work to interpret the guidelines and make them specific for the sport of Rowing. We plan to engage with our key stakeholders in the regatta world (likes of KRI, SRI, Secondary School Rowing, Uni Sport) along with setting up a small refence group to discuss specific guidance for club and associations activity in particular around the use of club facilities.

Following this, we will release our guidance under the traffic light system, you can expect this mid next week. Rowing NZ is committed to following and promoting government guidelines and delivering rowing in a way that protects the safety of our community.

Key dates:

  • 26 November/Today: Anticipated date of Sport NZ sector advice
  • 29 November: Cabinet will confirm the decision to move to the new traffic light system, along with what colour various regions/cities/towns will be in. Sport New Zealand will circulate their final guidelines around framework settings for Sport
  • 1 December: Anticipated release of Rowing NZ framework under the traffic light system, this will initially be around the flow on to clubs, followed by the flow on Regattas.
  • 2 December: At 11.59pm, all of New Zealand will move to the COVID-19 Protection Framework. Auckland will move to Red. Settings for the rest of New Zealand are yet to be decided on. Every indication we have received in discussion with Sport NZ, including the Minister of Sport and Recreation, has been that it will be either red or orange. They have said green is some way out into the future.


Should you have any questions in the meantime please feel free to make contact on the details below


 Mark Weatherall 

General Manager –Community and Development
Rowing NZ

Adapting Rigging for Masters Phyisology

Masters rowers fundamentally are no different from any other age group. However, regular competitors know that your strength and flexibility changes as you age and so it is helpful to re-assess rigging and boat set up regularly for masters training groups.

Comfort in the Boat

The goal of rowing and sculling boat rigging for masters is twofold

  • Be able to move through the stroke cycle
  • Be comfortable while doing it

Let’s start by reviewing the parts of a rowing boat which are capable of adjustment and the degree of difficulty involved in changing each.

  • Oar length easy to change
  • Oar inboard easy to change
  • Oar handle size moderately difficult to change
  • Seat height easy to change
  • Slide / track position moderately difficult to change
  • Foot Stretcher position easy to change
  • Shoe height moderately difficult to change
  • Foot stretcher angle / rake hard to change
  • Rigger pin position (span / spread) hard to change
  • Rigger pin pitch (fore/aft and lateral) hard to change
  • Oarlock height easy to change

My assessment of easy / moderate / hard is based on the amount of time, tools and skill needed to make a change.  For example, a club who uses snap-lock washers on the oarlocks will find it very easy to change the oarlock heights on the water.  Changing your slide position on the water is more challenging – but easy to do off the water with the boat on trestles. Adjusting the rigger pin takes tools, time and expertise and so is classified as hard.

Knowing what can be changed is a good starting point. Any change has to be made with reference to an “ideal” or preferred situation.  Therefore rowing groups should all know some basic principles of rigging which can be adapted for taller or shorter people.

Key Rowing Rig Positions for athletes

  1. Oar handle relative to the body at the finish (sweep and sculling)
  2. Shoe height relative to seat height
  3. Sill of oarlock relative to the water

There are some fixed positions that rowers should be able to achieve

  • Full compression at the catch, shins vertical, hips square off from the pin, oar spoons buried under the water
  • At the sculling finish blades buried under the water, wrist and forearms flat, elbows at 90 degrees to the oar shaft, thumbs brushing your lower ribs
  • At the sweep finish blades buried under the water, outside hand thumb brushes lower ribs
  • Mid-recovery oar spoons capable of square blades above the water surface

These give you clear points in the rowing stroke cycle to check against what your athletes actually do when they are rowing. Note that many will be able to get into these positions when the boat is stationary, check  if they actually do it while rowing continuously.

Easy rigging fixes for you to try

Problem: not enough space between the handles at the sculling finish

  • Move foot stretcher towards bow
  • Shorten inboard on oars [keep outboard the same if the athlete is a novice]

Problem: Handles can go past the body at the sculling finish

  • Move foot stretcher towards stern

Problem: Cannot get shins vertical at the catch

  • Lower shoes on foot stretcher and / or
  • Use a seat pad to raise seat height

Problem: Cannot get back rocked forward with shoulders in front of hips on recovery

  • Lower shoes on foot stretcher and / or
  • Use a seat pad to raise seat height – or two seat pads 

Problem: Cannot keep oars buried at the finish under the water

  • Lower oarlock height 
  • Use a seat pad to raise seat height

Problem: Tall athlete rowing with a shorter athlete

  • Set oarlocks high / low for the tall / short athlete
  • Shorten oar length and inboard for short athlete (keep outboard ratio the same)

Problem: Big shoes in the boat and athletes with smaller feet

  • Wear neoprene beach shoes inside the boat shoes
  • Raise the shoes as high as possible on the footstretcher so the heels are elevated

Most rigging fixes are a combination of recognising a problem and knowing what to try as a possible solution. As a rule, only make one change at a time, go rowing and see what the change is before making another change.

Marlene Royle and Rebecca Caroe coach at Faster Masters Rowing

Programs, video & technique for masters. https://fastermastersrowing.com/