The Art of Rowing

So, I’ve taken up a new sport. Whilst still maintaining my love and enthusiasm for climbing, over the summer I decided I’d like to try something more team-orientated. I’m awful at ball sports – having slightly odd knees and hips, running doesn’t suit me well and my foot-eye coordination leaves a lot to be desired. And so, unashamedly encouraged by our Olympic success, I thought rowing might work – my shoulders and arms are pretty strong from 9years of climbing, as is my core, so it all made sense. Sitting in a boat – how hard can it be, right?

I’ve been rowing now for a month. I go to the gym at least twice a week (10k on the bike, 2-3k on the ergo), attend a circuit training class (run by a crazy, ex-army Welshman who shouts a lot), I’m still climbing at least once a week as well as getting to a few trips here and there, and I now find myself on the chilly Thames every Saturday afternoon. It’s gruelling, it’s often painful, and it’s exhausting. It’s safe to say, I’m hooked. Rowing is an interesting (and incredibly British) sport, as it is a total body workout requiring strength, balance, stamina, and the ability to control several variables at once. In this way, it is not so dissimilar to climbing – when on a rock face, one has to contend with the weather, be aware of body position and stability, as well as safety aspects regarding gear. In a boat, you’re constantly battling to maintain its balance, keeping in time with the other rowers, and producing clean, strong strokes that will get you far, quickly. Preferably without killing any ducks

It is probably this mental requirement that attracted me to rowing initially – especially when sculling (rowing with two oars), you’re thinking about the way in which your arms cross over one-another. With sweep rowing (one oar) you’re body position alters as you twist your back, making your arms swing over and between your legs. There’s a lot to think about out there – not least the threat of falling into incredibly chilly water! But it’s wholly team-based – if one of you is out, the whole boat is thrown off-kilter and everyone has to work together to restore its equilibrium. The coxswain is there to not only guide you and help keep time, but also to encourage you, at this beginning stage at least.

For a very non-sporty person, I’ve suddenly found myself up early in lycra, itching to be in the gym, working out which high-energy snack will be best for the day. I’ve gone from book-worm to tracksuit-clad athlete (almost) in just a few weeks, and it has proved to so far be the best decision I’ve ever made. Not only is the exercise beginning to pay off physically, but I’m finding myself more focused, more alert (mostly), and generally more content. All that ‘stuff’ about endorphins… well, it’s most definitely true. To anyone looking to try something different, find huge satisfaction, and almost immediate progression, I’d recommend rowing. I don’t think I’m going to be looking back any time soon.

© The Guardian 2009

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