The drive is the part of the stroke when the rower users the oar as a lever to move the boat. The legs, body, and arms work together in a specific sequence and coordination of movements to propel the boat forward and keep it steady so that it can travel fast.

Many people believe that rowing is mostly about pulling the oar handle. In fact, the legs are much more powerful than the arms and are critical to a powerful drive. A fast boat is one where the rowers:

  • push with their legs,
  • allow the core muscles, lats, and arms to engage in order to connect the feet to the handle,
  • and coordinate/overlap the movements of legs, back, and arms.

Body positions and execution

Below is a picture of a rower as she is executing the initial part of the drive.

Image courtesy of concept2

To execute a perfect drive:

Before you initiate the drive, ensure that you are set and ready with the arms fully extended, the body forward at the hips, the bum forward on the seat, and the blade fully buried. This comes from a good recovery and a sharp catch.

Initiate the drive by the pushing against the foot board. Engage your core muscles to connect the oar handle to the footboard. As you push with your legs, keep the angle of your body but ensure that it and the oar handle moves with your bum.

When the legs are almost flat, use the momentum from the legs to swing back from the hips. Keep your head and shoulders relaxed.

Use the momentum from the leg drive and back swing to draw the handle straight into your body with your arms. Your outside hand should do most of the work and your elbows should finish past your body.

Engage your core muscles and keep pressure on the foot board as you finish the stroke to maintain a stable position at the finish.

Note: it is critical to work on timing at the initial part of the drive to ensure that the blade is buried before you push with the legs. The coxswain may call that you are ‘missing water’ because you move the blade before it is fully buried in the water.

Key points

  • A good recovery and catch are key to a good drive.
  • It is important that you think of the oar as a lever to move the boat versus thinking about moving water.
  • Do not the push with the legs before the blade is in the water.
  • Engage your core muscles so that you connect your leg power to the oar handle and can move the boat effectively.
  • Control the oar handle so that the hands follow a straight path from the catch position to the body. The blade should move straight through the water (just under the surface).
  • Your shoulders should move back, not up.
  • Keep the handle moving at the finish of the drive and ensure that you pull it straight back into your body, not down into your lap.
  • Ensure that your upper body is steady so that you have a solid platform for the arm draw.

Common mistakes

  • Starting the drive by lifting the shoulders up and back instead of pushing with the legs.
  • Shooting the tail – pushing your bum back without actually moving the handle, the blade, or the boat.
  • Swinging the back and pulling with the arms before using the legs. Be sure that you are using the correct drive sequence – legs, body, arms.
  • Moving your body forward at the finish of the drive to meet the handle.


Drills to develop a good drive:

  • Tempo/ratio rowing – super slow recovery with a quick catch and powerful leg drive
  • On the erg – reverse pick drill