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 good drive is one where the rowers:

  • push with their legs,
  • allow the core muscles, lats, and arms to engage in order to connect the boat 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. Notice how the shoulders are ahead of the hips as the legs start to push back.

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 with the shoulders ahead of the hips, the bum forward on the seat, and the blade fully buried. This comes from a good recovery.

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

When the legs are almost flat and the handle is moving over your knees, use the momentum from the legs to swing back from the hips. The handle should speed up as it passes over your knees. 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.

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

Note: ensure that you bury the blade fully before you push with the legs. The timing of these moves is critical; they must be quick but precise. The coxswain may call that you are ‘missing water’ if you move the blade before it is fully buried in the water.

Leg drive tips and key points

  • A good recovery and catch are key to a good drive.
  • The blade must be in the water before you push with the legs.
  • It is important that you think of the oar as a lever to move the boat versus thinking about moving water.
  • Engage your core muscles so that you connect your leg power to the oar handle and can move the boat effectively.
  • Use your bodyweight effectively – use the legs first to get the body moving and once you have that momentum you can use your legs and body swing from the hips to accelerate the boat
  • Allow the back to open or swing at its natural point – wait for it; find the timing
  • Keep the leg movement powerful and fast throughout the drive, even as the hips and back join in, keep pushing on the foot board
  • Control the oar handle so that the hands follow a straight path from the catch position to the body. The blade should follow a straight path 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 direct it straight back into your body, not down into your lap.
  • Ensure that your upper body is steady at the finish so that you have a solid platform for the arm draw.

Common mistakes

  • Starting the drive by lifting the head and shoulders up and back instead of pushing with the legs – the cox may call that you are ‘rowing it in’ or you are ‘missing water.’
  • 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.
  • Releasing pressure on the legs too early – continue to push with the legs through the entire drive.
  • Moving your upper 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

The drive checklist

Use the following checklist to work on specific aspects of the drive as you practice on the erg or in the boat. Choose one or two skills and work on them for a couple of minutes at a time.

During the drive, you Yes/No
setup in a strong position with vertical shins, good posture and loose shoulders
push with your legs and brace/engage your core to start the drive
keep your arms straight and do not grab or pull
get your heels down quickly and push through your whole foot
keep your hands and shoulders relaxed allowing your hands to grip the handle as you push on the foot board
hang your weight off the handle, feeling a connection through your lats as you push through your core/hips
keep your shoulders in front of your hips during the initial part of the drive
use your hip hinge with your legs to generate more handle speed as it moves over your knees
drive horizontally avoiding any vertical movement of your shoulders, head or hands
stay connected to the foot board at all times