How the Rowing Athlete Prepares for Military Training

Trevor Weaser, third from the left, rows in a competition at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass. Weaser recently left behind the sport he loves to become a Marine Corps officer (Photo by: Jennifer Webster).

Though it is not a very common sport in high school, there are regions in the United States where rowing is very popular and the sport produces many high school and collegiate athletes who later decide to join the military and serve. The rowing athlete brings many tangible and intangibles skills and strengths to the table with a few weaknesses however. Below is a list of the strengths and weaknesses of the athlete who is part of a crew team.

Rowing Strengths for the Military Recruit (Intangibles)

Mental Toughness – Rowing practices are tough. Not just physically and mentally, but most practices are early in the morning when the water is flat. Regionally, these mornings can be very cold. So not only do you have to wake up early, get cold, and physically push yourself to a level of borderline exhaustion (max VO2) which requires some mental toughness to push through that aerobic and anaerobic pain.

Competitor / Teammate – Rowing is an ultimate TEAM competition.  Perfect timing of the stroke set on a pace on perfect “oneness” is required to make the boat move perfectly and as efficiently as possible.  Rowers join the military with a mindset to be a competitor, but more importantly - a teammate. Being a helpful supporter to fellow teammates, recruits, and other members of the military is engrained in the rower’s training and history of practice and competitions. Small unit teamwork will be a natural progression for the rower.

Rowing Strengths for the Military Recruit (Tangibles)

Big Pulling Strength and Cardio Endurance – Rowers are highly advanced cardiovascular athletes. They have a remarkable cardiovascular endurance and for a nonimpact sport like rowing, running is done near daily. They have incredible upper body strength and muscle stamina making PT tests easy – pullups and situps. They will also gain strength during the off-season from lifting weights as well as higher repetition calisthenics. Pushing anaerobic threshold is tough and builds a strong and tough athlete and the rower is up there with the toughest.

Obstacle Courses – Rowers do very well with obstacle courses as long as tend to have good technique from doing from pulling so much that rope climbs are easy and they have very long-lasting grip strength. The grip of the rower is second to none which can be a weakness to many on events like these. As long as the rower has spent some time out of the boat working on agility, the O course should not be an issue anaerobically or strength wise.

Rowing Athlete Weaknesses for the Military Recruit

Specifics – Depending upon the branch of service, as long as the typical rower does not need to swim, he will do quite well in the military. However, no matter what service, the rower will need to do pushups.  Pushups can be a weakness for the rower.  In fact, any pushing exercise like overhead press, isometric holds overhead, bench press, dips, and pushups.  If the pulling of the rower is not balanced very well, any push exercise can be a challenge.  So – get practicing on the pushing exercises too.

Injury Prevention / Foundation Building – The solid foundation of muscle stamina, and endurance and pulling strength enable the rower to have a strong foundation with joint strength of the lower and upper body and a very strong back.  However, a typical weakness can be agility and mobility. Getting better at land foot speed in order to move quickly without being susceptible to typical traumatic injuries like sprains, falls, bumps and bruises.


Thank you for considering service in our country’s military. Regardless of your athletic background, becoming a tactical athlete requires taking your current strengths and molding them to the service requirements and focusing on current weaknesses that could be detrimental to the new recruit or spec ops student. If you are a current athlete, keep it up, but in the off season, get specific to the branch of service that you are considering. You may need to add in some rucking, swimming, more speed and agility running, and perhaps lifting so the load bearing events of rucking are not an uncommon event.

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