Rowing is a power-endurance sport. It requires a person to exert themselves at maximum strength over an extended period of time. Rowing is also a finesse sport – it requires perfect timing, smooth body movement and exact control of the oar. The most important muscle in rowing is the back muscle. Rowers try to lean forward as much as they can at the start of the stroke so they can get the most use out of their back muscle. The arm muscles only come into play at the end of the stroke. When the rower can't lean back any further, he or she pulls the oar with the arms to finish off the stroke.
Because they are pulling the oar so hard, rowers have a tendency to squeeze the oar handle tightly. This causes the hand to cramp up and the forearms muscles to tire, so many rowers will wiggle their fingers when the oar is out of the water and they are leaning forward to start the next stroke. This relaxes the hand and forearm muscle and allows the blood to circulate through the hands and fingers of the rowers.
The perfect rower will have the oar blade only a few inches under the water during the stroke and just 6 to 12 inches over the top of the water when leaning forward to start the next stroke. This maximizes efficiency and improves timing. The oar blade should travel no greater distance up or down than necessary.
The goal of a crew is to act as one person, with all oars going in the water at the same time, at the same depth, and all oars coming out of the water at the same time, at the same height.
In whaleboat races, unlike crew races, buoy turns are included as part of the race course. In a whaleboat the boatsteerer plays a vital role in getting the boat around the turns as quickly and efficiently as possible. One of the most challenging aspects of this race course is gauging the width and depth of the turn and commanding the rowers around the turn. The boatsteerer will use his/her steering oar to help row around the turn, and also will stop the rowers on the inside of the turn and start them again as the boat comes out of the turn. Many races have been won or lost “on the turn”.