Heavyweight to lightweight rowing

Heavier lightweight rowers tend to have an advantage over rowers who weigh less. This made Slater et al. (2006) hypothesize if transition from heavyweight rowers who weigh around 80 kg to lightweight rowing could be possible and reasonable.

Heavyweight to lightweight rowingThree experienced heavyweight rowers were identified as possibly excelling at lightweight rowing. They were monitored over a time span of 16 weeks while performance, anthropometric variables, and biomechanical and metabolic parameters were measured.

All of the athletes decreased their body mass by 2-8 kg, while the loss of muscle mass accounted for 32-85% of it. Two of the athletes could maintain their performance, although significant proportion of their muscle mass was lost. The subject, who lost the most weight (Case 2, figure below), could not sustain the performance level and had a reduction in 2000m ergometer performance time after the 16-week period compared to the baseline. As a matter of fact, only one athlete (Case 2) reached the body weight needed to enter lightweight category in 16 weeks that was tracked by the authors. Other two athletes entered the category later and successfully raced in lightweight rowing.

What to learn from this?

Smaller heavyweight rowers could successfully make the transition to lightweight rowing. Although, the body mass lost during the process was quite significant, this does not necessarily result in significant decrease in performance. However, it must be considered that those manipulations need to be supervised by the coach and nutrition specialist.

Heavyweight to lightweight rowing
(a) Changes in body mass and (b) 2000 m ergometer time trial scores throughout the 16 wk investigation. Slater et al., 2006


Slater GJ, Rice AJ, Jenkins D, Gulbin J, Hahn AG. Preparation of former heavyweight oarsmen to compete as lightweight rowers over 16 weeks: three case studies. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2006; 16: 108-121.

Jaan Saks

Jaan Saks is the Editor in Chief at Sportlyzer Academy. He is also finishing his Master's degree in Sports Sciences at the University of Tartu.