Rowing requires strength. Friends think that it’s upper body strength and that I’ve chosen it as an additional activity to round out my cycling but it’s not quite that way. Says Wikipedia, “Rowing is one of the few non-weight bearing sports that exercises all the major muscle groups, including quads, biceps, triceps, lats, glutes and abdominal muscles. Rowing improves cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength.” That’s because you push off with your legs and you just need upper body strength to balance the strength in your lower body. It reminds me of track cycling that way.
I’m struck by how much strength is required both in the water and to lift the boats from the racks where they’re stored down to the docks for launching and vice versa. Sometimes I think a workout wasn’t that hard really and it’s not until I go to lift the boat out of the water that I realize how tired I am. Still, I like it that we carry our own boats. I commented on one of the other crews at a regatta recently having husbands (well, men anyway) help carry their rowing shell.
I told that story to a friend, a former Olympic rower, who said it was only in the 1970s that women were allowed to carry their own shells at the Olympics. That was the case even though the women regularly carried the boats for training. She thought it was a case of old fashioned norms about women and strength. It’s okay to be strong, to race, but you shouldn’t “show off.” Instead, men got to play the role of “knights on white horses” rescuing fair rowing damsels from the plight of being seen to be strong. She said the Canadians and Australians were first in changing the norms around boat carrying with the Brits and others following after. I don’t know the history here but it’s kind of fascinating. I like the story below too about when women’s rowing became popular as a sport. If you know any good books about the history of women’s rowing, feel free to recommend them!
4 thoughts on “Ladies, do you even lift? Gender and the norms of strength”
This is another terrific, eye-opening post about women athletes pushing back against restrictive gender roles and reclaiming our bodies for our own agency, use and pleasure. Strength is a birthright!
What a great blog. Thank you.
I didn’t know that either (about women rowers not being allowed to carry their own shells at regattas)! That’s mind-boggling.
really interesting. I’d definitely be into a future post on more women’s rowing history.
Need for upper body strength is the most common layperson’s misconception about rowing. My Mom is a Master of sports in rowing, she was competing in a team in the Soviet Union in the 1970s. I myself tried rowing in my teens. So, yes, I know that it is mainly strong legs that you need in rowing. My Mom says when she was on top of her sportive shape her thigh was the size of her waist. And a lot of stamina is also needed. This is why I quit. I ran sprint and did long jump at University instead.
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