Do Olympic Rowers Wear Gloves?

As the Olympic games approach, viewers around the globe are gearing up to watch the world’s best athletes compete at the highest level. Among these athletes, rowers stand out for their team coordination, strength, and endurance. One question that often comes to mind when watching these athletes in action is: “Do Olympic rowers wear gloves?” It may seem like a trivial question, but it can reveal a lot about the sport itself, the training involved, and the traditions that have been passed down through generations.

In this article, we’re going to delve into this topic, providing insight into the equipment used by Olympic rowers, and specifically, whether or not they use gloves. So, whether you’re a rowing enthusiast or just a curious spectator, read on to learn more about this fascinating aspect of Olympic rowing.

Overview of Olympic Rowing – a brief history of the sport and its evolution 

olympic rowers
Photo by Matthew Fournier on Unsplash

The sport of rowing boasts a historically rich tapestry, closely interwoven with the unfolding narrative of human progress. Its initial application was as a mode of transportation in ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The transformation of rowing into a competitive sport likely commenced in England during the 17th and early 18th centuries. By the 1830s, the sport had moved to Australia and Canada, and its popularity was on the rise throughout Europe. Remarkably, since the dawn of the 19th century, rowing has been an integral part of U.S. collegiate sports, crowning it as the oldest intercollegiate sport in the country.

In the landscape of the Olympic Games, rowing occupies a unique position. It stands as one of the foundational sports of the modern Olympics, with its inception dating back to the first games in 1896 in Athens. However, it was only in the 1976 Summer Olympics that rowing became a regular event. Throughout the years, the sport has witnessed numerous transformations in equipment, strategies, and classifications. Yet, the fundamental elements of physical prowess, stamina, and team synergy continue to define it. The Olympic Games persist as a formidable platform where elite rowers from around the globe converge to test their mettle and bring glory to their respective nations.

Pros and Cons of Wearing Gloves 

The decision to wear gloves while rowing can be a contentious one, with differing opinions among athletes. On the plus side, gloves can provide a protective barrier against common rowing afflictions like blisters and calluses. Companies such as Sculling Gear and The Crew Stop offer lightweight options that not only protect the hands but also improve grip. 

On the other hand, some rowers argue that gloves can interfere with their connection to the oar and consequently affect their rowing technique. Similar arguments are made in weightlifting, where some believe that gloves can disrupt form. Furthermore, the protective padding offered by gloves could potentially be offset by issues familiar to gym-goers, such as a less natural grip. Ultimately, the choice to wear gloves for rowing often comes down to personal preference and comfort.

Benefits for Rowers Wearing Gloves

Rowing gloves can offer several benefits to rowers, particularly in terms of comfort and protection. A primary advantage is the prevention of blisters and calluses, a common issue that rowers face due to the constant friction between their hands and the oars. Gloves can provide a layer of cushioning, reducing direct contact and pressure on the skin. Additionally, certain types of gloves, such as those with silica gel on the palms, can also enhance grip, which is crucial for maintaining control over the oars.

However, it’s important to note that the use of gloves in rowing can be a matter of personal preference. While some rowers find them essential, others prefer the tactile feel of the handle for better control and feedback during rowing. Gloves can also be beneficial in specific circumstances, such as in cold weather where they help to keep hands warm. Ultimately, the decision to wear gloves depends on individual comfort, the rowing conditions, and the type of rowing activity (e.g., sculling, sweep rowing, or using a rowing machine).

The Types of Equipment Used By Olympic Rowers

Olympic rowers utilize an array of specialized equipment, each designed to maximize performance and efficiency while adhering to international competition standards. The primary piece of equipment is the boat, or shell, which is designed for speed, stability, and buoyancy. Made from lightweight materials such as carbon fibre. The shape and design of the shell are streamlined to reduce drag and enhance speed in the water. Each rower has their own seat which moves back and forth on a track, allowing for powerful leg drive during each stroke.

The other critical piece of equipment is the oar. Rowers use these long, thin poles to propel the boat through the water. The blade, or the part of the oar that interacts with the water, has evolved over time from being symmetrical and spoon-shaped to the modern “cleaver” design, which is asymmetrical and squared off, providing more surface area for a stronger pull. Rowers also use shoes that are fixed to the boat, allowing them to apply force from their legs effectively.

While not universally used, some rowers choose to wear gloves for better grip and protection against blisters. It’s important to note that equipment choice can vary significantly depending on the type of rowing – sweep or sculling, and the number of rowers in the boat.

Tips for Choosing the Right Rowing Gloves

Choosing the right rowing gloves can significantly enhance your performance and comfort during training or competition. Here are some tips to help you make an informed decision:

  1. Material: Look for gloves made of durable, high-quality material that can withstand the rigours of rowing. Synthetic materials like neoprene offer good grip, flexibility, and water resistance. Some gloves also feature mesh or other breathable fabrics to keep your hands cool and dry.
  2. Fit: The gloves should fit snugly but not too tight as it can restrict blood flow. Most brands offer a range of sizes, so measure your hand and compare it with the manufacturer’s sizing chart to find the perfect fit.
  3. Grip: Good rowing gloves should provide excellent grip to help you control the oar without exerting extra pressure. Some gloves feature textured or rubberized palms and fingers for enhanced grip.
  4. Padding: Consider gloves with padding in key areas to reduce pressure and prevent blisters. However, too much padding can decrease tactile feedback, which is crucial in rowing for maintaining proper technique.
  5. Ease of Cleaning: Rowing gloves can get dirty and smelly after intense sessions. Choose gloves that are easy to clean and quick-drying.
  6. Wrist Support: Some rowing gloves come with built-in wrist support, which can be beneficial if you have weak wrists or are prone to injury.

Remember, the best rowing gloves are the ones that meet your specific needs and preferences. It might take some trial and error before you find the perfect pair.

Do Olympic Rowers Wear Gloves?

Olympic rowers typically do not wear gloves while competing. The primary reason is that gloves can interfere with the tactile connection between the rower and the oar handle, which might affect their control and technique. A direct grip on the oar allows for more precise handling and greater feedback, both of which are essential in a high-stakes competition such as the Olympics. Moreover, many rowing professionals believe that developing calluses from direct hand-to-oar contact can provide a natural and more effective form of protection than gloves.

However, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean gloves are entirely absent from the rowing world. Some rowers may choose to wear gloves during training sessions to prevent blisters and calluses or to protect their hands in colder weather. But when it comes to racing, especially at the Olympic level, the majority of athletes prefer direct contact with the oar for optimal performance.

After analysing the pros and cons of Olympic rowers wearing gloves, it can be seen that there are multiple factors to consider when selecting or choosing which type is best for a particular athlete. The glove that a rower decides to wear depends upon their own preferences and comfort levels as well as on the type of rowing they will be doing. Additionally, some professional rowers may find gloves beneficial in improving their performance while others prefer not to wear them at all. No matter what type of glove an Olympic rower chooses, it is important to ensure that they are comfortable and provide them with the support necessary during hard practice sessions. 


Q: Do Olympic rowers wear gloves?

A: No, Olympic rowers typically do not wear gloves. One main reason is that wearing gloves can interfere with the ability to properly grip and feather the oar’s blade. Competitive rowers often build up calluses on their hands from extensive training, which offers natural protection.

Q: Why don’t Olympic rowers use gloves if they can protect against blisters?

A: While gloves can indeed provide some protection against blisters, they can also diminish the rower’s feel and control of the blade handle. This tactile feedback is crucial for effective rowing. Additionally, the friction that occurs between the hands and the oar during the large amount of training that Olympic rowers undergo can actually be detrimental if gloves are worn.

Q: Are there any circumstances where rowers might opt to wear gloves?

A: Yes, there are situations where some rowers might choose to wear gloves. For instance, during cold weather rowing, gloves or “Pogies” are used to keep hands warm. Some recreational rowers or those new to the sport might wear gloves to prevent blisters until their hands become more accustomed to the activity.