Engine building for rowing – What it means and how you can do it 

Something that my coaches used to say to me was “what are you doing to build your engine?”. I never really understood it at the time. I thought it was just a quirky way of saying “how are you getting better?”. In a way I was right, but that’s not the whole truth. 

Picture, if you will, a car. What makes a car run is its engine. Now up until a specific point, that car won’t run until you’ve got a lot of the pieces in place. Even then an engine is only as good as the fine-tuning that is done to make sure that it’s running as well as possible. This almost relates to the aspect of marginal gains. You want to make sure that everything in your body is fine-tuned to the point where the whole body runs as smoothly as possible.  

Marginal Gains

Your Engine

Your body is capable of many amazing things that you just aren’t aware of. One of these is its ability to be pushed to its absolute limit. We can do this by constantly drilling into ourselves the importance of technique and also strength building. 

Start by identifying areas where you think you can improve your technique. If you’re unsure, ask a teammate or coach to spot you and see if they can see areas where you can improve. Is your back as straight as it can be? Are you over-reaching or not reaching enough at front stops? How’s your flexibility when you’re stretching? How’s your form when you lift? All of these things are important to remember every step of the way when you’re training. Even something like washing your hands before every meal can impact how well your body copes with training. 

I want to make sure that by the time you finish reading this you go away actively thinking about ways you can improve. 

Fine Tuning

I first want to start out by you identifying the areas where you can improve. Take a second to think about what you do through a stroke and if there are any ways you can improve that. Think you’ve got the perfect stroke? Think again. Even the highest performance elite rowers don’t have perfect technique all the time. It’s up to you to be critical about yourself and overanalyse everything you do to make yourself as good as possible.  

Write these areas of improvement down and next time you get in the boat or in the gym, have a think about that list and try and work on those points.  

Fuelling Your Engine

An engine is useless without some fuel. For the human body, that means food. You want to make sure that your body has the right amount of food it needs for a session or race. If that means that you have to eat something before a 6 am training session, then do it. It’s important to remember that your body won’t allow you to train as hard as you want to if you aren’t sufficiently fuelled up. If you need to eat a bowl of cereal before a session or have a few cereal bars, then find the time to eat them. Trust me your body will thank you for that extra fuel. Check out our article on pantry essentials for some ideas on quick breakfasts you can either make and eat quickly or on the go. 

Pantry Essentials

How to Turn Regular Fuel into Rocket Fuel


One of the easiest things you can do to help boost the fuel reserves your body has is by being more health conscious with the things you eat. As I’ll go into later, you don’t need to be super strict with it but make sure you’re at least getting in some energy-boosting foods. If you’re a salad nut then think about adding some superfoods to it like hemp seeds, chia seeds, or pomegranate seeds. If you love fruit then try to get some more superfruits in your diet. They serve as a healthy snack and provide your body with hidden benefits like slow energy release. Some superfruits to add to your diet can include blueberries, kiwi fruit, and avocado (yes, avocado is a fruit!).

Body Maintenance

Much like your boat, your body needs maintenance too. One thing that we can do to make sure that our body is in line with our mind and its limits is to make sure that we’re being as healthy as we can. I’m not saying don’t drink, I’m not saying don’t have the odd takeaway, I’m just telling you to look after your body as best you can. Some things that may come as common sense to some people don’t to others. Make sure that you’re washing your hands before every meal. The importance of this is more significant than you think. If you’re washing your hands with soap and water before every meal you’re reducing your risk of catching something from having dirty hands. Something else you can do to increase your overall health is by taking multivitamins daily. Not only will this make you feel great, but it will be a fantastic boost to your immune system.

Using your Engine on the Water

Now you might be saying “Louis, how does this help me on water?!” but it all goes back to what I was saying in my Marginal Gains article (linked above). Make small changes and they all add up. So, how do we implement this? it’s really quite simple. Just take all the small changes that you have identified as a problem with your engine and take them to your mechanic (your coach). Tell your mechanic what you would like to work on and they’ll help you fix the problem. it’s just that simple. Yes it’s going to take some hard work and dedication, but it’s worth it. Honestly just go and try it. Like I said earlier, stop reading this and have a think about what you can improve. Write those areas down and then try and work on them.

Have a great day.