Coxswain Weigh-Ins: Is Lighter Always Better?

Coxswain Sandbags
At the 2007 Masters Nationals I weighed in at 119.2lbs, just under the 120lb minimum for coxing men.

119.2, the official USRowing scale flashed in big red digital numbers. Phew! Or maybe, curses!

Back in 2007 I was really excited to go to the USRowing Masters Nationals Championships at Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. I would have preferred to be rowing, but I was willing to see my roll as a coxswain as a foot in the door. I’d been rowing for five seasons with a club program and was invited to the team’s competitive masters program specifically to cox at Nationals. 

That year I was rowing five days a week in addition to training for various swim/bike duathlons. My schedule included a warm-up bike ride to morning practice, row for 90 minutes, bike home. In the afternoon was a four-mile ride through the city to the pool for an hour of swimming. Long rides and swims on the weekend. I was strong and fit, holding steady at about 127-130lbs on my 5’2″ frame.

Then I was introduced to the concept of coxswain weigh-ins for Masters Nationals. 110lbs for coxswains of women’s boats. 120lbs for men’s coxswains. If you weighed any less than that you had to carry extra weight each time you launched for a race. What girl wouldn’t want to carry extra weight? It seemed a right of passage. It seemed to be an expectation.

I spent the last couple of weeks before the 2007 Championships eating even healthier than normal, though looking back I probably didn’t get enough protein in my diet. I remember lots of vegetables. Lots of salads. No refined carbs. No alcohol. I was really proud of myself. Before stepping on the scale the first morning of Masters Nationals I made sure not to eat or drink anything, and used the bathroom a few times to empty out my bladder. I was serious, but not as hard-core as some coxswains that took diuretics in preparation. At weigh-in, I kicked off my socks and shoes and stepped onto the large metal scale in my red, white, and blue team uni.


I had done it!

I dutifully grabbed a ZipLoc bag, approached the mound of sand supplied just for this task, scooped in .8oz (aka .01 cup) and returned to the scale to weigh it. The official gave me the okay, jotted down my numbers in her official regatta logbook, and reminded me to have that little bag of “proof of weight” with me at all times.

Back at the team tent a fellow coxswain and I had a good couple of laughs over how ludicrous it was for me to carry such a small bag of weight. We even got a photo for posterity – me with my 8-oz baggie of sand; her with what I would guess was closer to six or eight pounds.

Over the course of the 4-day regatta, that 8-oz sandbag ended up driving me crazy. I thought “If only I hadn’t peed before weigh-in; or let myself have a banana and peanut butter for breakfast. Then I wouldn’t have to carry around this stupid proof of weight.” I realized that despite being proud of hitting my goal weight, it wasn’t a realistic weight for me to maintain and the sandbag was really just a nuisance.

Despite this, I got to the task of losing weight for a return to Nationals the following year, when I managed to weigh-in even lighter (around 118lbs). I promptly gained two pounds at dinner the first night of racing when I – without regret – ate the biggest burrito I’ve ever had the pleasure to have placed on a table in front of me.

Some coxswains are naturally quite thin and/or petite and the 110/120lb weigh-in requirement is not a problem. Some coxswains work their tails off to shed an extra five pounds, only to regain it. And for others the weigh-in can become a psychological game of chance. In 2007, the same year as my first USRowing weigh-in, another coxswain on my team became bulimic and has been battling it ever since. Sadly, she has given up coxing in her fight for better health.

I plan to return to this topic in depth in another post, but let’s get technical just for a minute. Most of the resistance to a moving boat comes from surface drag. The displacement of a submerged hull is based almost entirely on the mass of the crew (minus coxswain, oars, boat weight). Let that sink in. The crew.

If you cox for a masters program where your rowers are a variety of shapes and sizes, and your teammates are carrying a few extra pounds themselves, don’t think all the pressure should be on you to make the boat lighter. Take into consideration that most rowers would chose a negligibly heavier coxswain over one whose terrible steering adds distance and time to a course.

Be smart. Be healthy. Be fit. Be in charge of your own weight.

Read more:
“Effect of Weight on Boat Speed”

Rowing Illustrated forum on coxswain weight