Category: Rowing

Drills Rowing Technique Video of the Week

Video of the Week: Eyes-closed rowing

I love eyes-closed rowing. It brings a different sense of calm and focus to the boat that you can’t really achieve when your eyes are open and there’s 20 different things all begging you to steal a quick glance at them. There were two years in particular where my crews did a lot of rowing like this … my freshman/novice year of high school and my freshman year of college. I think this was because we were either learning to row from scratch or adapting to a style that was different than what we’d all been rowing for the previous four years. Like they said in the video, it taught us – all of us – how to really feel the boat and not react to every little wobble.

On days when the set would be really off or we just weren’t having a good row, we would try to turn it around and salvage the latter half of practice by pushing pause on the workout and doing some eyes-closed steady state rowing for 3-5 minutes. This helped us re-concentrate our focus and reestablish that trust within the boat, which in turn led to an improved second half of the row. (Not always but most of the time, even if the gains were marginal.) If we knew we had a hard practice in store, we’d do our entire warmup with eyes closed to emphasize, again, trusting the guy in front and behind you, and to force us to make sure our technique was on point and we weren’t just muscling the blades through the water. It’s definitely a drill worth incorporating whenever the opportunity presents itself.

“Preparedness matters. Details matter.”

Coxing Rowing Technique

“Preparedness matters. Details matter.”

I was having a hard time this week trying to brainstorm ideas for today’s post (because at this point it feels like I’ve written all there is to write about head racing) but luckily one of the other Columbia coaches posted something in our team Facebook group that I thought was worth sharing.

Everyone needs to be prepared to use the drilling sequences to improve. That means knowing what they are, what you need to focus on, how you are going to focus on it, and what outcomes you want. Preparedness matters. Details matter.

I talk a lot about the importance of communicating with your coaches so you understand the drills/workouts you’re doing, their purpose, how it’s executed, what you should be taking away from it, the technical focus, etc. and then relaying that info to the rowers, either before they start the drill or while you’re warming up a just an overview of what practice will entail that day … and the quote above is why. Preparedness matters. Details matter.

This applies just as much to the rowers as it does the coxswains too – probably even more so, which means you also have to be communicating with your coaches and/or coxswains so that you have a full understanding of the drills you’re doing, particularly when it’s addressing a technical issue that’s been pointed out to you about your own rowing. It like that Lombardi quote says, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect.” You can do drills or make technical calls every day during practice but if you’re only doing it because that’s what you’re supposed to do and not because you’re actually prepared to do it, with all the pieces of knowledge listed above at the forefront of your brain, you’re limiting what you take away from the work you’re doing.

Just something to keep in mind now that we’re fully into the fall season and gearing up for a busy few weeks of racing.

Image via // @mitmensrowing

How to steer through wake

Coxing How To Rowing

How to steer through wake

Steering through wake is a pretty common thing you’ll have to deal with while coxing. Whether as a result of the elements, other coaches, or powerboats, you’ll probably encounter some form of wake a couple times per practice (at least). It’s also dependent on the time of year – Canadian Henley week on the Charles is a lot different than early October or mid-May when it comes to wake generated by launches and other crews. It’s something you should always be on the lookout for though so your crew’s not caught off guard when the boat starts to roll with the waves.

Related: Coxswain skills: Awareness

If you think back to your earth science class in middle school, you’ll recall that there are two parts to a wave – the crest, which is the top, and the trough, which is the bottom. The larger the distance between the crest and trough, the bigger/taller the waves and the tougher they’ll be to steer through. The general rule of thumb is that if you can see both at the same time (i.e. they’re spaced out, lower than the gunnels, etc.) you can continue rowing. It might still be a little bumpy but nothing too distracting – it’s important though to give the rowers a heads up though by saying “little bit of wake on starboard side on this next stroke…”.

If you can’t see both/when in doubt, you should stop. The reason why is because if the boat is suspended on the crests of the waves, that empty space between the crest and trough isn’t providing any support to the hull and could cause it to crack or snap. Basically, if you could see daylight under the hull at any point, you need to stop and wait for them to pass. If the waves are due to the weather and stopping isn’t an option and/or would be unsafe, you’ll want to position yourself as close to shore as you realistically can (you can always go another oar’s length closer than you think though) and avoid turning the boat whenever possible, even if that means rowing agains the traffic pattern (which is another reason why you want to be super close to shore and something I talk about more down below).

In normal, quick-to-pass situations (like a launch zooming past you at a close range), you’ll want to stop and position the shell parallel to the wake so that you’re minimizing the surface area of the hull that isn’t supported by the water (going back to what I said before about it being suspended on the crests of the waves). In most cases you have enough warning time, especially if you’re just sitting there between pieces or listening to your coach, that all you’ll need to do is tell bow + 3 (for example) to take a couple strokes so you’re angled with the waves. Tell the rowers to “lean away” (not drastically, just enough that the water’s not going to end up in the boat) and keep the oars flat to provide as much stability as possible until it passes.

If you weren’t already rowing you’ll probably need to readjust your point and/or row back out from shore since the waves will push you in but otherwise, this ultimately isn’t something to worry about. It’s annoying and can be disruptive if you get waked out in the middle of a piece but it’s one of those things where I just roll my eyes, think “dude, seriously??”, and move on within a stroke or two once the wake is past us. If we’re stuck in the waves and have to stop to allow them to get ahead of us or flatten out, that’s even more annoying but again, not a big deal and not an excuse to let the focus/power completely fall off.

In not-quick-to-pass situations like strong winds and whitecaps, you don’t want to stop, like I said before, because that could potentially pose an even bigger safety threat. I always defaulted to my coaches here rather than making a call on my own (which I could do in situations like the previous one I mentioned) – if they said “keep rowing, angle across, row by sixes and do not stop“, I kept rowing, angled across, went down to sixes, and didn’t stop … even if it made me wince every time a wave would hit a rigger. Rowing through wake like this is the ultimate test of staying cool under fire though and even though it can be challenging, there’s nothing to do except do it.

I’ve rarely encountered this type of wake from other boats, it’s always a result of the weather. If you’ve been in the basin in early spring, you’ll know what I mean – once you get past the BU bridge going downstream it’s a shitshow. That was one of the very few downsides of our boathouse being by the Mass Ave bridge because the Charles is, for the most part, relatively protected but once you get past BU, you’re out in the open and there’s not much you can do other than limp through it and take it one stroke at a time. I can recall a couple specific instances where we’d come out of the bridge and just get smacked by insanely strong wind gusts and waves and in order to avoid swamping the boat, we’d have to angle across in front of BU from the Boston side to the Cambridge side and row against the traffic pattern until we got to the MIT lane (all without stopping) rather than rowing up the Boston side to the crossover point (near-ish the finish line), stopping, turning, rowing across, spinning again, and then rowing up the MIT lane.

(If you’re not familiar with the Charles, check out the maps in the post below to see all the landmarks I just mentioned and get an idea of what I’m talking about.)

Related: Navigating the Charles River

This morning on Twitter I saw a sculler call out a coach for waking people out in the Powerhouse (he actually @’ed them, which I love) and that’s what gave me the idea for today’s post. I’ve said this before but if you get waked out by someone, don’t flip them off or yell at them or whatever else … just let it go, especially if you’re a high school coxswain. College coxswains can probably get away with it more often but still, don’t engage. It doesn’t make you (as a program) look good and if your crew is already questionable about your ability to maintain your composure, this isn’t gonna help your case (I see this come up on evals a lot). If it’s a big enough issue then your coach can/will handle it (by either saying something to them or flipping them off themselves … I’ve been in the launch with coaches who have done both) but you should pick the “really??” GIF of your choice and just imitate that instead.

In rowing, the transcendent moment is called "swing" and those of us who have rowed for lifetimes have maybe experienced swing three or four times. It doesn't happen very often but when it does it really is a different dimension. It's where all eight bodies in the boat are absolutely in sync and every stroke is as perfect as it can be and then all of a sudden the race is over and you don't remember anything about the race except that you ended up two boat lengths ahead. It's an extraordinary kind of experience, really quite an oxymoron, it's a physical out of body experience or a mental out of body experience. It's part of that transcendence.

Rowing Training & Nutrition Video of the Week

Video of the Week: Nutrition for rowers, pt. 2

A couple years ago I posted a video on nutrition for rowers that included a ton of great info on getting the proper nutrition to fuel your training. You can check that post out here. Above is another video from a rower who talks about his diet, general nutrition strategy, and some of the different approaches that are out there (some good, some not). If you’re heading to college in a few weeks and are trying to figure out how you’re gonna get the calories you need (especially if you’re faced with the prospect of not having your mom cook all your meals anymore…), this is a good video to watch.

“All fast crews have three things in common…”

Coxing Rowing Technique

“All fast crews have three things in common…”

If you’ve been to Northeast Rowing Center and had Coach Lindberg (BU heavyweight men’s assistant) as your coach, then you’ll remember him asking his boats if they can list the three things that all fast crews have in common. Do you know what they are?

Blades go in before the drive begins

While the feet are still light (aka there’s no pressure being applied to the stretchers), the blade touches the water and gets heavy. This has to happen before the wheels change direction.

Hang your bodyweight off the handle all the way through the drive

From catch to finish, suspension is the key to prying and accelerating. You can read more about it in the “Top 20 terms” post linked below.

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Suspension

Spacing at the back end

Every coach coaches the finish a little differently but regardless of whether you keep the hands moving around the finish or do that weird pause-y thing, the hands and elbows have to be out and away before the body rocks over.

This stuff is so simple you’ll probably read it and think “…duh” but if your crew is trying to gain more speed or figure out what’s holding them back, don’t default to just thinking about pulling harder – go back to the basics and ensure you’re doing all three of these things first. You can make calls for this stuff for at any point during practice too – it all falls under the umbrella of “just one (or three) of those things” that you should always be looking for, correcting, and perfecting.

Image via // @jeffhou_
How to rotate through the sixes

Coxing Drills How To Rowing

How to rotate through the sixes

This regularly gets asked by new coxswains at the start of each season so hopefully this helps you learn the order of the switches, as well as who’s being switched in and out.

Related: Transitioning by fours in an 8+ always confuses me. I know you start with stern four, then stern pair out, then three four in, but what’s after that? Who goes in and out in what order? Thanks!

It’s not nearly as difficult as it looks but it does help to familiarize yourself with the transitions before you actually need to call them.

Image via // Boston Magazine