Category: Technique

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.

Improving your technical skills during winter training

Coxing Technique

Improving your technical skills during winter training

Next week is our last week on the water and then after that – it’s winter training time, baby.

A common question I get around this time of year is how to become a better coxswain when you’re stuck on land for 3-5 months. (For starters, scroll through the “winter training” tag.) It definitely requires a bit of creativity and a lot of initiative, particularly when it comes to improving and refining your technical eye. I’ll be the first to admit that my eyes tend to glaze over when I’m watching people erg so it takes more effort than usual to get/stay engaged but – and yes, I know this is beating a dead horse – having a loose plan of the skills I wanted to improve always made it easier because I could zero in on specific things to watch/listen for rather than just staring off into the void.

Related: Hi, I am a novice cox and was just wondering about what to do during the winter training. Thank you so much.

Below are a couple ideas to help you form your own plan for tackling the indoor season.

Get on the ergs

I talked about this in more detail in the post linked below so definitely check that out but when you’re off the water (and even when you’re not), one of the best ways to develop an understanding of the stroke so that you’re able to effectively coach the rowers from inside the boat is to get on the ergs or in the tanks with them. Nobody cares about your splits and nobody cares if you’re not as good as the top people on your team but you do have to take it seriously. Don’t be that coxswain that gets on the erg and just screws around because “haha I’m a coxswain, I’m so weak, I have no idea what I’m doing…”. Nobody thinks it’s funny, it annoys literally everyone that’s trying to do something productive, and it does nothing to help you earn the respect of the people in your boat.

Related: Coxswains, get on the erg

Listen to your coach

Don’t just hear what they’re saying – actually listen to and process it. Winter is a great time for note taking for this exact reason because there’s just so much content available right at your fingertips. Everything the coaches say is fair game, from the pre-practice run down when they’re laying out the workout, the goals for each piece, what the focus and takeaways are, etc. to what they’re saying when they get up right behind someone and are pushing them to get their splits on track. The former helps you develop and understand the nuances of the training you’re doing and the latter helps you go from a coxswain who says “get those splits down!” to one who says “alright Sam, sit up and find your length at the front end, get that 1:43 back now on this one…”.

Listening to what’s being said is half the work. You can easily – easily – fill up a page in your notebook with calls and things you’ve heard over the course of a single practice but before you start saying the same things yourselves, you’ve gotta make the connection between what the coaches are saying/asking for and what the rowers are actually doing. Our phones make this so simple now too because you can isolate each part of the stroke into 1-2 second slow-mo clips and really analyze what you’re seeing and how the feedback they’re getting initiates or impacts the changes they make. (Couldn’t do that in the dark days before iPhones, circa the early to mid 2000s).

Related: Row2k interview with Katelin Snyder on winter training

Learn how to call drills effectively

This was a mandatory part of winter training for the coxswains when I was in high school – we’d frequently do the same technical drills on the ergs that we’d do on the water and the coxswains were responsible for their execution. I remember being super intimidated when I initially had to do it but one of the varsity coxswains and said they all sucked and had no idea what to say the first few times they did it but this exercise is what helped them get comfortable coxing everyone on the team (not just their normal rowers) and allowed them to test run different calls, tones, ways of executing the drill, etc. with minimal backlash if something went wrong. I’ll say the same to you guys too – we all sucked at this stuff when we first started. None of us knew what to say and the stuff we did say made us cringe because we thought it sounded stupid AF. Persisting through and past the urge to crawl inside yourself is such a necessary part of this though – if you can do it on land, you can definitely do it on the water where and when it counts the most.

In addition to improving the call and tone side of drill execution, actually learning the purpose of the drill, what your coach is trying to accomplish by doing them, the important things to watch for, etc. were also a key component of this. Combine that with actually getting on the ergs and going through the drills yourself helps you improve your ability to explain what it should feel like to the rowers. “Hang your weight off the handle” might not always make sense to someone but “you wanna feel the lats engage as the blade enters the water and the leg drive begins” gives a bit more clarity to an otherwise arbitrary call. This is especially important if you’re coxing novices or other less-experienced rowers. In the more senior boats, attention to detail like that can be a difference-maker throughout the season when it starts to be less about how powerful you are and more about how well you move the boat.

Image via // @harvardheavies

“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

Coxing Q&A Technique

Question of the Day

Hi! I just finished my first season of coxing and am now on the varsity team. Due to a shortage of coxswains, I got put on a pretty good boat by default and the girls expect a lot. My novice coach didn’t really teach me how to spot and correct poor technique and my current coach has not been super helpful about it either. Do you have any advice on what to look for or any videos to recommend? The general problems in the boat are rush and set. Do you know any specific problems that could cause this that I could make corrections on? Thank you!

As far as what to look for, check out the post below. There’s a couple different issues addressed in there, including the set, that should give you a good starting point. A couple other posts that might be helpful are these three from the aptly-named “things that affect the set” series on handle heights, timing, and bladework.

Related: “So, what did you see?”

When it comes to rush, it starts with timing out of the back end – getting the hands and shoulders out together first so that when the slides start, people aren’t already behind and having to play catch up (which then checks the boat’s run). I’ve always found double pause drills to be a good drill to do because it gives you a couple checkpoints throughout the recovery to collect yourself as a crew and ensure you’re all moving into the next phase of stroke at the same pace. (I talked a lot more in detail about this in this post and the “top 20 terms” post linked below.) Definitely ask your coach if you can throw some pause drills into your warmup if you feel like the rush isn’t getting addressed elsewhere throughout practice.

Related: Top 20 terms: Rush(ing)

All of those links should put you on the right track to being able to spot and correct some of the basic issues you’re seeing but what’s going to help a lot more is keeping track of what you’re doing and seeing during practice, making note of any questions you have (either on what you saw, technical stuff you’re unsure of, etc.), and then spending a few minutes going over it with your coach a couple times a week. It’s unlikely that they’re gonna ask if you understand or have questions so you’ve gotta take the initiative and approach them yourselves in order to get the info/clarification you need.

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.

Coxing Q&A Technique

Question of the Day

Hi! Do you have any resources (or can point to any resources) for practicing how to spot problems that rowers are having/how to identify what corrections to call for while coxing? In my head, I’m imagining videos from the coxswain’s point of view (in an 8) and you have a clip during which you take some time to try to notice what needs to be fixed on your own, and then can look up the “answers” after to see what you missed or if you misinterpreted what was going on and got it wrong. So for example if there’s a clip that demonstrates late catches from bow pair and rowing it in from 5 and 6 seats, someone could watch the clip and write down what they see and then after can look at what a more experienced coxswain would say the problems are and compare them, i.e. see if you saw the catch and rowing it in issues yourself.

Does this kind of thing exist somewhere (and did my description make any sense at all)? It would just be nice to get a visual of what the different issues look like from the coxswain’s seat and be able to practice recognizing them, especially because I cox very good rowers and sometimes the issues are nuanced and I just don’t have the experience to notice them yet.

I definitely get what you’re saying. An exact resource like the one you described doesn’t exist as far as I know but there are plenty of ways to achieve the same effect.  I usually try to do something similar with the coxswains during the winter when we’re bored and there’s nothing else to do while the guys are doing steady state. We’ll pull up a race, listen/watch, slow a few clips down to watch it in slow-mo, and just talk through it. What we’re seeing, what we’re hearing, stuff like that and usually we’ll end up doing the same thing that you described.

This was actually a big part of what I did with the coxswains at the camps I coached at last year too (as well as with a few coxswains I’ve worked one-on-one with) – we’d watch a race, they’d take notes, and then afterwards point out what they saw, ask questions on it, etc. and I’d answer them while also pointing out anything they might have missed, interpreted incorrectly, or weren’t sure of a fix (or appropriate call) for.

Point being I guess is that what you described is a good idea but the benefit (in my opinion) from doing something like that comes in talking through it with other people, whether it’s another coxswain, your coach, etc. Every coach I’ve ever had or worked with has taken tons of video of their crews and they’ll usually spend a couple minutes going over it with the team or individual boats, again basically doing close to what you described. It’s up to you in that instance to take the opportunity to pay close attention to what you’re seeing and then compare that to whatever your coach points out.

I always did that whenever we’d go over video at MIT and every time there was something I’d miss that I’d not realize until one of the other coaches pointed it out. This helped me help the coxswains too because I took notes on whatever we’d go over during video review and then make a point to pay attention to that stuff when we were on the water. From there I could spot the nuances more clearly and give the coxswains further details or clarifications on calls that might help fix the problem, reiterate a particular point, etc.

This is also why I encourage coxswains to use GoPros. I get that they’re not the cheapest things but they’re such an invaluable tool in your development because it lets you re-watch your own rowers again and again rather than someone else’s crew who might not have the same problems that yours does (or the same problems in the same way). At the very least, have your coach get video of the crew and then spend a couple minutes going over it with them after practice once or twice a week. Two apps I’ve used to do this are Coach’s Eye and Hudl Technique but you could of course always just use your phone’s camera and play it back like that.

“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_