Category: Technique

Technique: Good and bad technique on the erg

Ergs Technique

Technique: Good and bad technique on the erg

I got a question last week that asked if I had any videos that showed good vs. poor erg technique. Below are some I’ve found on YouTube (that for the sake of brevity I’ll avoid breaking down) that should give you a clear idea of what proper technique looks like.



 Image via // @ruben_markiewicz

College Coxing How To Q&A Technique

Question of the Day

I have been told by my rowers that I need to call them out directly more, rather than general corrections to the boat as a whole. I cox collegiate men but I’m not afraid to push them around. My problem is that I am having trouble actually seeing what the problem is. I can tell that catches are off, someone is rushing, but I can’t always tell exactly who it is. Any suggestions for improving this skill?

That’s good that your rowers want you to call them out more individually – don’t take it as a bad thing! There’s a couple things you can do to help yourself get more acquainted with the tendencies of the individual rowers.

When you’re inside on the ergs, watch the rowers for a few minutes each. Have a notebook handy and write down what you see about their stroke – get REALLY analytical about it. Look at the catch, drive, finish, hands, bodies, slides, where their chin is, etc. This will give you an idea of each rower’s “style” and from there you can make the appropriate calls, both as positive reinforcement and constructive criticism.

When you’re out on the water, ask your coach if  you can spend a day just focusing on the rowing. Maybe do a long steady state piece or something where you don’t have to talk very much and can focus on the bladework. For us as coxswains, it’s very hard to see the individual rowers since we’ve got a 6’5″ mammoth sitting directly in front of us blocking our view of the rest of the rowers. Go through the boat pair by pair, then by fours, then all eight and see what you notice about the blades with each group. Breaking it down and looking at the boat in small chunks is sometimes easier than trying to process the whole eight at once. Another thing you can do to focus your brain on the blades is too stare directly at your stroke’s sternum. It sounds weird but looking directly ahead like that allows your peripheral vision to take over, which can help you see which seat is early or late. Have a recorder with you when you do this that way you can just say what you see instead of jostling around with your pen and paper.

Ask your coach if he can record the crew when you’re on the water, preferably one day when you’re doing drills and one day when you’re doing steady state. Get side views of the entire eight (both on starboard and port) as well as 30-45 second long zoomed-in shots of the individuals, preferably shot from the side they row. A flip cam works great, but if you’re brave you can use an iPhone too. The quality on both is pretty good. If your coach has the time, ask him/her if they’d mind watching it with you and pointing out what they notice with each rower, things that they would like to see improved or have noticed about their rowing in general. See if you can spot anyone rushing, diving at the catch, being early or late to the catch, etc. Make note of what you see.

Talk to your rowers. If they’re asking you to call them out individually, they probably already have something in mind that they want you to say to them. Six-seat might know that he rushes the slide but not be aware of when he does it. Three-seat knows that his catches need to be sharper but tends to forget to just unweight the handle during harder pieces. Communicating with them and then repeating to them in the boat what they’ve told you is a GREAT way to earn respect and trust from your crew.

When you talk to the “whole boat” and tell them to fix something, internally with each rower it usually becomes “well, I know I’m not doing this so I assume that the person who IS doing it will get their shit together and fix it” … generally the rower that thinks this is the rower who you’re actually directing your call towards but they don’t know it because you didn’t say their name or seat. As you become more familiar with their individual tendencies, that’ll happen less.

When you do talk to the whole boat though, make sure you give them specifics of what you want them to do – for example, setting the boat. We tend to get lazy and say “set the boat”, assuming that everyone can feel what side the boat is dipping to and what change needs to be made. More often times than not, that isn’t the case. Instead say “let’s set the boat, starboards let’s raise the hands a 1/4 inch at the finish, ports let’s bring ’em down just a little”. The specifics make the rowers on each side think about their hands and where they are in relation to what you just told them to do, so EVERYONE can make an adjustment. Talking to the boat without giving specifics makes the rowers complacent – giving them a specific instruction, even when you’re talking to the whole crew, reels their minds back into the boat.

Related: In the boat, when you’re calling a rower out to make a change, is it better to call them by their seat or name? A rower told me that by using a name it puts them on the spot – but isn’t that the point to make a change?

Calling them out individually doesn’t strictly mean one-by-one either. You can talk to them by pairs (or sometimes fours) too if you notice that something that both rowers are doing.

Ergs Q&A Technique Training & Nutrition

Question of the Day

I have an erg at home. I’ve been using to train over the holidays like our coaches told us to, but I feel it’s making my technique get worse. I really want to train and do well on our erg test when we return from holidays, what should I do?

Over the winter when you’re training, there’s typically no one to correct your technique as you progress through a steady state piece so bad habits become ingrained pretty quickly. If you can, have a teammate come over and watch you erg. Have them point out any technique issues they notice and make note of it. The next day when you get on the erg, tape your list to the monitor and make a conscious effort to pay attention to each part of the stroke. Pause drills, technique rows, etc. would be good things to add into your workouts.

If having someone watch you isn’t an option, set your laptop webcam up to record you while you erg. You can either do it for 1-2 minutes or for the entire duration of your row if you don’t wanna get up and mess with the camera, that way you can see where your technique starts to deteriorate in relation to the amount of time you’ve spent on the erg. Another thing you can do is cut out a short (short) clip and email it to your coach to get some feedback.

Don’t spend ALL your time on the erg though. Having one readily available like that is awesome, but make sure the convenience isn’t guilt-tripping you into using it. Cross train and try to work in other workouts 2-3x a week that don’t involve erging, that way you don’t get burned out.

Q&A Rowing Technique Training & Nutrition

Question of the Day

Hi! I was looking at this past question from back in October. I know I do this too but, I watched the video and I don’t know if I do the shooting the slide thing but I do get pain in my lower back after longer rowing sessions. I don’t understand how to fix the problem unless I am in a single. My coaches mentioned placing the oars, then waiting to feel something to ‘grip’ on to then take the stroke. How am I meant to apply this in a boat?

To answer the first part regarding the pain in your low back: it’s possible that you shoot your slide a little bit but not enough that you’d be able to see it on video unless you slowed it down. When I’ve watched video before with my coaches I’ve seen things in slow motion that I never noticed at regular speed. It’s usually the really intricate stuff that most rowers don’t worry about until late high school and college, but if you look closely, you can see it. Other causes of low back pain that I can think of are:

Arching your back. In an effort to sit up straighter, some rowers will unknowingly puff their chests out and exaggerate the curvature in their backs

Not enough core strength. If your core muscles aren’t developed enough, it can make your low back sore from trying to maintain good posture. Planks and side planks are two of the best exercises a rower can do in order to develop their core strength. Try adding those into your stretching/workout routine if you don’t already do them and see if that helps. A really basic assessment for core strength is to do a plank and see how long you can hold it for. 30-60 seconds is average, longer than 60 seconds is considered strong, and less than 30 seconds means you’re a weakling.

Herniated disc. This is one of the most common injuries with rowers. This article from the New York Times explains everything you’ve ever wanted to know about them. Even if you think this is a slim possibility, you should still go to the doctor just to have it ruled out. Rowers careers have ended over these things and it’s unfortunate when they find out that if they’d gone to the doctor sooner, something could have been done to correct it.

There are many other causes of low back pain, including just plain poor technique, but these are some of the most common causes. Regardless of whether or not the pain is acute or constant, you should really get it checked out. Better safe than sorry. Also make sure you stretch before AND after practice.

Related: Hi there! I have the unfortunate issue of missing water/not getting my oar completely buried before my drive. My knees go down faster than the rest of my boat, and it’s hard on the timing especially when I’m stroking. Why is this happening? I know how it should feel like on my legs if I get the full drive (it’s more pressure, it’s like how strokes feel on an erg), but my hands don’t seem to get it. What are some things I can do? Thank you in advance.

Going back to what your coach said about “placing the oars”, this is something I’ve heard one of the Harvard coaches say and it’s one of the reasons why you don’t want to have a “death grip” on your oar otherwise you can’t feel what your coach is talking about. When you’re on the recovery you’re pushing the oars away from you (in the direction of your fingertips). At the catch when you place the blades in the water, you’ll feel the oars change direction because there will be a slight push-back into your palms. When you feel that push-back, that’s when you start your drive (which is why it’s important to make sure your slide is synced with your blades).

Q&A Rowing Technique

Question of the Day

My coach always emphasizes a quicker leg drive. I can get them down fine without it being a problem but sometimes I try to go quicker than normal on the leg drive and it doesn’t seem AS powerful. Why? Is this cause I’m not getting enough pressure behind the blade? Is there any way to improve on this?

The way I’m picturing it is you’re shooting your slide and then trying to use your upper body to get the oar through the water. This would make it feel less powerful since you’re using the smaller muscles of the upper body to get the oar through the water instead of the larger muscles of your legs. This is something I’ve noticed a lot of rowers do when coaches tell them to focus on a quicker leg drive – they shoot their butts back, which results in a lot of wasted energy since you don’t have those strong quad and hamstring muscles to pry the boat out of the water right at the catch. Shooting your butt can also sometimes cause you to miss water, so not only are you losing all that leg power, but you’re also losing the top part of your stroke, so instead of your stroke being 100%, it’s about 45%.

To fix this while still getting that quick leg drive, work on connecting the leg drive to the handle. Having a direct catch and getting the blade in the water before the wheels change direction will really help with this because you’ll have some resistance to work against as you start your drive.

When all else fails, have a serious talk with yourself while you’re in the boat. Think about the effectiveness of your body vs. the speed of the boat – what do you need to do/change/improve so that you are maximizing your body’s effectiveness to increase or maintain the speed of the boat? Ask your coach if he/she can take some video of you and then go over it with you and your coxswain after practice one day. Actually seeing yourself row and having your coach be able to point things out to you will make it a lot simpler for you to visualize what they’re trying to say. Having your coxswain there will also help her understand what the issue is so that she can be conscious of it and remind you of what to watch for (or encourage you when she notices improvement).

Drills Q&A Rowing Technique

Question of the Day

Hi there! I have the unfortunate issue of missing water/not getting my oar completely buried before my drive. My knees go down faster than the rest of my boat, and it’s hard on the timing especially when I’m stroking. Why is this happening? I know how it should feel like on my legs if I get the full drive (it’s more pressure, it’s like how strokes feel on an erg), but my hands don’t seem to get it. What are some things I can do? Thank you in advance.

When you’re missing water or not getting the blade buried before the drive it usually means that you’re starting your leg drive before you’ve unweighted your hands at the catch – this is also known as shooting your slide. Doing this will cause you to miss water and only take half or three-quarters of a full stroke, and/or in some unlikely cases, catch a crab. Novices tend to not focus on applying pressure through the water, but instead focusing on how much “effort” they’re exerting. You’re probably feeling something in your back and thinking that you must be putting a lot of effort into the stroke when actually all you’re doing is working your back more, making it tired more quickly, and translating that tiredness into perceived effort. Solution? Effort AND focus. Legs, back, arms. Try doing the reverse pick drill to work on isolating each part of the drive.

With regards to getting your legs down faster than the rest of the boat, you are definitely shooting your slide (see above). At the same time though, your boat has to follow you. If they’re significantly behind you in timing, that is their issue to worry about, not yours. Everyone needs to get the “one part drive” thing down and once everyone has that concept mastered, stroking should be a little easier.

It sounds like you know the different parts of the stroke, you just need to slow it down and concentrate on each part individually. Don’t try and master everything all at once. Work on the leg drive and once you have that mastered, add the back. Once you’ve got that down, add the arms. Talk to your coach and see if maybe he/she can record you while you’re in the boat one day and then go over the video with you to point out what you’re doing wrong and where/what you can improve. I think actually seeing yourself is the best way to make corrections. You can hear people say you’re doing something but you don’t really understand it until you see it for yourself. If you can erg in front of or beside a mirror, that would be helpful too.

Coxing Drills Q&A Rowing Technique

Question of the Day

Hi there!! I’m a fellow coxswain for my university’s junior varsity team but I’m fairly new at being a cox. My rowers tend to be sloppy with their catches and releases, they also skip their oars on the water when they feather, and start losing energy during their 6th out of 8th 13 stroke cycle. Do you have any advice I can use? I really want to help them but they’re just so stubborn sometimes, argh! Thanks for any help!

When you notice the strokes starting to get sloppy, pay closer attention and see if you can figure out when it starts. Are they sloppy all the time on a consistent basis or is it only during the last 20 or 30 strokes of a long piece that they start to get sluggish? Ask your coach what he/she sees and make note of it. Ask the boat when they start to notice it. When do you notice it? This can help you with the calls you make to correct it. If they’re being sloppy right from the get-go then it’s usually a focus thing but if they’re getting sloppy towards the end of a piece, they’re usually tired and that’s why their technique is starting to falter.

You want to get the catches in at the longest part of the stroke – do they know where their longest point is? A good trick to helping them get that length is to have them sit in the boat (while you’re on the dock) fully compressed at the catch. Then take a regular drinking straw and tape it to the gunnel. It gives them a point to aim for on every stroke so that they know when they hit that straw, they’ve reached their catch, so all they need to do is lift the hands and drop the blades in. I’ve also had coaches put tape on the tracks so that when the rowers feel their seat hit that bump, they’ll know they’ve reached their full compression/max length.

Catch placement drills are great for working on the timing of catches. Basically, you call the catch, usually starting from the finish, and the rowers go to the catch, the goal being to all enter the water at the same time. They do NOT take a full stroke…they only go to the catch. Once they’ve gone to the catch you can say “Ok, back to the finish” and they’ll pull their blades out of the water and go back to the finish. This drill is stationary, so you should not be moving. When you do this drill, listen for that “plop” sound when the oars enter the water. That’s going to tell you more about what the timing is like than just watching the blades. Have the rowers listen for it too.

Here’s an example of how its done.

Another thing is to make sure they’re not starting the legs before their blades are in the water. If the blades aren’t in before the legs go down, not only are you missing a ton of water but you’re also going to have a really sloppy entry. Call the catches for five to ten strokes (going off your stroke’s oar) and then start transitioning the call to “lock, sssend” or “push, sssend” where the “lock” or “push” is that point when they all enter the water and the “sssend” is on the recovery after they’ve taken the stroke.

To clean up the releases, remind them to squeeze into the finish, meaning to keep pressure on the drive through the WHOLE stroke. Releases get sloppy when the pressure comes off coming into the finish. Calling for an acceleration into the finish (starting the catch at 50% pressure, finishing at full pressure or something along those lines) forces them to get good layback and work on clean extractions. Also remind them to tap the handle down. I don’t know why so many rowers forget to do this and then complain about not being able to get their oars out of the water. If you’re not tapping down, the boat’s going to go off set and you’re going to have a harder time getting it out because you’re trying to move the handle away at the same height you’re drawing it in. It doesn’t work like that.

Going off of that, the set will effect the cleanliness of the catches and finishes too. Remind them where their handle heights need to be and where they need to pull into (typically when laying back properly, the belly button is where they should be pulling into).

If their blades are dragging on the water this is almost entirely a handle heights issue because it means the oar handle is being carried too high. Tell them on the next stroke to get their HANDS down (make sure they know the difference between their hands and the blades – you have no idea how many people don’t recognize the difference) and lift the blades off the water.

On strokes where the boat is set and all the blades are off the water, point that out and say “Yea guys, that’s it … did you feel how smooth and clean that stroke was? THAT is what we’re going for.” If you show enthusiasm when they do something right it shows them that you’re paying attention, you’re invested, and you see the changes they’re making. They’re much more likely to respond to excitement like this vs. negative comments like “Come on guys, this looks terrible. Get the hands down and stop dragging the blades.” It’s easy to get frustrated but you have to quell that frustration in order to help the boat get better.Challenge them – “How many strokes can we go with the hands down and blades up? Let’s go for 5 strokes.” If you can get five strokes, great – next time go for seven. If you present them with a challenge, most likely they’ll accept it.

Remind them of the simple physics of rowing – every time their blade drags across the water, they’re slowing the boat down. The reason you feather the blades and keep them off the water is because it slices through the air and helps the boat maintain the speed you just created on the drive. If your blades are on the water, you’re creating a lot of unnecessary drag and the energy you just put into the drive to build the speed up is partially wasted if you’re just going to slow the boat down on the recovery.

Losing energy towards the end of long/hard workouts isn’t uncommon but they just have to stay focused and not just go through the motions when they get tired. The more steady state you do the more your endurance will improve but that’s only gonna take you so far. The focus and intent has to be there too. They can’t be stubborn – remind them of that. If they truly are committed to the sport, to individual improvement, and to helping the boat get faster, they’ll put their stubbornness aside and listen to you and your coach. Humility goes a long way in the sport of rowing. Talk to the rowers and find out from their perspective what is happening in the boat. Have your coach video you one day and then spend some time going over it with your crew. Point out different things to them so they can see what they’re doing. They might not realize that they’re doing something wrong until they actually see it.

Novice Q&A Rowing Technique

Question of the Day

I have practice tomorrow and I really have trouble squaring up on time. I always tell myself to gradually start squaring up at half slide but I’m always behind everybody else. I also try to follow the person in front of me but I’m always a millisecond behind everybody else. I’m a girl and this is my first season of rowing! I’m so embarrassed so please help me!!

I’d ask your coach when he/she wants you to start squaring up and when you should be squared by. This will give you a time frame to work with and eliminates the whole “when should I start squaring/when should I be squared by” problem that a lot of novices encounter. It’s going to take a lot of concentration before you start squaring up naturally at the right spot without having to think about it (but once you do it becomes second nature). As soon as you get on the water, make that your priority for the day. When you’re sitting at the finish, remind yourself “finish, release, arms away, bodies over, start to square, fully square, catch” on every stroke. If you have to say it to yourself or in your head every time you take a stroke, do it.

If you’re starting at half slide, that is probably what’s throwing you off. When I teach novices to square, I generally have them start squaring when they get to bodies over so that by half slide they’re fully squared and ready for the catch. It’s possible that you’re behind because you’re starting at half slide, while everyone else is starting somewhere between arms & bodies and half slide. They’re starting a millisecond ahead of you, which is why you feel a millisecond behind. Ask for clarification from your coach as to where they want to see you start squaring up and then focus really hard on doing it every stroke.