When we row with our feet out of the foot stretchers I have a lot of trouble getting up the slide never mind getting up on time, and it’s really embarrassing being the only one in the boat who obviously struggles with these drills. Is there any thing I can work on to improve this area?
It sounds like you’re not getting or staying connected throughout the stroke and are most likely trying to use your calves and shins to pull you up the slide. If you lack connection at the catch, as you pull through the drive your feet are going to come off the stretchers and you’re going to “fall” backwards, which is obviously going to make it pretty difficult to get back up the slide on the recovery in time with everyone else.
The first thing you have to do is establish that connection right as the blade enters the water at the front end. In this instance the connection refers to the grip the blade has on the water and the relationship between the body and the handle. In order for you to have good connection, regardless of whether you’re rowing feet in or feet out, the blade has to go straight to the water at the catch, meaning there has to be an immediate unweighting of the handle as you come into the front end. If you’re already at full compression when you unweight your hands, your entry to the water will be late. You have to anticipate your arrival to the catch and time your hands accordingly, if that makes sense. Basically what I’m saying is that when you’re about two inches away from the front end with your slide, your hands should already be moving up to drop the blade in.
Once your blade is in the water, you have to maintain a consistent application of power throughout the entire drive. Keeping your quads engaged will be a big help here. As you approach the finish also be aware of how much you’re laying back. If you’re laying back too far then you’re going to end up in the lap of the rower behind you, which is going to result in your feet flying off the stretchers. Having a good squeeze right at the end of the stroke combined with maintaining a similar layback to when you’re rowing feet in will help you maintain that connection with the stretchers. If you lack connection at the finish you’ll end up having to reset your feet and use your hamstrings, calves, and shins to pull you up the slide which will lead to all sorts of problems, the least of which is your timing at the catch.
When your coach or coxswain tells you to stay connected, don’t just think “OK, I have to keep my feet on the stretchers”, think “I have to keep X, Y, and Z muscles engaged throughout the drive so that my finish is supported”. Connection at the catch, a consistent drive, and supported finished are the main components you want to shoot for here. If you find you’re still having trouble with this on the water, try spending some time on the erg rowing feet out, preferably beside a mirror so you can watch yourself. I’d also recommend doing some planks to help you strengthen your core. Core strength is a huge component in having a supported finish and is especially important to have when rowing feet out.