Tag: body position

Things that affect the set: Handle heights

Rowing Technique

Things that affect the set: Handle heights

Previously: Bladework || Timing

Position of the hands

This is the most basic and most obvious – whichever side the boat is down to needs to raise their hands. If the boat is down to port then ports need to raise their hands and starboards need to lower them. If the boat is down to starboard, the starboards need to raise their hands and the ports need to lower them.

Unnecessary movements or over-adjustments

Once the boat’s achieved a good balance, point it out so the rowers know that this is where they should be carrying their hands. Making a lot of unnecessary movements throughout the recovery, not having control over the handle, or just over-adjusting will make it difficult for the boat to level out and can result in overcompensation from the other side, which in turn makes it hard to figure out if the boat set up because the right adjustments were made or because someone is compensating by adapting their technique.

Not moving the hands through a horizontal plane

This applies to both the drive and the recovery and is easily noticed because the blade will either be up in the air (i.e. the rower is skying) or buried too deep (i.e. digging). A good visual cue to help fix this is to tell the rowers to carry their blade level with their oarlock. This might be easier for you to see from the front than it is for them from the side so make sure you point it out once they’ve made the adjustment.

Image via // @tristanshipsides

Coxing Q&A Technique

Question of the Day

Could you explain lunging a bit more? Such as what it looks like on an erg, and how I would be able to tell that say, four seat, is lunging? I know that rushing the top quarter of the slide and skying blades is a sign of lunging, but how do I know for sure that they’re lunging and not just rushing/not controlling their hands?

This video should start at the right spot but if not, fast forward to 2:30

I rely a lot on what I know about the tendencies of the people in my boat and what I’m hearing the coach say to inform the calls I’m making when it comes to technical stuff like this. When I’m on the water I’m not usually trying to diagnose a problem with 100% certainty, rather I’m addressing what I’m seeing and then either discussing it with the rower/coach during water breaks or after practice, or I make a note to watch them on the erg to narrow down what it is they’re specifically doing wrong so that in the future I do know that they’re doing X instead of Y.

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Lunge

If I think they’re lunging based on what I’m seeing then I’ll make a few calls that address posture, getting the bodies set earlier in the recovery, maintaining level hands into the front end, etc. and see if that fixes it. If not I’ll make a quick call to that rower in particular and then when we stop or paddle I’ll elaborate a bit more and say “Graham, it looks like you’re lunging a bit right before you put the blade in. Keep the hands steady and make sure you’re getting the body set early and then hold that angle the rest of the way up, don’t try to go for more reach right before the catch. Right now it’s making you miss a little bit of water because you’re skying the blade and then getting it in on the recovery instead of just being direct to the water as the wheels change direction.”

This gives them a couple things to think about, not just in regards to their technique but also in how it’s affecting their rowing. (I think rowers tend to process corrections better/faster if they know exactly how their rowing is affected vs. being expected to just blindly do something different without really understanding why.) As they work on it throughout practice I’ll watch them and point out when I see them make a change or when I see that their stroke looks better. Sometimes I’ll be watching other stuff and I’ll just notice later on that they’re not doing X with their stroke anymore so I’ll say hey, that looks better, what’d you change and they’ll say that they focused more on their posture and pivoting from the hips rather than their low back or they tried to get their upper body set sooner so they wouldn’t have to get all their length at the last second.

Another thing that sometimes happens with our guys is they’ll come off the water and get right in the tanks so they can see for themselves what they’re doing. This also lets the coxswains see them from the side which can then obviously give them a bit more insight into what’s actually happening, which in turn will let them make more specific calls the next time we go out.

So tl;dr, you might not always know 100% for sure that XYZ is happening but there’s almost always a lot of “clues” you can use to help you pinpoint what’s going on. Obviously if your coach says “Stephen, you’re lunging…” you know he’s lunging but if you don’t have that immediate outside confirmation then you’ll have to rely on your ability to relate what you’re seeing with the bladework to what that means about the rower’s body position, mechanics, etc. in order to make the right set of calls. From there, it’s all about communication with the coach and/or rower to narrow it down further.

The “inside arm, outside arm, and wide grip” drill

Coxing Drills Technique

The “inside arm, outside arm, and wide grip” drill

This drill is one we do fairly regularly as part of our warmup so I wanted to quickly go through it and differentiate between all three to explain what their individual purposes are. The overarching purpose of the drill itself is to teach the rowers how to distinguish between the functions of the outside arm and the inside arm, which you can see in the video posted at the end.

How they’re done is self-explanatory … you row with just your inside arm, just your outside arm, and then with a wide grip. If you’re not sure what constitutes a wide grip, you can go one full fist over from where your inside hand is normally positioned (so instead of two fists between your hands now there’s three) or you can just put your inside hand on the far end of the handle either where it meets the shaft of the oar or just past it.

Inside arm

This is the version with the most variety in terms of what it aims to work on. One of the things we work on with it is catch placement. Rowing with just the inside arm puts the emphasis on placing the blade and finding an immediate grip on the water and takes the focus away from muscling (aka forcing) it in, which some rowers have a tendency to do. This usually happens because they’re lifting with their outside hands to get the blade in instead of unweighting the handle and/or they’re carrying a lot of tension in their shoulders.

Another thing rowing with the inside arm works on is keeping the inside shoulder relaxed and loose. It’s common for rowers who are switching sides to pull too hard with what used to be their outside arm, which creates a lot of tension in the upper body. (Rowers on their normal sides can do this too.) Your inside arm doesn’t have the leverage to yank the oar through the water though so this allows you to focus on keeping the inside shoulder loose and the body controlled as the wheels change direction.

When you’re first learning to row a lot of emphasis is put on learning which hand squares and feathers the blade and which one actually draws it through the water. The inside arm is the one doing the feathering and squaring so if you’re coxing a younger crew, this should be a point of emphasis throughout the drill to get them used to rotating the handle with just their inside hand. Once they’ve got a good understanding of this, you can have them add the outside hand but keep it flat (i.e. just their palms resting on the handle) throughout the recovery so they can focus on keeping their outside wrist flat while the inside one rotates. It’s also the one that guides the handle during the recovery so if set is an issue, this is another opportunity to work on keeping it level without the influence of the outside hand.

Outside arm

Whenever you talk about hang or suspension, this is the arm that’s doing it. Rowing with just the outside arm emphasizes this and gets the rowers to use their body weight to hang off the handle in order to move the boat since, similarly to rowing with just your inside arm, you’re in a weaker position to get the blade through the water when you’re trying to do it with just one hand.

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Suspension

This drill, because it slows the drive down, also gives you plenty of time to focus on your body position at the catch and throughout the drive. When you’re coxing them through it you should be emphasizing what should be happening with their body so that their weight is being used efficiently. (Check out the “what to look for” section in the post on suspension that I linked up above for more on this.)

In terms of bladework, the outside hand is the one applying vertical force to the handle so handle/blade height is a point of emphasis on the recovery, as is blade depth on the drive. If you see the blades going deep on the drive you’ll want to point that out and remind them to draw through horizontally with the outside arm and feel the connection in their lats, not their shoulder.

Wide grip

For the most part this is essentially the same as rowing with just the outside arm but with better balance since you’ve got both hands controlling the oar now. Similarly to the previous drill, it puts the focus on suspending your body weight off the handle while keeping the outside shoulder just slightly higher than the inside.

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Lunge

This is a good drill to do to work on rotating around the pin and keeping the outside shoulder up on the recovery. If you visualize a line between your shoulders, it should be parallel to the oar handle when you’re at the catch, which is a good reminder if you have someone in your boat who has a tendency to lunge.

 Image via // @rowingbrad
How to sit in the boat

Coxing How To

How to sit in the boat

Previously: Steer an eight/four || Call a pick drill and reverse pick drill ||  Avoid getting sick || Make improvement as a novice || Protect your voice || Pass crews during a head race || Be useful during winter training || Train when you’re sick (as a rower) || Train when you’re sick (as a coxswain)

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how to sit in the boat. Seems obvious at first – you just … sit in it – but if you’re working on establishing boat feel or trying to figure out how to not slide into the black hole that is the bow of a four, there are some tricks to it. I’ve talked about these in various posts before but I’ve tried to combine them all here so they’re in one place for easy access.

Related: Is there a ‘right way’ to sit in the coxswain seat? My left foot always gets super numb during practice!

Bowloaded fours

When it comes to how to properly situate yourself in a four, I see way more coxswains doing it wrong than doing it right. The purpose of these boats (compared to ones where you’re sitting in the stern) is to distribute the weight more evenly throughout the bow and eliminate the wind resistance that comes from having another body sitting straight up. In order to be effective in those two areas you have to actually be lying down. If someone is looking at your boat, they should see you like this, not like this. You being flat in the boat also helps keep it on keel. If you’re sitting straight up like the coxswain in the second picture and the boat is falling from side to side, you are most likely the main contributing factor.

If you’re having difficulty lying completely flat or are avoiding it because there’s no way to prevent yourself from sliding into the bow when the boat surges then you need to adjust the back (or neck) rest to accommodate your height. This is the equivalent of the rowers foot stretchers … they wouldn’t not change their foot stretchers just because the lineups aren’t set and they didn’t row in that seat yesterday or might not row in it tomorrow so in a similar vein, there’s no excuse for you to not adjust the back rest.

If you’re short, move it forward towards the bow to decrease the amount of extra space between your feet and the end of the boat. If you’re around my height (4’11”) then you still might not be able to reach the very tip of the boat with your feet but you’ll be far enough forward that your feet will be closer to the narrow end of the hull which will make it easier to brace them against the sides of the boat.

If you’re tall, you’ll need to move the back rest back towards the stern. For those of you who are more vertically blessed than the rest of us then that might mean moving it back so you’re right against your bow seat’s backstops, which also means that you must lie down as far as you can because their upper bodies/elbows will probably travel in the plane directly over your head. There’s pretty much no way to be a tall coxswain and comfortably cox in a bow loaded four though (at least that’s what I’ve heard from friends) so sacrifices will have to be made.

If the back rests in your shell aren’t the solid planks (which are amazing) and instead are those mesh nets (second in awfulness only to those stupid neck bars that some Resolutes have), make sure that you tighten them enough so that there’s no tension in your upper body when you’re lying down. The first time I coxed a four with one of those I didn’t think to tighten it and came off with the worst headache and a really sore ribcage because I was tensing my body so much to keep myself in a good position to see and not slide around. The next time I was in that boat I pulled the straps about 75% and that ended up being perfect (and not entirely uncomfortable…). If you don’t have one of those mesh nets I’m almost positive you can buy them online from the boat manufacturer but I’ve also seen crews DIY their own from old t-shirts (it involved grommets, carabiners, and thin rope or bungees), which is easier to do that it sounds.

Going back to the “sliding into the bow” problem, it took me forever to figure out how to deal with this. I can lay completely flat in every four I’ve ever been in but if I move the back rest up to the point when I can actually brace my feet against the boat then I end up with my chest right against the steering lever (the one that moves left and right), which as you can imagine makes it really difficult to steer. The solution was to throw an old soccer ball (the smaller ones that are 18-24″ in circumference work great) or a small beach ball into the bow of the boat to put my feet against. This lets you keep the back rest closer to the stern while giving you better control over your body and not compromising your ability to steer. Please don’t listen to your coaches when they tell you to just throw a life jacket in the bow because that’s stupid and not a legitimate solution. One, they’re split down the middle and have a giant hole in them and two, it is incredibly easy to get your feet tangled in them. Worst case scenario, if you flipped and your feet are caught up in a life jacket, how easy do you think it’s gonna be for you to get out of the boat? Not very. Don’t use life jackets.

Related: Coxswain Skills: Boat feel


It’s pretty easy to brace yourself in an eight but you’ve gotta know how to sit in the seat for this to actually work. You can casually sit in the boat during less intense stuff but when you’re doing pieces, drills, etc. you should make your body is “one with the boat” so you can feel what’s happening and so you’re not getting jerked around. The way to do this is to press your feet into the footboards on either side of your cox box (like you’re trying to push something away from you) while pressing the small of your back (that inward curve right above your butt) into the back of the seat. Doing these two things allows your body to move with the boat rather than in response to it.

Side note, I had a rude awakening when I was coxing in Florida over winter break when I got in the boat and realized our Resolutes don’t have these footboards. I’ve never been less in tune with a boat than I was that week, which was really frustrating for me because I felt like I was missing out on a lot of things the boat was doing. Having your feet flat on the bottom of the hull just doesn’t provide the same … feeling … resistance … I’m not sure what word to use … so it was tough to establish any kind of boat feel when I was in there. Similarly, when we were doing high rate stuff, like starts at 38-42spm, I felt like a rag doll. It took a lot more effort than I’m used to to keep my body stable, despite having what I consider to be pretty solid core strength. So Resolute coxswains … how do you combat this?

When it comes to your upper body, similar to the rowers you want to keep everything loose. Rather than tensing your shoulders to prevent your upper body from moving around you should instead use your core to keep everything stable. (More motivation to do core workouts.) I’ve heard of pressing your elbows into or around the gunnels to keep you from moving but I tried that in Florida and it just hurt so I can’t vouch for that method personally.

The positioning of your fingers/hands is the final component to how you sit in the boat. I know I’ve been talking about this a lot recently but you shouldn’t be gripping the steering cables with a full fist (this creates unnecessary tension in your shoulders and causes you to oversteer).

Related: Coxswain skills: Steering, pt. 1 (Oversteering)

Instead you should hook your thumb, index, and middle fingers around them (see the picture illustrating how I do it in the post linked below) and then finish by hooking your pinkies over the gunnels. This helps you maintain full contact with the boat while preventing you from oversteering due to the limited range of motion you now have thanks to how you’ve weaved the cables between your fingers.

Related: Coxswain skills: Race steering

What advice do you guys have for sitting in the boat? If you’re a tall/short coxswain in a four, what’s your method for positioning yourself?

Image via // @henryfieldman
Top 20 Terms Coxswains Should Know: Lunge

Coxing Rowing Technique

Top 20 Terms Coxswains Should Know: Lunge

Previously: Rush(ing) || Body angle || Pick drill || Suspension || Skying the blade || Quarter feather || Pin || Run

What part of the stroke/stroke cycle does it refer to

Lunging can occur at any point after bodies over but the point in the stroke where it’s the most prevalent is at the catch.

What does it mean/refer to

Lunging is another way of saying over-reaching, diving, or falling into the catch. When you go to the bodies over position, ideally you should be pivoting from your hips. Your range of motion is limited by your hamstring, knee, and hip flexibility so some people are able to pivot more than others but for those who aren’t super flexible, they try to compensate for that by bending forwards from their low backs to get their bodies over and attain some amount of reach. For those who are able to pivot forward without issue, they tend to think that more is better so they fall forward at the last second to get a few extra inches of reach when in reality they’re just derailing the boat speed.

Relevant calls

One of the most consistent things I say to the crew in this situation is to remind them to set the bodies early and that all their body prep should be completed before the wheels start rolling. Any additional reach after that is lunging and it’s not only ineffective but it’s also detrimental to the speed of the boat. Noting the fact that they’re actively slowing the boat down rather than maintaining or building speed usually gets their attention if nothing else does.

I try to avoid saying “you’re lunging” or “let’s make sure we’re not overextending ourselves at the catch” too much because I think that draws attention to the problem (which could end up exacerbating it) rather than directing them to a solution, which is what those reminder calls attempt to accomplish. Sometimes it’s necessary to say those things (i.e. if it’s a consistent problem that isn’t being fixed) but I usually try to save this as a last resort. It’s also really easy to just say “you’re lunging” and think that’s going to fix the problem (and with more experienced crews that might be all you need to say…) but you still need to know what’s causing them to lunge in the first place so you can communicate the adjustments you want them to make. When I hear coxswains make simple calls like that over and over again and the problem still persists then I know that you have no idea what causes lunging or what you need to say to have the rowers make the necessary adjustments.

Pausing at 3/4 slide is a good drill to work on this because it limits the amount of momentum going into the catch and forces you to just drift up and quickly place the blade in the water. If you recognize that lunging is an issue with your crew and your coach says to do some pause drills during your warmup or to throw in a pause during a piece, 3/4 slide pauses can help you kill two birds with one stone.

What to look for

I look for three things all happening at the same time, or at the very least on a consistent basis within a couple strokes of each other. They are: skying the blade at the catch, an increase in the speed of their blade moving back towards bow when the rowers are moving through the top quarter of their slides, and the feeling of check in the boat. Individually those three things are separate issues with their own causes and effects but when they’re happening in rapid succession it usually means someone (or several someones) is lunging.

Effect(s) on the boat

The biggest effect that lunging has on the boat is in the amount of check it causes. Because you’re throwing your upper bodies forward and downwards so suddenly (and drastically), you’re generating a lot of momentum that is hard to counteract. Not only does this slow the boat down and create a lot of check but it also results in slower catches (mostly because you end up skying as a result of your shoulders and hands falling down towards your feet). It can also really screw up your back, not just because you’re swinging forward improperly but also because it can also cause you to shoot your tail on the resulting drive.

Related posts/questions

Top 20 Terms: Body Angle

To see all the posts in this series, check out the “top 20 terms” tag.

Top 20 Terms Coxswains Should Know: Body Angle

Coxing Rowing Technique

Top 20 Terms Coxswains Should Know: Body Angle

Previously: Rush(ing)

What part of the stroke/stroke cycle does it refer to

Body angle is important throughout the entire stroke cycle but the main point where we draw attention to it is at the bodies-over position on the recovery. Other spots where it’ll be brought up are throughout the second half of the recovery, at the catch, and occasionally at the start of the drive but these spots are secondary to the bodies over position and are usually referenced in terms of maintaining the angle rather than setting it.

What does it mean/refer to

Body angle refers to the location of your shoulders relative to your hips. In the bodies over position, the shoulders should be in front of the hips, hence “bodies over“, and you should feel a slight pull in the hamstrings (similar to when you’re stretching and trying to touch your toes). You want to be in this position before the slide begins to move and then maintain that angle throughout the rest of the recovery and into the catch.

If a rower is lacking body angle or you hear your coach tell them that they’re not getting the bodies set early enough, there’s no body prep, there’s not enough forward body angle, forward reach, etc. what they mean is that the shoulders are still in line with the hips instead of in front of them. At the “bodies over” position their upper body and lower body would make a 90-degree angle and on the slides, their hips would be directly under their shoulders. It can be tough to achieve good body angle if you’re not very flexible so working on your hamstring flexibility would be of benefit if you find that’s an issue. (This tends to be the case with guys more so than women.)

Relevant calls

A lot of the calls made in reference to body angle aren’t the singular-type calls like what you would make for the catch or finish. Most of the time when you’re talking about body angle you’re doing so during practice when you’re addressing an issue that requires an explanation or in relation to another part of the stroke.

“Let’s get that early body prep…” and “Get the bodies set…” are both are usually said as a reminder to lock the bodies in the forward angle position before starting the slides. If body prep is something we’ve been focusing on or we did some drills for it at the start of practice I’ll usually work these calls into a longer string of calls (usually in conjunction with some swing calls) over the course of several strokes to get the rowers thinking about where their bodies need to be. It tends to sound something like this:

[Not said in rhythm with the strokes, just in a casual, focused tone.] “Alright guys, we’ve been working on getting the bodies set early on the recovery so let’s keep thinking about that here. Remember, we wanna establish that forward angle and hold it all the way into the catch. [Short pause if necessary so the next call is made at the start of the recovery.] Shoulders in front of the hips, lock [said at the catch] aaand swing [said through the drive and into the finish]. Stay tall with the chests here and swiiing [said at the catch] through [said as they open the angle into the finish]. Set the bodies [said as the hands come away], stay tall in the core. [Said at the catch] Let’s make sure we’ve got that horizontal swing back and we’re not lifting with the upper bodies. [Back to a more relaxed speaking voice, no longer in rhythm with the strokes.] Let’s find that length at the front end … making sure we’re not rounding the shoulders or collapsing into our knees … hands come away together, backs tall and flat.

The time to make a string of calls like that is during steady state rows when you’ve got plennnty of time to talk to the crew. During pieces or a race I only make body prep calls if something I see or feel necessitates it and I’ll (heavily) modify it down to something much more concise, such as “set the bodies”, “get that body prep”, etc. followed by 2-3 strokes of relevant calls to reiterate the message. My go-to follow-ups are:

“Set the bodies go

“Shoulders in front”

“Chests high”, “Chests above the knees”

“Hold it” (with “it” being the body angle)

I also like to throw in some back end swing calls alongside the ones for body prep. During our practice row at HOCR one of the things I said to my four was “[at the finish] shoulders in front, [at the catch] lock [through the finish] swing, [start of the recovery] shoulders [at the catch] swing, shoulders swing”. You’re still communicating the same general message as what’s up above but in a more digestible and race-appropriate form.

“Watch the lunge…”, “Control the length…”, etc. are calls that are followed up with calls about body angle. If the rowers are lunging at the catch, it’s usually because the bodies weren’t set soon enough on the recovery so in order to maximize their stroke length they overextend at the last second. If you see/feel this happening then make the call pointing the issue out and follow it up with something similar to what’s above.

“Let’s eliminate the extra reach at the catch and make sure we’ve got all our length set by bodies over. Maintain that into the front end and … lock send. Set the bodies, lock send. Hands away, bodies over together … hold that length … swiiing back from the hips. Now feel that pull in the hamstrings as you pivot over and keep the shoulders in front as you start the slide.”

What to look for

Body angle is tough/impossible to see from the coxswain’s seat since you can’t actually see any of the bodies. It’s definitely something that is best viewed from the side so take advantage of being on the ergs or in the launch and watch each individual rower as they move through the recovery so you can learn their individual tendencies. The bodies over position (also referred to as “hands and bodies away”) should look more or less like this (with or without the pause):

Legs flat, arms level and extended, upper bodies pivoted over from the hips (the “pivot from the hips” part is key), etc. Even though you can’t see individual bodies, if you know what good body angle looks like vs. what your individual rower’s angles tend to look like, you can make the necessary individual calls to get everyone on the same page.

Another thing to watch for when watching from the side is rowers that lose their body angle as they come into the catch. This happens when rowers start the slide with the shoulders in front of the hips but finish with the hips tucked under the shoulders (which in turn can lead to them opening the backs early on the drive). With the backs perpendicular to the hull instead of angled forward over the thighs you lose a lot of your length, as well as your ability to control the slide.

This is where a double-pause at bodies over and 3/4 slide can be helpful (preferably on the ergs or in the tanks but it works in the boat too). Pausing at bodies over lets them set the body angle and pausing at 3/4 slide let’s them check to make sure they’ve maintained that position – shoulders in front of the hips – as they came up the slide. If they didn’t, try slowing it down and setting them up beside a mirror so they can watch their movements through the recovery. In my experience the rowers seeing themselves making that error does a lot more than me just telling them they’re doing it, mostly I think because it’s easier to make the association between what I’m saying and what they’re doing when they can actually see it happening. There’s not a lot of calls you can make here outside of reminding them to keep the shoulders forward, hips back, etc., which is why setting them up by a mirror so they can see what you mean is a lot more effective than just talking about it to them.

What about boat feel and watching the bladework? Although it takes a bit of time and practice you can make reasonable guesses as to what the bodies look like based on catch angles and check in the boat. If a rower’s catch angle (the angle of the oar relative to the hull) is very sharp, meaning the blade is closer to the hull than the other blades are, it could mean that the rower is collapsing their bodies at the catch in order to get more reach. In this case you should remind them to not go after any more length once the bodies are set at the beginning of the recovery.

If you’re feeling check in the boat, body prep should be one of the things you make a call for to re-adjust the ratio. If the bodies aren’t getting set early in the stroke, the rowers will have a tendency to lunge in the top quarter of the slide to get an adequate amount of reach. Sometimes you can see this by watching the speed at which the blades move towards the bow. If they’re moving at a consistent pace and then all of a sudden they speed up, that’s an indication that someone is lunging.

Effect(s) on the boat

As previously mentioned, a lack of body angle can lead to check in the boat and result in a loss of speed. The lack of body angle itself isn’t the direct cause of the check but it’s the cause of something else that is the cause of something else that is the cause of the check, which is why it’s important to know what those in-between things are so you can address everything as thoroughly as possible instead of just saying “set the bodies” anytime you start feeling the boat jerk.

Good body angle is the same way. It’s not the direct cause of solid rhythm and swing but it leads to something else which leads to something else which leads to both those things.

Related posts/questions

Can you explain the term “rowing it in”?

(Scroll to the 2nd bullet point – “swinging early“) Hi! My coxing has gotten to the point where I can see the technical problems in my rowers, but sometimes I’m not sure how to call a correction on them. For instance, I know if someone is skying at the catch I can call the boat to focus on direct catches and “hands up at the catch” and things like that for stability…but there are others I’m less sure about. Would you please touch on good ways (positive reinforcement, they hate the word “no” in the boat) to call for the following problems in a rower?

(Scroll down to the last paragraph) What checks the boats run? Recently in our octo the run of the boat is checked but I don’t know how to prevent it and what to call to make it better. Thanks love this blog, so helpful! 🙂

To see all the posts in this series, check out the “top 20 terms” tag.

Image via // Kevin Light

Drills Q&A Technique

Question of the Day

Hi! My coach has been telling me the last couple of sessions that I’m opening up too early (both rowing and sculling). He says to imagine that I’m pushing my knees away from my chest rather than moving my chest away from my knees. I understand what he means and can feel that I’m doing it now but there is some mental block between that and actually fixing the problem. Do you know any other way I could think about it or what I could do to try fix it?

On the erg or while you’re warming up on the water try to spend a couple minutes doing some reverse pick drill stuff. This will help you segment your legs and back and really force you to think about your sequencing (aka legs first, then the back, etc.). Ideally you should do this in front of or beside some mirrors when you do it on the ergs that way you can actually watch yourself; this can help a lot with the “mental block” issue because being able to see what you’re doing can/will help a lot in allowing you to actually visualize where the block is happening with regards to your body movements.

Q&A Rowing Technique

Question of the Day

Hey Kayleigh, I was hoping you could lend some advice on spacers, the correct positioning of your body in relation to the pin, and how to change these things either before you are out on the water or while you are out on the water. I was told that when in doubt to take a spacer off… is that the rule of thumb? It is different due to the type/make of the boat? Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks!

Changing the positioning of the spacers effects the height of the oarlock, which will then correspond to how easy or hard it is for you to get your blade out of the water. To adjust the spacers, all you’ve gotta do is pull them off (which takes some muscle) and reposition them either below the oarlock to add height or above the oarlock to lower the height. This is how it’s done across the board, regardless of the type or make of the boat. I’d recommend doing it on land, if you can, when the oarlock itself is dry. It’s much easier trying to get them off when the boat’s not tipping to the side and your fingers aren’t wet and slippery. Doing it on the water pretty much guarantees you’ll lose one if you do manage to get it off and unless your coach or coxswain has spares out with them, you’ll be stuck rowing with the oarlock lower than you want it. I’ve never heard the rule of thumb about removing spacers and couldn’t find much when I Googled it so that might just be what your coach has found worked best in his/her experience.

Where your body is in relation to the pin (aka your catch angle) relates to the positioning of your foot stretchers, your flexibility, and your skill level. Whenever you hear someone talking about rowing through the pin or rowing through the “work”, what they’re referring to is where your hips and seat are in relation to the pin when you’re at full compression. You want to make sure you’ve achieved your full body angle ahead of the pin so that when you reach full compression, the relation of your seat to the pin is accurate. When you’re sculling I think you’re supposed to be even with the pins but with the larger sweep boats you’ll typically go a couple centimeters past that (a couple being 1 or 2cm). If you’re (excessively) in front of the pin then you’re going to have a very steep catch angle, which is going to cause you to have mostly ineffective stroke due to the excessive load you have to contend with. It also puts a lot of unnecessary stress on your low back. If you don’t reach full compression then you’re going to be behind the pin and have a very shallow catch angle, which is also ineffective since you’re not loading the blade enough.

Regarding your foot stretchers, if they’re too far up (closer to the stern) then you’re likely to be too far in front of the pin and if they’re too far back (closer to the bow) then you’ll be too far behind it. If that’s the issue then you can easily fix that on the water by removing your feet, loosening (but not removing) the wing nuts, and moving the stretchers forwards or backwards. You can do it on land too if you’ve got the boat upright in slings. I wouldn’t recommend trying to do it with the boat on the racks because there’s always that risk that you’ll loosen everything too much and the stretchers will fall on your face.

Coxing Drills Q&A Rowing Technique

Question of the Day

Hi! My coxing has gotten to the point where I can see the technical problems in my rowers, but sometimes I’m not sure how to call a correction on them. For instance, I know if someone is skying at the catch I can call the boat to focus on direct catches and “hands up at the catch” and things like that for stability…but there are others I’m less sure about. Would you please touch on good ways (positive reinforcement, they hate the word “no” in the boat) to call for the following problems in a rower?

Yanking at the finish

Swinging early

Rush on the last 1/3 of the slide (and she doesn’t respond to ‘patience up the slide’)

Inside arm bent

Washout (I know one call is to ‘lean into the rigger at the finish’ but is there anything else I can say?)

Drop-off in power due to lack of focus (focus calls help her, but I can’t do that every minute)

Thank you so much for your blog! I started coxing this year and this has been my go-to resource for improving, watching videos, and asking questions!

I’ll give you some pointers and things to look for but you’re on your own with working it into calls for your crew. It’s no fun for anyone if I do all the work (although feel free to email me with whatever you come up with and I’ll definitely give you some feedback). The best way to figure out what calls to make is to learn as much as you can about technique and then tell the rowers exactly what they’re doing vs. what they should be doing if what they’re currently doing is wrong. Until you have a thorough grasp of all the technical aspects, it’s better/easier for everyone to just explain it in it’s entirety during practice before chopping it all up into smaller, more monosyllabic calls. Plus, it reinforces for both you and the rowers how the stroke should look and feel.

Pretty much all of these are better to understand when you can actually show the person what you mean so try hopping on the erg with them or grab one of the better technical rowers on the team to help demonstrate what you mean. Unless you’ve got impeccable technique yourself, I would get a rower (or your coach) to assist you. If you get a coach to help you (which I would recommend over a rower but it’s your call), talk to them beforehand and ask them to let you explain everything and not to interject unless what you’ve said is 100% completely wrong. This gives you an opportunity to test your own knowledge and abilities to communicate that to your rowers without having someone else jump in, cut you off, or undermine you. This is also a chance for you to assert yourself and let your coach know that you’re trying to use this as a learning opportunity too so that they understand why you’re telling them to not try and take over what you’re doing. (Key word here is assert yourself. Most coaches are totally cool with backing off in situations like this but you have to let them know that’s what you need them to do.)

Doing this really helped me when I was learning how to spot technique errors when I was a novice. Afterwards, my coach and I would go over what I said together and they’d give me feedback on what/how I explained something, if I left something out, if there was a better or more efficient way of explaining something, etc. While I was explaining it though, if I made a mistake they let me make it because that helped me learn a lot better than if they constantly butted in and corrected me. Letting me explain things on my own, make mistakes if necessary, and then talking with me about it afterwards also helped me build a lot of confidence in what I was doing. If I knew I was going to have to explain something differently to my boat as a result of explaining it improperly the first time, I’d just tell them that I made a mistake earlier and this is what you actually need to do. Making mistakes is a natural part of the process when you’re learning something new so it’s OK to make them as long as you make an effort to not make the same ones again.

Yanking at the finish

Finishes are like relationships: you can’t force them, you’ve just gotta let it happen. Remind the rower(s) that the majority of the power on the drive should be coming from the legs (via the quads and hamstrings) and that the acceleration that occurs should be smooth and consistent. The legs and hands should be in sync so once the first part is completed, the back and arm motions should be seen as a continuation of the leg drive, not separate movements, if that makes sense. When you’re yanking the handle you’re separating the back and arms from the legs. What tends to happen when you have a jerky finish like that is you complete the first half of the drive (legs flat, back perpendicular to the hull, arms still out straight) and try to get the same amount of power out of of your back and arms that you got out of your legs, which isn’t possible thanks to the smaller muscle groups of the upper body.

The second half of the drive usually looks something like this as a result: pulling the handle up (creating an arc-like motion) instead of straight into the body (thus burying the blade deeper than necessary, making them think they’re doing more work than they actually are) and finishing the stroke in their lap (resulting in them washing out and having an incomplete stroke).

Try rowing with the inside arm only if you can; it’s pretty much impossible to keep the blade completely submerged and yank it into the finish if you’re only rowing with one arm. Another thing you can do (this is actually probably the better option) is to get on the ergs and pull up the force curve on the monitor (just press the “change display” button until it comes up on the bottom of the screen). I don’t recall if PM2 monitors have this so this may only work if you’ve got the newer PM3 or PM4 ones. If they’re yanking the handles they’ll see their force curve will have two peaks instead of one. You can see in the photos below what that’ll look like. The way they change this so that it shows only one peak is to adjust where and how they emphasize their legs, back, and arms.

Swinging early

I don’t know if you mean swinging on the drive or swinging out of bow so I’ll start with out of bow. I  really don’t know what to say about that other than to just pay attention. Watch the shoulders of the person in front of you, anticipate (key word there … anticipate) their movement, and match their timing. You can usually see this if you watch their oars on the recovery – they move faster than the one(s) in front of them. Since the body swing comes after getting the hands away I’d also remind them to control the hands coming out of the bow and match them to the speed of the boat.

If you’re talking about swing on the drive, they’re opening their backs up early. This means they’re trying to use the backs before their legs are completely flat. This usually results in them laying back too far, rushing out of the finish (because they have to come up so much farther than everyone else), and not getting the bodies set on the recovery.

This was happening with one of my novice rowers last week. Her problem was that she’d have good body prep on the first stroke but as she was coming into the catch she’d let her butt come under her shoulders instead of keeping the shoulders in front, which meant that at the catch her upper body was perpendicular to the boat (as opposed to being at an angle with the body over). From the catch, she would push off and at half slide start to open her back, which would then make it hard for her to get her legs down with everyone else because the weight of her upper body moving towards the bow (plus the run of the boat) was pushing her butt, which is on wheels, towards the stern of the boat.

One of the things I told her was to imagine a brick wall at the end of her slide (not the end of her stroke, the end of her slide). As you go through the first part of the drive with the legs, you want the part of your body that hits that wall first to be your butt. If your shoulders hit it first then you know you’re opening up too early. The shoulders must stay in front of your butt (and over your quads, if that’s easier to visualize) until the leg drive is completed. Reminding them to engage their glutes (aka squeeze their butt) on the drive has also been something that’s helped some of the rowers I’ve coxed. If you sit in a pseudo-catch position right now and squeeze your butt you can kinda feel your core (abs + low back) tighten as well. Tight core = better posture = stronger back = less likely to open up early.

Another thing to focus on is direct catches. If you dive into the catch (hands physically down by your feet) your blade is going to be way up in the air, which means that when you push off at the catch there’s no resistance to keep you from opening your back up. Timing is key here, as is keeping the hands up and level on the recovery. When the slide is about an inch or so away from the catch, that is when you should start lifting the hands to put the blade in the water. If you don’t start lifting the hands until you’re already all the way up your slide, you’re gonna be late, you’re gonna miss water, and you’re probably gonna open the back too soon.

One of the issues that people tend to have with this (or as a result) is they think of the stroke as being a pulling motion rather than a pushing motion. I know we use the word “pull” a lot when trying to explain certain things but pulling really only applies to the very last part of the stroke (with the arms). The majority of the stroke happens because you’re pushing off with your feet. If you’re pulling on the handle right from the start you’re not getting any suspension (or hang) on the handle. In order to do that you’ve got to have the shoulders forward and your back supported (no slouching, sit up tall, contract your core, chin up, shoulders firm but relaxed). This allows you to push the boat rather than pull the handle.

One of the drills that really helps with this problem is rowing with the feet out. If you’re opening up the back early it is highly unlikely bordering on impossible that you’re maintaining any connection with the foot stretchers, which means that if you open up the back before you’re supposed to you’re going to fall backwards and into the lap of the person behind you. Rowing with the feet out (during warmups is a great time to do this) forces you to really think about the sequencing and not shifting your weight before you’re supposed to. The reverse pick drill is another drill that focuses on the sequencing on the drive – legs only, then legs and back, then legs, back, and arms. For someone opening their back early, your focus is going to want to be on emphasizing those first two progressions.

The other thing you can do to help them understand the concept of suspension is to get on the erg with them and have them come up to the catch. (Make sure they’re where they need to be and are in a good position – if they’re not, correct them.) You then go stand directly in front of the erg and grab a hold of the handle in between their hands. (Brace yourself against the erg if you need to but make sure you have a firm grasp on the handle.) On your call, tell them to drive back (not all the way, just the first inch or so) and feel the resistance you’re putting on the handle. What should happen is they should feel their weight come just slightly off the seat. That is the hang you’re looking for on the water. If you have mirrors in your boathouse, set the erg up parallel to them so you can watch their bodies and ensure that they’re driving back properly.

Rush on the last 1/3 of the slide

Pause drills. I did this with the eight I took out the other day for like, 30 minutes and I swear it made such a difference with their slide control. We did a two-part pause at hands away and 1/2 slide and started off doing it by pairs, then fours, then sixes, then all eight so that each group could get a sense of what the recovery should feel like without being rushed up the slide by another group.

Starting with the pairs let me focus on the individuals and (attempt to) correct whatever I was seeing that was contributing to them rushing the slide. It was honestly much (much muuuuch) more of a focus issue than it was anything else (as it is most of the time) but breaking it down and really forcing them to think about getting the hands away together, coming up the first half of the slide together, stopping at what is actually half slide (not 3/4 slide or full slide), having room to come the rest of the way into the catch, and doing so in a controlled manner was really the most effective way I think we could have gone about it. We spent a good amount of time finding where 1/2 slide is (never as far up as you think it is) and that helped a lot.

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?

Talk to your coach and see if you can spend some time doing this during practice. Since he’ll have a much better view of the bodies and slides, listen to what he says (since you can’t see either of those things) and try to work the things he’s saying to the rowers into the calls you make. If you know specifically who the girl is that’s rushing, don’t be afraid to specifically call her out and say “Amanda, I need you to focus on slowing your slide down on the recovery between hands away and the catch…”. The calls I tend to make for stuff like this are “control”, “patience”, “relax”, “feel the recovery”, “stay long”, etc. but when it comes to fixing specific problems I just repeat whatever I’ve heard the coaches say since I can’t see anything that’s happening with their bodies or slides.

Related: Today our novice boat was SO rushed! No matter what the stroke, they’d hit it for like 3 secs before flying 3 or more SR than was supposed to be. Stroke told me that she and 7 seat were trying to control it but middle 4 on back kept rushing. I tried to say “lengthen, ratio shift, control, etc.” while still saying their SRs. Nothing I said changed it, if anything SR went higher. I gave up by the end of it, since they weren’t listening. Coach didn’t help, just said follow stroke. Help?

Inside arm bent

This isn’t something you should have a call for, it’s just a bad habit that needs to be broken. The only way to do that is to explain why they shouldn’t do it and then show/explain what they should be doing instead. Some coaches actually do teach you to row with a bent inside arm, which I don’t understand at all (please explain down in the comments if you do), but I’ve never had a coach teach my crews that and the coaches I’ve worked with that have taught that have gotten in such hot debates with the other coaches over whether it’s effective or not that, at the end of the day, it’s really just not worth it.

If you think of the arms as an extension of the oar handle, a bent elbow disrupts the transition of the load at the catch (resulting in not-as-strong of a hang). In order for you to have a good hang at the catch and not end up with elbow tendonitis later on in the season, the arms need to come away and get completely outstretched before the bodies come over and then stay that way until the final part of the drive when you bring the handle in. If, on the flip side, they’re having trouble getting the arms out with everyone else on the recovery, a) they need to practice everything at a slower pace so they can get the proper sequencing down and b) they need to be quicker (obviously … it’s really that simple). (Those things might sound counter-intuitive but I promise they’re not.)

Having the arms bent (on either the drive or the recovery) puts you in a vulnerable position too because it makes you less stable against anything that would offset the boat. One of the things I worked on with a four I took out yesterday was keeping the arms straight because whenever the boat would go offset it was partially made worse by one of the rowers having bent arms that would buckle as soon as the boat started tipping. This caused her hands to collapse down into her lap nearly every time which then exacerbated the set problems. Once we corrected the bent arm issue, the set problems were somewhat alleviated. It didn’t fix them but it definitely made a noticeable difference.

Washing out

This goes hand in hand with what I said about at the beginning about yanking the handle. If the rowers are washing out, they’re not finishing with the handle high enough on the body, rather they’re finishing with it in their lap. This is easily noticeable because there will be a lot of whitewater being thrown around as their blade comes out and the boat will likely tip over to that side a bit as the hands and rigger are forced down. They’ll also most likely have a shorter stroke than everyone else, leading to them extracting the blade early.

One of the ways I’ve explained it while coxing is that they’re pulling the blade down instead of through the finish. I tell them to make sure they keep the outside elbow up throughout the drive and through the finish, while focusing on using the lat muscles to draw the handle in to the lower rib. Another thing I’ve said (when all the “technical” rowing explanations aren’t working) is to imagine someone you really, really, really don’t like sitting directly behind your outside arm. Every stroke you take, your want your elbow to be up high enough for you to be able to elbow that person in the face. In order to do that, you’ve got to pull straight through, not down, and with a solid amount of force. I don’t know what it is about that analogy but it has helped fix so many problems related to washing out.

If after working on their finish position, drawing through, etc. you still notice the rower having a problem, talk to the coach about maybe looking at the rigging at that rower’s seat. If it’s rigged too high (less likely) or the pitch is off (more likely), that could be contributing to the problem. Work on technique first though before looking into this.

Drop off in power due to lack of focus

Yea, I lack the patience to constantly try to draw a rower’s focus back into the boat. Some coaches and coxswains are like “whatever, it’s part of the job” but I am so. not. one of them. If I have to say it more than once or twice in one practice (or every day, if it’s a habitual thing), I very sternly remind them that I am not there to babysit them and they either need to get their eyes and head in the boat or get out.

Even with novice crews, I get that you’re young and new to the sport and whatever but still, this is a skill you need to work on. I can’t (and refuse to) be held responsible for your inattentiveness. I’m not going to spend my time constantly telling you to keep the pressure up, stay focused, etc. when there are umpteen hundred other (more important) things I need to be paying attention to. The rowers can hear me telling that person to match up with everyone else too so it’s very likely that they’re going to start getting annoyed that this same person is constantly finding things outside of the boat more worthy of their attention. That’s happened before and trust me, you would much rather me harshly tell you to pay attention than have seven rowers get on your ass about it.

If I notice that it’s a continual problem with one specific person then I’ll pull them aside after practice, ask them what’s going on, and reiterate that I can’t constantly be telling them to stay focused and match the pressure of everyone else. I try to remind them that I’m not trying to be a bitch about it but they’re really not leaving me any option, especially if something has already been said to them multiple times. One on one conversations like that have always been more effective in my experience than any random call I could make in the boat.

If you’re getting tired midway through practice and that’s why your power is dropping off then you need to start running, biking, lifting, etc. on your own time to increase your cardio base and overall strength. If your power is dropping off because you’re getting bored or whatever, sorry but I don’t know what you want me to tell you. I explain too that there’s a reason why I’m always talking when I’m coxing and that’s to keep the rowers engaged and focused (I’ve found with my boats that the less I talk, the more unfocused my crews become). They should be listening to what I’m saying and evaluating themselves, what the boat is doing, etc. on every stroke.

I’ll also ask them if there’s something specific that I can say to help them refocus and over the next week or so, if I notice them starting to fall off or lose their focus, I’ll say something like “Allie, lemme feel that drive, big push, refocus heeere annnd send … good, now let’s maintain this pressure, making sure everyone is equally contributing to the boat speed, no passengers, pick it up and send…”. A huge part of being a rower (and coxswain) is understanding the concept of personal responsibility and this is one of those things that falls under that category. You either get it or you get left behind but in the end, whatever you do is your choice.

Q&A Rowing Technique

Question of the Day

Hi! I tried looking online about my “problem” and I couldn’t find much so here I am, looking for some help! My coach always tells me that I “open” the body too early at the catch/drive. I don’t understand what he means because every time I try to correct it, I’m wrong. Do you have any solution that could help me? Thanks a lot.

Sure! So, opening up the back/body too early means that you’re starting your layback before the legs are all the way down (aka before you’ve finished the leg drive). I’ll try and illustrate this below with one of my typically-crude illustrations because I think things like this are easier to understand when you can visualize them. The explanations are in the picture but if something doesn’t make sense, feel free to comment and I’ll clarify.
Coxswains, this is something in particular you can be watching for when the rowers are on the ergs. If you see someone opening their back too early (as illustrated above) or doing the opposite, which would be shooting their tails (when you essentially take the legs completely out of the drive and use only your upper body for power, leading to lots of fun low-back problems), correct them and go through the proper sequence with them once or twice until they get it.

Rowers, if you’re having issues with getting the sequencing down, try doing the reverse pick drill on the erg (or ask your coach if you can add it to your warmup the next time you go out). This will go through the legs-back-arms progression one section at a time starting with legs only (arms and body stay in the “body over” position), followed by the back (legs down, back in the layback position, arms straight out), and then finishing with the arms (legs – back – arms).