Tag: sprint

Coxswain Skills: Coxing sprint workouts

Coxing How To Rowing Training & Nutrition

Coxswain Skills: Coxing sprint workouts

Previously: Steering, pt. 1 || Steering, pt. 2  || Boat feel || How to handle a negative coxswain eval || How to cox steady state workouts

Last week I talked about the nuances of coxing steady state workouts … this week is about coxing higher intensity, sprint workouts.

Related: How to cox steady state workouts


Whereas steady state workouts are all about the long, slow burn of energy, sprint workouts are all about the short and fast use of it. These workouts are anaerobic, meaning they don’t rely on oxygen like aerobic (steady state) ones do to produce energy. It’s created at a much higher rate but the caveat is that whatever pace you’re holding is only sustainable for a few seconds up to around two minutes. Think of it like this – if the body of a 2k is like the 800m or 1500m events in track (where you have to balance your power and endurance without relying to heavily on one or the other), the start and sprint are like the 100m dash (where you’re just going flat out as hard as you can for a very short period of time).


Power. Power, power, power.  It’s a lot harder to make big technical changes during these pieces so you can’t be making the same kind of long, drawn out “coaching” calls that you make during steady state. This is your opportunity to really cox the rowers and get into it so don’t waste strokes by focusing too much on technique and not enough on getting them used to being in high pressure, racing-type situations (regardless of whether you’re next to another crew or not).


Since these shorter pieces usually involve being at or near race-pace, your tone should reflect that. Overall it should be alert, direct, and energetic without crossing the threshold of being batshit crazy and frantic (which is a typical novice problem). Your words should still be easily discernible … if they’re not, you need to slow down and focus on the quality of your calls and not the quantity.


Because the focus is more on power and you don’t have as much time to “coach” the rowers like you do when you’re doing steady state, the best/easiest way to incorporate technical calls into the workout is to tie them into your motivational ones. This is easy to do when you’re doing side-by-side pieces with another crew because you can make calls like “let’s take five to sharpen up the catches and take a seat on the JV” or even simpler, us any variation of “legs send“, “hook send“, “legs accelerate”, “direct squeeze“, etc. followed up with “WALKING” to let them know that whatever they’re doing is resulting in you walking on the other crew.

There’s usually not a ton of rest time (i.e. if you’re doing a 20 on, 10 off stroke rate ladder you’ve got maybe 30 seconds between each 20) so you have to make the most of the off-time by quickly and succinctly touching on the positive/negatives of the piece and reiterating whatever the focus/goals are for the next one. When I’m coxing this usually sounds like “OK guys, first 10 felt good but the second 10 started to sag, let’s make sure we’re staying light on the seats and picking it up together with the hips and not with the shoulders…”. I usually try to get out whatever I want/need to say in the first three or four strokes, that way they can row a few strokes in silence before we build it up again.

If you’ve got a little longer between pieces, like if you’re doing 4x2k and have two(ish) minutes between each one, then that gives you a bit more time to discuss with your stroke seat how it felt and decide what the focus needs to be for the next piece. Keep in mind that you’ve gotta balance that with (in most cases) stopping, spinning, communicating with the other coxswain(s) on your point, getting lined up, and giving the coach(es) time to talk if there’s anything they want/need to say. Even though there’s technically more rest time you might not actually get more time to converse with the crew so keep your feedback short like how I mentioned during the first example and then elaborate as necessary if you have time.

After the piece

You must – must – paddle after these pieces for at least ten strokes so the lactic acid (the byproduct of energy production) can work its way out of the rowers’ bodies. Stopping abruptly after a high intensity piece and not giving the body a chance to remove it can eventually lead to muscle cramps so remind the crew to keep moving and take slow, consistent breaths (since the burning feeling in their bodies is due to both lactic acid build up and a lack of oxygen – remember, anaerobic = no oxygen).

Image via // Boston Magazine

College Racing Rowing Video of the Week

Video of the Week: 48spm

If you thought Princeton’s sprint vs. Brown last weekend was sick, wait til you see FIT’s sprint vs. Michigan in the last 10 strokes of the MV8+ finals at Dad Vails this past Saturday.

If you haven’t seen the Princeton-Brown video, check it out here. Fast forward to the 1:09:27 mark for the start of the race and the 1:14:00 mark for the sprint (and the commentary, which is hilarious).

College Coxing Racing Video of the Week

Video of the Week: UW’s Last 250m

This is a pretty neat split screen video that shows the University of Washington’s MV8+ during the IRA finals last spring, with the view of the finish line tower on the right and the coxswain’s view in the boat on the left. His audio is included too and it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect the last 250m of a national championship race to sound like.

Coxing Q&A Racing

Question of the Day

Hello! I’m not great at estimating distances but I’m learning and getting better – but my coach told me and the other coxswains on the team that it is better to call the sprint early and then ask for 10 more strokes than to call it a little late and wonder what could have been (strokes used in the race). However, I always feel bad if I tell the rowers we have twenty strokes left when we actually have thirty. What do you think? Is my coach wrong or do I just need to suck it up? Thanks!!

I don’t think your coach is explaining this properly. He’s taking two separate things and explaining it like they’re one in the same. The sprint doesn’t have to do with a certain number of strokes – you’re calling it for a certain number of meters, like the last 250m or something (which is the start of the red buoys to the finish line). Some teams do X strokes at 36, X at 38, etc. for their sprint but they still start it when they cross the last 250. The “10 more strokes” thing comes in if you say “last 10 to the line (regardless of whether you’re sprinting or not)” but it ends up being not the last 10 to the line.

Related: Judging distance

As far as wondering “what could have been”, you’re going to wonder that after every race that doesn’t result in a gold medal. If you aren’t paying attention or “forget” to call the sprint at 250m, don’t call it until there’s 100m left, and then lose by a seat, yea, you’re going to really wonder what could have been.

There’s nothing for you to “suck up”, really. Just keep practicing. At some point or another every coxswain has said “last X strokes” and it’s actually be a few more or less than that. If you can nail it and have the last stroke happen just as your bow ball crosses, rock on, but it’s not an exact science and most of the time you are estimating and hoping you’re within a stroke of what you call for. If you say “last 10” and it ends up being the last 11, it’s not a huge deal. If you say “last 10” and it’s actually the last 20, that’s a bigger issue because by now you should have an idea of how far your boat travels in ten strokes and be able to guess when you’re that far away from the line. Plus, your rowers are trusting the fact that you can see where the line is since they can’t, so they assume that when you say “last 10” you really mean last 10. Like I said though, it comes with practice and consciously making an effort to gauge the distance you’ve traveled in ten strokes, twenty strokes, etc. when you’re out doing pieces.

Ergs Q&A Racing Technique Training & Nutrition

Question of the Day

During 2k tests, I have the most difficulty sprinting. I’m generally better at long distance pieces (both running and erging) and can usually work with that to my advantage but I think that if I worked on my sprint I could chop off a second or two. Basically what’s your advice about sprinting in general? Where should I start the sprint? How many splits lower should it be than the rest of the 2k? Sorry there’s a lot of questions within this, sprinting is just one big clusterfuck for me

Sprinting is the definition of controlled chaos. By the time you reach that point, your body has entered a whole new circle of hell and you have no choice but to keep it together and continue rowing. It’s definitely something that takes practice and a lot of mental stamina to be able to execute effectively.

When I’m coxing I typically call 5 to build at 350m and then at 300m(ish), we go. When I see most people doing a 2k, that’s about where they start their sprint too. Any more than that tends to be too long and unsustainable and any less is usually not enough to produce any measurable gains. As your stamina and strength increases you’ll be able to start your sprint sooner but 250m is usually a good starting spot. The difference between your “sprint splits” and your average split time will depend on you, really. The goal of sprinting is to empty the tanks and go all out, as fast as you can, and even harder than you thought you could. As your body gets stronger and more used to rowing at those higher rates, your splits will fall. I’d say 2ish seconds below your average 2k split would probably be a good.

Related: On a lot of rowing blogs I hear people mention “negative splits”, especially when discussing 2k’s. What exactly are they and can it be beneficial to know how to properly use them?

Before you try and jump straight into an all-out sprint though, practice. Don’t practice when you’re alert and have a full tank of gas in your system either, practice it when you’re tired.  Practice keeping your head in the game – close your eyes, take a few deep breaths – and controlling your body. Sit up tall, relax your shoulders, tighten your core … these are all things you might think you’re already doing until you actually do them and realize you weren’t. Also, have someone watch and/or record you for a few strokes so you can watch the footage later and see how you looked.