Tag: technique

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).

Coxswain recordings, pt. 3

Coxing Recordings

Coxswain recordings, pt. 3

Australian Men’s 8+ at the European Training Center

Not too much in this video since it’s only about a minute long but I wanted to point out how he gives them something to focus on (“length and power through the water”) even though they’re at the tail end of practice and taking it back to the dock. It’s really easy to assume practice is over when your coach says to bring it in but it’s not so you should be taking advantage of whatever time you have left to get in as many good strokes as possible so you can end practice on a high note. This is particularly important if the rest of practice was mediocre or didn’t go well.

Other calls I liked:

“With hips, this one…”

“Lets set ourselves up for the row home…”

“One continuous focus to the end…”

Texas Rowing Center Rowing Starts

One thing she says that I remind my crews of a lot is that you have to row well even when you’re tired, otherwise your chance of getting injured or tweaking a muscle goes way up. Another thing she does that I do too is the “BOOM” at the start of a shift. When racing, I would do it on the first stroke of our settle after our high strokes at the start. The aggressiveness in your voice helps to reiterate the fact that the “settle” doesn’t mean there should be a drop in power.

I like the authoritativeness in the commands during the tens but outside of those strokes she sounds bored (or annoyed), like this is what she’s been doing all day and she’s over it. That’s something you have to pay attention to because whatever energy you’re projecting through your tone will get picked up by the rest of the boat and that can either make a good practice better or a mediocre practice worse. You can keep your tone chill and conversational but it should never get to the point where it sounds like you’re just going through the motions.

You can find and listen to more audio by checking out the “Coxswain Recordings” page.

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.