Coxing Drills Technique

Top 20 Terms Coxswains Should Know: Pick Drill (Normal + Reverse)

Previously: Rush(ing) || Body angle

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

The pick drill targets the sequence of movements on the recovery whereas the reverse pick drill targets the sequence of movements on the drive.

The normal pick drill goes like this.

Arms only → arms + body (→ quarter slide) → half slide (→ three-quarter slide) → full slide

The reverse pick drill is equally as simple and goes like this:

Legs only (→ top quarter/”first six inches”) (→ top half) → legs + back → legs + back + arms

In both of those, the parts of the stroke in parentheses can be included but typically aren’t part of the default drill (which includes the parts not in parentheses).

What does it mean/refer to

The pick drill is  one of the most used and basic drills that you’ll call. It’s purpose is to break the stroke into its various components and build upon each one until you’re taking normal strokes at full slide. Even though it does a good job of walking you through the stroke sequence (which makes it great when you’re first teaching novices how to row), it’s more commonly used as a warmup on the water than an actual “drill”.

We tend to think of drills as having a specific technical focus and that’s where the reverse pick drill comes in. It’s purpose is to focus on the drive sequence and is typically used when you have rowers who are shooting their slides or opening their backs too early. Since it isolates each part of the drive (legs –> back –> arms) there’s a lot of emphasis on making sure you’re going through the sequence in the proper order, i.e. not opening the backs before you start the legs or breaking the arms while you’re still on the drive.

Whether you do the drill on the square or feather is up to you/your coach and can be dependent on the conditions or skill level of the crew. When given the choice I rarely do the entire drill on the feather  and instead go through it entirely on the square before adding the feather in during the full-slide strokes. Occasionally I’ll do arms and arms + body on the square and the rest on the feather but that doesn’t happen too often. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the reverse pick drill done on the feather so I would stick with staying on the square when you do this one.

Relevant calls

Calling these two drills is literally – LITERALLY – the simplest thing you will ever do as a coxswain. Can you count to 10? Congrats, you can call the pick drill. You can read all about how to do both in the post linked below. It goes into plenty of detail which is why I’m linking it instead of writing it all out again.

Related: How to call a pick drill and reverse pick drill

Outside of a few calls here or there I don’t talk much during the pick drill. I’ll talk marginally more during the reverse pick drill but with both drills I feel like the rowers need to concentrate more on what they’re doing without the distraction of me talking in the background.

Most of the calls I make have to do with pivot and timing (as necessary). Right after adding the bodies I’ll remind the rowers to “lead with the hands”, “pivot from the hips”, “keep the bodies tall”, “swing through”, etc. to remind them to get the bodies over before they catch.

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Body angle

With timing, I tend to notice more issues pop up once the slides are added since everyone has a different sense for where quarter, half, and three-quarter slide is (more so with younger crews than experienced ones) and that can affect when they catch. In that case I’ll watch the blade angles (as I mention below) and tell them to adjust their position based on how sharp/shallow the angle is to the boat (“Ryan, your blade angle is a little too sharp for quarter-slide. Shorten up the slide a bit on this next one…”). That usually fixes the timing issue without me even having to mention it but if it persists then I’ll just tell them they’re early/late and make any additional calls related to that as needed.

The takeaway from this is that you want whatever calls you make to be relevant to the drill you’re doing. If I noticed someone’s timing was off while doing the pick drill it wouldn’t be very effective for me to just say “you’re early/late” because that doesn’t address the root cause of the problem. If they’re late, watching the blade angles and making sure they’re at half-slide and not three-quarter slide (which makes their recovery longer than everyone else’s –> catching later than everyone else) does address the problem.

What to look for

Some of this is touched on in the “how to” post linked up above but what you’re looking for has less to do with what the rowers’ bodies look like (that’s a secondary concern) and more to do with whether or not they’re completing each part of the stroke in the proper order.

In the boat it can be tough to see what they’re doing since this isn’t a bladework drill so it would be useful to watch them go through this sequence from the launch or while they’re on the ergs/in the tanks so you can see what exactly it should look like. This also means that you have to go off of blade angles to determine if someone is too far up/too far back at each position. The sharper the angle of the oar relative to the boat the closer they are to full slide and the shallower the angle the closer they are to the finish/their seat is to bow.


You are only using your arms. Don’t cheat and incorporate the shoulders/upper back. Start by sitting at the finish, blades fully buried, bodies stable and in the layback position. The hands will press down and come away with the handle and then when the arms are fully extended you’ll “catch” and “drive” using just the arms to pull the blade through the water.

Arms + body

From the finish, the hands lead with the bodies following by pivoting from the hips while the legs stay flat. You should feel a slight pull in the hamstrings as you swing forward (more or less so depending on how flexible you are). This “pivot from the hips” is important because that’s where your swing comes from, not from the low back. Back and shoulders stay flat here, chin stays up. Once the arms + body are fully extended (again, this will be dependent on how flexible you are), you’ll catch, swing back with the bodies, and finish with the arms.

Quarter/half/three-quarter slide

These are much easier to visualize than they are to explain over the internet so check out these videos of the national team to get an idea for what each slide position should look like. Try to spend time on the erg in front of the mirror so you can see/feel for yourself where each one is too. (None of these videos are actually of the pick drill, they’re just to give you an idea of what each position looks like.)

In the first video, note the difference in how far the knees come up when they transition down from full-slide. Same in the third one, look at how they’re just barely NOT at full-slide. There’s still another inch or two left for the wheels to come up.

Full slide

This is where it all comes together and you’re just taking normal strokes. Here the focus should be on maintaining the sequencing from the earlier parts of the drill. Timing, as a byproduct of proper sequencing, is something you should also watch for.

During the reverse pick drill you start with “legs only” so the arms stay extended and the bodies stay pivoted forward as the legs come down. You can see what that looks like in the video below. (There’s also video of what the drill looks like start to finish in the “how to” post.)

There’s a tendency when doing this drill, as you can see in that video, to finish “legs only” sitting up straighter than you should be, as well as to finish “legs and bodies” by just barely breaking the arms. Neither of these are that big of a deal so unless they’re really obviously opening the backs or breaking the arms, it’s not something you need to call out. And again, it’s not something you’re likely going to be able to see anyways unless you’re watching the drill from the side.

Effect(s) on the boat

If the sequencing on both sides of the stroke is correct it will help you establish a sense of timing and rhythm within the boat.

Related posts/questions

How to call a pick drill (and reverse pick drill)

Reverse pick drill progression + what “bob drills” look like This video (taken from the launch) is of part of the eight’s warmup during our spring break training trip.

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.

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?

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

Image via // @rowingcelebration