Coxing Technique

Top 20 Terms Coxswains Should Know: Suspension

Previously: Rush(ing) || Body angle || Pick drill

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

Suspension on the handle occurs during the drive. It begins during the top quarter of the slide and is at it’s peak (force wise) when the oar is perpendicular to the hull (aka halfway through the drive).

What does it mean/refer to

Suspension, also referred to as “hang”, is all about using your body weight in the most effective way possible to move the boat. Moving the boat efficiently requires the isolation of the two strongest muscle groups – the legs and the lats – which means using your upper body strength to hold the weight off the seat and redistribute it to the handle.

Relevant calls

“Suspend the weight, light on the seat…”

“Stand on it…”, “Stand up…

On the recovery we always tell the rowers that they shouldn’t feel any weight on the feet, that the feet should feel light, etc. During the last quarter of the recovery, that’s when they should be shifting their body weight forward and on to their feet, which will give them that “standing up” feeling. Being light on the seat is the corresponding action to standing on the feet so if you make a call for one, the rowers should know that they should also be doing the other because it all corresponds to good suspension on the drive.

“Suuuspend send…”, “Haaaang send

You want the rowers to suspend/hang their weight for as long as possible so drawing out the call as you say it helps reflect that. It’s similar to drawing out “lengthen” when you want them to slow down the slides.

“Skeletal hang…”, “Hang the skeletons off the handle…”

Graham Willoughby, the assistant men’s coach at Brown, said this a lot at NRC this summer. It’s basically just another way of saying “hang all your weight off the handle”.

At HOCR I heard a men’s coxswain during the Champ 8+ make a call for “legs and lats” and followed it up immediately with this really long, low, aggressive “suuuuuuuspennnnd” call. I wish I’d been able to get video of it because as soon as he called it you could just see everybody in the boat sit up and hang off the handle for a second or so longer than they were before. This was right around the 2-mile mark by Newell so I assume he made the call because they were starting to feel the fatigue and he wanted them to feel the boat pick up going into the last mile.

Either way, it was a great call that left nothing open to interpretation and was punctuated by how he said it. If 50% of the success of that call was just the pure simplicity of it, the other 50% was the calm intensity in his tone of voice.

What to look for

This is another thing that, like body angle, is more easily seen outside the boat than in it. Body position is key here, as is connection with the foot stretchers, because any discrepancy in the two won’t allow you to suspend your weight properly.

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Body angle

Keeping the core fully engaged helps control your body weight as well as maintain your center of mass between your hips. Moving upward and outward from there, the shoulders should stay down and relaxed (you don’t want any tension in the upper body), your forearms (and by extension your wrists) should stay parallel to your legs (breaking them early reduces your ability to hang), and your elbows should stay pointed out, not down. All of this allows you to stay centered and stable which translates to being able to hang more of your weight off the handle.

Pushing with the legs = pulling with the oar, meaning when the hips drive out of the catch the hands must move in sync with them. If you’re shooting your slide then your back will collapse forward because the hips are moving without the hands. If you open the back too early (hands before the hips) then you’ll be relying on the smaller (therefore, less efficient) shoulder and back muscles to pick up the weight of the boat instead of engaging the larger leg and lat muscles. All of this factors into having a coordinated drive, which relies on being connected at the front end and following the correct sequence through the stroke.

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Pick drill

Since I can’t see the rowers suspending off the handle when I’m coxing, I rely on two main things to help me know if/when to make a call for this. (It’s something I try to make regular reminder calls for but I’m also always looking to see if it’s something that actually needs to be corrected too.)

Related: Coxswain skills: Boat feel

The first is boat feel. If I can’t feel that impulse at the catch when they start driving, I know they’re probably not getting connected and thus not hanging their weight off the handle (or at the very least, they’re not as connected as they could be and not hanging their weight as efficiently as they could be).

Related: The Four Defaults

To correct this I’ll make a connection call, evaluate it via boat feel, then follow up with a few suspension calls. I think initially focusing on the body position helps a lot here rather than just jumping straight into “suspend send” calls (although that is what I finish with). This (and what’s down below) is a good example of how prevalent the snowball effect is in rowing. If one thing is off at any point in the stroke it can/will have an effect on everything that comes after that.

The second thing I rely on and look for is timing at the catch, specifically if they’re rowing it in. If they’re rowing it in then they’re limiting the amount of overlap there is between time spent on the leg drive and how long the blade is in the water. The less overlap there is the less time they have to hang on the handle … and hanging on the handle pretty much requires your catch timing/drive initiation to be precise so it’s not hard to deduce that they’re not getting any effective amount of hang if they’re rowing the blade in. If this is what’s happening then I’ll address getting the blade in before the leg drive (unweight the hands as you roll into the catch, etc.) before transitioning to getting them to hang their weight once they’ve established some resistance to actually hang against.

Related: Can you explain the term “rowing it in”?

Effect(s) on the boat

When I’m coxing the most obvious effect on the boat that I notice is how much more “send” there is when we’re suspending our weight. The meaty part of the stroke is when the handle is moving between your shins and shorts (that’s another great call that I learned this summer – “shins to shorts”) and if you’re really hanging your weight through this section, the finishes tend to have more weight behind them (literally) which allows you to clear the puddles by a few extra inches.

Additionally, suspending your weight off the handle instead of keeping it sitting directly on top of the seat gives a lightness to the boat that lets the rowers pick it up and leverage it through the water more easily.

Related posts/questions

(Scroll down midway through the 5th paragraph in the “swinging early” section.) 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?

How do you describe “hanging on the oar” to your rowers? This is from an article in the July/August 1997 issue of USRowing magazine and the replies are from Todd Jesdale, Igor Grinko, Mike Teti, Holly Metcalf, and Barb (Kirch) Grudt. I would spend some time reading through this because there’s a lot of great info in here about the concept of suspension, what you should be feeling, etc.

Rower’s mass suspension BioRow tends to be a liiittle too science-y and physics-y for me personally so I don’t closely follow it but I came across this article awhile ago that talks about how suspending the weight can lighten the boat by 20-25%, therefore decreasing water displacement and drag. Like they said, this kind of research has only been done once (as far as they know) so those numbers might not be totally accurate but for coxswains at least, it does lend credence to the idea calling for “light on the seats” is a good thing to say in conjunction with other suspension-related calls.

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