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Rowing Technique

  • Published in Coaching
Compiled by Conrad Pearson (The Rad)
 
Hand Position
 
Hold the oar with the hands to the width of the handle. Inside hand and outside hands at the end of the handle grip. The blade is feathered with the inside hand and a majority of the power is applied with the outside hand.  
 
 
The Stroke
 
The rowing stroke is a precise movement. In one fluid motion, a rower uses their legs, back, and arms to generate power. Perfecting the stroke requires practice, dedication, and more practice. The stroke begins with the placing of the oar in the water and ends when the oar has re-emerged and is posed to begin another cycle. The boat is only as fast as the blades drive it. The power transferred through the blade to the boat is only as much as the legs supply. A good technique is based on the work of the legs to create most of the total power. 
 
The rowing stroke can be broken down into individual components or phases: the catch, drive, finish (or release), and the recovery. These phases must flow from each other and into each other, producing a continuous and fluid movement. The figure below depicts the stroke's components. Turning the blade horizontally by wrist motion as the oar handle is depressed to raise the blade clear of the water at the beginning of the recovery is called feathering. Turning of the blade from horizontal to vertical in preparation for the catch is called squaring. 
 
 Rowing Chart 
 
The power for the stroke is supplied by the driving down of the rower's legs and the pulling back with shoulders and back; the sliding of your backside helps to generate great power through the rower's legs and feet. This entire sequence is rhythmical and balanced. 
 
The rowing stroke comprises fast movements and slow movements. The essence of good rhythm in the boat is the contrast between them. Done well, a good motion looks smooth, continuous, and unhurried, so it can be difficult to see that contrast. The fast movements begin with the entry of the blade and continue through the stroke and the movement of the hands away from the body after blade extraction (the finish). The slower movements begin when the hands pass over the knees and continue until the next stroke. The inertia created by the power of the stroke carries the hands down and away from the body when the legs are fully extended. The body relaxes immediately as the blade leaves the water so there is no interference with this natural free-flowing movement. Your bum moves SLOWLY forwards in contrast to its speed during the stroke. The rower prepares by gathering, ready to spring from the foot chocks onto the next stroke. The movement of the bum must be faster during the stroke than it is during the recovery. The hands and then the body move lively away from the finish to allow the bum to start on its way forwards. To achieve optimum position for the application of power and good forward length the rower should stay relaxed but alert and keep:
 
·        Head High- encourages good posture for body and spine
 
·        Chest against thighs -rotation should be centred around the hip joint, not the upper or lower back
 
·        Shins vertical - strong position for the quadriceps
 
The Recovery and Slide
 
Although logically the catch is the starting point of the stroke, a rower will never perfect the catch unless he/she has learned how to put the body in the correct position prior to connecting with the water.  
 
After the finish at the point when the blade is feathered, the rower executes a quick “All hands away” followed by a swing forward with the upper body to an upright position. Then, the rower moves slowly back up the slide towards the catch. If a rower zooms back up the slide, the momentum of the rower can check the run of the boat, which sends the boat in the other direction. The rower must "sneak" up on the catch. As the rower approaches the catch, he/she feathers the oar blade back so that the blade is perpendicular to the surface of the water or squared.
 
Recovery Tips
 
·        The hands should move away from the body at least as fast as they were drawn into it. This should not be forced, but should flow down and away from the third rib. 
 
·        If the finish has been properly executed, the boat should be running at its maximum speed and the boat should be level - this is the rower's only opportunity to rest. To achieve this, the shoulders and arms should be relaxed - stiff shoulders and locked elbows are to be avoided.
 
·        Physiologically, the most efficient breathing pattern for a rower is to exhale on the finish and then inhale immediately so DON'T FORGET TO BREATHE.
 
·        Once the hands are 'away' the body must be rocked over into the catch position. It is vital that this movement comes from the hips and not just by leaning forward from the shoulders. The whole upper body must be rocked without rounding the back - this cannot be achieved unless the knees are held down until the rock has been completed. Achieving this in unison is the easiest way to create rhythm in an eight or four.
 
·        The rock over should also achieve a transfer of the rower's weight from the bum to the foot chocks. The key to achieving the 'push' off the catch is to have the weight on the feet as early as possible and then to build that pressure as the rower comes forward on the slide.
 
As the rower slides from the recovery into the catch, he/she must hold the body position achieved in the recovery, build the pressure on the toes, and stay relaxed enough to allow the accurate placement of the catch.
 
SLIDE TIPS
 
·        The body position should remain relaxed and should not alter from that achieved from the rock over.
 
·        The slide should be at an even pace, with no rush to front chocks. 
 
·        The slide should happen under its own momentum as a result of the 'hands away' and 'rock' movements. This should lead to the rower 'floating' up the slide. It should not be necessary to use the ankles or feet to pull the bum up the slide.
 
·        As the boat moves beneath the rower and the bum moves towards the front chocks, there will be a gradual transfer of the weight of the rower from the bum to the footplate, building the pressure on the toes.
 
·        The rower should use his inside arm to square his blade as it comes over the toes and should let his hands rise gently into the catch. 
 
The Catch
 
This is the point of the stroke where the blade enters the water. The rower is at full compression up the slide, and tries to reach as far as possible to obtain a long stroke. The rower must not over-compress meaning his/her shins must be perpendicular to the boat to gain maximum leverage at the drive. When the rower is at the catch, the boat is at its most unsteady point. At this time, steadiness, and balance is key, while entering the water and changing direction quickly is of utmost importance.
 
The faster the blade enters the water the more positive will be the grip, the longer will be the stroke and the faster the boat will travel. The important points are: Hands guide the blade into the water; Legs apply the power; Trunk and arms link legs to blade.
 
CATCH TIPS
 
·        At the instant that the front chocks are reached, the blade should be placed in the water, perpendicular to it, using the outside arm. If this is not achieved instantaneously, one or two things can happen - (1) the leg drive is applied without the blade being locked into the water (rowing into the catch), in which case all of the leg drive is forcing the boat backwards; or (2) there is a pause at front chocks which causes instability, timing problems and a loss of the run on the boat.
 
·        Avoid trying to 'slam' the catch - it wastes energy, causes instability in the boat and leads to the development of a two-stage stroke (catch, followed by finish with nothing in between) rather than a smooth application of power.
 
·        Applying the leg drive as soon as the blade has been placed into the water in order to lock the spoon into place. The push should be applied only from the feet, keeping the back and shoulders locked, and the arms straight. Avoid using the shoulders or arms as anything other than a way of connecting your legs to the handle.
 
The Drive
 
The drive is the part of the rowing stroke where the rower applies power to the oar. This is done in one fluid motion, beginning with a leg drive - which generates most of the stroke’s power. 
 
The objectives of the Drive are:
·        To apply the full power of the leg drive smoothly whilst 'hanging off' the blade.
 
·        To accelerate the boat to maximum speed.
 
·        To coordinate the application of the back, shoulders and arms.
 
After the catch, the blade is in the water and the rower drives with his/her legs against the foot stretchers to pull the blade(s) through the water and move the boat. For the first half of the drive, all the muscles are working through their middle range and the blade is at its most efficient point in the stroke. Make full use of this advantage by beginning the draw with the arms before midway. The arms must start to draw well before the legs reach the back chocks.  When your legs are fully extended, lean back, and pull your arms to your chest.
 
After the catch, the blade is in the water and the rower drives with his/her legs against the foot chocks to pull the blade through the water and move the boat. For the first half of the drive, the rower remains upright. The rower's back must remain straight up to preserve leverage. In other words if the rower shoots the slide, that is, leans forward while he straightens his legs, all leverage and power on the drive is lost. Conversely, if the shoulder open too much at the catch, there is nothing left with which to continue acceleration of the oar. With the beginning of the second half (after the knees finish their drive) the rower leans back and pulls the oar in with his/her arms. The most crucial part of the drive is keeping the oar blade just below the surface of the water and making the oar accelerate smoothly through the water, i.e. finish faster than it began.
 
All the muscles are working through their middle range and the blade is at its most efficient point in the stroke. Make full use of this advantage by beginning the draw with the arms at about midway. The arms must start to draw before the legs reach the back chocks.  When your legs are fully extended, lean back, and pull your arms to your chest.
 
DRIVE TIPS
 
·        There should be very little of the rower's weight on the bum during the drive. The knees should come down smoothly, but as quickly as possible. The arms should still be straight with back locked and the rower 'hanging off' the handle of the blade.
 
·        The back will naturally 'open' through the leg drive. It is important that this doesn’t happen as a jerking motion and there is a smooth blend of the legs, shoulders and arms. The arms should begin to pull (flex) when they are approx. at the knees.
 
·        The rower should then initiate the first part of the upper body effort by pushing his shoulders back.
 
The Finish
 
At the finish, the rower is leaning back and pushing down on the oar handle to make it come out of the water. Remove the blade from the water by pushing the oar in a downward and away motion with the outside hand. As the oar’s blade comes out of the water turn it so it is flat - this is called "feathering."  When an oar blade is feathered, it is parallel to the surface of the water. 
 
·        To maintain the speed of the boat with a quick movement of the arms.
 
·        To draw the blade up in order to have a clean 'send'.
 
·        To extract the blade cleanly and together.
 
Retain pressure on the blade through to the finish by pressing toes on the foot chocks, by using the leverage of the trunk, and by keeping the arms working with the body. Although legs reach back chocks before the arms and trunk have finished working, the toes should continue pressing hard to give support with the legs until the blade is extracted. The trunk should be moving towards the bow until the moment before the hands reach the body. If the arm draw starts too late, this timing will be delayed.
 
FINISH TIPS
 
·        Assuming that the drive has been properly executed, it will be almost impossible to increase the speed of the boat using your arms as they cannot match the power generated by the legs and lower back. The best that can be hoped for is to maintain the speed of the boat and to set up the 'run' between strokes by sending the boat cleanly away.
 
·        The smoothness of the rest of the stroke can also be lost if the rower 'yanks' the blade through the water. A properly executed finish involves a 'draw and squeeze' rather than a 'pull'. However, this should not be taken to mean that there should be any lack of effort - the arms still need to produce considerable power, but in a controlled way. The consequence of a lazy finish can be that the effort at the catch and drive is lost and no run is achieved.
 
·        The elbows need to be drawn quickly and smoothly past the body, with the effort being concentrated on the outside arm and shoulder. The inside arm should steady the blade and produce power towards the very end of the stroke, but will inevitably not exert the same effort as the outside arm.
 
·        Both arms should be used to guide the blade up into the chest at the finish. Without drawing up, the finish cannot be 'sent' as there is no capacity to tap the blade down and away.
 
·        As the handle reaches the chest, the outside arm should be used to tap the blade down. The blade must remain square until it is fully extracted from the water - only then should the inside arm be used to feather it.
 
 
The Rad
Conrad Pearson
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