Self-coaching drills

A coach’s eye on your blade keeps technical crabs at bay during an outing. But if you’re out alone you need a way to self-coach. As a part of your daily warm-up choose a drill that gives you clear feedback and sets the tone for your row. 

rowing crew, masters rowing pair,
Mens pair at the catch. Photo credit: David Sogan

Two essential drills

Here are a couple of suggestions.

Feet-out rowing focuses on a clean release of the blade using the support of the water to assist the exit. The drill helps you row tall, preventing your weight from falling into the bow. Remove your feet from the shoes and place them on top of the stretcher. During the drive hold steady pressure against the foot stretcher and as you draw the oar handle. Tap down on the oar handle to release the blade in sync with legs down; just before you lose the pressure on the blade. Keep your weight over the handle as you then feather as the hands move away from your body. If the release is late, your feet will come off the shoes, and going in the water is likely. If you nail it, it’s crisp and feels easy. Practice rowing slowly for 10 minutes feet-out.

Rowing with a pause at one-quarter slide helps you practice rowing with a quiet upper body on the recovery. Transition smoothly from the drive to the follow-through position of arms-body away. When your knees rise slightly at one-quarter slide, pause. Let the boat glide for a count of one-one thousand, two-one thousand, then row on. Keep your upper body quiet and steady as you compress on the slide. Let the knees come up to your chest versus the chest dropping to the knees as you get ready to place the blade. Practice sets of 10 strokes.

If it helps you to focus, give yourself a score out of 10 for each set of the drill you do. Mark your improvement. If you don’t get better, it may be time to head in to the dock and practice again another time. Practicing rowing wrongly will not be helpful in the long term and a tired body and mind finds challenging drills very hard to do successfully.

Feather Away

Quiet refined bladework is the signature of a skilled oarsman. Turbulence and splashing at the tip of your oar sends a big hit of drag to your boat speed. The standard of your feathering motion may not be at the top of your technical to-do list but, how you change the position of the blade from square in the water during the drive to the horizontal, flat position when the oar is out of the water on the recovery, makes or breaks the release. If your blade exits the water cleanly, without catching its lower edge or throwing a lip of water, your hull is going to carry the power of your drive into the recovery. Any interruption as it attempts to exit will steal the speed you have built up through the drive. 

Mark Eller’s crew showing a “quiet” finish

Improve your feathering and squaring

Common flaws in feathering are turning the blade while it’s still under the water before the blade has exited the water and feathering as the hands are continuing towards your body at the end of the drive. At this point, the blade is no longer working in the water but the handles continue moving towards the body as if on the drive. 

Perfecting your feathering is a function of correct sequencing

First, complete your release by pressing down on the handle, take the blade out of the water until you clear the lower edge of the blade. If the blade is still loaded it will facilitate coming out square. Once clear, feather the oar as your hands move away from your body. Once the blade is released, aim for the feathering motion to happen on the recovery as the blade tip is moving towards the bow. 

Practicing a new pattern is best done stationary at first, so watch your blade to check and reinforce that you are releasing completely then changing the direction of the blade after the oar has exited. If you are sculling you can practice rowing circles with one oar and focusing on the sequencing. When you row continuously, exit with the blade square and delay the feather until your hands start to move away from your body and lead into the follow-through motion.

Ageless Improvement

perfect bladework, quad oars, rowing oar splash symmetry

As the age-groups roll by, your ability to simply rack up more miles on the river is not an option. Workout time is at a premium. Post-exercise recovery is a force to be reckoned with. So to keep getting faster with your schedule and available energy what’s an aging rower to do? 

The best strategy is to continue to get coaching and perfect your stroke

perfect bladework, quad oars, rowing oar splash symmetry

If your physical training stays on par, you will likely gain more boat speed by investing an hour in your technique versus two more hours at the gym. After all, technique improvement has no age limit. If you can pick up another meter per second by not missing water that is going to be evident when chasing down your mates next season. Incorporate technique work into your training on the water every practice so there is no need to increase your training volume – simply put more attention to your form.

In the boat focus on the following points

Protection of your joint and spine is the best resilience against injury. This means power through posture, a neutral spine favours leverage. Hinge at the hip to set body angle versus flexing through your back. Use your core. Activated glutes give you suspension during the drive and prevent collapse in the lumbar spine. Engaged lats stabilize your mid-back and shoulder blades to help sustain your swing and protect your ribs. 

Your goal is to stick to the correct sequencing of the stroke without compensation regardless of your range of motion. Maximize your stroke length through a stable body position and your rigging. Avoid extreme body positions. Perfect your bladework: entry, release, feather, square and be conscious of preserving momentum and speed and run on the recovery. Strive to keep your motions as smooth as possible and always row to your potential.