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. 

Rewarding coaching masters

I spend a lot of my time coaching. During the school season that’s mostly school crews but off season and when time allows I like

Wakatipu Masters rowing

coaching masters.  What do Masters bring that makes coaching them so rewarding?

Increasingly the masters I coach are taking it up after their own children have taken up the sport. Nevertheless they bring a youthful enthusiasm and have a real desire to row well. Add in to that the social aspect of masters rowing and a simple desire to get fitter, plus the fact that as coach you can have a coffee or other refreshment after training with the crew and masters crews are a lot of fun.

So how is it different?

There are some difference in the stroke pattern.

  • Flexibility is generally not quite what it was so the arc of the stroke is smaller.
  • For those who are newer to the sport the catch tends to be slower. That means that lots of focus needs to go on making sure the blade goes into the water at the point point the blade is out at its full arc – I describe that as when their knees reach the top. Strangely I have sometimes found that as the balance in the boat improves a slight pause at the front starts to develop as in a balanced boat there is less urgency to get the blade in the water.
  • Then the focus moves to ensuring that the drive does not start until the blade is buried – you might hear coaches going on about rowers missing water. There are drills for addressing that but one that sometimes works [there are no silver bullets] is having half the boat rowing square blade and every second stroke place the blade but don’t push at all and simply let the momentum of the boat move the boat under you and the handle come through to the finish.

Masters rowers are also much more likely to be on the water without a coach. That can mean that every session is much the same and that the session involves rowing to a point, turning round and rowing back. A suggestion is to have a coach set up some training sessions that include a warm up, a drill or two for the session [with an explanation of what the drill is wanting to achieve] and some set work. If those are typed up and laminated crews can chose the session they will follow and take that out on the water. From experience it makes the sessions more useful, more fun and actually seem shorter.

If it is possible, get someone to video parts of a session and share that with the crew Rowers can compare what they are doing with a video clip of what they aspire to look like. You may also inadvertently capture some moments of hilarity which can be a great addition on the big screen at your next masters social event.

For those masters who have rowed through the club ranks you can take comfort from that great saying –  “The older I get, the better I was.”

Allan Vester, Legion Committee Member

St George Rowing Club

Advice to the new sculler

woman 1x, masters rowing regatta,

Missing buoys, steering off course, falling out of your boat, being late to the start, rushing the slide, or stopping too soon before the finish line are only a few of those rookie mistakes common to the new competitive sculler. 

The skills of racing a single scull take time to develop because it is a delicate combination of fitness, technique, mental preparation, tactics, and navigation. If you are new to competitive sculling it is reasonable to expect that it will take three seasons to start having consistent performances. Patience is a requirement. The peaks and valleys of your learning curve are normal. Although you may want to win right away, an internal focus on self-improvement will translate into greater external results in both the short and medium term. 

3 Recommendations for you to try

Here are some suggestions to help you stay on track as you pursue your career in the single scull. woman 1x, masters rowing regatta,

Fitness forms the base of the pyramid to build your technique and mental skills. 

  1. If your sculling technique is not at a level that you can apply power effectively you should use land exercise to get and stay fit while you are in the early learning stages. Progress towards more time in the boat but continue to supplement your sculling with cross-training until you can get a good solid workout in the single.
  2. Technique will develop in stages and the experience of one season in the boat contributes to the next. First, establish your stability, then bladework, followed by power application, and racing skills at varied stroke rates. Consider full pressure as the best pressure you can row while maintaining good technique. Make drills a regular part of your warm-up and get as much coaching as you can during the early stages of your career by taking lessons, getting videoed or going to a camp.
  3. Competition is where you have to synthesise the skills you have accumulated to date. A prerequisite for a good race is steering. Learn to steer. Concentrate on one stroke at a time and aim for efficiency each stroke rather than watching your split. After your event, spend some time evaluating it. Write down 10 points you need to work on and 10 points that you did better than last time.

Progress may not feel linear – but remember as you learn new things you will be constantly pushing yourself to new achievements. It’s like walking up stairs, if you find you have gone a step too far and cannot sustain your pace or your technique falters, go back down one step, re-establish your technique and then try again.