As the summer sprint season comes to an end, I recommend taking a break of sorts and make your workouts primarily about technique. Training for 1000 meter races requires a lot of short, hard pieces – the kind of rowing that tends to make strokes short and choppy. Now is a good time to focus your workouts on lengthening out, lightening up and smoothing out your stroke.
Starting with length, make sure you're getting full body angle by half slide and then compacting fully into the catch – ideally shins vertical with nose and chin lined up with the shins. I recommend some half slide rowing or pausing at half slide to set the body angle, and then allowing the legs to compress so the thighs come to the chest. You might want to stop and sit in this catch position to see how compact you're able to get.
Excellent catch position
At the finish end of the stroke, watch your blade. Are you keeping it square and partly buried till the end of the drive, or are you feathering and/or pulling down into the finish? Get your body angle set (a good 30+ degrees layback) and then draw the elbows to the finish, keeping the blade square but allowing the top part of the blade to come out as you reach the body. Once you get to that point, cut the pressure and feather the blade over the water.
To practice this, sit at the finish with the blade squared and 3/4 buried and then feather the oar handle away from the body, moving the hands as if they were going down a slide. Down AND away.
To lighten the stroke and help minimize check, work on making the catch light. Try to keep the blade from going too deep while keeping as much weight off the foot stretchers as long as you can until you get weight on the oar/pin. I like the finish to catch drill to work on this - sit at the finish and in one smooth motion, move to the catch.
Often people describe this motion as 'arms, body, slide.' We prefer 'body, slide, catch.' Notice there is no 'drive' here. The idea is to keep the power of the drive out of the catch. Another suggestion is the acceleration drill – catching at 1/4 pressure and accelerating through the stroke to finish at 3/4 pressure.
Acceleration through the drive
If you can do the finish to catch drill well, it will also help smooth out your stroke. When racing, we tend to power the whole stroke – catch, drive and release - but instead we want to concentrate the power during the drive. Learn to catch lightly with the previous drill while also focusing on a clean, fluid release. Stop pulling just before the feather, allowing the blade to slip out of the water as opposed to wrenching it out. Make the feather the beginning of the recovery and the catch the end of the recovery, the drive is everything that happens between those two points.
A longer, lighter, smoother stroke will go a long way to making you faster. A little more efficiency every stroke makes a big difference over 5000 meters.