row2k Features
Technique Feature: Do Drills with Purpose
August 28, 2018
Charlotte Hollings, Calm Waters Rowing

Drills can be helpful, but too often we do them without really knowing their purpose. We do them because we've gotten in the habit, because our former coach did the drill, or maybe it's just one we like. If you're going to do a drill, figure out why you do it, and what specifically is it supposed to help. Then when you transition from the drill to regular rowing, determine how that drill affected what you were trying to work on. Did it help? If not, maybe it's not worth continuing.

Some drills are almost universally detrimental, we believe. Square blade rowing is one of those. How many times have you seen a crew rowing square blade with blades whacking on the water and the boat lurching from side to side? How can that be accomplishing anything? I think the professed goal of square blade rowing is to teach rowers to push down and get a clean extraction of the blade from the water. In reality, it teaches people to cut off the finish by getting the blade completely out of the water by the end of the drive.

We would much prefer to see rowers hold on to the drive, to keep the blade at least partially buried as long as the arms are coming towards the body; i.e., as long as you're on the drive. You can hold on to the drive for the duration and instead just allow the top half of the blade to come out of the water as you reach the finish.

Just before you feather, you cut the pressure and make the feather the beginning of the recovery, not the end of the drive.

Another drill we find to be counterproductive is pause at arms away. We never want you to be in this position. The speed you can gain at the release comes not from the motion of the hands going out of bow, but from the body. As the body swings to the stern, the bow moves in the other direction. And by getting the body out of bow immediately (not waiting for the hands to go first), it's much easier to increase the stroke rate without rushing up the slide.

Arms and body out of bow simultaneously whereas pausing at arms away encourages and teaches arms then body as two separate motions. More and more elite athletes are rowing down the course at 38 to 42 strokes per minute - there isn't time at that rating to go arms then body; instead everything rolls out of bow together.

The other difficulty with arms away is it tends to cause stiff arms at the catch. We'd like to see loose arms so that you can catch with the arms and not with the body. Loose arms also help to keep the boat more stable. If arms are locked, a set disruption will knock the body off kilter but if the arms are loose, the arms can absorb the imbalance, keeping the body directly over the keel.

Don't do drills blindly. Make sure they have a purpose and that they're achieving that purpose. If a particular drill doesn't work for you, find another one that does.

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09/02/2018  11:32:32 PM
Charlotte Thank you for your most accurate comments on the Square Row Drill. A perfect example of an out of date drill that seems to have a life of its own. A little history and the square drill. Way back the blades were very narrow and long (in the 30's ) About 7 inches wide and to push down and turn the blade at the release was the way most did that as it was a function dictated by the equipment and clean and east to do. Enter the "Hatchet blade" and the following wide blades. To force the drill with the messy release, cocked blade square and a fight to balance the boat just does not fit the equipment used today. Take a look at how the Sinkovic Bros have a better drill for the same end result. They finish as they would do on the row with no delay in opening the body angle turning the blade square rolling the knuckles down out of the water just as the hands pass the knees and then holding the square on the recovery to the catch. A super drill for balance and slide control better than the old and outdated but more like one actually executes when on the row and adjusts to the blade size of modern equipment without the fuss and struggle. Not an easy drill but works for today's technique and equipment properly. Right on for the rest of your good comments. When even lightweight women race at a 37-38 the execution of everything has changed and please the antique square drill too.

08/31/2018  4:48:58 AM
Charlotte is absolutely right when she says we should examine our drills and assess what they're trying to do, and those that aren't obviously helping with some aspect of technique should be thrown overboard. In respect of square blades, though, I'm with the other two posters: I'm a fan, but only once the crew has got sufficiently good to be able to make an attempt at it. Charlotte describes "a crew rowing square blade with blades whacking on the water and the boat lurching from side to side", and it's true that such an exercise isn't helping anybody. But once the crew can do it at least a stroke or two at a time, then the exercise becomes enormously valuable in the way that garya describes.

I've taken recently to calling for novice crews to do one square-blade stroke; cox warns "One stroke square blades" and then at the catch "this one". Once the crew has confidence in doing one, cox moves up to two, and so on.

08/29/2018  9:36:55 AM
Rowing square blades or 1/4 feather ( Italian scullers have often raced with 1/4 feather) demands patience and relaxation before it will surrender its benefits. Too often the square blade piece is 10 or 20 strokes. That is much too short and one very common reaction is to tense up and perhaps shorten up in order to force through. It’s never pleasant and reinforces the dread of the next square blade piece. It’s like a kid wolfing down food the kid has decided not to like. The piece has to be long enough for the crew to give up on fighting with the drill and find a relaxed swing through the finish. By long enough I mean 500m or more. My 2x partner and I discovered ( We were not the first) that square blade rowing fixes most bad habits that creep in. It works for long steady state, high rating intervals , and starts . It works when added to half side rowing- it actually works for arms, arms and back and 1/4 slide too. Inevitably the 500m split drops as soon as we switch to square blades. We regularly do entire outings (usually 14k) on the square including every stroke ,paddling or power , from and to the dock. It’s as comfortable for us as feathering. It works in the single just as well. It’s been a while since I have done much sweeping, but every good crew could row square blades without tapping . A crew that is rowing square blades ‘badly’ needs to be taught to do it well and it’s not that hard to teach, tell them beforehand that’s all they going to do it for a very long way so swing through the finish. No one should be asked to row with a crew who can’t row square blades without tapping; it’s too cruel.

The Un-Ham Sandwich
08/28/2018  2:19:40 PM
I agree that every drill needs a purpose, and the author does a good job describing some counterproductive side effects of square blade rowing and pausing at arms away. However, I believe there are positive traits to these drills as well. What if someone is unable to row square blade without hitting water? For pausing at hands away, what about the crew that loses balance on the recovery near the release?

Any conventional drill, as well as unconventional ones, have positives and negatives. The first paragraph of this article as well as the concluding two sentences, describe well how purpose is needed behind drills. Coaches should look for the negative side effects, but as long as they have their vision of what a good rowing stroke is and are seeking to get crews to that point - all can be used, including square blade rowing and pausing at arms away.

08/28/2018  7:19:42 PM
I purposefully started with "almost universally detrimental". Square blade rowing may work for some but I've seen too many crews doing it badly. As for arms away, I would pause body and arms away or quarter slide instead. I'm not looking for anyone to be in a position where the body stays in the bow while the arms are fully extended. Thanks for the feedback, there's always different opinions and different ways of doing things.

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