row2k Features
Supposedly Good Drills That Are Actually Torture
April 30, 2020
Ed Hewitt,

Horizontal rowing is the gold standard, so let's stand straight up in the boat!

In rowing, there is not a ton of futzing around - on the whole, we do a warmup, maybe a bit of skill work to make sure everyone is sharp and moving together, and get to work.

For a lot of us, this is part of the appeal of rowing; other than the occasional fours and sixes rowing, there is no standing around, no waiting for your at-bat, no bench if you are not in the game - from first boat to fifth boat, once practice begins, everyone rows, all the time. It is glorious.

One thing this does create, however, is a lack of opportunities for easy and diverting skill work. There's no soccer ball juggling, dunk practice, or simple game of catch in rowing.

In our zealousness to make up for the "fun drill" deficit, sometimes it seems we mistake torture for fun, and - not always, but often enough - the following drills would seem to support that notion.

Eyes Closed Rowing
Eyes closed rowing is cool for a couple strokes - as other senses kick in, they amplify massively, much more so than in many other activities. If you close your eyes in 'normal' life, eventually your hearing kicks in, etc etc - but when you close your eyes in a boat, everything seems *really* loud, the water feels really close, the motion back and forth becomes very vivid.

After about two strokes or so, though, the fear of getting (or giving) an oarhandle in the kidney goes all hockey stick graph, and the sense that takes over is a sense of terror.

Have you ever seen a graph of the likelihood of a car accident as you take your eyes off the road? At right around four seconds, the chances go straight up - about the duration of two strokes.

It's not learning The Force, it's rowing.

And be honest; you peek during eyes closed rowing anyway.

Erging with straps, noodles, front stops, other modifications.
The erg is just a tool, can be used to teach technique, is an important part of training, etc., yes, we know. But beyond some "guiding" modifications - maybe a couple pieces of tape that keep you from moving the handle on a trajectory more akin to shoveling dirt, things like that - adding floppy pieces of rope, foam, taped up 2x4s, and more turns a torture machine into, well, something that actually looks like a torture machine.

With some of these "guides," every stroke is anxiety inducing, whew.

Covering the monitor is torture
Covering the monitor is torture

Erging with the monitor covered.
Not everyone will agree, but hereabouts erging with the monitor covered induces a sense of barren desolation. Erging involves enough sensory deprivation that, even if there is good reason to hide splits (during recovery from injury, on 'recovery' rows, etc.), having absolutely nothing to look at induces a whole new level of sensory squalor.

Rowing in pairs in circles.
This drill can definitely help a rower who is struggling to make a modification to their stroke - but as often as not, the other rower in the pair is just there to set up the boat. It's not that the other person can't get something from taking a turn at the drill, but most often it is only one person who really needs the intensive instruction. The other person has to sit there getting pitched around, making sure their blade doesn't spike under water, keeping an eye out for the nearing shore/buoy/other crews, all the while their head snapping back and forth with each stroke - oof.

Feet Out Rowing.
I have done a *ton* of feet out rowing on the erg - one winter I did almost all steady state feet out at full pressure - but this same drill in the boat is almost always a cheatfest. Rowers hooking their heels into the heel cups, sticking a toe under the Velcro, absolutely zero pressure finishes, and more are nearly normal tactics when rowing feet out.

Like most of these drills, it can be a helpful drill, but until a crew is fairly sharp, it is mostly fake rowing.

Starts on the square.
When they're good, they're good; when they're not, they're torture.

Square blade rowing in general.
I know a number of high-level coaches who never have crews row on the square - they might do a lot of quarter feather, which encourages clean releases and controlled feathering motion - but that is about it. It is the rare crew and rower who rows on the square without, well, 'rowing on the square" - i.e., making modifications to their stroke that arguably compromise other important elements of the stroke (especially at the finish, the irony being that a drill intended to fix rowers' finish often ruins their finish).

Looks like fun until the twitchy guy twitches
Looks like fun until the twitchy guy twitches

Sure, it is a good challenge and encourages clean rowing, so definitely go ahead and do it; remember also that it can be torture.

Rowing by pairs/fours/sixes with people sitting out with oars on gunwales, twitchy git edition.
Sometimes called the "dead mosquito drill," this is actually a favorite drill of mine, as when done well, you learn exactly what each rower can do to improve the set of the boat.

However, if you have some twitchy git somewhere in the crew, especially among those sitting out, that person can make a challenging but fun drill straight wretchedness.

Worst of all: any rowing by pairs in a four with a bucket rig.

Any 'spin the blade' drills at all.
A good crew can do these, but do enough of them and somebody is going to eat oarhandle.

Rowing by fours or sixes with a bucket in the boat.
Unless both people in the bucket are rowing, this is just misery for the person sitting out. Either they have to hold onto their shoes or rigger way up the slide so not to get an oar in the back, or they need to rock back and forth to get out of the way at both the catch and finish.

Anything but all four in a quad.
See the previous item, but all year long, every single row.

Quaf life
Quaf life

That drill where you drive the blade deep and suspend to the point where you are practically standing up in the boat.
Horizontal rowing is the gold standard, but yeah, let's stand straight up in the air off the catch!

In diving you don't practice bellyflops, in swimming you don't practice pushing off the turn to go hit the bottom of the pool, in balance beam you don't practice missing landing a flip, in football you don't practice catching the ball with both feet just out of bounds - so, just no.


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05/02/2020  8:49:50 PM
This article was more torturous to read than any of the drills

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