row2k Features
Collegiate Coaches Corner
Rigging - Red Flags, Adjustments, and Hail Marys
June 30, 2020
Erik Dresser, row2k.com

Always double check your numbers

Following the cancellation of the 2020 spring racing season, row2k solicited the collegiate coaching community to engage in a variety of high-level topics within the profession. We submitted over sixty questions across a dozen topics and thank the coaches and staffs that found time to contribute their thoughts during this stressful time.

This week we focus on the topic of Rigging with the first of three questions:

WHAT 'RED FLAGS' DO YOU LOOK FOR ON THE WATER THAT WOULD SIGNAL TO YOU THAT YOU MAY NEED TO MAKE A RIGGING CHANGE?

BILL ZACK – SAN DIEGO STATE WOMEN
I look at blade depth a lot and am probably more concerned with keeping the blade in the water at the end of the drive than how deep it is in the first two thirds of the drive. The other thing I look at is the height of the oar handle throughout the stroke cycle, especially at the finish / release. A key indicator is if the top of the outside hand and wrist and forearm and elbow all stay parallel to the water or not. Handle height and blade depth are of course interrelated, and rigging can impact biomechanics. So, it is important to figure out how much of any red flag is due to rigging and how much is due to technical shortcomings.


ERIC GEHRKE – GEORGE WASHINGTON MEN
Some red flags that engage me in reconsidering our rig are the drive times being slow through the water, a number of athletes starting to complain about back/rib structure soreness, or sluggishness around the front end.


GABE WINKLER – OREGON STATE MEN
An easy red flag is if the boat is not able to hold a certain rate. If the crew cannot maintain a race rate for the piece, it may be too heavy. However, fitness is always in play with everything. So, if you are talking with an experienced crew that is pretty well trained, then it’s not the right rigging for them. If the words are, “It feels like we are just spinning our wheels. There isn’t any grip to it.” It could be too light. The trend now is to rig it a little light and to race at a 39-40 for the entire piece. This takes a lot of skill and is hard to perfect.


DAN ROOCK – DARTMOUTH LIGHTWEIGHT MEN
If by rigging change you refer to loading; if a crew looks like they are spinning their tires, then it may be time to load them up a little. If a fit crew really struggles to keep boat speed in the second half of a race, they are likely rigged too heavy.

If there are balance and blade work issues in a reasonably skilled crew, pitches and heights may need to be checked. Heel heights may need adjusting if proper slide length is hard to achieve.


BRIAN DAWE – TUFTS WOMEN
Arc lengths that don’t match are number one. If they look pretty uniform, then effective arc lengths can be found using EmPower oarlocks. The oarlocks generally have confirmed what I thought I was seeing. At the same time, I look for body speed on the drive to synch as well as possible with boat speed and acceleration on the drive. This is true for any rate and any speed.


OLIVIA STAFF – TULSA WOMEN
Red Flags to look for on the water:
-Angles at the catch and finish
-Swashing out or digging through the drive, at the catch, or at the finish

Though these are usually fine-tuned by race season, the biggest red flag during this part of the year would be looking at how the boat moves as they pick up the rate; is the speed of the boat increasing, difficulty getting the rate up, or too high a rate and going nowhere? In other words, is the ‘gearing’ or load factor optimal for our crew.


ANONYMOUS HEAD COACH
It is what a team gets used to. Small changes are more for the coach to feel like they helped. I have seen crews rowing way heavier or way lighter and still win. What each crew has shown is that is the rig they have rowed all year. Their bodies have adapted. The biggest thing you can change is to make the taller, shorter or less flexible people match up length wise.


BART THOMPSON – ADRIAN
This may sound obvious, but if the crew is getting through the water way too quickly or way too slowly, I think that’s an obvious one.


WHAT ARE SOME OF THE TYPICAL RIGGING CHANGES YOU MAKE WHEN YOU NOTICE ANY OF THE 'RED FLAGS'?

DAN ROOCK – DARTMOUTH LIGHTWEIGHT MEN
Changing spreads and oar length takes care of loading issues. Heights and pitches need to be consistent and fairly precise; boathouse gremlins can mess with both, so occasional checking can reveal maladjustments.


ERIC GEHRKE – GEORGE WASHINGTON MEN
I approach the changes based on what issue I see or hear. If the athletes are slow driving through the water in the second half of hard work, then I will shorten the outboard a little. If the athletes are complaining about back/rib structure soreness I will lengthen the inboard. If the athletes are being sluggish (slow to turn the blade around) at the front end, then I will adjust the spread/span.


BILL ZACK – SAN DIEGO STATE WOMEN
I don’t like to change oarlock height by more than a centimeter from what I choose as the standard height. I prefer that the rowers communicate with me about changing oarlock heights rather than just letting them use adjustable height spacers on their own. That communication lets us work cooperatively to help each athlete feel as comfortable as possible.

I think adjusting the foot stretchers to get the optimal finish angle is really important. I don’t understand how rowers can adjust their foot stretchers on land before they even get in the boat unless they know how a boat is rigged, but I see that all the time. Seat pads for people with short torsos can be very helpful, so I usually have stock of seat pads on hand, so people don’t need to use homebrew versions.


BRIAN DAWE – TUFTS WOMEN
Move the feet, this worked very well in a double, we compromised a bit in each direction. Then we changed the span, so the arc lengths matched as well as possible. Using the EmPower oarlocks we were able to prove to a couple of the women that they were too far to the stern. As for the drive, it mostly depends on the quality of the skill. With a good crew that is moving over the top of the boat too fast we go for a tighter spread, move the button in and keep the overall length the same. The next step would be to lengthen the outboard if needed. Moving too slow over the top may have other causes so generally we look to better quality first before changing the rig.


BART THOMPSON – ADRIAN
Generally, we’re going to change the load on the oars to start, either by changing the spread or changing the oar length.


OLIVIA STAFF – TULSA WOMEN
Typical changes should always start with the set-up of the rower checking catch and finish angles, work through the pin, and foot plate height. Typically, when you have more time, then you go onto the bigger rigging changes via oars, spread, and pitch. The biggest thing to remember here is to always make one change at a time, as this ensures you know which change has more of an impact on the crew.

Personally, as a young coach I carry around a simple cheat sheet in my phone of the impact a rigging change can make, I always review it before making any changes for a crew.

-Rigging Spread – center of boat to center of pin
-Bigger spread = lighter load
-Smaller spread = bigger load
-Oar – inboard = spread + 30cm
-Longer oar = heavier load
-Shorter oar = lighter load
-Bigger inboard = lighter load
-Smaller inboard = heavier load


GABE WINKLER – OREGON STATE MEN
Searching for the exact numbers can often lead going down the rabbit hole when simply learning to row better is the solution. It’s often a little desperate to blame the rigging, to veer too far from the normal rig can cause major problems.


WHAT WOULD SAY HAS BEEN THE MOST DESPERATE RIGGING CHANGE YOU'VE MADE AND HOW MUCH DID IT END UP HELPING?

GABE WINKLER – OREGON STATE MEN
In one instance, it wasn’t a desperate moment but a moment of nothing to lose. A few years ago, we raced Cal in the afternoon after they had just beat Washington in the Cut that morning by like 2 seconds. We met at American Lake in Tacoma, WA. They were the #1 team in the country at the time. Racing them is always daunting but in this instance, we could lose by 15+ seconds and it would be a good effort for us. It was a raging tailwind, about 15-18mph, but the water was still flat, so we decided to rig it crazy heavy: 83cm spread with 378/114 oars (C2 smoothie2 plain edge).

We received no comment regarding the Battleship Rig
We received no comment regarding the Battleship Rig

That is on the bounds of absurd, but we said, whatever, if we lose by 19-20 seconds, that’s our result. The guys went off extremely well and it looked like we were getting the traction while Cal, while still very strong, was struggling to push away. At the 1K, we were “only” 7 seats down and then finished a mere 4.5 seconds back to the best team in the country. This was a huge gamble and thinking back on it, I’m skeptical that I’d do it again. It was just the attitude of the crew and the timing of it that worked well. The end of the story is that we kept the rigging there for the next week, but the magic of the moment was lost in calm conditions. We quickly put it back to our standard 83.5 spread 376.5/113.5.


OLIVIA STAFF – TULSA WOMEN
The most desperate rigging changes we made recently was adjusting oars before races, usually for the oar to be shorter though the most recent change we changed the inboard of the sculling oars to be .5 different. In the end last minute changes seem to make little to no difference to the outcome of races.


BRIAN DAWE – TUFTS WOMEN
A single sculler who trained on the Charles looked like he was trimmed to make turns. We trimmed his Hudson towards the bow as Britton Chance said we should after the heats at Club Nationals and Will went on to win the gold. Not necessarily desperate but most immediately gratifying.


DAN ROOCK – DARTMOUTH LIGHTWEIGHT MEN
Did not help, it hurt. Expecting a major tailwind developing, and in need of a speedy start, I increased the outboard of a crew a lot (advice was to “go big” or do nothing.) Crew had a fast start but looked like rigor mortis set in over the last 1k as we slipped back through the pack. I was young and stupid and never did that again.


ERIC GEHRKE – GEORGE WASHINGTON MEN
I am embarrassed to say that early on in my coaching career I was easily agitated on race days by conditions and more often than not any adjustments I made were not helpful and sometimes hurtful to performance. Our third year racing the Head of the Hooch with a very young Nashville Rowing juniors’ program, the tail current was very strong. Because we had raced on that river a few times since I started the team, I was gaining comfort in reading how to row on its current and flow. I lengthened the girls oars after watching their practice row (and everyone else’s practice rows). We went on to win the 8+, 4+, and earned second in the 2- so I thought the change was effective considering the river.


BART THOMPSON – ADRIAN
I’m not sure this counts, but when I used to coach high school I had a Novice 4+ that could not stay set despite the massive power in the boat, due largely to the odd heights in the boat. (5’8”, 6’7”, 5’11”, 6’1” from stroke to bow).

The week before our regional championship I made the decision to re-rig the boat as starboard-stroked and flipped the lineup so that stern-to-bow was now bow-to-stern; the new stroke had never stroked before. They practiced in that lineup two days and won the regional championship.


BILL ZACK – SAN DIEGO STATE WOMEN
I almost never change rigging on race day. You use the same rigging every day in practice over a wide range of boat speeds and conditions: steady state, anaerobic threshold, race pace, short pieces, headwind, tailwind, etc. So why change on race day? I do think it is important to match each crew and the way they row with the right type of oar and the proper size shell. If I had to admit to desperation rigging changes, there are times where I have re-rigged a sweep to change the side of the boat that the stroke is on and maybe put in a bucket to keep the stroke and bow on the same side of the boat. That way I’m trying to maximize the benefit of the seat assignments and get the most speed out of the same crew of rowers.


Behold, the 'Double Axel'
Behold, the 'Double Axel'

JOHN BOYD – IONA
I can’t take credit for it, but it occurred in our program long before I took over. It was called the double axel. It generated a lot of interest on the row2k comment section and on social medial. Did it work? For that particular situation...yes it did! Would I do it? Probably not.


ANONYMOUS HEAD COACH
These changes are to feel like you are contributing. The crew would finish the same if you made the change or not. Throwing a clam on last minute is a hit or miss decision. If you win then you are the “greatest” ever and if you lose, then you made a terrible decision. It is 99.9% the athletes in the boat and how they rowed that day. Granted you can screw things up if you make huge changes, but a clam is not making or breaking a race. Don’t get me wrong, we as coaches need to be working constantly but 1 cm at the college level is not winning or losing races.

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