row2k Features
Technique on the Erg: The Dollar Bill Trick
October 15, 2020
John FX Flynn

Here is a teaching trick so old that we could not find a single Rowing Hack in our current stable of tinkerers who could pinpoint where they first heard of it, and we are sure there are as many inventors of this idea as there are ways to use it, but it is a slick trick and should definitely be in your arsenal of fun ways to teach better rowing on the erg: Dollar Bill Erging.

The idea is simple enough, promoting good connection throughout the drive and back onto the recovery through some simple self-interest: the rower who can keep enough weight on the foot to hold the bill in place leaves practice one dollar richer.

Now, this drill--much like shirt betting--certainly pre-dates the NCAA rules that would surely frown on this in a modern-day collegiate program, but even if we never get a waiver for this hack like we did for the shirt tradition that is--after all--older than the NCAA and every other college sport, you could still do it the cold, hard cash way and donate the "winnings" to charity.

Still worried Compliance might wander thorough the erg room? Then just substitute anything flat and hard to hold on to: a bow number, last week's erg score sheet, a student get the idea, but the lighter and the less likely to stay in place if the athlete's feet rock around on the stretcher throughout the stroke, the better.

What, exactly, are you rewarding here, and promoting by playing on a teeny bit of athlete avarice? The simple idea that the feet, and how they push on the boat, is a vital component of boat speed. Since rowers have only three points of contact with the boat--the feet, the seat, and the oar handle--getting them to see and feel how the feet can remain a solid point of contact will help them maximize not just how much force they can apply through the stroke, but how long they can apply it through the finish. After all, with the seat on wheels and the oar only loosely corralled by the oarlock, the feet are actually the best and most secure point of contact. The trick is getting the athlete to see it that way, and that is where the cha-ching comes in with this Hack.

Much like that old stand-by, the Feet Out Drill, Dollar Bill Erging teaches how to drive with the whole foot, and that skill will eventually tighten up the finishes out on the water...and maybe even curtail a bit of the "erg layback" that athletes tend to acquire over long winter weeks of being stuck on the erg.

What it also stops is the "catch with your toes, finish off your heel" rocking motion that a lot of novices pick up early in the learning process, especially folks who might need to raise the heel to get full compression due to flexibility issues. That heel raise can frequently be over-done, and--since what goes up must come down--it is common to see those folks bring the heel down and come "off" the toes and the ball of the foot altogether. You've seen these folks: they are the ones constantly reaching down to retighten the foot strap mid-piece.

Motivated to think about what they are actually doing with the feet via the Dollar Bill Trick, though, they can start to feel how the whole foot can remain engaged, and how the finish position of the foot actually involves a little bit of "toe-pointing" to stay in touch with the shell.

You can also get some extra mileage out of this trick by putting the dollar (or dollar stand-in) in different spots: under the toes, under the mid-foot, or even under the heel to show an athlete how far they can reach without lifting up--and that can be a great way to teach 1/2 and 3/4 track rowing as well.

We've even seen it applied to the outside hand during tank sessions: for an athlete who lets the oar out into the fingertips at the catch for a smidge of extra--but unconnected!--reach or twists the outside hand into a "fingers-only" finish where the wrist and forearm are no longer applying pressure, the trick works the same way.

So whether you go cashless or show up with a wad of ones to your next "let's erg right, folks" teaching session, we think you could get some good work done by putting a carrot on a stick with this trick, and maybe find some more speed while you are at it.

Do you have a great teaching tool you've Hacked up for your erg room? Share your tips--and hacks--in the comments below.

Have a great rowing hack to suggest for future inclusion here? Send it to us!

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