The dynamics of the catch are among the more complicated parts of the rowing stroke. It can be quite hard to improve on the water, because the rower has to work on two separate things - one being the control and placement of the blade, the other being the motion of the body mass relative to the boat.
The ergometer is a great place to work on being more efficient in your catch, as you don’t have the blade to consider and therefore can put more focus on the body motion. I particularly like the erg on rollers as mass is moving relative to the machine, similar to moving the body relative to the boat.
The motion on the recovery should be relaxed and fluid. This can be accomplished by using the lower abdominal muscles to roll the body out of bow with the knees soft (not locked), which in turn allows the body to move right out with the slide; i.e. not arms then body, but arms and body together - as in the photo at the top of the article
Nose and chin across the knees is a much better focus than hands across the knees. The head should be kept level with the body relaxed. The bungee cord will pull you into the catch position so don’t think about reach, think about compaction and getting shins to vertical.
Use your hip flexors to pull your thighs to your chest, keeping weight off the foot stretcher as long as possible in order to reduce check. Imagine getting the feet out of the way while allowing the boat to come to you.
At the top of the slide, the goal is to get hold of the flywheel so that you can accelerate it. To do this, you need to engage a centrifugal clutch so that you are moving faster than the wheel is spinning as you start the drive. (Imagine riding your bicycle - when you’re going downhill, there comes a point where you can’t spin fast enough to put any weight on the pedals so you shift to another gear or just stop pedaling and glide).
This connection can be accomplished by reaching with the arms and engaging the lat muscles. The elbows should be low in a direct line with the core, just above your belly button and from here, pull horizontally with a level chain.
The goal is to get tension on the chain before a lot of weight is put on the foot stretcher. This is the part that can always be improved upon, and the long hours on the erg are a perfect place to practice. If you think leg drive before the catch, it’s a guaranteed way to slow the boat down, as your energy will be going against the foot stretcher without getting weight on the oar. While you might not pay for check on the erg, it will definitely cost you speed in the boat.
The following video is of Olena Buryak. While she is no longer the 2k world record holder on the erg, she did hold that title for many years. Watch the fluidity, looseness and relaxation, despite going at all out effort.
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