The winter erg season is upon us, and it will be several months before most of us will get back on the water, so let’s make the most of that time to prepare.
While the erg is often used to simply work raw power and endurance, translating that into making the boat go faster is the real goal. Most coaches will spend a lot of time teaching the drive phase of the stroke, how to put force on the oar, but often the recovery is simplified - hands away, body over, slow slide – and yet, the recovery is more complicated than that. We need to look at what influences the hull speed to have a better understanding.
Three major forces will slow the shell during the recovery - air resistance for one, but to a larger degree, water resistance. Spending more time on the recovery will give these forces more time to react. Rowing with a slow slide is not the most efficient style.
The third major force on the shell is pressure on the foot stretchers. All power application during the drive comes from the feet, but the feet also have a significant effect on the recovery. Any weight on the foot stretcher during the recovery is going to push the boat backwards. The more weight, the more backward force.
That is why, instead of thinking slow on the recovery, it is better to think light. Rowers should allow the boat to come to them during the recovery.
The best way to do this is to get the body fully prepared during the first phase of the recovery by rolling the body out of bow using the lower abdominal muscles. The body will push the hands to the stern and the slide can start naturally while the hamstrings are still relaxed and not yet fully extended.
As the slide continues, the rower can use the hip flexor to pull the thighs towards the chest. In essence, try to get the feet out of the way to allow the shell to come to you.
At the catch, it gets more complicated because weight has to be put on the foot stretcher to stop oneself and then go in the other direction. The key is trying to do this as lightly as possible.
This is where the arms come in. We are trying to connect the body mass to the oar through the lat muscle before excessive weight comes on the feet. Once that connection is felt, then one can be aggressive with the leg drive.
It is easier to work out these things on the ergometer than in the boat, so use some of those long steady state ergs to think lightness on the feet, allowing the bungie cord to pull you up the slide on the stationary erg. Sense the soles of the feet from toe to heel. Then try and get tension on the chain - a connection to the flywheel - before you maximize that force to accelerate the flywheel.
Instead of thinking kick the legs, try to squeeze the legs; a steadily increasing pressure instead of a jolt. Again, try to feel your weight on the soles of your feet and hold it for as long as you can (remember distance is part of the power equation).
That along with the higher stroke rate produces more power. The boat will run much more efficiently if you can continue to do this once you get back on the water.