It’s a new year and a good time to get back to the basics. With every group we coach, we begin with an explanation of three basic principles. We feel these are integral to efficient rowing and should be incorporated into every rowing stroke, whether sweeping, sculling, or erging. The three principles are:
- Horizontal movement
For the first principle, horizontal movement, think about the boat moving across a horizontal body of water. Any up and down motion is wasted, so work to apply power as horizontally as possible. Mostly this involves the upper body; think head, shoulders, hands. The tendency is to go up during the drive, which causes the oar to go deep. One way to self coach is to become aware of the water line as it relates to the shaft of the oar. Is water creeping more than 1/4 of the way up the shaft? If so, you’re going too deep and need to adjust your hand heights, which often involves adjusting the height of your head and shoulders too.
You want to become aware of the level of your head. Ideally it should stay on the same plane wherever you are in the stroke; catch, drive, finish, recovery - the head should stay the same.
Wear a hat with a brim, and sight off the brim; see where it lines up on the horizon. If that sight line changes, then you know your head height has changed.
On the erg, you can set up a mirror in front and beside you to gauge how horizontal you’re staying. It’s also easy on the erg to watch where the chain goes making it easier to determine whether your hands are staying level.
The second principle is relaxation. The best athletes make it look easy. It doesn’t matter what sport - swimming, rowing, downhill skiing, etc - the best make you think you could easily do what they’re doing - but if you try, you’ll discover it’s a lot more difficult than it looks.
What they’ve learned is to relax, to use only the muscles that are necessary to do what needs to be done. Gritting your teeth won’t make the boat go faster; neither will death gripping the oar handle. Concentrate on which muscles you need to propel the boat forward and let everything else relax, obviously including during the recovery.
We call it lazy rowing, but really it’s just efficient rowing. This is so much easier to do on the erg, with no worry about balance or falling in. See how loose you can keep those muscles that aren’t being used for power.
Finally, fluidity. I added this third principle after watching a video of the 2012 Olympics. I specifically remember the German Men’s 4x and thinking to myself, “Why aren’t they rowing harder?” It was the final, so of course they were rowing as hard as they could, but they made a rating of 35 - 36 look like 27 - 28, and full power look like steady state.
What makes this possible is their rhythm and flow in the boat. We know that the boat is moving through water, a fluid. Their ability to move in unison with the boat as it flows through the water is what creates this beautiful effect. Rhythm and fluidity go hand in hand. However, we rarely if ever talk about ratio as that tends to make the stroke mechanical and artificial. If you can find the natural fluidity of the stroke, you’ll find it much easier to keep going at a higher intensity.
You might find this easier to replicate on an erg if you have sliders so that you can actually feel the movement underneath you. But even if you don’t have sliders, establish the fluidity in the stroke by eliminating any starting and stopping, stiff or mechanical movements. Instead of thinking arms-body-slide on the recovery, think body-slide-catch with each movement flowing seamlessly into the next.
February is the perfect time to work towards incorporating these principles into your rowing motion on the erg so that in the spring, you can be horizontal, relaxed, and fluid on the water.