row2k Features
Technique Feature: Rowing Styles at NSR1
April 11, 2022
Charlotte Hollings, Calm Waters Rowing

If you go back to the 80’s, you’ll find rowing styles differed, not only between countries but even within the US. Now I find there are many more similarities than differences, at least among the elite rowers.

I’ve always shown photos to back up what we coach and I was especially pleased to see the photos of the winners of the National Selection Regatta in Sarasota, FL a few weeks ago. All four winners – Heavy Men’s and Women’s 1x as well as the Lightweight Men’s and Women’s 1x – had amazingly similar styles.

While Ben Davison won the Hvy M1x fairly easily, there was a photo finish for 2nd – 4th place. Dominique Williams won that battle. Kara Kohler (Hvy W1x), Molly Reckford (Lt W 1x), and Zach Heese (LtM1x) all had close races but came out on top.

Dominique Williams 2nd place Hvy 1x. At the finish almost, legs down, arms just starting, hands nested
Dominique Williams 2nd place Hvy 1x. At the finish almost, legs down, arms just starting, hands nested

Jasper Liu, Zach’s 2x partner, was a close second. You can see why they row the double together but mote how similar all the styles are. Legs are down before the arms begin, backs are rounded, plenty of layback, hooking the oar handle with the fingers and not the entire hand and, except for Ben Davison, nesting the hands – left hand slightly above and to the stern of the right hand, not directly on top. Also notice that the elbows are not locked and the hands are low, basically at the height of the low ribs.

Kara Kohler NSR winner. Mid drive - legs down, arms extended, hands nested.
Kara Kohler NSR winner. Mid drive - legs down, arms extended, hands nested.

Here we have Kara Kohler just before the catch in what I would describe as the textbook catch position – shins vertical with nose and chin across the shins, rounded back, good grip. Molly Reckford has just begun the drive but you can see how moments before, it would have been very similar to Kara’s position. Again, the back is rounded, elbows loose allowing her to connect to the lat muscles rather than the traps, and the same grip - out on the fingers.

Molly Reckford Light W1x. Finish, just like Kohler, nesting, legs down, arms extended, good layback
Molly Reckford Light W1x. Finish, just like Kohler, nesting, legs down, arms extended, good layback

This photo is of Sophia Vitas, 2nd place in the Hvy W1x. While many coach arms away and then body, you can see that she is moving out of bow with both body and arms while the knees are already starting to come up. While racing at 36 spm, there simply isn’t time to go arms, then body, then slide.

Sophia Vitas 2nd place W1x NSR. Arms and body out of bow, knees loose
Sophia Vitas 2nd place W1x NSR. Arms and body out of bow, knees loose

There are a lot of details as to how to row this way, (as we’ve written about in many previous articles) but these photos are great examples of what we’re coaching - and we’re coaching this because it’s what the fastest rowers are doing.

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04/15/2022  11:04:05 AM
I love the way Charlotte Hollings writes about rowing technique. The only person I can compare her with is Meike Babel, the German pro speaking tennis technique in marvelous American English videos made in Denver.

Charlotte alludes to baseline differences in the eighties but how about Brown Dad Vail technique in the fifties? First and foremost we had excessively fast hands only three fingers apart on a sweep handle. But our stroke, Bill Engeman, sculler, had from birth the rounded back Charlotte emphasizes here a lot.

Did the rest of us acquire that nice comma from osmosis? Certainly no coach ever said anything about it. I suspect we always were trying to be French martinets like John McEnroe.

Perhaps if I ever meet Charlotte Hollings she can explain to me why two hands a mile apart rather than three fingers apart on a sweep oar are better (if that is better).

04/14/2022  11:17:47 AM
Hi Charlotte (and Ed and Peter), I have a quick question on rigging... When I look at the Ben Davison photo at NSR, his oarlocks are rigged extremely low (totally bottomed out), and his seat is also raised 1-2 inches. Is there some magical leverage factor here or just something unique to Ben's body shape?

Peter Mallory
04/11/2022  10:45:02 PM
Ed, I welcome and applaud your comments and Charlotte's article for stimulating a give and take concerning technique. I certainly meant no offence to Charlotte. I have read her many postings on row2k with interest and gotten a lot out of all of them, including the latest one. You are right that my previous comment left out a number of examples, Xeno being one, but I stand by my opinion that driving the legs entirely flat by mid drive before the arms engage at all, which was Charlotte's entire point in the first half of her article, may or may not indeed be near-universal in current American sculling, but it is nowhere near universal in international finals over the last century. As for the stylistic variations among Gladstone crews over the years and the stylistic variations among the historic crews I listed, they share one characteristic: symmetrical haystack force curves, which is all that matters in my opinion. As for disagreements between coaches, on Charlotte's side you have Rosenberg, Mahon, some Italian coaches, Spracklen (maybe) and Nillsen among others, an impressive bunch to be sure, though often their best crews did not row sequentially after all when you study them. On the other side, besides Parker and Gladstone, there have been Fairbairn, Conibear and followers, Adam, GDR coaches, and Tonks among many others. The point is there have always been disagreements, and I think it is constructive to recognize that. However, If my tone came out as condescending, my bad. It was not my intent, and I apologize. Peter Mallory

Peter Mallory
04/11/2022  5:46:24 PM
Charlotte, you are encouraged by the uniformity of technique amongst the top single scullers at the recent NSR and how their technique is in agreement with your opinion that scullers should apply muscle groups sequentially, legs first, then backs, then arms. Good for you, but doesn't it trouble you that it has been 102 years since America has produced an Olympic champion single sculler? Doesn't it trouble you that the two most successful American coaches in the last 60 years, Harry Parker and Steve Gladstone, taught the opposite of what you recommend? Doesn't it trouble you that just about the only two Olympic Champion single scullers in the last century that followed your advice were Rob Waddell and Mahe Drysdale, two extraordinary individuals who won not with technique but with athletic superiority? Have you ever looked at John B. Kelly, Jack Beresford, Ivanov, Karppinen, Lange, Tufte, Lewis/Enquist, Pinsent/Redgrave, Ginn/Tomkins, the Evers-Swindells, the Sinkovics, Damir Martin, Stefanos Ntouskos, Gevvie Stone (and this list could be expanded by a factor of five or even ten)? You might learn a lot from history. Nevertheless, I applaud your enthusiasm, but your readers should know that yours is a minority opinion in the world of elite rowing.

Peter Mallory

04/11/2022  9:20:54 PM
This is an interesting response, Peter; first, nowhere in the article is there mention of sequential power application; there is mention of somewhat nonsequential approach to the recovery, however - "While many coach arms away and then body, you can see that she is moving out of bow with both body and arms while the knees are already starting to come up." This is a 'concurrent' view of the recovery, at least.

The list of athletes you include is more confounding, however; if you are suggesting that there is uniformity among that group, I would say that the evidence shows otherwise. The list includes athletes who 'slightly shoot slide' (to use Korzo's term from the 80s and 90s) and 'hang' with very long, elastic arms, others who lift with their backs at the catch, others who bend their arms immediately, others who blur those descriptions a bit. Thor Nilssen's teachings also come to mind, which strongly leaned toward sequential power application and still have some sway in some quarters. And to dismiss Waddell and Drysdale (and to skip Harry Mahon-coached Xeno) as merely athletic is a gross simplification.

To your point wrt college coaches, I have watched a lot of Gladstone crews over the past 25 years (it is probably the case that I have seen more rowing races than anyone alive, and maybe anyone ever - not saying that is a good thing, oof). Steve's crews have rowed very differently over the years; the crews at Brown (several of which rowers I rowed with) rowed very differently from the Luke Walton-stroked crews at Cal (extremely sequential), and somewhat less strikingly again from the Yale crews now, and more. Differences were considerable - blade heights off the water, rounded vs less rounded finish motions, some crews rowing very sequential while others rowed more concurrent. I would be happy to back this up with video or photographic evidence.

I probably should not focus on or mention this, but I am struck by how the condescending rhetorical question construct and resultant simplification of your post may have been for effect, but unfortunately detracts from a discussion about rowing technique, which is the point after all.

I hope everyone is doing well out there, let's lift each other and our sport up whenever we can.

Ed Hewitt

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