Masters Feature: Become Your Own Best Coach
March 01, 2011
While spring is starting to shows signs of it’s imminent arrival, most of us are still looking at a few more weeks on the erg. Instead of just gutting through, let’s use the erg to make us better technical rowers on the water.
Some of you have coaches, others not, but even those with coaches don’t have someone watching them every stroke. You need to become your own best coach. In order to do that, you need to be able to see yourself. Set up mirrors around the erg – one to the side and one in front so you can watch every stroke. Better yet, set up a video camera next to the erg, attach it to a television set up in front of the erg where you can see it and watch every stroke in real time.
Begin with the basics – relaxed grip, loose elbows, level chain, steady head and shoulders. Notice that the handle comes in at the low rib, ideally where you would want the oar handle to finish in your boat as well. I prefer not to worry about changing the handle height on the erg at the catch and finish as most people tend to overdue this motion in the boat anyway. Focus instead on trying to stay as horizontal as possible throughout the entire stroke.
As beginners, most of us were taught arms/body/slide/legs/back/arms, often to the point of becoming mechanical. Remember that the stroke needs to flow. Instead of arms, think elbows. Draw the elbows into the body, focusing on engaging the lat muscles (underneath the armpits) to take the wheel. Relax the neck and shoulders. If the elbows are locked and stiff, the neck and shoulders come into play and we use the trap muscles instead of our lats. While it may feel stronger, they are relatively weak muscles and you’re much better off engaging the lats.
When adding the body, think trunk and core, using the abs and glutes (butt muscles) to roll the body both in and out of bow. In terms of layback, go back as far as you can without going down. This is where the mirrors can be helpful – stay horizontal throughout the entire stroke. Watch your shoulder level. Legs are relatively easy to figure out – the knees go up, the knees come down. The trick is making sure that the legs are connected with the back when you drive. If you only focus on kicking the legs, the legs can drive before any connection to the wheel. Then you’ve wasted your legs and possibly started yourself on the road to a back injury. Think belly button to bow – not just shoulders, not just hips – but the whole core.
Starting out with just an arms and body stroke. Think body swing and then the arms taking the wheel and pulling the elbows. As you add your legs, let the body move into the slide movement and then the arms catch the wheel. Gradually add the legs at half slide, 3/4 slide, then full slide. Now try to increase the acceleration of the wheel without giving up the length – listen to the wheel. You’ll be able to hear it accelerate. So instead of arms/body/slide on the recovery, think body/slide/catch. On the drive, legs and body together, then draw the elbows.
To see these ideas in action, watch our video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bC7Dauub-Hw.
Charlotte Hollings and her husband, John Dunn have spent more than 70 years immersed in the sport of rowing. Both have rowed on the U.S. National Team, winning several international medals. Charlotte’s coaching career has taken her west to Stanford University before heading back east to Boston University and then Cornell University. John remained close to home, coaching at his alma mater of Cornell University for 18 years, first as the frosh lightweight coach, then varsity lightweight and finally varsity women. In 2001, Hollings and Dunn started the sculling camp Calm Waters Rowing in Lancaster, Va. For more information, visit www.calmwatersrowing.com.