April Masters Feature
April 03, 2012
One of the advantages masters rowers have over collegiate and youth rowers is more time on the water before competition begins (with masters racing at San Diego being the main exception). Take advantage of this time on the water before you have to worry about putting power behind the stroke. Work on getting comfortable in the boat, not fearful. If you can keep the hands level and the blade tracking through the water just below the surface, all the way through the drive, not only will you be more comfortable not having to fight the oar, but you’ll also be much more efficient. The more you practice, the more the hand heights will become ingrained, the more relaxed and comfortable you can become in the boat.
One of the advantages masters rowers have over collegiate and youth rowers is more time on the water before competition begins (with masters racing at San Diego being the main exception). As a coach, I cringe at the idea of novice high school rowers first coming out for the sport in late February and racing by late March. One month is not nearly enough time to learn how to row well, much less to hold together good technique while racing.
So take advantage of this time on the water before you have to worry about putting power behind the stroke. Work on getting comfortable in the boat, not fearful. You should be able to sit relaxed at any position, including at the catch with the blades squared and buried. In general, I much prefer starting from this position, as opposed to starting at the release. You want to think of this spot as the beginning of the drive, therefore making the catch the end of the recovery.
If you’re not comfortable in this position, first practice sitting at the catch with the blades flat on the water. The blades should give you more stability. Relax your hands, elbows, neck and shoulders. Breathe. Now gently square the blades and begin the drive by gently applying pressure to the foot stretchers. Continue to work on this drill until you feel comfortable. Then try to delay the drive as long as you can until you get to the point where you can simply and easily sit at the catch position with the blades squared and buried. As well as teaching you how to relax, this drill allows you to focus on exactly where the hands need to be when the drive begins. We only want the blade buried, not the shaft, so check the position of the blade and then the hands. As you get better and more confident, try bouncing the blades up and down a little bit. Feel where they are too deep or too shallow. The better you get at sitting at the catch with the blades squared and buried, the easier it is to ingrain the correct hand height and prevent over-burying of the oar.
If the oars go deep here, they’re likely to continue getting deeper as you drive. So now we want to stop and sit at mid-drive with the blades squared and buried. Most people find this position slightly more comfortable than sitting at the catch. But remember, we want to stay relaxed. Again, focus on the hand heights in relation to blade depth. Mid-drive, when the blade is perpendicular to the boat, is when the oar is at its most effective force angle, so don’t minimize that with a deep blade.
If the hands can stay level mid-drive, it’s easier to keep the hands at the correct height as you draw into the finish. If the hands go high mid-drive, the blade goes deep and becomes more difficult to control, causing most people to start fighting it and pulling down into the finish to release the blade.
Now let’s check the finish height. Again, with blades squared and buried, sit at the finish – the top edge of the blade can be at the surface or just out of the water. Find out where the hands are when the blade is at the correct depth. Think of that point as your bullseye, the exact point where you want to draw the oar handle at the end of the drive, not down into your lap. This position may vary from boat to boat, depending on how high or low the boat is rigged so if you change boats, check again. Ideally, you’d like that point to be around your low ribs/bra strap/heart rate monitor strap level. However, almost all boats are rigged left over right so the left hand should remain fractionally higher than the right throughout the stroke.
If you can keep the hands level and the blade tracking through the water just below the surface, all the way through the drive, not only will you be more comfortable not having to fight the oar, but you’ll also be much more efficient. So learn where the hand levels need to be at every part of the drive. Sit at the catch, then move to mid-drive, then stop at the finish – practice sitting at these three points with the blade squared and buried. It should be a straight line from the first to the final position. The more you practice, the more the hand heights will become ingrained, the more relaxed and comfortable you can become in the boat.
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.