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Boat speed comes from LONG POWERFUL STROKES

A LONG STROKE is a combination of angular rotation of the handle/blade and, obtaining and then maintaining maximum pressure of the blade against the water throughout the drive. Maintaining maximum pressure through the end of the drive is the focus for the next 3 weeks.

Good Examples

Causes of a Short Stroke aka Things to Avoid

  • Dumping your hands into your lap at the finish – can shorten the effective stroke length by 10% or more.

  • Not squeezing the shoulder blades and rotating the shoulders at the end of the drive which keeps the lats from fully engaging.

  • Not laying back to take advantage of the mass/momentum of the body’s trunk.

  • Coming to a full stop at the end of the drive.

Finish vs. Follow-through

In all sports that involve some sort of movement (think throwing/hitting a ball, swinging a bat, club or racket) the movement includes some sort of continuation or follow-through after the purpose of the movement is achieved occurs. When throwing or hitting a ball it is the continued movement of the arm and rotation of the body. It is this continuation of the primary movement that allows the maximum force to be achieved. Can you imagine a pitcher still being able throw a 90 mph if they had stopped their body when they released the ball or a golfer stopping the swing the instant the clubhead strikes the ball? In rowing the question of what constitutes a follow-through is much more complex because it includes how to most effectively change body direction while keeping the blade pressing on the water.

Here are a couple of notions about how this problem can be addressed:

  • Thinking of the drive as having a “finish” implies that the body comes to a stop in the bow and then changes direction for the recovery. Some rowing styles emphasize this stop. Stopping in the bow requires slowing the body mass down at the last instant and settling the body mass forward in the boat pressing the bow down. Instead think of the drive as having a follow-through back to the start the next stroke.

  • Thinking of completing the drive with a “follow-through” keeps the body in motion while changing direction, extends the blade pressure on the water, enhances repositioning the body for the next stroke and leads to more time on the slide and better control of the boats balance.

Three Drills to Teach Follow-through

Short stroke/dead slide – Start with legs down, sitting straight up with your hands no more than a foot from your body. Without reaching forward to get more length, make a catch and take a stroke. Open your back (or rotate your trunk towards the bow), use your arms to complete the short arm draw then at the very last instant pull your body back up with the handles and then lean forward towards the stern in the ready position. Once your body is over, continue down the slide to about half slide and stop. When you’re done put your knees back down to the dead slide position and get ready for the next stroke.

You will find that if you work your back (open your back) as you catch you will be able to get more force into the blades and then when releasing the pressure on the blades they will come out of the water with no effort. However, this means that you will need to experiment with the timing of opening your back and the arm draw. As you practice this drill you should get to the point where you get back to the half slide position with no effort.

Dave Drill – Start at dead slide. Take an easy catch then as you open your back and draw your arms forward try to accelerate the oar handles towards the bow. You should feel increasing pressure of the blades against the water (e.g., increasing load) and if you watch your blade a hole or void should form on the forward (bow) side of the blade. The bigger the void the greater the pressure you’re exerting. Just before your hands get as far forward as they are going to travel, pull your body up from the layback position. Then let the handle go loose in your hand and push your hand away. Your body should have already started moving towards the stern. When you let loose of the handle the water will fill the void in front of the blade and push it out of the water. If your hands are loose on the handles the oar will fall over onto the feather on its own as you push your hands away.

Note: Pause and let your boat slow down before you do it again. The slower the boat is moving the more dramatically you will feel the pressure build. The objective of this drill is to feel how much pressure you can carry into the end of the drive and how to use this pressure on the oar blade to lift your body out of the bow. This is a great drill to do in a double rowing one at a time. This way the boat is heavy and the feeling of coming up out of the bow on the handles in accentuated.

Feet out – Take your feet out of your shoes or clogs and place them on top. Now row starting at dead slide. You will instantly discover that you don’t want to layback at all. With your feet out you can’t use your abs to pull you body up and out of the bow. Now change your timing. Instead of opening your back and drawing with your arms at the same time – use your back first – delay your arms then start them after your body is well open. Once your body has laid back, finish drawing with your arms – this will pull your body up out of the bow and back to a balanced position where you won’t feel like you’re going to fall over backwards. As your experiment with the timing between the layback and the arm draw you will find that you are 1) more comfortable laying back farther without feeling like you’re going to fall over into the bow and 2) that you’re pulling yourself up out of the bow with the oar handles. As you put more effort into the drive the follow-through motion will become more pronounced.

Once you’ve figured out the timing and balance of this drill move to ½ then full slide. If you can comfortably row for some distance with your feet out you will, by definition have mastered the follow-through.

As a note of encouragement – or perhaps challenge – at least one un-named member of our club has, in the past, raced and won 1000-meter races feet out.

Further Reading


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