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Artful Rowing: Make Your Finish a Work of Art

If you want to play Moonlight Sonata, don't play Chopsticks harder.

Frank Cunningham

On July 25th, Coach Bill Tytus continued with lesson 4 of 5 on the finish, Once you have the ability to keep pulling, confidently, all the way in, and just let the blades roll out of the water, then (and only then) can your stroke become artful.

Drill of the Day: Tiny Strokes (see description below)

Previous Weeks Finish Drills:

Push/Pull Drill: Blade buried & WORKING all the way to your body.

Dave Drill & Dave Drill+Brakes: The finish becomes the first part of the recovery, not the last part of the drive.

Video of Frank Cunningham rowing, Stan Pocock narrating.

Here is Frank Cunningham on the subject:

Counter Motion and Grace It is a truism that rowing is generally regarded as a graceful sport. Rowers themselves may or may not think so, because very often, in spite of sincere efforts to master the stroke, the best they can achieve still has a stitched-together look. This is almost inevitable, given the nature of most instruction: ‘Do this, do that’. What’s lost is the essence of a good stroke which is seamless. In order to achieve this sense of continuous motion, the rower might do better, it seams to me, to depend more upon appropriate imagery than on a series of particular moves strung together like beads. A trip to the zoo might be instructive. Better still, watch wildlife films on TV. There one sees, often in slow motion, the perfect response of a living thing to a call to action: lightning quickness and the smooth, supple play of bone and muscle. Since it is not the result of conscious thought, the movement is superlatively graceful. Better to keep such images in one’s mind than to follow directions. But, undeterred by my own good advice, I shall compound the problem with one more set of directions. In trying to achieve gracefulness in my own rowing and thereby efficiency, I incorporated into the rowing stroke what I shall call ‘counter moves’. I didn’t invent them; I was taught them a long, long time ago. There are very many simple gestures that run opposite or counter to the direction the body is moving at a given moment. The first counter-motion appears just as the handle approaches the body. The stroke is to be completed and the body returned without any consequent interruption in the speed of the boat. The way to accomplish this is to draw the handle home with the shoulders, squeezing the shoulder blades together while the back is being arrested at the end of the swing. The back then travels through the shoulders on the way out of bow. The easiest way to master the move is to row with the feet out of the shoes. In order to keep in contact with the stretcher, or to get the weight back on to them as quickly as possible, the rower must keep the weight of his or her body on the handle as long as possible. Without counter motion, the thing is impossible. Practice will produce in time a nice, continuous flowing motion out of bow.

Bill explained, Frank describes a counter-motion. George Pocock called it finishing on the oars; Valery Kleshnev, Finish through the handle. We often refer to the follow through. These all try to convey the notion of a coordinated effort to drive the boat, release the oars from the water and end up in a position of balance and repose - all without seeming to make any effort at all. Bill Described the Drill of the Day (While Rowing Feet Out)

Tiny Strokes - sitting legs down, relaxed but upright, start the stroke with the hands just a foot away from your body. End the stroke in exactly the same position, ready for another. You'll only get a small peck at the water, so if you are going to move the boat at all, you will need to work the blades through the entirety of your very limited stroke length, and you will find that there is no time for anything but the simplest gesture. Indeed, here less is more.

Bill provided one additional source of material for the class. Valery Kleshnev on Perception and Change.

Bill Tytus, owner of Pocock Racing Shells and champion singles sculler, is coaching an advanced class exploring the technical aspects of how to make your boat go faster. The class meets Saturdays from 6:30 to 8:30. Visit the LWRC Programs Page to sign-up.

LWRC Sculling programs are open to all LWRC members rowing in single sculls. We have programs available for a range of levels. Visit the LWRC Programs Page for details. LWRC has annual memberships available. Become a Member


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