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  • Bill Tytus

Saturdays with Bill, John and Dave: The Stroke Starts with the Catch

Updated: May 19, 2023

Saturday Morning Rowing with Coaches Bill Tytus, John Robinson and Dave Rutherford returns on April 3rd. The class is free and open to all LWRC members at the intermediate to advanced level. Please sign up for the class on our MindBody Portal. Singles and doubles welcome.

LWRC Sculling programs are open to all LWRC members rowing in single or double 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

Rowers meet at 7:00 AM on the boathouse apron for a brief discussion (while socially distanced) on the lesson. After the discussion, rowers will launch and meet at the South East corner of Lake Union unless otherwise instructed by the coaches. The row to the meet-up location will serve as a warm-up.

What follows is a series of notes from Bill to read before coming to class. The stroke starts with the catch - The Ready Position Since the rowing stroke is cyclical in nature, many think there should be no starting or stopping place, but we believe thinking about one stroke at a time to be a far more helpful concept. But where to begin and end the stroke?

Certainly not at the finish - starting from the finish implies having stopped there beforehand, and stopping your motion at the finish is definitely bad practice. Starting at the catch is perhaps arbitrary, but there are numerous good-habit-forming reasons for doing so.

In the ready position the rower is erect, reaching with relaxed fingers, the shoulders and back extended - just like it says: reaching and ready.

The ready position is the same at any place on the slide - full, half, or none.

Note: this is not an exercise in pain tolerance. Letting the knees up a few inches at no slide will allow a more comfortable and longer reach.

Take a look at Ernie Barry - the Prince of Scullers - and Bill Tytus for good examples of the ready position

From the ready position, the stroke starts with the catch.

IMPORTANT All motion at the start of the stroke must be toward the bow of the boat. Your seat, your body, your hands, and oar handles move only bow-ward - no last minute reaching, bobbing, grabbing - nothing moves toward the stern. If the stroke starts with the catch, it must end right before the catch - and this, happily, is a great place to end the stroke - at the ready position. Here you are upright and relaxed; reaching and extending the back tends to

open your chest - you can breath deeply. Your boat is moving at the fastest part of the stroke. Be patient. Let it run for a small moment, getting every inch you can from this stroke before you begin the next. Be mindful of these notions as you practice. The “finish” is actually in the middle of the stroke; it is the transition from drive to recovery. The Catch You've all heard, been taught, and maybe even believe the charming fairy tale that a “good” catch will avoid “checking” or slowing the boat. You've no doubt heard, read, u-tubed the almost endless discussions of how to drop the blade in, or which way the splash should go, etc, all with the good intention (but bad science) of trying to alleviate boat check.

Unfortunately, you can't eliminate check, and the only way to reduce it is to not go very fast in the first place. In fact, as we are able to measure rowing dynamics with ever more sophistication, there is a growing body of data that implies more check is actually faster! To get started on this fascinating topic we have attached a variety of resources to help understand what exactly is a good catch. Study, watch, think: try to focus more on what a good catch is, rather than what it is not; and especially try to find what is common to all these catches rather than how they are different.

Good Drills (downloadable PDF)

  • Find your marks

  • Catch drill

  • Catch drill plus legs

  • Legs down rowing - lots of it. No matter who you are, you are not rowing enough legs down. Best catch practice there is - you have to be quick, and because you can rate so much higher, you practice many more catches.

Reference Material George Pocock described the stroke in a page and a half. Most other attempts have resulted in 400 page books. Take a look to see if you think George left anything out. Notes on the Sculling Stroke as Performed by Professional Scullers on the Thames River

The addendum to George's piece is a note from Paul Enquist. Paul won the Gold Medal in the Double at the 1984 Olympic Games, a feat no other American sculler, male or female, has accomplished since. Here's his race

Paul's story is a fabulous one, and he's a great guy. He doesn't talk a lot, so if you ever meet him you will have to ask. He did give an interview in May 2020. A lovely listen with some great archival footage. Olympic Gold medalist Paul Enquist Interview about rowing 2X double scull in 1984 Dr. Valery Kleshnev has been leading rowing science first in Russia, then Australia, and then Great Britain. His work is uniquely excellent: it's rigorous, sensible, and correct; the range of inquiry is fascinating; and he publishes a monthly newsletter for all to learn. I've included some good example for you to read. 2004RowBiomNews02 and 2006RowBiomNews09 Frank Cunningham and Stan Pocock, with a camera mounted on the oarlock, following the blade, and then the hands. Frank is first, in the red shirt, Stan's shirt is white. Hands and Oars This is a video of one of the fastest eights ever, the '99 Dutch men, at the Koninklijke in Amsterdam, just a few weeks before they rowed their world record. Turn up the sound - what do you hear? '99 Dutch men The author of this letter-to-the-editor never had to pay Cash Prize Letter George Pocock at his best Eight Hearts Must Beat as One


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