How can I relax as crew stroke?

Question: “What kind of exercise can I use to help stay relaxed when stroking (quads and eights)?”

Answer from our expert Rowing Coach Kristin Marvin:

WOW! This question stirred up a lot of memories! I was stroke seat in several boats and all experiences were different. There are several ways you can stay relaxed. I am not sure what is going to work for you, so I have a few suggestions.

  1. How long have you been stroking the boat? Sometimes it just takes time to get familiar with your new role in the boat (making sure you understand all your responsibilities as stroke) and getting comfortable with the position. Yes, as easy as that. It takes time to achieve an ideal rate and rhythm. It takes time to appropriate communicate with the coxswain. It takes time to get the ‘feel’ while remaining relaxed.
  2. Are you a gripper? If you gripped the oar when you first started rowing, sometimes athletes will have a tendency to ‘grip’ a little harder in stroke seat. Make sure you wiggle your fingers as you recover to the catch.
  3. How is your breathing? Yes, breathing is suppose to be natural and relaxed; however, sometimes it gets all tangled up. If possible, think about exhaling while powering with the legs to the finish and inhaling coming up the slide to the catch. Little key words I love to implement in this case are “Inhale confidence” (or inhaling with confidence) and “Exhale tension” (or exhaling the tension) let all the tension go, as you proceed, long and strong with every stroke.
  4. I had completely different group dynamics in all the teams for which I rowed. As stroke, one example was with 7 seat yelling out “If we don’t win this race I am not talking to any of you. FYI”. Another team, the 7 seat asked “Does my hair look okay?”. I certainly hope the boat dynamic allows you to ‘relax’ while rowing in the boat. Regardless, it is up to you to focus on the task at hand and you may need to work through that with your teammates or your coach.
  5. How ‘relaxed’ are you off the water? If you have a tendency to be not-so-relaxed all day long, it would be hard to instantly ‘get relaxed’ in the boat. Make sure you cater your day to periods of relaxation. It doesn’t matter whether it’s physical, mental or emotional ‘tension’, your body takes it all in. Be good to yourself!
  6. How’s your technique? Do you thrust your ribs forward or squeeze your shoulders back? These two movements cause incredible amounts of tension in the body and will not release until after you finish rowing. Make sure your body is only using the muscles it needs to use while rowing and you are not unconsciously creating tension where it does not belong.

I hope that one of these helped. Have a wonderful rowing season!

Kristin Marvin - exercise physiologist with Rowperfect
Kristin Marvin – exercise physiologist with Rowperfect

Buy advice for your questions, issues or problems from Kristin from the Expert Rowing Coach in the Rowperfect store.

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