Here’s how Grant Craies taught a crew a longer rowing stroke.
The crew comprised two novices and a 1-year rower with the coach in bow. While warming up, he noticed that the stroke (who was also steering) lost a lot of length every time they steered the boat.
Question – how to teach the crew the technique to keep a long stroke?
Explain rowing stroke ratio
At a stroke rate of 20 each stroke takes around 3 seconds to complete the power phase and the recovery phase. Since water cannot be compressed by a rowing oar, the amount of time the oar is in the water is approximately the same at stroke rate 20 as at 30 and this is around 0.7 seconds. Therefore the amount of time needed on the recovery phase at a stroke rate of 20 is 2.3 seconds. Start by getting the crew to recognise how long they spend on the recovery compared to the power phase. Do this while rowing full crew at half pressure.
Use all the slide length
Then stop and explain how to ensure you’re using all the length of the slide on the recovery. Make sure they understand that each recovery they need to roll forward on the seat to go to full compression at the catch. The way to check full compression is that each person’s shins are vertical at the catch. Check their foot stretcher adjustment so they can achieve this position. If not, have a read of Troy Howell’s expert advice.
Why did the crew shorten up?
While rowing, the 3 man was accurately following stroke who shortened up while focusing thinking on the steering and this made the whole crew shorten up as they followed.
The next thing to teach is that the whole crew remains long regardless of external influences (in this case steering). Everyone works individually and together to keep the rhythm and ratio going.
Key here is to ensure the stroke notices they have shortened up and works to lengthen their stroke after completing the steering.
How to teach length in the rowing stroke
Build up the crew from one person rowing to full crew. So the first athlete (stroke or stern pair in sweep) begins rowing alone – keeping up an amount of pressure on the oar. Instruct them to try to keep this pressure in the water as a second and third person joins in.
“Keep the load on your oars and don’t let it slip away as the next person joins in.”
Start from stroke joining in towards the bow and then do the reverse starting from bow.
Get the crew to notice the difference in ratio as more people are rowing – you should have a bigger ratio with more athletes rowing as long as the rating hasn’t gone up because the boat moves faster with more rowers.
To counteract the tendency to rate higher when everyone is rowing now get the crew to exaggerate the ratio change i.e. make the oar move faster through the water and the athlete move slower up the slide. Up one point in rating in the water and down two points in rating on the slide is an easy call to make.
The key to stroke length success
Repetition is essential here. Your crew won’t learn this in one go – do it multiple times through the outing. And do it again in subsequent outings. So call the improved ratio as often as you see the focus slip away from the crew.
Now what could you add to improve this?