Hand position and the extraction of the blade
To extract the blade from the water is not a trivial thing as every rower knows and certain hand positions make extracting the blade more difficult than is necessary.
This text is a reaction to the technique taught by some rowing instructors in my home-country, Holland. They teach pulling the handle ‘with a flat hand’ to beginning rowers, and I have seen the same instruction in a Rowperfect newsletter some time ago.
With the phrase ‘with a flat hand’ these instructors not only mean ‘with a flat wrist’, but ‘with a flat wrist and flat knuckles’, which means the handle is to be pulled with the tips of the fingers. This leads to several difficulties in rowing: application of force with the fingertips is limited, even after strength training and the hand does not have a stable position with regard to the handle, but the biggest problem emerges approaching the finish of the stroke. Since the hand can not be opened any further, feathering the blade in this position can only be done by flexing the wrist back over 90o, as can be seen in the drawing. Flexing the wrist this far is in itself a challenge to many, but the main problem is that most people do not have enough room between handle and thigh to accommodate for a full hand palm’s length. Anticipating this lack of room they do not even try to make a clean extraction and the result is that the blade sticks heavily to the water after a partial extraction and feathering; this may feel safe to beginners so the problem is not recognized or is even cherished. The problem surfaces only much later, when they start rowing with experienced rowers and even then the problem often is not recognized.
The solution is to grab the handle with a full firm grip, the knuckles flexed at about 70o. Feathering now becomes a combination of an easy 20-40o wrist flexion, combined with an opening of the hand’s grip to complete the 90o rotation of the handle. As this leaves ample room below the handle a clean extraction (before feathering) now is an easy thing.
The drawing shows the extraction of the blade, using two different hand positions. I do not think the hand position on the right side is an exaggeration of what I have regularly seen. There are also some pictures from british and dutch instruction material.
Other things can be said about hand positions but I just wanted to focus on this sometimes controversial aspect.
Bert Hoefsloot, a reader from the Netherlands kindly wrote this coaching advice to help others teach the extraction of the rowing or sculling blade.