The oar is the lever we use to move the boat; the grip connects us to the oar and thus to the water. The better our grip, the better our control of the oar and the better we transfer our power.
Just as your ball was sliced or hooked or merely dribbled when you wanted it to fly so to is it with rowing or sculling and a poor grip. We miss our connection with the water, send the boat and blades in the wrong direction and change the way our bodies move.
Rowing grip in drive
When an athlete learns to grip the oar / scull well then he/she is able to manipulate and control it properly. The catch can become better because the hands are in good control of the blade and can now time the entry correctly. The finish can be more efficient because the pressure can be kept on for longer and be more cleanly released.
A blade with a clean finish can impart more acceleration to the boat and the balance is liable to be better because the hull is not disturbed by the extraction.
After time spent improving the grip you can expect the blade work in general to be tidier and more effective and it is often a good idea to move on from a grip focus to one on the turning points of the stroke.
Sweep finish position
A bad grip imposes costs on the athlete. A too loose or too tight grip reduces the maximum power that can be transferred from the legs, body and arms through the hands to the handle.
Bent wrists, hands, especially outside hands, slipping off the handle at catch or finish also diminish the power transferred.
Bad grip also exposes rowers to higher risks of injury. The various forms of overuse injury in the wrist, tenosynovitis and others are often caused by grip and feathering technique that requires an exaggerated movement to rotate the oar.
Sculler at the finish position
During the drive we hang off the handle as we would hang off a chin-up bar.
Hanging form a bar – photo rotated 90 degrees
Note the similarities to a rowing grip.
The handle is loosely held with the fingers wrapped around so that the second knuckles are in front. The thumbs are underneath and the handle is held so that there is space between the webbing of the thumb and the handle. Both wrists are flat.
In rowing the outside hand has a static grip. The wrist stays flat, the fingers stay still. In effect the grip is a hook, and the handle is free to rotate in this hook when the blade is free of the water and there is no pressure being applied. Hand separation is to some extent personal and what is comfortable
Or if you are more of a left brain sort of person:
Photo of hand on scull
Before an athlete can get a good grip these things must be in order:
1. Rigging. The span and inboard, through the work, and height must put the handle in a comfortable place for the rower or sculler.
2. Handle size and material and condition. The handle must be appropriate for the athlete. See Care of equipment, Choice of equipment.
Photo of scull grip in recovery
During the drive we hang off the handles in much the same way as we would hang from a chin-up bar. The only difference is that in sculling our hands are on the end of the handle.
The handle is loosely held with the fingers wrapped around so that the second knuckles are in front. In the drive the wrists are flat.
In sculling each hand has to control both the height and the rotation of the respective blade. The action is similar to that of the inside hand in rowing. At the finish the handle is tapped down with the wrists flat and then the wrist may flex slightly and the fingers are uncurled so the blade rotates to the horizontal.
One of the key skills in sculling is the cross-over of the hands. The near universal convention in sculling is that the right hand is the bottom hand. In the drive phase the right hand is below the left, and leads the left hand towards the body. The lead should be such that the top knuckles of the bottom hand are on the heel of the upper hand.
Feathering practice with stick, drive.Feathering practice with stick, recovery.
In the recovery phase the top hand, the left hand leads out and the bottom hand the right hand follows. When this is done correctly, and combined with a good feathering action, the handles can be kept close together and the wrists remain straight.
One lovely phrase to describe the sculling grip is “Hold the scull as you would a little bird, tight enough to stop it escaping but loose enough to avoid hurting it.” I first heard this used by Tony O’Connor of Ireland and Christ’s College, New Zealand and I believe it came from Adrian Henning.