How to keep my legs parallel when sculling

We got a question from a reader

1982: Martin Winter (front), Uwe Heppner (seco...
1982: Martin Winter (front), Uwe Heppner (second), Uwe Mund (third), and Karl-Heinz Bußert (last) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How to stop the legs falling apart/ outwards at the catch when sculling:”

Great question. You don’t say if this is for yourself or if you’re coaching someone who is like this. What age are you or your athlete? Older masters athletes often have this problem more than younger ones.

The usual reason for legs falling apart or together is athlete flexibility.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with your legs not tracking parallel up the recovery except that these are ‘weaker’ positions than straight vertical legs. And so as a consequence, the athlete can’t be as powerful when they start the drive phase of the rowing/sculling stroke with legs out to the sides. And so if you’re a recreational rower I wouldn’t worry too much about this. If you want to compete, row in crews with others or go as fast as you are capable – then do work on changing your technique.

First check: Can you sit at the catch position with your legs vertical?

Are you comfortable? Do you feel awkward, uncomfortable or pain? If you cannot sit comfortably then I’d suggest your set-up is not suitable for your personal needs.

One reason why your legs may fall to the sides is because it’s uncomfortable.

If you cannot sit at the catch with blades flat on the water easily for 1 minute without moving, then we can help make this position easier to achieve. Try lowering your feet/shoes on the foot stretcher and raising your seat height using a seat pad. Test this out on an ergo. Just play around with varying the height between your heels and the top of the seat and see where you feel most at ease.

Your flexibility can impede your ability to sit at the catch. I recommend a book, Yoga for Rowers that with diligent practice can improve your ability to sit at the catch. Read Anna Railton’s hilarious reviews of her own attempts to improve flexibility.  There are four parts and the links are at the end of each article. You can buy the book in the Rowperfect store 

Is your learned technique wrong?

Now, assuming you are capable of getting to front stops without your legs drooping, then it’s a question of adapting your technique. I suggest 3 things
1 – Do a slide build progression from 1/4 slide sculling through half slide and three quarters – just rowing the way seems ‘normal’ to you with 20 strokes at each stage. Find out at what point in the slide your legs start to migrate sideways. This will give you a visual check and a clue about when to look and see what they’re doing as you scull. Develop a habit of looking down at your knees regularly to check what they’re doing.
Then develop another check – this time not visual but feeling. When you sit at the front stops where do your thighs touch your body? Mine are around my lower ribs when I’m sitting correctly. Now shift position to sit in the legs-out-sideways position – where do they touch your body (around your side ribs, or do they brush your under arms maybe?). As you row feel at the catch where your leg:body contact is happening – this enables you to check if you’re doing it right or you need to make a small adjustment.

2 – Roll down your tracksuit trousers or leggings while you’re in the boat so the waistband is around your thighs – kinda like half taking them off. (Also best done in a double as you don’t want to fall out!). Row a whole outing like this. The fabric is stretchy and will constrain your legs from tracking sideways. Serves as a reminder.

3 – Take out a double scull and do power strokes with your partner sitting still. You row for 15 strokes maximum firm pressure at low rate (16-20) watching your knees every stroke. By sculling slowing, deliberately and not having to worry about steering or balance, you can focus on your legs tracking straight up and down. The maximum power will be tiring but will begin to train your muscles the correct movement.

If you fail to keep your legs going correctly, back off on the power 5% and re-align your legs on the next stroke(s) get this corrected before building up the power again. Try to do 3 sets with 15 strokes ghost paddling in between (or let your partner do power strokes while you sit the boat as your rest). Then paddle half pressure for 10 minutes and do another set. While paddling half pressure look down at your legs every 5th stroke to check their alignment.

Remember your muscles will get very tired quite quickly as you re-train them to a new movement so plan short outings but try to row very regularly.

Anything else you would add to this list?

3 thoughts on “How to keep my legs parallel when sculling

  1. Gary A says:

    What else to add to the list? That’s easy. Use a dynamic rower (such as a RowPerfect). Not having legs parallel can cause pain and even allow old injuries to resurface in the lower torso to knees area. I’ve worked on this more than anything in the last two years and probably wouldn’t be rowing at all if I could not work out this issue using the approach Rebecca explains so well on the erg. This must be done slowly and carefully with plenty of rest for healing between workouts. Consultation with an orthopedic specialist and movement therapist may be required, too.

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