How to stop digging deep with my oars


While sculling I’m having difficulty with “digging” too deep with my oars; what drills or technique can I focus on to correct this? Thank you for your awesome site!

Mahe Drysdale sculling

Mahe Drysdale sculls with oars buried deep. Photo Credit: HPSNZ

What a great question and firstly let me reassure you, you’re not alone.

Digging deep is not in itself a big problem in rowing or sculling. In fact, the deeper under the water’s surface your oars are, the better ‘grip’ the front surface has with the water and the better propulsion you can generate. But classic technique states that only the oar spoon needs to be under the water’s surface – so let’s assume that is what you are aiming for.

So the first step towards curing this is to ask what “difficulty” you are having.

Now some of the difficulty could be getting caught at the finish (not being able to extract the oar before feathering) or it could be upsetting the balance, or it could just be aesthetically more pleasing if your oars were perfectly in parallel with the other athletes.

Step one Letting Go the Handle Drill

Learn where your handles need to be during the power phase when the blade spoon is just under the water’s surface.

By identifying the correct blade depth and the corresponding handle height (each end of the oar shaft) you can then find out when in the stroke your movement diverges from this pattern.

In a crew boat – the crew will row the boat for you while you do the drill alone (or half the crew can do the drill while half row normally, and you can then swap).

The drill

  1. You all row at half pressure, then you start the drill while they continue rowing normally.
  2. At the catch, put the oars into the water and let go of the handle(s). The oar will drift through the stroke and when it’s close to the end of the power phase, you put your hands back on the handles and press the oars out of the water. Row a normal recovery phase, and repeat the hands off during the power phase. Try doing 10 strokes.
  3. As you get more confident doing the drill, start to observe the height your handles travel at when they are not being controlled by your hands.
  4. Then row normally with the rest of the crew for 10 strokes trying to match the handle height you achieved when not holding on during the drill. Then return to the hands off drill for 10 strokes.

Hopefully this will assist you in identifying when you are making the oars go deep by raising the handles higher than they need be. What you’re probably doing is lifting the handle mid-drive so your handles travel through an arc of a circle during the power phase rather than traveling horizontal.

The Power phase balance drill

Second Drill – once you have begun to get an appreciation of your control over the handle height – we move onto an exaggeration drill which gets you and the crew to control the handles in a different way.

Exaggeration drills are a very useful tool for rowing coaches as they helps the crew understand a movement by ‘overdoing’ it.

This drill helps the crew to understand how high to carry their oar handles during the power phase.

  1. Row normally at least half pressure
  2. Move to rowing with only half the oar spoon under the water during the power phase
  3. Do this for 20 strokes
  4. Return to normal rowing

The athletes have to check both the spoon depth under the water and also adjust their handle heights in order to do this drill. It helps them to appreciate the exact amount to raise the handle at the catch to cover ONLY the oar spoon with water (not the shaft).

Lastly may I suggest you get yourself videoed while doing these drills?  It can help you to understand the difference between what you feel while rowing and what you are actually doing.

Let us know if there are other drills you’d recommend and whether these work for you.


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