How to stop slumping at the catch in rowing


A question from a reader “How to stop ‘slumping’ and losing body position at frontstops before the catch?”

What a challenge. This is possibly one of the toughest things to teach rowers and scullers.  Usually because you are trying to get them to un-learn incorrect posture.  Changes like this are not made overnight.  Athletes will tend to revert to their more comfortable slump posture when they get tired.  So only do short amounts of time on this until the crew has enough strength and flexibility to maintain their form for longer periods.

Let’s go – this is going to be a hard ride.
Rowing variation in catch posture Rowing variation in catch posture

First thing to check

Can the athlete sit in the catch position?

If your athletes are not physically capable of sitting at the catch – arms outstretched and not holding the handles of the oars – then you have your primary focus.  Adjust the boat equipment until they can comfortably sit there with shins vertical, back leaning forward and straight, shoulders relaxed and arms outstretched.  Test this first on the erg.

Things to look for – if shins aren’t vertical this may be caused by inflexibility in joints or a tummy getting in the way.  Lower the feet height and raise the seat until the athlete can sit comfortably in something close to the correct position.

If they cannot sit there – embark on a stretching and flexibility training programme

What is good rowing posture at the catch?

In the Rowing Coach section of this website is a whole chapter about Rowing Posture.  Read the whole page because it sets out

  • Diagrams of rowing postures
  • How to find the correct posture for you
  • A brief description of good posture
  • Benefits of good posture

Coaching correct rowing posture

Once you’ve established that the athlete can achieve the position you want, here are some drills that you can use to encourage good posture at the catch.

Posture on the Recovery

Achieving the catch posture starts with the end of the power phase and the set up for the recovery (hands / body / slide).  By one quarter slide the catch position should be achieved and maintained all the way until full compression at the catch is reached.

Try the hinge exercise described here.  This is great because you can teach it on the erg first where you can position your athletes manually so they are in the right place.  If they can’t rock forwards – go back and check their foot height and seat height to ensure their bodies can do the movement.

Then progress to doing it on the water.  Blades flat on the water at first.

Build up from hinging at backstops (no slide) through to hinging to half slide (elbows over the knees) to hinging at full slide.  All with oars flat on the water.

This can be part of the warm up for every outing.

Posture during the Power phase (drive)

Continue the hinging exercise into the power phase by squaring the oars and doing the backstops, half slide and full slide.  Do this square blades ONLY and be sure that the boat is sat level throughout, so you may want to only have half the crew rowing if they aren’t skilful.

Any time you see the technique slip back to slumping, stop.  Take a rest.  Set up the correct posture again from backstops with the hinging exercise and the oars flat on the water.  It’s more important to get it right, 100% right for a short sequence of strokes than to persevere with incorrect posture.

Here’s another more sophisticated exercise to do – this requires the athlete to be able to get into the catch position and hold it while taking short strokes.  Do not do this drill until your athletes can hold the catch posture.

Do the Slide Progression from Front Stops exercise.  Once the correct catch posture is achieved, you can get the rowers to use it in this sequential drill.  This helps to establish correct posture during the power phase of the rowing stroke.  Beware – if your athletes are inflexible, un-fit or not good at posture, you should only do this for short sequences and give them lots of rest between sets (maybe do half the crew while the others rest).

Other sources of information

Read Ben Rodford’s book “Be Your Own Support Team”  He has a section on flexibility.  Also available on Amazon in Kindle Format 

I’m too inflexible to reach the catch in rowing – what can I do?

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Walter Martindale

    Another way to aid in the “stop slumping at the catch” process is to change to a more evidence-based description of the “recovery”… The boat moves fastest during the recovery when there is no propulsion (blades are out of the water). Smith (Australian biomechanics researcher) and the BAT Logic website show “negative” foot stretcher forces during the recovery – e.g., about 100 N (10kg worth of force) – effectively pulling the boat via the foot stretcher during the recovery. Logically – this has to happen – the boat/crew/oars “movement system” cannot accelerate during the recovery, yet the boat goes fastest during the recovery. So – something (the crew, via the feet) pulls the boat – the crew itself slows down during the recovery.

    Take the understanding that the crew pulls the boat via the foot-stretcher (if you don’t believe this, try “feet out” drill without heel-cups) and instead of thinking about gliding on the wheels toward the frontstops, think about sitting in the catch position, and bringing the frontstops toward you (which is really what happens). Time the blade entry for when the feet change direction – place the blades at the moment the feet stop coming toward you and just before the feet start pushing. This permits one to pay attention to the kinesthetic feedback from all the joints, muscles and tendons in the lower body for “when do I catch” rather than trying to guestimate when the wheels stop rolling (there aren’t nerves in the wheels of seat)…
    Add to this understanding that you’re able to get all the reaching done with the upper body early in the recovery (standard way of thinking) and then keep the body still while drawing the boat with the feet (not so standard way of thinking) and most people who “get” it tend to lose their “lunge” and tend to smooth out their stroke.

  2. graham cawood

    I disagree that the rower should be able to hold the full catch position. Near it? yes!, but at it? no! because it is a SPRUNG position achieved in absorbing the momentum of your approach to the catch. WITHOUT a pause you take the catch and rebound, in effect reusing the energy used to accelerate into the recovery.
    Try it on the erg at about 30 rating. Like a pendulum- 1:1 ratio each way.
    To get good reach have relaxed, bent arms in the recovery. As your body stops smoothly on your knees the blades pull your arms straight. Square the blade and drop it at full reach. The arms rebend, effecting the rapid acceleration required to get to relative water speed with the blades.
    You could also try laying back at the catch by pivoting above the hips as the blades enter. The seat gets about 80mm nearer the feet so doing , making your leg push longer. This layback could reduce the load on the back by about 10%. Every bit helps!

  3. Duncan Holland

    I agree with Rebecca on this one. If an athlete can’t hold the catch position she/he is unlikely to move in the correct sequence away from the catch, and is highly likely to be in a weak position with pelvis and spine unprepared to take a load. Graham has the start of a good point that the catch in a stroke should be a sprung position, with tension in the drive muscles but this should be achieved by the slowing of the seat as the rower approaches the catch, not by forcing short muscles into overextended positions.
    Walter, you and I have sparred on this point before: Yes, logically, and actually, the rower does pull himself/herself up the slide by the shoes, but in a crew that is going well the feeling is more akin to the boat pushing the foot stretcher towards the rower. Does the research you mention say when in the recovery the force on the stretcher is negative? I would expect that at some stage the direction of the force would reverse in order to brake the movement of the rower towards the frontstops (within the frame of reference of the boat).
    Graham you are advocating some interesting techniques- bent arms during much of the recovery, and again immediately after the catch. I suggest that leaving the arms straight for all of the stroke excluding the last part of the drive and the start of the recovery could lead to more speed. In particular your idea of snatching at the water to “effect(ing) the rapid acceleration required to get to relative water speed with the blades” is contrary to most accepted practice. I believe that taking the catch with straight arms leads to much better utilisation of the leg drive and of the swing generated by the hamstring and gluteal groups of muscles.
    Your idea of swinging the body back at the start of the catch sounds reminiscent of West German technique in the sixties. If you do this combined with your arm snatch catch it will surely be difficult to utilise fully the leg drive that is the core of any powerful stroke.

  4. graham cawood

    By pivoting above the hips to layback at the catch you not only achieve a longer leg drive, but benefit from the increased rebound of the legs. No pausing!!!!! Leg drive work thereafter shouldn’t be affected, but the lower back has less pressure now that it is assisted by your upper body weight. In regard to our vulnerable lower back may I suggest the following:
    1. Feather the blade while it leaves the water, not after. This reduces the lift needed of the blade to clear the water, and with modern blades can give a little extra drive to the boat.
    2 Lower the gates as much as possible – perhaps to 125mm.

    Pulling the blades lower directly reduces the load on your back. If your hands are low enough so that the lower hand ( with blades square to the boat) just touches your leg, you have gained a ‘point of reference’, which could assist balance.
    Interestingly there are more back problems on the erg than the boat, perhaps for the following reasons.
    1. Ergers tend to pull higher to get longer reach. High =more load on the back.
    2 The erg handle is sprung and helps pull you forward. In a boat you get no help, so the back muscles can relax while your abs etc do the recovery.

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