One Thing to Teach Scullers to Do Better (Part 2)

Rigger Heights – Changes in my lifetime:  (By this I mean the height of the Sill of the Oarlock above the Seat):

This is the second part of Penny Chuter’s ideas. Penny, one of the most famous Britisch Rowing coaches tells us:

Prior to the 1970’s rigger heights had always been very low.  During the 1970’s and 80’s, mainly due to experimentation with the sliding rigger in conjunction with a renewed focus on the biomechanics of rowing, rigger heights got higher and higher to the point where they were generally much too high for optimum efficiency.  There was then further modification as more and more nations developed their own biomechanical measuring systems, such that today, rigger heights are more individualized, and at more of an optimum height.

The other key consideration in sculling is whether the riggers should be set level, or whether the rigger of the top-hand at the cross-overs should be higher, and if so, by how much?

I sculled with level riggers in my day, but this was unusual even then.  There is a case for some height difference in doubles and quads due to the challenges of getting the hands of everyone in the crew to follow the same pathway, and at the same time, even in perfect conditions, especially during the cross-overs.

I remember in the 1980’s there was a Czech M.2x that had 4.5cms difference between their swivel heights on each side!  This was the greatest difference I ever measured.

In “Rudern”, the DDR Textbook of Oarsmanship, published in the late 1970’s, the recommended difference in rigger heights was 5mm– 10mm difference for singles.

I start from the premise that ideally, I want the boat level throughout the stroke cycle, but especially at the catch and extraction.  If the rigger heights are level, then the hand heights should remain level throughout.  Conversely, if the rigger heights are different, then the hand-heights will need to be different throughout, to maintain the boat level, so you can’t have it both ways!

If, for example, you set your rigger heights level, and your hands are level at the catch and at the extraction, but one above the other during the drive cross-over, and again during the recovery cross-over, your boat will be in a continuous state of “rocking”, ie., level at the catch, down on one side at the draw cross-over, level at the extraction, down on one side on the recovery cross-over! This creates excess drag on the hull, interferes with the steering, unbalances the sculler on the recovery, and potentially reduces the power-application during the drive phase.

The key is that it is actually the scull handles which need to be at the same heights during the cross-overs, and this can be achieved if the wrists are flat (neutral), if the same hand remains nearest the stern (leading/following), and if the scull handles are as close as possible (fore and aft.)  

How the Hands and Body Influence the Cross-Over Phases:

Some scullers will accommodate the cross-over asymmetry by keeping their shoulders symmetric throughout the drive phase, and “taking” all the asymmetry through their arms and hands, ie., they bend one elbow first and very early, and this puts unnecessary stress on the forearms and is likely to cause that forearm to “seize-up”.  On the recovery, you will see the lead elbow straighten first, and again very early, followed by the other elbow.  All the asymmetry as absorbed through the arms only.

Other scullers will influence the asymmetry of the cross-over phases by accentuating a shoulder-lead/body-twist by leading much more with one shoulder through the drive cross-over, and with the other shoulder during the recovery cross-over.  This puts less pressure on the fore-arms, but leads to too much ridgidity and tension in the shoulders. Both these excess options are often compensated by asymmetry in the legs – On the recovery, you often see scullers’ knees “wobbling” from side to side to try to compensate for the lack of hand-control.  Also, during the drive phase, you often see one knee driving down before the other………

As always, the best way for the body and hands to accommodate the asymmetry during the two cross-over phases is to use a little of each, rather than an exaggeration of either the shoulders or the arms/hands. During the drive cross-over phase, advance the lead shoulder slightly and bend the advance arm slightly earlier – sharing the asymmetry between the arms and shoulders.  On the recovery cross-over, again share the asymmetry between the lead shoulder and the lead arm, and keep this to the minimum required to keep the scull handles one in front of the other.

A really good check, or indeed drill, to encourage awareness of the relative hand positions during the cross-over phases, is for the knuckles of the underneath-hand to try to touch the wrist of the top-hand, exactly where your watch-strap would be.  If you can do this, then your scull-handles will be leading/following, and they will be as close as they can be both vertically and horizontally – (fore and aft).

In our post on Saturday I will teach you more on sculling and using your hands properly.

Enjoy Sculling!

Penny Chuter OBE,
Re-edited and expanded – June – 2020

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