Our rowing eight can’t get in time


Hi- When I row in an eight, I feel as if I am rowing uphill in wet cement. When we row by fours and I am in the 4 seat, the boat is stable, set and moving smoothly through the water. I am starting to hate rowing because I don’t see how we will ever get in synch. We have different levels of experience and different folks rowing almost every time we go out. Thanks.

A couple of questions

  1. Have you got a coach?
  2. Can you get a video of your crew rowing in 4s and all 8?  This could give clues about what the issues are
  3. When you are rowing in 4s, can you also achieve the good feeling when you move to 6 people rowing?

Rowing oars out of time. Rowing oars out of time. Image Credit: British Rowing Go Rowing

Rowing Timing and Balance for Eights

It sounds to me like your crew need some drills and skills practice.  Yes, changing the people frequently can be challenging, but if you can get approximately the same people in the same seats as often as possible, that helps.  And if you all do the same drills every outing, you will gradually improve.

The suggestions below are NOT all to be done every outing.  Do number 2 as part of your warm up every outing.  And pick 1, 3 or 4 as the second drill for a single outing.  Aim to do the drill 2-3 times during the row.  Yes, repeat and repeat and repeat.  By giving yourselves a quality score (and recording it in the boathouse) it will help you to perceive progress.  Also, since some of the drills are for working with only part of the crew, you will find out who is more and less skilful.  As a rule, put the less skilful people at 3 and 4 seats in the eight.

Here are some rowing drills for you to try

Exercise number 1.  Learning how to balance the boat level and depth of tap down

  • Step 1 – 4 people tap out the end of the power phase (start the recovery) with normal rowing.  2 people oars along the surface.
  • Step 3 – switch the fours so the other four are rowing normally and the others running oars along the surface
  • Step 4 – Whole 8 move to a smaller tap down than usual – just 1 cm handle (normal tap down is about cms).
  • Step 5 – return to blades along the surface
  • Step 6 – 1 cm tap down for whole 8.  When you can do this successfully, move to 2 cm tap down and 3 cm and then ‘normal’ 4 cm tap down.
  • Step 7 – any time you cannot achieve the tap down and the “cement’ feeling comes back, go back a step and return to the earlier (easier) stage, then try to advance again.

Learning how to swap pairs in and out smoothly

Exercise number 2 – rowing in 4s and 6s

  • Step 1 – rowing in fours, firm pressure square blades and low rating (18-22)
  • Step 3 – move to rowing in 6s, firm pressure square blades and low rating (18-22)
  • Get your coxswain to give you points out of 10 for every transition – a bad one scores low.  Teaches you to move carefully and manage your oar handle consistently
  • Step 5 – repeat steps 3 and 4 with feathering.  Yes, this is probably a big reason why your boat set and “concrete” feeling comes – it’s hard to technically learn to feather.
  • Step 6 – move to all eight feathering.

Get your coxswain to count how many strokes in a row you can do without the oars touching the water.

Learning how to stop in the stroke and hold the balance

Exercise number 3 – Pausing at different places in the stroke.

  • Do one pause every 3 strokes so you don’t lose too much boat momentum in between
  • Step 1 – pause at the finish with the oars flat on the water surface.  Handle up at your chest, elbows high.
  • Step 2 – do this finish pause 5-8 times.
  • Step 3 – Pause at the hands away position.  Make sure everyone ends the stroke in the correct finish position (that was step1) before they push the handle down to extract the oar from the water.  If you all do it together, the boat should balance.
  • Step 4 – if step 3 is not successful, go back to Step 2 and repeat.
  • Step 5 – move to hands away and body over for 5-8 pauses
  • Step 6 continuous rowing for 5 minutes
  • Step 7 – go back to Step 1 and repeat

Learning how to work hard without disrupting boat balance

Exercise number 4 – Power Strokes

  • This is real fun- opportunity to work HARD.  Rowing in fours you are doing ‘weight lifting’ in the boat.
  • Step 1 – bow four sit easy and Stern 4 row with SQUARE blades, maximal pressure at a low-ish rate e.g. 20 – 24.  All out.  Everything.  Gotta stay in time with each other.
  • Step 2 – Coxswain counts the last few strokes 17 – 18 – 19 – 20 and then stern four sit easy and bow four take over int he same stroke starting 20 strokes firm, square blades same rate
  • Step 3 – repeat step 2 but switch to stern 4.
  • Do 5 repeats so everyone does 100 hard strokes, then join in the whole crew and row around half pressure for 5 minutes.  Stop, drink and rest.
  • Note you should be working so hard that after 20 strokes you are puffing and out of breath.  Yes this is harder than race pressure.
  • Hope this helps you out somewhat.
  • Resources for coaches on balance

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. graham cawood

    If you want to learn to do something, practice IT!
    I wouldn’t recommend drills.
    Have an experienced rower as stroke, especially with novices. Otherwise row beside a boat that does. Do 1:1 work: recovery, at about 24 spm. LIGHT WORK, shortish strokes, 2 breaths per stroke(out at catch and release) Enjoy the rhythm!
    Watch and follow that stroke!!!

  2. Liz B

    I love the idea of the drill where you get everyone in the tap down 1cm, then 2cm etc. If everyone had that amount of control and consistency then I doubt you’d have any balance or timing issues to start with!

    1. Rebecca Caroe

      Liz – you are totally correct…. but rarely does that happen in my experience! A bit of practice together is key to control and consistency.

  3. David Harralson

    I coxed an eight, and went through this sequence.
    Warm up with fours.
    Row stern six. Transition through the boat, bow pair in, 3/4 out, 3/4 in 5/6 out, etc.
    With stern six again, bow pair in for one stroke before 3/4 out. The boat can handle one stroke by all eight without becoming undone. Cycle through the boat.
    With stern six again, bow pair in for two strokes before 3/4 out. If the boat handled 1 stroke by all eight, they can handle two. Cycle through the boat.
    You could continue to increase the number of all eight strokes gradually. In my case I just let them continue by all eight. Only one time during the practice did it get rough and I dropped down to sixes for awhile and then finished by all eight again.
    After practice, I found this crew had just come from learn to row.
    I think this might work best with a cox who is technically skilled both as a rower and coach and can sort out flaws when rowing by fours before progressing to sixes and eights.
    Incidentally, from a dead stop, I always start half, three fourths, full sequence since the boat and rowers are more stable this way. Particularly helpful with less experienced crews. For racers, it helps ingrain the start sequence.

  4. Peter O'Connor

    Firstly, set up your boat…….too often an anathema to rowers and coaches……but the single biggest reason by a long way for problems in an eight.
    Set the foot stretchers so that all rowers have the same catch angle…….in my experience much more important for less experienced rowers than finish angle. Problem here is usually that rowers “know” where they usually put their foot stretcher and inappropriately apply this “rule” to every boat they are in regardless of how the boat has been rigged or who they are rowing with. If this is a problem, default set up is EVERY stretcher in the same place and move the seat slides if any individual is hitting front stops or back stops (Remember, Concept 2 ergs don’t allow for moving the foot stretcher horizontally and a wide variety of body types reach to a few cm from the chain bumper).
    Finish height is next……..adjust the gate washers so that the oar handle hits your bottom rib and when the rower is sitting in a strong finish position they have enough room to drop out enough to have the blade clear of the water.
    Then, I agree with the earlier reply to row with the oars sliding flat along the water during the recovery. Row as a whole 8 and when things start coming right the blades will lift off the water by themselves…..it is very hard to keep your blade sliding along the water during the recovery when the boat picks up speed……just let it happen BUT without skying at the catch.
    In my experience, finish angles tend to sort themselves out once the boat picks up speed and rhythm is established as rowers feel when they are a bit slower than the rest of the crew to drop out and compensating by sitting up or leaning back more at the finish tends to be instinctive and relatively easy……..certainly easier than adjusting the catch.
    Thirdly….change seating positions…….ignore arbitrary rules where “big” people go in the middle and so on………try moving people around.
    And that is it……don’t complicate things and most “balancing” exercises are a waste of time as they do not simulate what happens a boat at a reasonable rating and speed. And people cannot row as you want them to if the boat set up is to far from the optimum for the crew.
    Boats are like bicycles…..when set up correctly and with a bit of speed on they find balance.

    1. Rebecca Caroe

      Great points, Peter. Thanks for taking the time to share your expertise.

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