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
- Have you got a coach?
- Can you get a video of your crew rowing in 4s and all 8? This could give clues about what the issues are
- 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. 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
- A guide to good rowing technique
- Balance for beginner rowers by Duncan Holland
- Drills for balance in Crew Sculling
- How to balance a coxed four shell
- Creating rowing and sculling boat balance by Jim Flood
- How to get balance in a single scull
- Achieving Ease and Comfort in the boat by Troy Howell