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More about rowing catch angles

Getting the right angle on things Recently the discussion page at hosted a discussion about oar angles, … read more

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Getting the right angle on things

Recently the discussion page at hosted a discussion about oar angles, length and levers and fulcrums.  The host gave some practical advice to a knowledge seeking coach, but in doing so was somewhat illogical, or, at least, inaccurate, about some basic physics.  Peter O’Connor a well-known NZL coach, renowned for strong opinions about rigging, corrected some of Rebecca’s physics and added some opinions.  I am now going to add more opinions and confuse the debate some more.

When we grew up it was accepted that an angle of more than 450 at the catch meant you were pinching the boat and was thus a bad thing. Purely empirically this has got to be doubted now, many (most?) good crews reach past 450 and they all go faster than we did in our youth.  I suggest that although going past 450 may reduce the efficiency it doesn’t slow the boat down.  As a general rule I work from the assumption that length is good, that the longer the blade is in the water the faster is the potential top speed of the boat.

Now, as always in rowing, there is a but; or, indeed, several buts.  How is the length achieved?  If the athlete packs up very tight Rowing, single sculler Conal Groom at the catch, Lake Washington, Seattle, Washington State, Pacific Northwest, released. COPYRIGHT:Joel Rogersat the catch the initial leg drive is inefficient. If excessive lay back is used there is much force downwards on the bow at the finish. If the rigging is changed to give a longer stroke then the gearing may be outside the efficient range for the athlete or crew.  This is standard rigging – there is no such thing as a free lunch. Change a setting to improve one parameter and several others get changed in other directions.  Given these constraints it is easy om see that there is no general optimal angle to reach to. The best angle depends on athlete size, shape, and strength, boat size and a host of interlinked rigging  options.

Most coach education course and self-help books give suggested angles for oars or sculls to traverse during the stroke.  An example can be found here, but the consensus is around 900 for sweep and 1100 for sculling.  The other age old consensus is that faster boats should have more of the swept angle in front of the pin than is the case for a slower boat. Thus an eight may be rigged so the oars reach 550 past the pin to the catch and only swing 350 past perpendicular to the finish.  In comparison a pair might be set to 500 and 400.

So how does this help our searcher after knowledge? Generally a good rule of thumb is to rig as all the others do.  Rigging has evolved to standards because they work.  Unless you have extreme athletes, extreme in size, power or speed, what is good enough for the bulk of us won’t slow your crew down and you can focus on what really makes a boat fast, good training and good technique.

Training is outside of the scope of this little piece but there is one hugely important, and often neglected, piece of technique that repays attention from us all.  I call it effective length.  The length of the arc the oar swings where it is connected to the water.  Not the length measured by most eyes which is the total arc swung but the arc where the oar, and thus the athlete, is doing something useful about propelling the boat.

So to answer Glenn, the original questioner, I would say, “set your athletes so they reach a bit past 45degrees at the catch and spend time helping them to learn how to place the blade accurately at this point and not to miss water”.At the other end of the stroke stay in the water till the body gets in the way.  At this level more time in the water gives more speed.

About Rebecca Caroe
Rebecca is the host of RowingChat podcast and is a masters athlete and coach. Passionate about helping others enjoy the sport as much as she does. View all posts from Rebecca Caroe

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