Catch it

The catch is the placing of the blade in the water at the end of the recovery.

The catch is also the connection of the blade to the water, the connection of the rower’s power to the boat at the beginning of the drive.

It lies between the recovery where the hull is gliding free and the rower is rolling forward out of contact with the water and the drive phase where the crew is connected to the water and applying force to accelerate the boat.

The catch occurs when the rower is moving and changing direction, the blade is moving and changing direction, and when the boat is changing speed.

  • Think of Tiger Woods hitting a golf ball. He’s not a big man. We know plenty of rowers taller and stronger than he but few, if any, could drive the ball as far. It’s not just about being able to hit the ball, although some of us find that hard enough. Timing the swing to transfer the maximum momentum from the club to the ball is something Tiger does better than we do.

A well timed catch allows the rower to begin applying power without there having been any check to the speed of the hull. Of course Tiger has it easy; he is standing on solid ground and the ball is sitting still.

  • Think of Roger Federer then. Making those smooth and apparently effortless returns isn’t all about speed. His timing comes from his being in a good position on the court, his body being in a good position, his racquet in a good position – all ready to change the moving ball’s direction.

A good catch in rowing comes as much from being in the right place and in the right position as it does from being at the right time.

Benefits of a good catch

  • Turn your bicycle upside down and stand it on the handlebars and seat.
  • Spin the wheel by stroking across the top of the tyre with your fingers.
  • What do you feel each time your finger comes in contact with the tyre?
  • What do you see?
Turn your bike upside down

A well-timed catch allows the boat to run on freely. A boat that isn’t slowed, or even stopped, by the catch will be quicker.
A good catch allows the boat to run more nearly horizontal; this way less energy is wasted moving the hull in directions other than the shortest distance to the finishing line.

Spin the bike wheel
  • Try spinning the wheel again, this time stroking directly downwards on the side of the wheel.
  • How much spin do you get with these short strokes?
  • OK, go back to stroking across the top. Take the rating down (take longer between strokes) and try to spin the wheel as fast as you can.
  • What happens to the amount of time your finger stays in contact with the wheel as you try to build speed?
  • Did you notice your fingers starting position move closer to the frame?

A good catch also places the blade closer to the bow making for a longer stroke. The longer the propulsive phase the faster the boat.
The patience and smoothness of a well-prepared catch set up a better rhythm for the crew.

Perils of a bad catch

An ill timed catch results in the boat slowing unnecessarily before the blades are anchored in the water and thus losing speed.

  • Set your bike upside down again and let the brave (or foolhardy?) amongst you try spinning the wheel by inserting a finger between the spokes and pushing against the next spoke before quickly withdrawing your finger.
  • Repeat to take the next stroke.
  • What happens if you are too slow changing from sticking your finger in to pushing the wheel along?
  • If you stick your finger right through?
  • Think what might be happening in your rowing stroke as you change the vertical movement placing the blade into the horizontal drive.

Being too slow into the water or too slow connecting to the water slows the boat down. Going deep at the catch also makes it difficult to connect with the water.

If the blades are not placed in the water at the optimal time (when the seat reaches full forward movement) the boat will pitch more than it should, lowering the boat speed.

A poorly timed catch makes it difficult for a crew to generate the ideal rhythm during the drive; if the catch isn’t taken at the full extent of the reach forward then the stroke is short and doesn’t allow the “hang and accelerate” of a good drive phase.

The catch position

At the catch the rower’s shins are vertical, with his chest against the thighs and his pelvis tilted slightly towards the stern. Shoulders are extended forward and relaxed, arms straight but not rigid. The rower is balanced on his feet.

Catch position

Photo of the catch position

A brief description of the catch

The catch involves placing the blade at the full extent of the reach and changing the direction of the movement of the seat nearly simultaneously. In an ideal world the blade would enter the water and the seat would change direction instantaneously; there would be no check at all to the speed of the boat.

Many sports involve hitting or catching objects with sticks; cricket, lacrosse, tennis, hockey, polo and so on. Rowing involves sitting on a moving seat, in a moving craft, trying to catch a piece of a liquid that is moving past. And then it needs to be done in time with up to seven others.

In a purely mechanical sense the rower seeking a good catch must ensure the blade is square before he/she arrives at full extension and lift the handle as he/she arrives at the turning point of the seat so the blade is quickly buried with a minimum of disturbance. Simultaneously the legs begin to drive and the pressure generated on the foot stretcher moves the seat backwards applying force through the link of the body and arms to the handle and thus the blade and pin.

The same is true for a sculler working two blades simultaneously.

And how should the catch feel?

  • Sit at the backstops in and place the blades square in the water. (This is easier in a crew boat than a single.)
  • Back the boat down by pushing your hands away from you. Push firmly till they are over your knees and the boat has started moving. As your hands go over your knees and the boat has started moving. You may need to push up on the handle(s) to keep the blade(s) in the water.
  • Once the boat is moving relax and follow the handles forward to the catch position. (Let the handle(s) draw you forward.)
  • Feel how easily you stretch forward, how easily the handle(s) glide with the movement of the boat.
  • Feel how the pressure comes onto your feet as you get closer to the catch position.
  • Keep your blade(s) in the water as you move through the catch and take a stroke.
  • Feel how smooth the transition between gliding forward and pushing back is. Feel how the blades are locked against the water as you change direction.

Solid, precise, patient, definite, handle moving away from the athlete, thumbs moving apart (for scullers) are all good descriptions of the catch.


The myth of the ‘sculling catch’

Something that I have never understood is the idea that sculling and rowing have, or should have, a different catch. There appears to be some idea out there that scullers are gentle and skilled at inserting the blade into the water and that sweep rowers can get away with just banging it in.

The principles are the same from a single scull 1x to an 8+. The blades must be inserted as quickly as possible without disturbing the boat. Yes, the build up of pressure after the entry must be faster in a speeding eight than in a comparatively slow single but the catch follows the same logic and the sequence of actions to connect the athlete(s) to the water are the same.

11 thoughts on “Catch

  1. Margaret Fleming says:

    Ref stopping the boat at the catch:
    – Where do you look at the catch? I tend to watch the V shape just behind the stern of my scull.
    – The V shape always gets disrupted at the catch. Am i stopping the boat?

    • Lawrence Eade says:

      In my experience the best point of reference for noting any ‘checking’ in the run of the boat is to watch the stern as to whether it’s dipping into the water.

      • Rebecca Caroe says:

        Agreed, Lawrence. Do you have a particular place where you like to watch this from – i.e. side view, or directly behind?
        Also, what do you advise your crew stroke / cox to look out for or feel with regard to check?

  2. YI Rudern says:

    For catch phase, I’m now teaching my rowers to catch by “Legs”.
    This is because we’d like our rowers to move the boat quickly just after the blade is into the water.
    In order to do so, it is too late if we we start leg drive after rower feels blade is into the water.
    There is some moment between beg of drive and catch.
    In order to minimize this loss, we think appropriate catch timming is taken by “Legs”, as well as with arm lifting.

    If we suceed this, it’s easier to hang on the blade and make long holizontal drive.
    The boat moves smoothly just after the catch and is accelated.
    This is very sensitive point.
    But we think catch is essential part of Drive.

    What do you think about this ?
    Do I have wrong image about catch ?

  3. Mario says:

    Hi I am coaching several crews in Australia and wanted to write something about the catch and your article and maybe somebody can help me with a response. What I wanted to talk about was the feeling of soft or hard at the catch. Some people say hard and I say soft catches are best…so more of a gradual push once you feel the blades dropping in…what do you guys think

    • M says:

      Hi Mario,

      You probably have finished this piece of work but actually a soft catch has nothing to do with the legs and so I am a little bit confused as to what it is you are trying to achieve here by a gradual push, as you say. This is not supported by the Australian National Technical Model. Remember that the most effective part of the stroke is over before the athlete reaches the final 1/4 of the slide so you shouldn’t view your leg drive as building up to something because there is certainly no crescendo, and a gradual push means that you have a checked blade that has entered the water while the boat is moving, a slow commencement of the drive will have a negative hydrodynamic effect and slow the overall momentum.

      Not really sure what Dave is talking about in his response to you where he is saying that the catch being part of the recovery when it is clearly the commencement of the drive and change in direction of momentum. The blade is put into the water by opening the angle at the shoulder. The suggestion of using the fingers indicates that Dave’s athletes drop their wrists to manage the finish rather than keeping the wrists flat and opening the angle at the elbow, indicating they have poor blade control. They are likely checking the run at the finish and also losing time at the catch due to the increased preparation time.

      If there is concern that effective leg drive at the catch is negatively affecting the rest of the stroke or causing a wash out at the finish, it means the athlete hasn’t engaged their TAs and gluts and/or is drawing blade handles down to their crotch, and is a result of poor coaching. If in doubt, tell athletes at the catch to hold down like they are stopping peeing mid-stream, and from there they will get the feeling of a supported posture and skeletal hang; sometimes the tactile has to be taught in the first instance.

      I hope this has been of some help.

      • Duncan Holland says:

        Afternoon all,

        there are some interesting takes on the catch here. I often describe the catch as part of the recovery although it doesn’t make literal sense but I like the athletes to think of going into the water as they reach full extension not afterwards. Really the aim is to have the seat change direction with minimal delay and to have the blade(s) enter at the moment of direction change,

        I teach neither hard nor soft catches but a catch that matches the speed of the boat,and rating of the crew. My aim is always to have a smooth, continuous movement of boat, blades and athletes with as little abrupt change as possible. The leg drive should be what causes the seat to change direction and, if the catch is efficient, then it will have to start at a speed that matches the speed of the blade(s). The drive can then speed up to accelerate the boat. Hard is a word that suggests a splash and bang sort of movement where I am looking for a quick, clean catch and then transfer of maximum power to the blade(s) via the handle(s) and foot-stretcher. If the athlete applies sufficient power then the boat will accelerate and the handles will naturally move faster as they approach the finish. There is a good analogy in lifting a bar from the floor – initial force is high but speed is low, later in the drive force is lower but speed is higher.

  4. Dave Hanley says:

    Mario catch is always “soft” because it is part of the recovery, the blade is put into the water with finger skill not with leg power. Once the blade is in the water, how quickly to try to apply peak force (ie. the ideal force curve) depends on the speed of the boat, and must also match the natural style of the rower who is stroking the boat. eg. Trying to hammer the legs down at the very beginning of 1st stroke race start just leads to a mistimed washed out finish, but rating 45+ on the half slide needs aggressive drive with the greatest leg speed possible, Athletes need to learn to adapt their drive force application to the boat speed. Try to pull hard as possible as early as possible without technique falling off, but at low speed it is quite easy to overdo early drive and athletes body form and/or blade lock-up deteriorates, such that boat does not keep accelerating strongly into late drive phase,

  5. Graham Cawood says:

    As your body accelerates from the release boat speed will increase. When you then decelerate near the catch the boat will slow to a minimum at the catch. This is inevitable in order to maintain the combined momentum of you(heavy) and the boat(light) . Momentum will unfortunately be lost anyway because of the drag of the water on the hull- more if you have a slow recovery.
    I therefore recommend that you always row with a 1:1 work / recovery ratio , at a rate of 26+ spm. Leave about 10′ at the elbows during the recovery. As your upper body stops against your knees the momentum of the blades will straighten your relaxed arms. Square the blades as this happens – not before – and drop in the water as your arms reach full stretch and rebound to the 10′ bent position. Your body meanwhile rebounds, without pause, and pressure on the blade builds. It is important that the spoon is submerged before pressure is applied. A smooth water surface above the pressured blade is good.
    It is kind to your lower back, and allows a good blade depth, f you lower the gates as much as possible. Mine are 125mm average. Now feather the blades while, not after, they leave the water. The lower part of the blade then pushes water back to give a little more drive to the boat.
    If you reduce your bodylean to about 10′ back and forth it will reduce the pulsing of the boat.
    Try to reduce sideways movement of the stern by working evenly on both sides.

  6. Alan Ball says:

    Hi – I’m new to rowing, but not to cross country skiing (xc). This discussion strikes me as analogous to xc poling motion discussions – when does the poling drive take place: when the pole enters the snow, or just before, or just after? The snow, of course, is moving backward relative to the skier (like water. If the poling motion is initiated just immediately before snow contact, there is a prepare-to-move effect on the muscle groups that enhances the drive. If the athlete waits until pole contact, there is a built in lag in (muscle) response time such that the drive effect is a little late, and less effective. It is also possible to pre-load the pole drive by stretching the muscles upwards momentarily so that the drive becomes plyometric. Don’t know whether this would work in rowing by extending muscles just a little before committing to the drive.

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