The Rowing Stroke Cycle: Part 3 – drive


The drive phase is the part of the stroke where the athletes move the boat.

This happens during the time the blades are in the water: from the time the blades are placed in the water at the catch to the time that the blades are extracted from the water at the finish.

The drive is a dynamic and fluid movement that allows the athlete(s) to apply their maximum power. A good drive sequence is not just a heave; it is a rhythmical unfolding of the body which has been compressed during the recovery.  It involves all the parts of the body linking the handle(s) to the boat, a chain of muscles from your hands gripping the handle to your feet pressing on the footstretcher.

  • Imagine holding the end of a length of chain (a slinky is even more fun!) lying on the ground. Move your end sharply to one side and back and watch the other end move.  How do you get the fastest, whippiest movement from that last link?
  • Are your movements short? Long? Fast? Slow?
  • Do they accelerate? Slow down? Have a constant speed?
  • How does the chain itself move at the times when you have got the fastest end movement?
  • In what sequence are the links moving or being moved?
  • Do they jump and rattle or have you got a sinuous snake?

In the drive the pressure put on the feet passes through the linking muscles to accelerate the handle(s) The longer, the stronger and the smoother our actions the greater our finishing handle speed.

Sketches of good drive


Drive 1

  • The catch is considered separately, the drive sequence starts after the blade is buried in the water.
  • The movement is initiated by the legs pushing against the foot stretcher.
  • The seat and handle should move the same distance relative to the boat.
  • The low back holds firm. This requires that the hamstrings, gluteal group and core hold firm.

Drive 2

  • The back holds the same angle / opposition as the drive starts and develops.
  • The athlete hangs off the handle, weight is mainly on the feet, pressure on the handle, light on the seat.

Drive 3

  • The legs continue driving.
  • The back begins to open, swing from the hips as the legs pass through point of maximum power(knees at right angles).
  • The athlete still hangs from the handle.

Drive 4

  • Legs still driving.
  • Body still swinging.
  • Shoulders begin to squeeze, draw the handle in with arms still straight.
  • After shoulders begin the arms begin to bend and draw.

Drive 5

  • Legs fully extended but feet still pushing against the stretcher.
  • Gluteal-hamstring group holds firm.
  • Shoulders fully compressed.
  • Arms draw handle so outside hand barely touches 1st rib.

Benefits of good drive sequence

The immediate and most important benefit from good driving is more speed. The drive is the part of the stroke that has a direct and positive impact on the boat speed. A good drive sequence will allow a sculler or crew to get the boat to the highest possible short term speed each stroke given their power to weight ratio.

Good driving imparts a rhythm that makes it easier to maintain effort and therefore speed. If a crew rows in a rhythm that matches the boat then they are more likely to be efficient and able to row at high speed for longer periods.

A good drive also helps the attitude of the boat in the water. A good drive reduces unnecessary vertical weight displacement by the athlete(s) and helps maintain the optimal, horizontal, boat attitude.

Kris Korzenowski, the celebrated coach of the Dutch, the Americans, and the Chinese says “What goes up goes to God; what goes down goes to the devil; we want to go along.”

Read more about the Rowing Stroke Drive including:

  • Perils of a bad drive sequence
  • Pre-requisites for a good drive
  • How to get a good drive in rowing

Read the other articles in the series…
Part I – Posture

Part II – Catch
Part IV – Finish (Next)
Part V – Recovery
Part VI – Grip


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