Rowing Technique: Sweep inside arm

Analysis of two womens pair crews technique by Duncan Holland.  Photo credits Rowing Celebration

Rowing Sweep pair 2
Rowing Sweep Pair illustrating soft inside arm
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Rowing Sweep pair illustrating stiff inside arm

Obvious point is that the stroke girls have very different shoulder positions.

Lower crew image the stroke has her shoulders tilted away from the rigger, inside high, outside low.

Top crew the stroke has her shoulders slightly tilted towards the rigger, inside low, outside neutral.

Does this matter?

Yes, the twisted position the lower stroke is in is inefficient and likely to cause injury in the long term. The contorted shoulder and tight back make getting full length difficult.

The top stroke is clearly more relaxed and comfortable and thus better able to apply her full power to the stretcher and handle.

Balance will be easier in the top boat because the stroke is able to sit more evenly on her seat and have a small lean toward the rigger with the whole body while in the lower boat the stroke will probably be moving her weight across the seat through the stroke.

Why is the lower stroke rowing like this?

Assuming she and her coach are aware of the problem and have tried to change the position the basic problem is likely to be a lack of rotational flexibility: If the athlete can’t rotate her spine so that the shoulders stay parallel to the handle at the catch she will have difficulty achieving a good, relaxed catch position.

How to do it better

The long term cure is to get stronger and more flexible in the lower spine. The basic exercise for spine rotation is shown in the

Yoga for Lower back pain. rowing
Yoga for Lower back flexibility in rowing. Image credit: care2.com

article Mobility for Rowers: The Thoracic Spine. and also below.  The picture below is of an extremely flexible athlete, few rowers will be able to reach this position without practice. The bottom leg can be left straight.

How to coach adapted technique to improve catch position

If the lower stroke rotated her inner arm so that the elbow pointed down at the water rather than upwards that would release some of the tension in the arm and shoulder and effectively shorten the inside arm and allow the shoulder to drop a little.

Allowing the head to turn toward the handle at the catch also releases tension in the shoulders and lets the athlete reach further.

A good routine to help the athlete find, and get used to, the correct shoulder and spine position is this

  1. Start rowing with the inside arm on the back stay. Doing this allows the rower to turn her shoulders toward the catch, and encourages her to find a comfortable position where the back and shoulders are relaxed and the shoulders are parallel to the handle. Get her to look out over the handle at the catch.
  2. Now move the inside hand to a wide grip position, down the handle on the carbon. Insist that the shoulder, neck and head position stays the same. Check that the inside elbow is rotated down.
  3. Next get the athlete to move her hand to the normal position on the handle but rest it upright on the top. Check again that the shoulders are parallel to the handle at the catch, and that the head is rotating to look out over the handle at the catch.
  4. Finally, let the rower grip the handle by rolling the wrist around till the fingers can engage. If the shoulder and elbow are left in the same positions the shoulders should now be in the desired positions.

Note: this is easier to do as part of a bigger crew. If the pair is the only option it may be better to have the bow woman sit and balance and have the stroke row in circles.

Send me any questions you have about this article in the comments below.

Duncan Holland.

Hire Duncan to help you, or to improve your coaching (he does coaching-the-coach) by email, skype or in person.

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