How to Call a Pick Drill (and Reverse Pick Drill)

Previously: Steer an eight/four

The pick drill

A pick drill is a fairly basic warmup (probably the most basic) that involves transitioning through each part of the stroke. It helps to isolate the recovery and the drive, as well as help the rowers with body preparation. The goal is to build one upon the other until you eventually get to full slide, where you can feel all four parts of the stroke flow together.

To start, have the rowers sit at the finish, blades squared and buried. The first part of the drill is “arms only” so if you’re doing the drill by 6s, you’d say “Stern 6, sitting ready at the finish, blades buried … arms only, ready row” and then have them row with arms only for however many strokes you choose. The standard number is 10 but with short, choppy strokes like this, sometimes I’ll extend it to 15 or 20 when there’s time. If you were doing 10 strokes, on stroke 8 you would make the call for the first transition, which is to arms and bodies. The reason it would be on stroke 8 is so that when you’ve completed “in two”, you’ll have rowed ten strokes. 8+2…get it? Don’t be that coxswain that says “10 strokes each” and then ends up doing 12 or 15 or 32. Believe it or not, rowers can count too and if they start to catch on that they’re doing more strokes than you’re telling them to do, that can lead to some not-positive feedback on your coxswain evaluations.

When I make the transition to arms and bodies, I usually say “alright, let’s add the bodies in two … that’s one … and two, on this one“, where “one” and “two” are called at the catch and “on this one” is called at the finish of “two”.

After arms and bodies comes half slide. Same call as before – “half slide in two … one, two, on this one“. Some coaches will have you do 1/4 slide after arms and bodies but more often than not this is skipped in favor of going straight to half slide.

Following half slide is full slide, which is the last part of the drill. When we go to full slide I remind the rowers to lengthen out and not shorten the slides up since the previous three parts of the drill involve either no slide or shortened slides. “In two, let’s lengthen out to full slide. That’s one … and two, on this one, stay nice and looong, catch send…” By drawing out the word “long” it almost forces the rowers to utilize the full length of their slides before they get to the catch. “Catch” is short and annunciated so that they don’t liken the long slides to a sluggish catch. Similarly to 1/4 slide, sometimes coaches will throw in 3/4 slide before going to full. Again, it’s up to you.

With the pick drill, it’s important that the rowers actually do each part of the stroke that you’re telling them to do. It’s broken down for a reason. I’m very hypersensitive to this because it is such a pet peeve of mine but there are few things in rowing that piss me off more than when I or another coxswain calls for “arms only” and you see the rowers rowing with arms and bodies. Drives. Me. INSANE. “Arms only” means “arms only”!! In the boat this is difficult to see from our vantage point but on the ergs it is definitely something we have the power to put a stop to. Don’t let the rowers cheat and use their shoulders either – on the first stroke of the drill to get the boat up and out of the water, fine, acceptable, but after that … arms … ONLY!!!

The reverse pick drill

A variation of the pick drill that your coach might have you do is called the “reverse pick drill”. This is a great drill for isolating each part of the drive and teaching rowers to not do one thing before the other (i.e. don’t bend the arms before the legs are down, etc.). Although it can take some time to explain, this is a great drill to do with novices due to their penchant for trying to open their backs while still on the drive and so on.

This drill, like the regular pick drill, is best done by 4s or 6s but you can do it by all eight if you want – just make sure the rowers keep it balanced otherwise it’s gonna be tough to execute. Starting with whatever group of rowers you choose, have them row with JUST the legs. Just the legs, contrary to what some rowers think means rowing with just. your. legs. No arms, no back, just. the. legsThis means that your upper body should still be reaching forward and your arms are still extended. The ONLY thing that happens between the catch and the first part of this drill is that your legs go down. The call to start this would be “Stern 6, sitting ready at the catch, blades squared and buried … starting with just the legs, ready row.” When I do this drill, for legs only I tend to do 10-15 strokes total.

Following legs only is legs and back. After the leg drive, you’ll open the back but keep the arms extended straight out – the arms are the final part of the stroke, which we haven’t gotten to yet. When you see it, this part of the drill tends to look very rigid due to the fact that the arms are still straight. When calling for the addition of the backs, say “in two, let’s add the backs, that’s one … and two, on this one, legs swing…”. Occasionally I like to say “swing” just to remind the rowers to pivot from the hips and open the backs up. After doing however many strokes without the backs, sometimes they’ll not lay back as much as they normally would; saying “swing” just puts the bug in their ear so they’ll do it from here out.

The final part of the reverse pick drill is to add in the arms and row normally. Up to the point, the arms have been extended straight out, so the call will go something like “in two, let’s add in the arms, we’ll go in one … and two, now accelerate it through … accelerate through, that’s it…”. Legs and legs + backs reiterates hanging off the handle and not breaking the arms early so once you do add the arms in you wanna make sure they’re accelerating the weight through the drive and all the way into the finish.

Below is a video that gives a good demonstration of the reverse pick drill and what it should look like.


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