Question of the Day

Are the way boats lined up in practice a reflection of a coxswain’s steering ability? There were three eights today and our cox was put in the center lane. Personally, I would think shore side is easier because you can follow it better but … what are your thoughts?

It could be or it could just be your coach decided on a whim that that was the order for the day. Personally, I like being in the center because I’m always trying to work on my steering and being in the center lane forces me to be aware of both boats on either side of me while still maintaining a good line. I hate getting stuck on the shore side because it’s very easy to get pushed over and you always have to worry about things lurking in the shallow water. Being on the outside isn’t the worst spot to be in but you’ve got to be careful not to go too wide and venture to the wrong side of the river. That’s more so a problem on narrower stretches of water but it’s still something to be aware of.

Related: Hi! Since the spring races all start boats at the same time, do you have any tips on steering straight? I can tell when I’m veering off my lane, but for some reason, I can’t/don’t know how to fix it! I remember you saying it’s all about the small adjustments, then straightening out, but I can’t seem to get it. [Ex today: all 3 boats lined up, me on the outside, I end up too far out away from the other 2]. Tips? Thanks!

There are advantages and disadvantages of each lane so on neutral water I don’t think there’s necessarily a “best” or “easier” side to be on. Each lane tests your steering skills in a different way so, in my opinion, it’s good to get experience in all three if you can.

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Question of the Day

Hi, I’m a novice rower. During our erg workout the other day, I was trying to boost morale and get everyone pumped and keep them at the same rate by yelling and cheering, etc during the pieces. My coach said the only reason she let me do it is because I kept my split down where she wanted. Is it bad for rowers to cheer each other on? I know it’s the cox’s job but they weren’t doing anything. Thanks!

I hate to say I agree with your coach but I agree with her. Your intentions were good and you’re a novice so you probably don’t know any better but being that person who takes on the role of cheerleader tends to piss people off more than help them. It’s not bad, per se, for you to cheer on your teammates but personally, if I was on the erg and had another rower yelling and cheering behind me, I’d just be annoyed at how distracting you’re being.

Rowers tend to get less annoyed when coxswains do it because, like you said, it’s our job and they expect it from us. If you saw that the coxswains weren’t doing anything, in the future my suggestion would be to go up to them and say “hey, Alex looks like he’s struggling a bit, can you go help him out?” or “on this next piece, can you guys walk around and make some calls to keep people focused and pushing hard?” and then  let them take care of it.

Related: Hello! I’m a novice coxswain and I’m still learning so I often ask my rowers exactly what they want to hear. When we erg often the varsity team helps cox them. I honestly feel like coxing ergs is kind of awkward and I am not the best at it (but I’m still learning). After asking one of my rowers what I can do to improve she told me that she didn’t like my coxing style and she preferred one of the varsity members. I am not able to cox like that – it doesn’t come naturally … what should I do?

Boosting morale and pumping people up in rowing is a weird thing. Like, obviously you don’t want the erg room to feel like a prison camp but you also don’t want it to be Cheerleader-Barbie Central. How each rower derives motivation on the erg is different – some like that “prison camp” feel where you’re kind of deep in the depths of misery whereas others like a lighter atmosphere but each person gets into that zone a different way. Having someone yelling, cheering, and being all perky behind them can throw off their concentration.

The reasons why coxswains are able to get rowers to give more on the ergs is because, for me at least, I talk to them beforehand to figure out what they want and what kind of zone they’re in. How I motivate one person is usually vastly different from another. Sometimes I have to be really upbeat to get one person to keep going but for another I have to get right in their ear and be very quiet but insanely intense with my words.

Related: Advice for coxing a 5k on the erg? There are only so many times I can remind my boys to keep their back straight and drive with their legs.

Like your coach, if you hadn’t pulled a good time and were doing this I would have shut you down immediately, but the fact that you did a good job (slightly) makes up for the fact that you potentially were driving everyone else a little crazy. Don’t take it the wrong way or let this get you down – it’s just one of those things with rowing that, in time, you learn not to do. You’ll learn too as you get to know your teammates better what they like and don’t like. Some rowers HATE being coxed on the erg, regardless of whether it’s a coxswain or rower, and you have to respect that.

Question of the Day

Question about the foot plates on the ergs – what number do you find it’s best to keep them on? Is there a standard it’s “supposed to” be at or is it best for each girl to change them for herself? What do those numbers even mean?

Where your feet are placed on the erg make a huge difference in your technique and power output. When I explain this to novices, I tell them to think about what their feet look like when they go up on their toes or for girls, what it feels like when you’re wearing heels. Where your foot bends below your toes (on the balls of your feet), that’s where you want the strap to be. This allows for the most natural movement as you come up to the catch. If the strap is above that (over your toes), it’s not helping you out at all and can actually lead to you over-compressing (meaning your knees are in front of your ankles, which is an entirely separate issue). Over-compressing means that your legs won’t activate immediately at the catch and you’ll end up becoming fatigued faster due working harder than you have to.  You always want your toes to be in contact with the foot stretchers, and having the strap too high (meaning the number is set too low) prevents that.

On the flip side, having the number too high will put the strap down over the center of your foot (closer to your ankle), which is extremely uncomfortable. I don’t even know how people can row like that and not assume it’s wrong. This prevents your heels from coming up as you move on the recovery (at the very least it doesn’t let them come up enough) and doesn’t allow you to get fully compressed at the catch, which means your stroke is short and you’re not generating as much power as you otherwise would. It can also lead to a lot of lunging, because if you can’t get all the way up the slide you might compensate by trying to reach farther than you normally would to increase the amount of length you’re getting.

The shorter you are, the higher the number will be. The taller you are, the lower the number. I’ve seen some guys who row with it on 1 or 0 with no problems. It’s both a personal preference and … not. The strap has to be on a certain part of your foot in order for your stroke to be correct but the number that the stretchers are at is different for everyone. There is no “standard” so each rower should set their feet themselves just like they would in the boat.

I’ve never really looked into it so I’m not positive what the numbers mean but it might be how many inches of shoe is left over once you’ve adjusted it … but that’s a total guess that could be completely wrong.

Question of the Day

Every time we do an erg test, our coach writes both our splits and our watts down. I was wondering why he’d write the watts down too? I know they’re units to measure power but I don’t understand what kind of extra information it would give, more than just the splits show. 

This is a great question. My coaches (college and high school) barely focused on watts (maybe because we were a women’s team but who knows) so I didn’t really do much with them until I started coaching. I’m coaching guys too which is why I thought maybe that’s why our coaches never paid that much attention to them but that’s all speculation though.

You’re correct in that watts are units that measure power but they’re also a great indication of each rower’s individual fitness and how efficient their stroke is. To make an easier-to-understand comparison, think of it as quality vs. quantity where watts are quality and splits are quantity. You can pull a low split but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re generating a lot of power. If you look at someone who does CrossFit vs. an Olympian, they might both be able to pull the same low split but the Olympian will 99% of the time pull a higher wattage because they’ve got technique and finesse on their side.

The coaches and sports scientists who really study this stuff will tell you that splits and times are a great indication of one’s endurance but the watts are the true indication of how well you can move a boat. To generate a high wattage you’ve obviously gotta have the raw strength and power but you’ve also gotta have the technical proficiency so that the power you’re generating is being used efficiently.

Question of the Day

I cox a very close-knit men’s team, and sometimes it makes me feel excluded. They all live together and hang out together. If I happen to be there when they’re making plans, they always invite me, but they’d never think of including me if I wasn’t there. Is this a normal team dynamic between coxswains and rowers or only when you’re coxing a different-sex boat or does my team just not like me very much?

I wouldn’t say that it’s a normal coxswain-rower dynamic but I wouldn’t read too much into it either. If they didn’t like you at all they wouldn’t bother extending an invitation when you are around.

Related: I guess this is more a social life outside of rowing kind of question, but I’m in university rowing and there are a lot of socials which a lot of people attend. But, being in the UK, it’s all about getting drunk and partying etc, and I don’t particularly enjoy that so most of the time I feel left out and only go to the bigger ones (like Christmas ball) and have one glass. But I’m also a novice and want to meet people/seniors which is hard if you just go to practice. Do you have any advice?

The fact that you’re a girl and they’re guys could play into it a little – maybe they don’t think you’d enjoy playing video games or doing whatever else it is they do. My suggestion would be to come up with your own plans and invite them to hang out with you. Conference tournaments and March Madness will be here before you know it – invite them over to watch the games, eat tons of nachos, and just chill as a team. It’s entirely possible that they’re just completely clueless as to how much fun you are to hang out with so it’s up to you to show them!