I’m a HS coxie, and I’ve been a long time fan of your blog. I’ve been training during the summer and recently my boat has transformed from a coxed 4+ to a coxed 4x+. One of our members has summer school so we’re out on the water fairly early, ~30 minutes before most of the coach boats come out. What are some useful drills for some guys who are transitioning from sweeping to sculling? These guys have done both but it’s obviously a bit of a change. Right now, we’ve been doing fairly basic stuff, SS with a few pause drills, square blade, etc. Any ones that you think could really help shape up the crew? I’d appreciate any advice that you could give. Thanks a lot and keep at what you’re doing!
Your coaches are OK with you going out 30 minutes early without them?
Pause drills are definitely a great thing to do. Try to vary where you do them since each one hits a different technical point depending on where the pause is (hands away, bodies over, 1/4 slide, 1/2 slide, and 3/4 slide). Have the guys focus on their posture at each position and think “am I really at 1/4 slide, did I go too far or not far enough”, etc. Go through each pair (stern, middle, bow) before working your way up to all four. Here’s how I’d do it:
3-5 regular strokes to get the boat moving
10 strokes pausing at hands away
5 regular strokes
Repeat 10 pause, 5 regular until you’re all the way through the drill then pick it up from the beginning with middle pair.
When you’re through with the pairs go to all four and pause at the major points – arms away, bodies over, and half slide. Do 5 pauses and 10 regular strokes (reverse of earlier).
Make sure you really emphasize during the in-between regular strokes what you just worked on – getting the hands away smoothly and at the same speed as the boat, early body prep, starting the slide together, making sure you’ve still got room to come up when at 1/2 slide, etc. This should be done at a comfortable stroke rate too. Not too fast obviously, but not too slow either. 18-20 is good. I would imagine that you could easily use up the entire 30ish minutes doing this drill but if you have some extra time row by all four continuously and work on putting together everything you were working on. Talk to the guys and find out what they’re having trouble with, if anything, and make a note to focus on that the next time you go out. Remind them to not just go through the motions with this drill – consciously think about every single stroke.
A stationary drill you can do is catch placement drills, which will help them work on putting all their blades in the water together in addition to helping them move the wheels of the slide together. Start at the finish, you say “go”, they come up to the catch and drop their blades in without taking a stroke. Pause for a second then have them relax and come back to the finish. I’d start off with pairs again, do this until you’ve had at least 10 good catches and then move on to the next pair, followed by all four. Remember, there’s a difference between 10 good catches and 10 total catches. 10 good catches teaches you not to settle for anything less than your best. It might get frustrating at times but that’s OK. When they’re coming into the catch, I like to tell my crews to really exaggerate the “plop” sound so that they can all hear their blades going in. I find that helps them hold each other and themselves more accountable. Remind them also that they’re not lifting the blade into the water, they’re just unweighting the hands.
Feet out is another great thing to do. It’s not a sculling specific drill but it’ll help you focus on keeping the connection all the way through the finish and release, supporting the stroke with your core, keeping pressure out against both pins, etc. I would do your usual warmup with feet out and then go straight into all four continuous for 5-10 minutes with a couple added 10s or 20s at 18-20spm. My eight does our warmup with feet out every day and I’ve seen a lot of positive changes come out of it.
The last drill that comes to mind is the first inch (also known as top-quarter) drill. There are a couple of different variations and ways you can do this but the one I like to do is a progression drill starting with the first inch, going to the top quarter, top half, and then finally taking full strokes. You start at the catch, blades buried, and then take really short, choppy (but clean) strokes, making sure you’ve got a really solid connection with the stretchers. Do 5-10 of those before lengthening out and repeating the same thing on the top quarter of the slide, followed by the top half, and then finally with full slide strokes.
This is good because it works on the connection, quick catches, clean releases, timing, and a ton of other things. When I do this I tend to not count out the number of strokes either. I leave it up to the rowers because it forces them to pay attention and not zone out. It drives me nuts when they do drills on autopilot. I’ve never done this drill with scullers before but I think it’d be useful to do to help them get acquainted with having two oars now instead of just one, amongst the other obvious stuff. This is another drill I’d start off doing by pairs before transitioning to all four.
Communicate with them and talk about what you’re all doing well and what needs work. What do they think needs work (and why) and what do you think needs work. Present that to your coach and say “this is what we’ve been doing, we’ve all noticed this getting better but something we noticed is that we sometimes have trouble with ____” and then ask what drills they’d suggest to work on that.
If you’ve only got 30 minutes, make sure you use that time effectively. Don’t try to cram in a ton of drills or anything like that. Do one drill each day and then use whatever extra time you have to do steady state with feet out until your coaches get there. Focus on using your time wisely instead of trying to do everything. Do the drill and reinforce what it taught during the steady state. If you do pause drills for 20 minutes and are able to do 10 minutes of steady state, use 2 minutes each to focus on keeping the hands quick around the turn, getting the body prepped before the slides move, staying controlled on the recovery, having quick, solid, together catches, and then finish it off by dropping the rate a couple beats (14-16spm maybe) and rowing at 100%. The strokes should feel long, relaxed, and connected.
Something you can do too to help with boat “cohesiveness” is to get everyone breathing together. Have you ever seen a crew rowing together at those powerful, low rates and they’re all exhaling together at the catch and it sounds like a train’s coming through? There’s a relaxing intensity to it that lends itself well to maintaining the focus and rhythm.