Race skills: All about Power 10s

As I’ve been talking to coxswains and listening to recordings I’ve been thinking that it’d be worthwhile to explain power tens in a bit more depth so you have a better idea of what they are, what they aren’t, what their purpose is, etc. Having this understanding will, hopefully, make them a more efficient part of your race plan/strategy as we head towards the peak of racing season.

Related: When do you call power 10s, both on the erg and the water? Would it be like when you see a girl’s split dropping and staying down on a 2k or during a race if you’re close and want to pass another boat? Or could it be any time just for a burst of energy? I don’t really know the strategy, I just know at some point I’ll have to sound like I know what I’m doing and call a few.

What power 10s are

Power 10s are strategic bursts that you take during a race. 99.8% of the time they should be called for something if you want to achieve maximum effectiveness. Giving each one a purpose gives the rowers something to latch on to, for lack of a better term, whereas just calling a plain “power 10” isn’t likely to make them do anything different than they were before.

Power 10s are also one of (if not the) biggest misnomers in the sport of rowing. We call things “power 10s” even when they’re not strictly about power because there aren’t really any other words for them. I’ll also call them “bursts” if I’m taking a 5 or something short and sweet like that. I’ve actually been trying to get away from calling them “power” 10s and instead just say “gimme 10 for…”, “let’s take 5 for…”, “get ready for our 20 at 750m…”, etc. The reasoning for that is because when I take a 5 or 10 for leg drive (i.e. power) I don’t want the word “power” to be diluted because I use it for every other move/burst I take even when they have nothing to do with power.

What power 10s aren’t

Power 10s are not something you should just randomly call during a race because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do because you’ve heard other people do it. You’re less likely to get a response from your crew in terms of power, effort, etc. if you just yell “power 10” and start counting.

Does a power 10 have to be 10 strokes?

No. Obviously if you say “power 10” then you should call 10 strokes but you can do other variations too, like 5, 15, or 20. If you call anything more than ten strokes, make sure you’re separating them into chunks of ten rather than counting the whole thing sequentially – i.e. a 20 would be two sets of 10, counted out “…8, 9, 10, 1, 2, 3…” rather than “…8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13…”.

Similarly, a 15 (also known as a “5 and 10”) would be counted out as five strokes followed by ten strokes. Usually if I call something like this I’ll actually count the five strokes down as a way to build into the ten strokes, which I’ll count up like normal – i.e. “…3, 2, 1, 1, 2, 3…”.

Do all of those have the same purpose/mean the same thing?

No. This is how I usually (not always but ~90% of the time) treat each burst:

5-stroke burst

I tend to call a 5-stroke burst for things related to technique (i.e. sharpening up the catches, holding the blades in through the finish, smooth/even power on the drive, body swing/length at both ends), posture (i.e. supporting the bodies, staying tall, relaxed upper body, eliminating the tension), internal focus (i.e. rowing our race, establishing/re-establishing the rhythm, individual responsibilities), or other miscellaneous things like breathing, commitment, legs, etc.

10-stroke burst

I call 10s when I want to take seats (no more than two, maybe three) or walk on another crew.

15-stroke burst

15s are the overlooked middle child of power bursts. I don’t call them very often but when I do it’s because I’m trying to kill two birds with one stone. Like I mentioned before, I almost always count the five strokes first (5, 4, 3, 2, 1) followed by the ten (1, 2, 3…) because I like the “prep/build” period that those five strokes give you.

The only time where I would do the opposite is coming into the sprint where you would typically build for a few strokes coming into it anyways. In that case I’d count the ten first followed by the five, which would act as the “five to build” where you’d be bringing the rate up.

20-stroke burst

20s are strictly for making big moves on another crew or walking on/through the field. These should be used sparingly during a sprint race (once is sufficient, twice is enough, three is too many) but you can usually get away with maybe three or so during your average-length head race.

How do you count out each one?

This is mostly a personal preference thing with some input from the rowers on what they like best. This is what I was taught and also what makes the most sense to me so it’s what I do and teach. During a normal 10 or 20 during a race, I count up (1, 2, 3…). If I’m building into the sprint or prepping them for a big move/shift, I count down (5, 4, 3…). If I’m counting down the last [however many strokes] to the finish line I count down (10, 9, 8…). If I’m calling something “in two” I count up (1, 2…). Occasionally I’ll say “in two … in one…” but normally if I’m not just saying “on this one” I count up.

Related: Hi! In a race, when you call a power 10, do you call it two strokes ahead (Power 10 in two, that’s one, two,) or do you just call it?

How do you call each one?

Again, this is mostly a personal preference thing but this is how I try to call them in race situations. During practice you can be a bit more lax if you want unless you’re doing a piece or something simulating your race, in which case you’d want to call them like you do during a race. This helps familiarize the crew with how you do things so there are no surprises on race day.

5-stroke burst

“Aaron, blade in right at the front end, direct to the water. Let’s take 5 to sharpen ’em up together, ready, nowSharp, send … sharp, send … sharp, yea Aaron … together … sharp, yea there we go! Grab the water and send…”

10-stroke burst

“Alright, two seats down on UVA, I got Adrienne on their 3-seat. Let’s take ten to get even, get it on the legs and through the water … on this one. Power through, power through YEA TIGERS, 3 walking, 4 1 seat down, 5 here we go, jump send, jump half a seat, 8 reel ’em in, 9 big legs, 10 EVEN! Sitting coxswain-to-coxswain, stay solid with the legs and move now…”

15-stroke burst

“Coming up to the bridge, 400m to go, let’s sit up, take a deep breath, and get ready to take 15 into our sprint – first 10 for commitment on the legs, last 5 to build the rate up – ready to go in 3, in 2, in one, COMMITTTTTT … 1 together, 2 drive it down, 3 send it out, 4 send it out, legs keep the length, legs BOWBALL, legs push ’em back, 8 ready to build 9 we move together, 10 here we go, NOW on the legs, together 34.5, together 35, punish them 36, last 250 breathe … go now!”

20-stroke burst

“Sitting in second, 8 seats up on Cal, 3 seats down on Stanford coming into the third 500. Let’s get our minds ready for the 1000, shift that focus internal and get ready to move. We’re taking seats – no mercy. Ready to go in 3 … in 2 … in 1, get on it and ATTACK! Gimme that bow ball, 2 yea Tigers, 3 chaaa, 4 chaaa, jump send ’em back, jump send ’em back, 7 BOWBALLLLL, 8 finish them, ready to move we’re one seat down, up 2 to get even, HERE WE GO NOW, send it out, 2 walking, 3 YEA, 4 half a seat, get it yea, EVEN yea, stay on it send, leeegs send it, 9 half a seat up, 10 YEA TIGERS! One seat of open on Cal, got the stroke of Stanford. Sharp with the catches, our bow ball stays in front. Stride it out to base … on this one, length and power, length and power…”

Where and how often should you call for a burst?

Read the post linked at the beginning on where to call them (there’s a bit of strategy definition in there too) and the post linked below for some thoughts on frequency. If you twisted my arm and made me give you a number of how many bursts you should take over the course of 2000m, my gut reaction would be to say a max eight. That includes one 20 (your “big” move), two or three 10s, a couple of focus 5s, and whatever build you do into your sprint (if you do one).

Related: So I have a question. My rowers are asking me to take power 10s basically every 20 ish strokes. It seems excessive to me but I feel like I should follow their request. What do you think? Thanks!

For 1500m, I’d say six total (one 20, a couple 10s, and maybe one or two 5s) would be sufficient. You don’t want to burn your crew out by calling ten after ten after ten and you most especially do NOT want to that coxswain that counts every single stroke of the entire race.

The bottom line is to call and use these bursts responsibly. Rowers, don’t be afraid to talk to your coxswain too if you have concerns over their use of them since feedback on stuff like this is much appreciated.


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