“In” vs. “On” vs. “Over”

Even though I know I’ve mentioned this in passing, I’m not sure if I’ve ever actually explained the concept of “in” vs. “on” vs. “over”. It’s an important one to know and understand because executing one over the other can have an impact on what you’re crew is doing (and not always positively either).


This is probably one of the top three most common calls we use. “In two” is used to tell the rowers when to do pretty much everything from add in to power 10 to weigh enough.

Related: All about power tens

When you say “in two”, what you’re really saying is “two strokes from now, do whatever it is I’m telling you to do“.

In the context of coxing, the stroke begins at the catch (whereas in terms of technique it begins on the recovery) so that’s where you want to call the two strokes that signal when the rowers should do whatever you’re telling them to do, that way everyone does it at the same time. For example, if I’m coxing a crew and I want to add a pair in, here’s what would happen:

“OK let’s add bow pair in in two…” I would start this call when they’re at the catch and finish it just as the hands start to come away (aka over the full length of the drive) or when they’ve just about got their hands fully extended. I’m not rushing the words out but I’m not saying them slow as molasses either.

“That’s one…” ‘That’s’ is said just as they start to square the blades up over the last three inches of the recovery and ‘one’, obviously, is said right at the catch.

“And two, on this one…” ‘And two…’ is said during the same part of the stroke as ‘That’s one’ and ‘on this one’ is said over the last 3/4 of the drive. As I’m saying ‘on this one’, that’s when bow pair should be preparing to come in. Prior to all this when I make the initial call, they should sit back at the finish so that as I finish saying ‘and two’ they can start coming up the slide with everyone else in preparation for the next stroke.

This next part is where people get tripped up. When I say “in two” I’ll count out two full strokes and then when I would say “three” if I were still counting, that is where bow pair’s blades enter the water. Occasionally I’ll see rowers try to come in right as the coxswain says two and it ends up throwing everyone off. Wait two full strokes THEN come in.

The main purpose of “in two” is to act as a preparation call – you’re telling the rowers they’ve got two full strokes to get ready to do something before they actually have to do it and then right on that third stroke, that’s when the magic happens.


This is the simplest one. “On” is typically called as “on this one”, meaning the catch immediately following this call.

It’s typically used for one of two reasons – you’re with an experienced enough crew that the prep time that comes with “in two” isn’t necessary or you’re in a situation where you don’t have time to spare and whatever needs to happen needs to happen right now because “in two” would be two additional strokes too many.

When I make this call I usually say something like “let’s go on this one“, where ‘let’s go’ is said as the handle is coming into the finish, ‘on this one’ is said on the recovery, and the “this one” I’m referring to is the catch immediately after that recovery.

What you’re doing is eliminating the two strokes of prep time that “in two” gives you, although you’re not eliminating it completely. The latter half of the recovery coming into the catch serves as the prep time in this case, which is why it’s important that you don’t rush out your instructions as “getreadytogoonthisone” because all you’re doing is catching everyone off guard and ensuring that you’re only gonna get 7 or so good strokes out of the 10 you just called for.

The only time I’d say this call wouldn’t be advised is when you’re trying to go up/down on the rate by more than 2-3 beats. You can easily get that in one stroke but if you’re trying to go from your start to a settle or your base pace to a sprint the rowers, particularly the stroke, is gonna need more time than that. During a race if you see a crew walking right through you, “in two” isn’t an appropriate call because that’s two strokes you’re giving up where you could otherwise be trying to counter their move. Same goes for pretty much anything that happens within the last 250m of the race – it’s all gotta happen on this one.


This is is the Gretchen Wieners of coxswain calls – totally misunderstood, undervalued and always trying to make something happen that is never gonna happen (unless executed properly, of course). The thing with this call is that one of two things usually happens: coxswains don’t know it’s an option so they don’t use it at all or they call for it but treat it the same way they do “in two”.

“Over” is what I like to call a progressive call – when you call for it, what you’re saying is “There should be small incremental adjustments happening on each stroke of the X number of strokes I called for. When all the strokes are completed we should have achieved whatever the initial call was asking for.”

Another way to say that is that you want to see something happen over the course of a couple strokes instead of on one specific stroke. If that still doesn’t make sense, look at it in terms of wave summation (not the actual physiology behind it, just the picture) – with each stimulus there’s a gradually greater response. That is what you’re looking for when you call for something to happen “over” a certain number of strokes.

When you use this one, you’re using it in conjunction with “on”, not “in”. Calling for something to happen over X strokes in two is wrong. I use this call primarily to bring the rate up or down and for miscellaneous technique things. If we’re rowing at a 28 and I want to take the rate to a 34, this is how it’d sound:

“OK we’re at a 28, let’s go to a 34 over three … on this one…” This call usually takes me about a stroke and a half to say if I say it exactly like that, which I normally do. I’ll say ‘OK we’re at a 28′ on the drive and ‘let’s go to a 34 over three’ on the recovery of the first stroke, followed by ‘on’ throughout the drive (I’ll draw it out to sound like “onnnn“) and ‘this one’ as the hands come around the turn at the finish.

“That’s one…” ‘That’s’ is said on the last three inches or so of the recovery (about the time when they start to square up) and ‘one’ is said right as they catch. When you’re bringing the rate up it happens on the drive, not the recovery so you should feel a difference on this first catch and drive. The next catch and drive you should feel a little more oomph and then a little more on strokes 2 and 3.

If you’re starting at a 28 and you’re shooting for a 34, ideally the rate would come up like this: [stroke 1] 29, [stroke 2] 31.5, [stroke 3] 34. Give or take half a beat or so that’s about where you wanna be when you’re bringing the rate up six SPM. In order to get the rate where you want it to be, you’ve got to communicate with your stroke seat and tell them the rates so they know how much more to bring it up in the X number of strokes they have left. Since I’m calling the stroke number at the catch, I’ll call the stroke rate at the finish so it sounds like “That’s one 29, two 31.5, and three 34, that’s it…”.

All of the above would also apply to bringing the rate down. During a race, if I see that the rate has jumped a couple beats then I’ll call for them to “lengthen it out over two on this one” while making leg calls on the drive and relaxation calls on the recovery.

The reason I get so specific is because “bring it down” says and does nothing. The biggest problem that arises from that call is some people will do it, some won’t, and whoever does do it won’t do it at the same time. By saying “over two” that tells them they’ve got two strokes to adjust the rate and “on this one” tells them when I want everyone to start making the adjustment. It’s also important to say the stroke rates here too so the stroke knows where he’s at and where you want him to be.

With technique, I’m usually calling for something related to posture. In particular, if I notice the rowers are starting to get tired, the strokes are a little sloppy, the boat feels heavy, etc. then I’ll say “OK over the next three let’s sit up on the seats and sharpen the catches … ready, now.” Following that I’ll make any relevant calls (“light on the seats”, “pop make it light“, etc.) and then after the three strokes are done I’ll say something like “yea, that’s it” to let them know that I feel the changes they made and to maintain that going forward.

The problem with “over”, as I mentioned in the beginning, is when coxswains call for it and then treat it like an “in two” call. This typically has to do with the rowers not understanding the difference in terminology, which is why it’s important that you explain to them what your calls mean. The most common thing I see is coxswains calling for the rate to come up over three or five and nothing changing until stroke two or four. Remember, it’s incremental. Each stroke should be a little bit more than the other. What the “more” is depends on what you’re asking for.

Now that that’s all been explained, I recommend finding a video that shows a straight on view of the boat so you can see everyone’s catches and practice making these calls. This one would be a great one to use – just mute the audio so you’re just focused on the blades.

Another thing you can do is get on an erg and go through all these motions yourself at varying speeds so you can get used to calling them at different rates. Practicing during the winter if you’re calling a practice is also a good time to work on this. Even if you’re not calling something, you can still watch the rowers and go through the calls yourself in your head.

Don’t get frustrated if you end up confusing yourself a few times either – I definitely did. I think it’s good to actually sit down and think about this stuff though so that you’re actually aware of how you’re calling it and when your making each individual call. I know it might seem silly and/or pointless but it is worthwhile in the long run because it helps you develop consistency in the timing of your calls (which translates to better timing and efficiency within the boat) and comes in handy when you have to explain to novices how to do this. If you know every. single. detail. and actually understand why you do things the way you do them, not only will you be able to explain it better but you’ll also set a good example for the other coxswains.


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