Top 20 Terms Coxswains Should Know: Body Angle

Previously: Rush(ing)

What part of the stroke/stroke cycle does it refer to

Body angle is important throughout the entire stroke cycle but the main point where we draw attention to it is at the bodies-over position on the recovery. Other spots where it’ll be brought up are throughout the second half of the recovery, at the catch, and occasionally at the start of the drive but these spots are secondary to the bodies over position and are usually referenced in terms of maintaining the angle rather than setting it.

What does it mean/refer to

Body angle refers to the location of your shoulders relative to your hips. In the bodies over position, the shoulders should be in front of the hips, hence “bodies over“, and you should feel a slight pull in the hamstrings (similar to when you’re stretching and trying to touch your toes). You want to be in this position before the slide begins to move and then maintain that angle throughout the rest of the recovery and into the catch.

If a rower is lacking body angle or you hear your coach tell them that they’re not getting the bodies set early enough, there’s no body prep, there’s not enough forward body angle, forward reach, etc. what they mean is that the shoulders are still in line with the hips instead of in front of them. At the “bodies over” position their upper body and lower body would make a 90-degree angle and on the slides, their hips would be directly under their shoulders. It can be tough to achieve good body angle if you’re not very flexible so working on your hamstring flexibility would be of benefit if you find that’s an issue. (This tends to be the case with guys more so than women.)

Relevant calls

A lot of the calls made in reference to body angle aren’t the singular-type calls like what you would make for the catch or finish. Most of the time when you’re talking about body angle you’re doing so during practice when you’re addressing an issue that requires an explanation or in relation to another part of the stroke.

“Let’s get that early body prep…” and “Get the bodies set…” are both are usually said as a reminder to lock the bodies in the forward angle position before starting the slides. If body prep is something we’ve been focusing on or we did some drills for it at the start of practice I’ll usually work these calls into a longer string of calls (usually in conjunction with some swing calls) over the course of several strokes to get the rowers thinking about where their bodies need to be. It tends to sound something like this:

[Not said in rhythm with the strokes, just in a casual, focused tone.] “Alright guys, we’ve been working on getting the bodies set early on the recovery so let’s keep thinking about that here. Remember, we wanna establish that forward angle and hold it all the way into the catch. [Short pause if necessary so the next call is made at the start of the recovery.] Shoulders in front of the hips, lock [said at the catch] aaand swing [said through the drive and into the finish]. Stay tall with the chests here and swiiing [said at the catch] through [said as they open the angle into the finish]. Set the bodies [said as the hands come away], stay tall in the core. [Said at the catch] Let’s make sure we’ve got that horizontal swing back and we’re not lifting with the upper bodies. [Back to a more relaxed speaking voice, no longer in rhythm with the strokes.] Let’s find that length at the front end … making sure we’re not rounding the shoulders or collapsing into our knees … hands come away together, backs tall and flat.

The time to make a string of calls like that is during steady state rows when you’ve got plennnty of time to talk to the crew. During pieces or a race I only make body prep calls if something I see or feel necessitates it and I’ll (heavily) modify it down to something much more concise, such as “set the bodies”, “get that body prep”, etc. followed by 2-3 strokes of relevant calls to reiterate the message. My go-to follow-ups are:

“Set the bodies go

“Shoulders in front”

“Chests high”, “Chests above the knees”

“Hold it” (with “it” being the body angle)

I also like to throw in some back end swing calls alongside the ones for body prep. During our practice row at HOCR one of the things I said to my four was “[at the finish] shoulders in front, [at the catch] lock [through the finish] swing, [start of the recovery] shoulders [at the catch] swing, shoulders swing”. You’re still communicating the same general message as what’s up above but in a more digestible and race-appropriate form.

“Watch the lunge…”, “Control the length…”, etc. are calls that are followed up with calls about body angle. If the rowers are lunging at the catch, it’s usually because the bodies weren’t set soon enough on the recovery so in order to maximize their stroke length they overextend at the last second. If you see/feel this happening then make the call pointing the issue out and follow it up with something similar to what’s above.

“Let’s eliminate the extra reach at the catch and make sure we’ve got all our length set by bodies over. Maintain that into the front end and … lock send. Set the bodies, lock send. Hands away, bodies over together … hold that length … swiiing back from the hips. Now feel that pull in the hamstrings as you pivot over and keep the shoulders in front as you start the slide.”

What to look for

Body angle is tough/impossible to see from the coxswain’s seat since you can’t actually see any of the bodies. It’s definitely something that is best viewed from the side so take advantage of being on the ergs or in the launch and watch each individual rower as they move through the recovery so you can learn their individual tendencies. The bodies over position (also referred to as “hands and bodies away”) should look more or less like this (with or without the pause):

Legs flat, arms level and extended, upper bodies pivoted over from the hips (the “pivot from the hips” part is key), etc. Even though you can’t see individual bodies, if you know what good body angle looks like vs. what your individual rower’s angles tend to look like, you can make the necessary individual calls to get everyone on the same page.

Another thing to watch for when watching from the side is rowers that lose their body angle as they come into the catch. This happens when rowers start the slide with the shoulders in front of the hips but finish with the hips tucked under the shoulders (which in turn can lead to them opening the backs early on the drive). With the backs perpendicular to the hull instead of angled forward over the thighs you lose a lot of your length, as well as your ability to control the slide.

This is where a double-pause at bodies over and 3/4 slide can be helpful (preferably on the ergs or in the tanks but it works in the boat too). Pausing at bodies over lets them set the body angle and pausing at 3/4 slide let’s them check to make sure they’ve maintained that position – shoulders in front of the hips – as they came up the slide. If they didn’t, try slowing it down and setting them up beside a mirror so they can watch their movements through the recovery. In my experience the rowers seeing themselves making that error does a lot more than me just telling them they’re doing it, mostly I think because it’s easier to make the association between what I’m saying and what they’re doing when they can actually see it happening. There’s not a lot of calls you can make here outside of reminding them to keep the shoulders forward, hips back, etc., which is why setting them up by a mirror so they can see what you mean is a lot more effective than just talking about it to them.

What about boat feel and watching the bladework? Although it takes a bit of time and practice you can make reasonable guesses as to what the bodies look like based on catch angles and check in the boat. If a rower’s catch angle (the angle of the oar relative to the hull) is very sharp, meaning the blade is closer to the hull than the other blades are, it could mean that the rower is collapsing their bodies at the catch in order to get more reach. In this case you should remind them to not go after any more length once the bodies are set at the beginning of the recovery.

If you’re feeling check in the boat, body prep should be one of the things you make a call for to re-adjust the ratio. If the bodies aren’t getting set early in the stroke, the rowers will have a tendency to lunge in the top quarter of the slide to get an adequate amount of reach. Sometimes you can see this by watching the speed at which the blades move towards the bow. If they’re moving at a consistent pace and then all of a sudden they speed up, that’s an indication that someone is lunging.

Effect(s) on the boat

As previously mentioned, a lack of body angle can lead to check in the boat and result in a loss of speed. The lack of body angle itself isn’t the direct cause of the check but it’s the cause of something else that is the cause of something else that is the cause of the check, which is why it’s important to know what those in-between things are so you can address everything as thoroughly as possible instead of just saying “set the bodies” anytime you start feeling the boat jerk.

Good body angle is the same way. It’s not the direct cause of solid rhythm and swing but it leads to something else which leads to something else which leads to both those things.

Related posts/questions

Can you explain the term “rowing it in”?

(Scroll to the 2nd bullet point – “swinging early“) Hi! My coxing has gotten to the point where I can see the technical problems in my rowers, but sometimes I’m not sure how to call a correction on them. For instance, I know if someone is skying at the catch I can call the boat to focus on direct catches and “hands up at the catch” and things like that for stability…but there are others I’m less sure about. Would you please touch on good ways (positive reinforcement, they hate the word “no” in the boat) to call for the following problems in a rower?

(Scroll down to the last paragraph) What checks the boats run? Recently in our octo the run of the boat is checked but I don’t know how to prevent it and what to call to make it better. Thanks love this blog, so helpful! 🙂

To see all the posts in this series, check out the “top 20 terms” tag.

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