Top 20 Terms Coxswains Should Know: Check

Previously: Rush(ing) || Body angle || Pick drill || Suspension || Skying the blade || Quarter feather || Pin || Run || Lunge || Washing Out || Missing water || Footboard 

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

The recovery, primarily the second half.

What does it mean/refer to

 “When a crew is on the drive, they’re moving the boat FORWARD. As soon as they tap down, get the hands away, and start coming up the slide, the momentum of the boat shifts. This is completely natural. The rowers are now moving in the OPPOSITE direction of the shell’s momentum, which is still going forward.

Related: There’s a lot of like, I don’t know how to describe this really, lurching in the boat? Because I think the girls slide forward to fast and that makes us go back instead of forward if that makes sense. how would you correct this? Thanks!

The reason the ratio of the stroke is 2:1 is because in order for the boat to continue moving forward at the same speed, the disruption in momentum by the rowers has to be minimal. It’s going to happen, but you want it to be as unnoticeable as possible. If the rowers get to the catch and fly up the slide (eliminating the ratio), it’s comparable to driving at 60mph and then SLAMMING on the brakes…then hitting the gas to get to 60mph again…then SLAMMING on the brakes. When you hit the brakes in your car, what happens to your body? You jerk forward towards the steering wheel, right? In the shell, you’re the steering wheel. When the rowers hit the brakes and then rush up the slide, the boat jerks towards you. If you watch slow-motion video (and on rare cases, live video) you can visibly see the boat STOP and then start again with every stroke. Just like starting and stopping wastes gas in your car, it does the same thing in the boat. Your rowers are WASTING their energy because on every drive they’ve basically got to kick start the boat again.”

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Rush(ing)

Other things that can cause check in the boat include overreaching at the catch (dropping the shoulders down into the catch pushes the stern of the boat down which in turn slows the run of the boat – it’s like dragging your foot on the ground while skateboarding), not keeping your body stable on the seat during the recovery (this will also mess with the set of the boat which only slows the boat down further), and not getting the bodies set before the wheels move (throwing your upper body weight forward at the last second does the opposite of minimizing the disruption in the shell’s momentum).

Relevant calls

Outside of the general calls to lengthen out the slides, control/emphasize/exaggerate the recovery, ratio shifts are the go-to call I make when I feel the boat’s momentum starting to shift.

Related: Also, what’s a ratio shift? My stroke today told me to call it, so I did. It’s just another way of saying “down on the recovery,” correct?” and “How do you call a ratio shift to control and stop the rush without lowering the SR? Is it even possible?

That is step one. Sometimes that’s all it takes to fix the problem but other times it’ll persist which means I’ll work through the stroke from the finish to the catch and make calls that hit each of the four components (finish timing, hands away, body swing, and slides) in order to smooth out the recovery and re-establish the boat’s run. (How much time I spend on this is dependent on whether or not we’re doing steady state (more time) or sprint pieces (less time) but if you’re communicating clearly with the crew then you should easily be able to parse down your calls from longer explanations of what you want (like what you’d make during steady state) to short 3-5 word calls without losing any of the meaning.)

Step two is starting at the back end of the stroke and getting the finish timing together. Calls to accelerate and hold the blades in the water (“squeeze” is my go-to here) are what I’ll start with before moving on to getting the hands to match the boat speed immediately out of the finish. From there it’s about watching the shoulders of the (wo)man in front of you, swinging from the hips, and establishing your body position before the wheels move. Once the slide starts, it’s all about maintaining a controlled float into the catch and locking on to stern pair’s rhythm.

What to look for

It’s less about what you see and more about what you feel (see this post on boat feel for more on that). As I mentioned before, it’s like being in a car that’s hitting the brakes then hitting the gas then hitting the brakes again … your body’s response to that is to jerk back and forth (sometimes more violently than others, depending on how bad it is), which almost always causes a line of bruises across your low back from where you hit the back of the coxswain’s seat.

Related: Coxswain skills: Boat feel

If you also notice that your body is particularly tense – like you’re bracing yourself pretty aggressively in the boat to avoid getting thrown around – that’s another sign that you should shift your focus to what’s going on with the slides. The latter is one of the things I try to pay attention to a lot because it’s something I unconsciously do but because I try to make a lot of “keep the shoulders loose”, “stay relaxed with the upper bodies”, etc. type of calls (and shake out my own shoulders as I make them), it makes me spend a quick second checking what my own body is doing. From there if I recognize that my legs, core, and shoulders are really tense, I most likely need to pay attention to the slides and run for a stroke or two to see if a ratio shift or other check-related call is necessary.

Communication with your stroke seat is also important because sometimes they can feel things that are there but at that stage are too subtle for us to notice. I always talk with my stroke between pieces and ask how that piece felt, was there anything happening with the slides that you felt that I didn’t notice, etc. and if they say “yea, when we shifted from the 26 to the 30 I was getting pushed up the slide a bit” then I know to tune in a bit more to the recovery speeds after we make a shift in the rates on the next piece.

The thing with check, rush, ratio, etc. is that we tend to only notice it when it’s bad enough to be noticed … so on a scale from 1-10, we probably only feel it ourselves when it’s at a 5 or higher (depending on your level of experience – less experienced coxswains might not pick up on it until it’s at an 8 or 9 and they’re getting whipped around like a rag doll). This is why I talk to my stroke seat a lot because I know that the rowers are going to feel it when it’s at a 1-5 and having them point out to me that it’s there, even if it’s subtle, gets me to tune into it so I can make the calls early enough that it prevents it from getting worse.

If you’re riding in the launch, pick a rower and watch their body in relation to something stationary on land, like a tree or something. You’ll be able to see the boat running under them while their body stays “fixed” (as discussed in the post linked below). Assuming the ratio is on point and there’s no check occurring you should see minimal movement of the boat/rowers back towards the coxswain at the catch. If the boat is getting checked down for whatever reason (99.9% of the time because of rush) then you’ll see the rowers move in front of whatever object you’re pairing them with on land.

Related: I’m the senior girl’s cox for my school club and my crew is really struggling with having a slow recovery then accelerating to the finish and putting in pressure. When I call to go slow up the slide they might slow down 1 or 2 points or not even at all. And the pressure dies when the rating slows. Then the rating goes up when I call pressure. Do you have any ideas about how I can help them get into a slow steady rhythm but still put in pressure?

Effect(s) on the boat

Check = loss of speed because … physics.

Related posts/questions

There’s a lot of like, I don’t know how to describe this really, lurching in the boat? Because I think the girls slide forward to fast and that makes us go back instead of forward if that makes sense. how would you correct this? Thanks!

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! 🙂

Hi, I never know what it means when someone asks me what the boat “feels” like. Like the rush for example. I’m not sure what that feels like vs. a boat with no rush. Just in general, I’m not sure how to gauge whether a piece felt good or bad. I feel like the only things I can see are blade height, square up timing, catch timing, and if bodies are moving together, and I can tell if the boat was really moving and if there was power. But what else should I be aware of?

So my team has a regatta next weekend and we have only rowed at all 8s like 3 three times since winter training. When we do there is A LOT of check and the boat is really not set. As the coxswain, is there anything I can say to fix this and help get my boat ready for Sunday? Thanks!

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

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