Coxswain Skills: Coxing sprint workouts

Previously: Steering, pt. 1 || Steering, pt. 2  || Boat feel || How to handle a negative coxswain eval || How to cox steady state workouts

Last week I talked about the nuances of coxing steady state workouts … this week is about coxing higher intensity, sprint workouts.

Science

Whereas steady state workouts are all about the long, slow burn of energy, sprint workouts are all about the short and fast use of it. These workouts are anaerobic, meaning they don’t rely on oxygen like aerobic (steady state) ones do to produce energy. It’s created at a much higher rate but the caveat is that whatever pace you’re holding is only sustainable for a few seconds up to around two minutes. Think of it like this – if the body of a 2k is like the 800m or 1500m events in track (where you have to balance your power and endurance without relying to heavily on one or the other), the start and sprint are like the 100m dash (where you’re just going flat out as hard as you can for a very short period of time).

Focus

Power. Power, power, power.  It’s a lot harder to make big technical changes during these pieces so you can’t be making the same kind of long, drawn out “coaching” calls that you make during steady state. This is your opportunity to really cox the rowers and get into it so don’t waste strokes by focusing too much on technique and not enough on getting them used to being in high pressure, racing-type situations (regardless of whether you’re next to another crew or not).

Tone

Since these shorter pieces usually involve being at or near race-pace, your tone should reflect that. Overall it should be alert, direct, and energetic without crossing the threshold of being batshit crazy and frantic (which is a typical novice problem). Your words should still be easily discernible … if they’re not, you need to slow down and focus on the quality of your calls and not the quantity.

Calls

Because the focus is more on power and you don’t have as much time to “coach” the rowers like you do when you’re doing steady state, the best/easiest way to incorporate technical calls into the workout is to tie them into your motivational ones. This is easy to do when you’re doing side-by-side pieces with another crew because you can make calls like “let’s take five to sharpen up the catches and take a seat on the JV” or even simpler, us any variation of “legs send“, “hook send“, “legs accelerate”, “direct squeeze“, etc. followed up with “WALKING” to let them know that whatever they’re doing is resulting in you walking on the other crew.

There’s usually not a ton of rest time (i.e. if you’re doing a 20 on, 10 off stroke rate ladder you’ve got maybe 30 seconds between each 20) so you have to make the most of the off-time by quickly and succinctly touching on the positive/negatives of the piece and reiterating whatever the focus/goals are for the next one. When I’m coxing this usually sounds like “OK guys, first 10 felt good but the second 10 started to sag, let’s make sure we’re staying light on the seats and picking it up together with the hips and not with the shoulders…”. I usually try to get out whatever I want/need to say in the first three or four strokes, that way they can row a few strokes in silence before we build it up again.

If you’ve got a little longer between pieces, like if you’re doing 4x2k and have two(ish) minutes between each one, then that gives you a bit more time to discuss with your stroke seat how it felt and decide what the focus needs to be for the next piece. Keep in mind that you’ve gotta balance that with (in most cases) stopping, spinning, communicating with the other coxswain(s) on your point, getting lined up, and giving the coach(es) time to talk if there’s anything they want/need to say. Even though there’s technically more rest time you might not actually get more time to converse with the crew so keep your feedback short like how I mentioned during the first example and then elaborate as necessary if you have time.

After the piece

You must – must – paddle after these pieces for at least ten strokes so the lactic acid (the byproduct of energy production) can work its way out of the rowers’ bodies. Stopping abruptly after a high intensity piece and not giving the body a chance to remove it can eventually lead to muscle cramps so remind the crew to keep moving and take slow, consistent breaths (since the burning feeling in their bodies is due to both lactic acid build up and a lack of oxygen – remember, anaerobic = no oxygen).

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