A couple years ago I posted a video on nutrition for rowers that included a ton of great info on getting the proper nutrition to fuel your training. You can check that post out here. Above is another video from a rower who talks about his diet, general nutrition strategy, and some of the different approaches that are out there (some good, some not). If you’re heading to college in a few weeks and are trying to figure out how you’re gonna get the calories you need (especially if you’re faced with the prospect of not having your mom cook all your meals anymore…), this is a good video to watch.
If you’ve been to Northeast Rowing Center and had Coach Lindberg (BU heavyweight men’s assistant) as your coach, then you’ll remember him asking his boats if they can list the three things that all fast crews have in common. Do you know what they are?
Blades go in before the drive begins
While the feet are still light (aka there’s no pressure being applied to the stretchers), the blade touches the water and gets heavy. This has to happen before the wheels change direction.
Hang your bodyweight off the handle all the way through the drive
From catch to finish, suspension is the key to prying and accelerating. You can read more about it in the “Top 20 terms” post linked below.
Spacing at the back end
Every coach coaches the finish a little differently but regardless of whether you keep the hands moving around the finish or do that weird pause-y thing, the hands and elbows have to be out and away before the body rocks over.
This stuff is so simple you’ll probably read it and think “…duh” but if your crew is trying to gain more speed or figure out what’s holding them back, don’t default to just thinking about pulling harder – go back to the basics and ensure you’re doing all three of these things first. You can make calls for this stuff for at any point during practice too – it all falls under the umbrella of “just one (or three) of those things” that you should always be looking for, correcting, and perfecting.
This regularly gets asked by new coxswains at the start of each season so hopefully this helps you learn the order of the switches, as well as who’s being switched in and out.
Related: Transitioning by fours in an 8+ always confuses me. I know you start with stern four, then stern pair out, then three four in, but what’s after that? Who goes in and out in what order? Thanks!
It’s not nearly as difficult as it looks but it does help to familiarize yourself with the transitions before you actually need to call them.
Hey! I am a high school senior interested in rowing in college. I have committed to attending a school, but I did not go through the recruiting process. Before committing to the school, I was in contact with one of the assistant coaches, and met with and spoke with him. How do I go about getting in contact with the coach again about joining the team in the fall? Thanks!
Also, (unrelated) do you have any tips for rowing a single? I know the stroke, but keep having trouble with one of my oars getting caught under the water. (One day it was port, another it was starboard). Thanks again!
Just email them, re-introduce yourself, say you’ll be attending that school in the fall, and you’re still interested in joining the team. Assuming you’re already an experienced rower, they’ll probably just lump you in with the rest of the recruits once you get all the compliance paperwork done. (I talked about this a bit in the post linked below.)
Related: What it means to be a “walk-on”
Whenever that would happen with our walk-ons (getting the oars caught) (literally, without fail, every. single. time.) it would be because one (or both) of the oarlocks were backwards. So, out of habit, my first suggestion is to make sure you’re got everything set up correctly and facing the right way. Also make sure your hands are always left over right.
The main thing I’d keep in mind though is to make sure you’re drawing through level with both hands and keeping both elbows up at the finish. Really focus on squeezing the lats through the finish and maintaining pressure on the blades all the way through the drive so you give yourself the best chance to get a good, clean release. Also make sure that your posture is on point and you’re not shifting your weight all over the place. Relaxed upper body, engaged core, etc. This will help you maintain your balance and give you a more stable platform to work off of, which should make it easier to maintain an even blade depth with both oars.
My experience with sculling is (obviously) pretty limited so if anyone else has any suggestions, feel free to leave ’em in the comments.
How do you avoid being repetitive if your boat keeps falling off the goal stroke rate? The boat I cox sometimes struggles to keep it up and I don’t want to constantly be calling “up two in two,” as I feel like it’s either not working (which is why we keep coming back down) or it gets annoying. Once we get up to rate I try to sometimes call for a “focus 5” to really focus on what the rate feels like and maybe help with building muscle memory of what the slide speed and drive speed should feel like and I think it helps a bit, but sometimes we fall back down anyway.
Also, how do you call a double pause drill (e.g., pause at arms over and at half slide)? Do you say “row” after the first pause, even though they’re not actually rowing but rather moving to a second pause? Or do you not call the pauses/”row”s at all and just let stroke seat take control? (I’m in a bowloader, if that makes a difference)
Good question about the pause drills. Check out the “relevant calls” section, specifically the first and second paragraphs, in the “Top 20 terms” post linked below. That addresses exactly what you asked.
If for whatever reason you aren’t calling something, whoever’s in bow takes over making the calls, not stroke (and that’s rare too that they’d need to take over doing that). Being in a bowloader though is irrelevant. You don’t need to see them to feel when they get to the first pause and from there you just need to wait 2-3 seconds before calling them to half slide. Wash, rinse, repeat.
With the stroke rate issues, first thing you should do is talk to your coach. Explain that you’re having trouble maintaining the stroke rate and see if they can take some video of the crew that they can then go over with everyone later. This should help you narrow down what technical things you can narrow in on with your calls to help them hold the rate.
There’s plenty of things you could focus on but here’s three to start with..
Get the hands moving out of bow at a speed that matches whatever rate you’re at. You’re not gonna hit a 32 if your hands are coming away at a 26. Hand speed’s gotta match the boat speed. Get the body set before the legs come up too, that way you’re not dumping all your weight into the front end as you try to change direction.
Change direction at both ends in one fluid motion. When the slide/handle stops moving in one direction it should immediately start moving in the other. If you’re hanging at the front end or pausing at the back end the boat’s gonna lose momentum and whatever energy you could be putting into maintaining the rate is gonna have to go into picking it back up again (which is gonna feel super heavy and cause you to fatigue sooner which will also contribute to the rate falling off).
Get the rate on the drive. You’ve gotta build the pressure before the rate so as you’re building between the “off” strokes and the “on” strokes, don’t make it all about slide speed. Make sure the blades are fully buried and that they’re squeezing the legs the catch and getting a solid push off the stretchers that is then followed up by accelerating the handle through the second half of the stroke. If you can get the boat running well that’s gonna make it feel lighter at the catch which in turn will make it easier to pick up and turn around.
Focus fives lose their meaning really fast if you constantly call them without any sort of positive outcome. All you’re basically saying is that they just have to focus on X for five strokes and then they can go back to … not focusing on it. If something feels good, just say that. If you want them to do something, just say it.
I’m assuming you’re coxing a younger crew, in which case there’s not usually enough stability or consistency over five strokes to get a good idea of what good ratio feels like or how (for example) a 22 feels compared to an 18. Instead of doing a focus five, lengthen it out to 60-90 seconds … and be quiet during that time so they can actually feel the boat, process it, and commit it to muscle memory. This is a good thing to do during steady state and you can preface it by saying “the ratio here at the 22 feels pretty good so for the next 90 seconds, let’s maintain this by doing XYZ” … and then let them go.
Now that we’re approaching the midway point of the winter training season, I wanted to follow up on the previous training post on pain vs. soreness and talk about overtraining and burnout. Today’s post is a super brief overview of what both are so that as we continue through the winter months you (rowers and coxswains) can be aware of the signs + symptoms and hopefully catch yourself (or a teammate) if you suspect you’re experiencing one or the other.
The simplest definition is this: overtraining is the result of working your body too hard and putting it under more stress than it can handle. It occurs when you go through a period of high intensity training and fail to give yourself enough time to properly recover and repair the damage done to the muscles. Since overtraining happens over time rather than with a sudden onset it can be tough to nail down whether or not that’s what you’re actually experiencing – an easy way to tell if that’s what’s going on (or if you’re trending in that direction) is if you experience “unexplained underperformance for approximately two weeks even after having adequate resting time”.
When you push your body despite it telling you that you need to back off, your performance is gonna suffer (or the very least plateau) because muscles that are this fatigued aren’t able to work as efficiently or respond as quickly as muscles that are receiving an adequate amount of rest post-workout. (This is another reason why it’s important to know the difference between pain and soreness.)
It can be easy to explain away the more obvious physical symptoms of overtraining (having trouble finishing workouts, having low energy, insomnia, etc.) but one of the stand out symptoms is an elevated resting heart rate over the course of a few days post-workout. Tracking your resting heart rate is good practice in general but it can be really useful in instances to help you identify what’s going on with your body.
If in the two to three days following a hard workout you notice that when you wake up in the morning (i.e. after a sufficient period of rest) your RHR has increased from its usual average of (for example) 52 BPM to 60 BPM, that can be an indication that your body hasn’t fully recovered from that workout. Keep in mind too that RHR is pretty variable – a fluctuation of a couple beats is normal but what you’re looking for in this case is an increase of 5-7 BPM above what your normal average is.
Now, obviously one data point isn’t enough to declare yourself “overtrained” but if you continue tracking your RHR in the mornings and see that over the course of two or three weeks it continues to rise, it’s likely that you are overtraining and need to take a step back to give your body more time to recover between practices.
Burnout and overtraining tend to get used synonymously but where overtraining is a type of physical stress, burnout is a type psychological stress that’s characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion. You tend to lose interest and motivation in your sport (before developing aggressively strong aversions or resentment towards it if you continue trying to train), your energy levels are pretty low, and there’s this nagging feeling like you’re fighting a losing battle because regardless of how much (genuine) effort you put in, you’re not satisfied with the results you got and/or you’re not achieving the ones you want.
One of the things that leads to burnout is not having any semblance of balance between rowing and your actual life. There’s a big difference between “loving” it and being so obsessed with it that you become what’s known as a “24 hour athlete”, where you essentially live and breathe crew to the point where you have no time for anything else (social or otherwise). The resulting loss of your internal motivations leaves you with only external “obligations” to continue on with the sport – the big one that we’ve all probably experienced at some point is not wanting to let down our coaches, teammates, or parents.
Another factor that can lead to burnout is one I struggle with and know other coxswains will relate to as well: self-imposed unrealistic expectations. This leads to the same loss of energy, motivation, and interest in participation that I mentioned before because you’re consistently failing to meet standards that go beyond what would be considered reasonably achievable in any normal situation. When you hit that tipping point (which is different for everyone but you know it when you experience it), you find that you’re just exhausted trying to process everything to the point where all you want to do is … nothing … and even that can seem like it’s too much effort.
The process of recovery here is a little more complex thanks to the scales being tipped more towards the mental wellbeing side than the physical side. That’s not to say there isn’t a physical component, it’s just not as prevalent as with overtraining. When it comes to burnout, an extended period of time off is usually the first step, mainly because it helps you clear your head which in most cases is what’s needed the most. Another step is reevaluating your goals … or if you didn’t have any concrete goals to begin with, developing some so that you’ve at least got something to work towards rather than just aimlessly going to practice each day without any actual reason to (beyond those external obligations).
Recovery from burnout isn’t a quick process. With overtraining you can take a week or two off to let your body sort itself out but with burnout … burnout gnaws away at you over a really long period of time which means the time it takes you to get back to 100% isn’t a matter of weeks but rather a matter of months. I took five years off from rowing (and sports completely) before I felt like I was mentally and emotionally stable enough to jump back into it. When you consider that burnout is usually coupled with anxiety and/or depression too, it makes sense why taking an extended time off is the healthy and necessary thing to do … it’s just a matter of convincing yourself that it’s actually OK to do that, which in my experience is the hardest part.
There’s a lot more that goes into overtraining and burnout than what I’ve listed here so I’d definitely recommend doing some research on your own so you can educate yourself further on the signs + symptoms (and dangers) of both. Between the horde of exercise physiology and sports psych classes I took in college, I read a ton of papers on this so you’re interested in reading some actual peer-reviewed research, let me know and I’ll dig out the links to the ones we spent the bulk of our time discussing. If you wanna read something a little less dense, Wikipedia and the NCAA both give a solid overviews, as does this article from The New York Times called “Crash and Burnout“.
Hi Kayleigh! I’m getting pretty nostalgic as I’ve been following you since my high school days! But in a few weeks I begin my final season as a competitive rower. I started back in 2009 and instantly fell in love and haven’t looked back. I know that I can coach and row masters, but it’s just not the same. My heart is already breaking thinking about how this is the end of the line for me unless by some miracle I get accepted into a U23 program and can further delay said retirement. Do you have any tips on coming to terms with my impending retirement and coping with “post competition depression”? (I believe that’s what Google called it)
Totally feel ya on this. I felt the same way, that being on the water coaching was the next logical step but it wouldn’t fill the void of not coxing on a regular basis. I tried coxing a few masters crews and … it sucked, honestly. I knew it wouldn’t be the same as coxing people my own age who have similar levels of competitive fire but I thought that as long as I was coxing and doing something I loved it wouldn’t matter. That wasn’t the case so I stopped and threw myself into coaching. The fact that it was something new motivated me in a lot of the same ways that coxing did, which helped me not miss it as much since I wasn’t coxing much outside of HOCR and whenever whoever I was coaching needed me to hop in a boat.
Once I started the blog and definitely once I got to MIT though, that urge to regularly go out and cox has dwindled a lot. I’ll still jump at the chance to get in a boat and I love when I get to go out and cox our guys but being given the opportunity to coach our coxswains and do all the stuff I do on here and behind the scenes with the blog fulfills me just as much, if not more, than actually coxing does. That’s something I’ve really struggled with too because it’s like, if you really love coxing (or rowing) isn’t that what you’d want to be doing instead of this tangential stuff like coaching, blogging, etc.
I don’t know if it’s different for rowers but one of the things I love most about my role is that feeling of being useful and making an impact and those were some of the things that I thought I’d miss the most, outside of the obvious stuff like racing. I knew that if I was going to try to stay involved with the sport without regularly being in a boat myself I’d have to find other ways of experiencing those same feelings if pursuing coaching as a career was going to be worth it. That’s probably the biggest suggestion I can offer, regardless of whether you think you might want to try coaching or move on completely to something new – think of the top two or three qualities, feelings, whatever that you love most about rowing and see if you can get involved in something that fulfills those same things.
You’re lucky in that you know now that you’re down to your last few months as a collegiate athlete. You can say right now that this is going to be your best season – “last one, fast one”, as they say – so that when you get out of the boat for the last time you have absolutely no regrets. Having that closure will, I promise you, make the transition easier. Well, maybe not easier necessarily but less emotional because you’ll know that you left everything you had on the water, every stroke you took throughout the season was the best one you could have taken, and the people you did it with made you better in every way imaginable.
If you’ve already got a job lined up (or even if you don’t), see if there are any local universities nearby where you can be a volunteer assistant. I could go on for days about how great of an experience the last three years have been for me and even though there are definitely some downsides, you get to experience the sport from an entirely new perspective which, like I said earlier, fills the void of not being in a boat as regularly as you once were. Plus, I know several rowers who are volunteer assistants who continue to train out of the boathouses they’re at and are still competitive and making plans to try out for the national team in the coming year. It can be done.
Once the season ends, take some time off – like, some real time off – and let your body and mind decompress. It’s easy to think now that there’s no possible way you can live without rowing but even though it might feel like that’s coming from a rational and relatively unemotional place, it probably isn’t. Once you’ve had time to clear your head and relax, you might look at it differently and realize that having all this “free time” is actually pretty awesome, which means you can try new things or pursue something that you didn’t have time for before. Bottom line, one door is closing and another is opening … and that’s OK. Enjoy your final season and don’t let stuff that’s 5-6 months away get in the way of that.