Top 20 Terms Coxswains Should Know: Footboard

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

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

The footboard itself obviously isn’t part of the stroke but it plays an important role on the recovery, at the catch, and at the finish.

What does it mean/refer to

The footboard, also known as the foot stretchers or just “stretchers”, is generally considered to fall under the “rigging” umbrella since it’s an adjustable part of the shell’s structure. (You can read more on its relation to rigging in the posts I’ve linked down below.)

Relevant calls

The calls you make here aren’t going to be strictly about the footboard, rather they’re going to be with how the body interacts with it at certain points throughout the stroke.

Recovery: “Stay light on the feet”, “No weight on the legs/stretchers on the way up…”, etc.

Second half of the recovery: “Transfer the weight to the toes…”

Catch/drive: “Stomp…”, “Legs…“, “Kick…”, “Drive…“, “Push…”, etc.

Finish: “Maintain connection through the feet…”

What to look for

As the coxswain, the things you notice about the footboard are most likely going to come in the form of something being off with the rower’s catch and finish angles. If they’re too sharp or too shallow then you’ll want to ask them if they’re getting to full compression (or if they’re over-compressing if the angle is particularly sharp) and then have them make an adjustment towards the bow or stern as necessary from there. Same goes for if/when you hear a lot of banging with the slides at the catch or finish.

In the 13 years I’ve been coxing I think I’ve only seen my coaches change the angle of the foot stretchers maybe two or three times, all to accommodate rowers who had very poor flexibility. It’s not something you’ll encounter that often but when you do it’s good to have a general idea of where they should be and how each positioning can effect the rower’s stroke. The general range is 38-42 degrees, with a shallower angle allowing the rower to have better compression and a steeper angle allowing you to drive with more force (although you’ll be sacrificing some of your length since you won’t be able to get to full compression as easily). If you have the chance to watch or help your coach rig the boats, talk to them about the placement of the stretchers and the angle at which they’re set.

Effect(s) on the boat

From a rigging perspective, if the footboard’s angle is too steep or too shallow then the angles of your catch and finish will be impacted. You might also need to move them towards either the stern or bow of the boat if you find yourself hitting the front stops (move to bow) or the back stops (move to stern).

From a rowing perspective, if you’re losing connection with the stretchers at the finish or not transferring your weight properly at the front end then you’ll be limiting the power of your stroke.

Related posts/questions

An Introduction to Rigging, pt. 4: Rigger Height and Work Through

Adjusting your foot stretchers

“How to set your footboards…” via USRowing

The other day our coach had all of us move our foot stretchers all the way forward on the tracks. I was wondering what the benefit of doing this is?

I have been rowing bow (port) in our starboard stroked bow-loader four boat. When ever we start to row and get to the drive part of the stroke my left ankle keeps cramping up and I was wondering if you had any way to stop this from happening?

Hey Kayleigh, I was hoping you could lend some advice on spacers, the correct positioning of your body in relation to the pin, and how to change these things either before you are out on the water or while you are out on the water. I was told that when in doubt to take a spacer off… is that the rule of thumb? It is different due to the type/make of the boat? Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks!

Question about the foot plates on the ergs – what number do you find it’s best to keep them on? Is there a standard it’s “supposed to” be at or is it best for each girl to change them for herself? What do those numbers even mean?

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


Top 20 Terms Coxswains Should Know: Pin

Previously: Rush(ing) || Body angle || Pick drill || Suspension || Skying the blade || Quarter feather

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

This week’s term is one of two that aren’t specifically part of the rowing stroke – it’s actually part of the rigging. In relation to the stroke though, the first half of it (push + hang) occurs in front of the pin and the second half (the draw through) occurs behind the pin.

What does it mean/refer to

In physics terms, the pin is the fulcrum for the oar, which is the lever. It’s hidden when the oarlock is on so you can’t see it but it’s the vertical axle that the oarlock rotates around and is also where pressure is applied throughout the stroke. In order for the stroke to be effective, lateral pressure must be applied against the pin in the direction that the blade is moving (not the legs).

Relevant calls

“Maintain pressure against the pin…”, “hold your weight against the pin…”

“Rotate around the pin…” This is mostly in relation to achieving the proper length and body angle. Reminding the rowers to reach out over the knees and rotate the torso around the pin (while leaning into the rigger) helps emphasize keeping the chest up and not dropping the outside shoulder.

What to look for

The pin is one potential spot of connection in the boat so if you lose connection there then you lose efficiency in your stroke. More so with novices than with experienced crews, you’ll want to keep an eye on the oars to ensure they’re flush with the oarlocks at all points during the stroke (see the first link down below).

You can also draw attention to the pin during drills like the pair add-in drill where the shell is gradually getting lighter and picking up speed as each pair comes in. The load is going to be a lot heavier when there’s two people moving the shell vs. eight people so keeping pressure against the pin while cleanly accelerating the blade through the water should be the focus of your technical calls.

Effect(s) on the boat

In a rigging sense the pin plays a big part in determining the pitch, spread, span, oarlock height, and work through (all discussed in the intro to rigging posts linked down below). As far as the actual stroke goes, the key thing to remember is that pressure against the pin + acceleration is what allows rowers to effectively move the load.

Related posts/questions

I have noticed sometimes when coxing that some of my rowers tend to sort of bang the gate with their oar (not sure how to fully describe it) and was wondering what are they doing wrong in the stroke and appropriate calls to fix it?

Introduction to rigging

Hey Kayleigh, I was hoping you could lend some advice on spacers, the correct positioning of your body in relation to the pin, and how to change these things either before you are out on the water or while you are out on the water. I was told that when in doubt to take a spacer off… is that the rule of thumb? It is different due to the type/make of the boat? Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks!

Bend … and snap!

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

Question of the Day

Hey Kayleigh, I was hoping you could lend some advice on spacers, the correct positioning of your body in relation to the pin, and how to change these things either before you are out on the water or while you are out on the water. I was told that when in doubt to take a spacer off… is that the rule of thumb? It is different due to the type/make of the boat? Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks!

Changing the positioning of the spacers effects the height of the oarlock, which will then correspond to how easy or hard it is for you to get your blade out of the water. To adjust the spacers, all you’ve gotta do is pull them off (which takes some muscle) and reposition them either below the oarlock to add height or above the oarlock to lower the height. This is how it’s done across the board, regardless of the type or make of the boat. I’d recommend doing it on land, if you can, when the oarlock itself is dry. It’s much easier trying to get them off when the boat’s not tipping to the side and your fingers aren’t wet and slippery. Doing it on the water pretty much guarantees you’ll lose one if you do manage to get it off and unless your coach or coxswain has spares out with them, you’ll be stuck rowing with the oarlock lower than you want it. I’ve never heard the rule of thumb about removing spacers and couldn’t find much when I Googled it so that might just be what your coach has found worked best in his/her experience.

Where your body is in relation to the pin (aka your catch angle) relates to the positioning of your foot stretchers, your flexibility, and your skill level. Whenever you hear someone talking about rowing through the pin or rowing through the “work”, what they’re referring to is where your hips and seat are in relation to the pin when you’re at full compression. You want to make sure you’ve achieved your full body angle ahead of the pin so that when you reach full compression, the relation of your seat to the pin is accurate. When you’re sculling I think you’re supposed to be even with the pins but with the larger sweep boats you’ll typically go a couple centimeters past that (a couple being 1 or 2cm). If you’re (excessively) in front of the pin then you’re going to have a very steep catch angle, which is going to cause you to have mostly ineffective stroke due to the excessive load you have to contend with. It also puts a lot of unnecessary stress on your low back. If you don’t reach full compression then you’re going to be behind the pin and have a very shallow catch angle, which is also ineffective since you’re not loading the blade enough.

Regarding your foot stretchers, if they’re too far up (closer to the stern) then you’re likely to be too far in front of the pin and if they’re too far back (closer to the bow) then you’ll be too far behind it. If that’s the issue then you can easily fix that on the water by removing your feet, loosening (but not removing) the wing nuts, and moving the stretchers forwards or backwards. You can do it on land too if you’ve got the boat upright in slings. I wouldn’t recommend trying to do it with the boat on the racks because there’s always that risk that you’ll loosen everything too much and the stretchers will fall on your face.

Don’t overtighten your riggers…

So lately our varsity eight hasn’t been having the best time on the water and we found out yesterday what was causing the majority of their problems: the rib in the boat where 5-seat’s rigger attaches is broken due to being way overtightened over the years. This contributed to a lot of the set problems because … physics. I didn’t get to hear the full explanation because I was trying to do something else but suffice it to say, a broken rib in the boat pulls the rigger lower on that side, changes how force is applied through the water, and makes it very difficult for that rower to get their blade out of the water, amongst other things. Until we can get it fixed, we had to put the 5-seat rigger on port and move the 4-seat rigger to starboard, so we’ve got a weird bucket rig configuration going on in the middle of the boat.

We got this particular shell in 2004 when I was a junior, so it’s only 10 years old and the hope is that it lasts a couple more years before the team’s gotta buy a new shell. They just bought two new Resolutes within the last couple of years but that isn’t something that we (or most other teams) can afford to do on a regular basis, which is why taking care of the equipment is so important.

When you put your riggers on, only tighten the bolts finger tight, meaning no tighter than you can naturally turn them with your fingers. Your coxswain or coach will then go through with the wrench and tighten them more if necessary. There’s a lot more to the rigging of a boat than just tightening a few nuts and bolts (check out these posts for more info: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) and if something happens where they end up too tight or too loose, the integrity of the entire shell’s rigging could be compromised, in addition to the height, pitch, spread, etc. of that individual seat.

Below are a couple pictures I snapped yesterday before we went out that show what the rib should look like (top left) compared to what the broken one looks like (top right, bottom left). You can see how it’s buckled from someone getting a little too aggressive with their wrench. The bottom right photo shows a rib that hasn’t broken yet but is getting close because of the same thing.
Take care of your equipment and make sure you spend the time showing and explaining how the riggers should be put on to the new people at your club.

Question of the Day

Hi! I have a couple of questions. I recently switched schools and I’ve noticed that my new team doesn’t check pitch and spread. Is this weird? And if I were to say something like “and send!” would I call that at the catch?

Are you in high school or college? If you’re in high school I wouldn’t think it’s too weird. I don’t think I ever saw my coaches do anything with the rigging (although it’s possible they messed with it when we weren’t around). I know some high schools that pay way to much attention to that kind of stuff for the level their kids are rowing at and others who don’t pay any attention to it. It couldn’t hurt to ask your coach just out of curiosity. If you’re in college and they don’t check it, that’s probably a little more rare since you’re starting to row at a level where those minor changes can actually have a big impact on your stroke.

With “and send” you would say “and” at the catch and then “send” at the finish since that’s when the boat actually sends. Instead of saying “and” though, make a call for the catch. “And” doesn’t really do anything, even though I get why you do it. If you say something like “jump”, “press”, or whatever other words you can think of, that has the ability to initiate a stronger response from the rowers which in turn will make the drive more powerful and the run a little longer. You want to say as few words as you need to in order to get your point across but the key to doing that is making sure every word means something. If you can eliminate the useless words and replace them with something more likely to elicit a response, you’ll be a more effective coxswain.

Question of the Day

I have been rowing starboard and mostly 7 seat recently in a women’s masters 8+ and for the last two practices they’ve had me stroking, which I really disliked. Granted we’re all pretty new to rowing, and there are some definite strength/power issues with teammates, but every time I’m in stroke seat I feel like I just can’t get my oar out of the water fast enough. I’m literally hitting my legs over and over, and sometimes I feel like there’s nowhere for my oar to go when I try to take a decent stroke. I rarely, if ever, seem to have this problem rowing starboard, or in my usual 7 seat. Last practice was fantastic, and then I’m stroking and its a mess. Is it a boat set issue, or is it just me? Even on simple pick drills I’m having a difficult time getting the oar out of the water cleanly in stroke seat. One of our coaches just told me to tap down more and the other said it was a boat set issue..How can I fix this? I’m confused. Help!

Oh come on, that’s just lazy coaching. I think it’s the rigging. Have you checked the spacers to see where they’re positioned? If you haven’t got enough on the bottom then that might be why you’re having a hard time getting the blade out of the water. You’d be pulling into your lap which would be why you can’t tap down anymore. How is your coach not seeing that? If there are too many on the bottom then you’d have a hard time getting it in at the catch. I’d look to see where they’re at and then based on the issue you’re having adjust from there. Ask your coaches about that too … like, actually say “what if I tried adjusting the spacers” and then see what they say.

It partially is a boat set issue because, if I’m right, you’re being forced to pull in too low. That’s gonna throw it over to your side which will exacerbate the issue of you not being able to get your blade out. Plus you’ve got seven other inexperienced rowers who all have their own weird technique quirks going on that are contributing to the boat being off set. Set issues are never caused by one thing but sometimes you’ve gotta look past the obvious stuff to figure out what the problem is. Check your spacers the next time you go out and see if adjusting them helps. If not, bug the hell out of your coach(es) until they give you something better than “tap down more” or “set the boat”.

Oh, and if you really don’t like stroking, tell them that. Just say that it’s difficult to focus on rowing well and establishing a rhythm that everyone can follow and that you’re more comfortable rowing in 7-seat, especially since starboard is your natural side. There’s no sense in repeatedly rowing on a side where things are constantly going poorly because that’s how bad technique and bad habits develop. You start changing how you row to compensate for whatever’s going on. Talk to your coaches, explain why it’s frustrating, and again, see what they say.

Question of the Day

Can you explain a few terms for me: bucket rigged, bow side, and stern side? And also how do you suggest rigging an 8? Starboard or port rigged? Thanks!

As far as rigging goes, there is no “right” or “wrong” side to rig it. In high school and college, every boat I raced in was port rigged because the women chosen to stroke those boats all rowed on port. The woman stroking my eight right now rows starboard, so we’re a starboard stroked boat. It was a little disorienting at first getting used to everything being on different sides but other than that I haven’t seen any clear advantages or disadvantages to the boat being rigged one side over the other. I think it’s best to determine who your stroke is first before you rig the boat instead of rigging the boat one side or the other and limiting who you can put in that seat right off the bat. It also eliminates having to de-rig and re-rig the boat to fit someone who rows on the other side.

Bucket rigged boats are boats that have two immediate rowers rowing on the same side. So, for example, instead of 5 and 6 being starboard and port, they would both be starboard. I’ve heard it called “tandem rigging” more than “bucket rigging” but both terms mean the same thing. The photo below shows a really aggressive example of how you could do this.

There was an interesting article that came out of MIT a few years ago that discussed the different types of bucket rigging. A mathematician was employed by the University of Cambridge to analyze the forces in rowing and he came up with “new” types of bucket rigs that help to eliminate wiggle (surprisingly, that is a technical term). It’s worth a read.

Bow-side is what I think nearly every country except the United States calls starboard. I’ve never heard the term “stern side” but the opposite of bow-side is stroke-side, so I’m assuming maybe that’s what you meant? Stroke-side is the port side of the boat, also a term that nearly everyone but the US uses.