This course is so pretty.
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.
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.
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.
Position of the hands
This is the most basic and most obvious – whichever side the boat is down to needs to raise their hands. If the boat is down to port then ports need to raise their hands and starboards need to lower them. If the boat is down to starboard, the starboards need to raise their hands and the ports need to lower them.
Unnecessary movements or over-adjustments
Once the boat’s achieved a good balance, point it out so the rowers know that this is where they should be carrying their hands. Making a lot of unnecessary movements throughout the recovery, not having control over the handle, or just over-adjusting will make it difficult for the boat to level out and can result in overcompensation from the other side, which in turn makes it hard to figure out if the boat set up because the right adjustments were made or because someone is compensating by adapting their technique.
Not moving the hands through a horizontal plane
This applies to both the drive and the recovery and is easily noticed because the blade will either be up in the air (i.e. the rower is skying) or buried too deep (i.e. digging). A good visual cue to help fix this is to tell the rowers to carry their blade level with their oarlock. This might be easier for you to see from the front than it is for them from the side so make sure you point it out once they’ve made the adjustment.
Now that most of us (in the Northeast at least) are in the early stages of winter training, I wanted to deviate from talking about coxing for a minute to go over some training stuff that’ll hopefully help you guys make it through the next few months injury-free.
Runner’s World posted a great article last summer on the difference between pushing hard and overtraining where they described the goal of pushing hard as “stressing the body just beyond your fitness level to gradually increase the stress loads on your body and ensure recovery”. Their example was that if you’re doing six sets of intervals with three minutes rest, “pushing harder” might mean transitioning to eight intervals or reducing the rest to two minutes. You’re basically putting your body just far enough outside its comfort zone that it gradually begins adapting to the added stress and you, as a result, get stronger/fitter.
The hurdle that a lot of people hit though, particularly younger athletes or walk-ons who might be completely new to sports in general, is not knowing the difference between soreness and pain.
Soreness is there but it’s not in your face. It’s mainly concentrated on the muscles so when you’re working out you might feel some tightness in that area but while just going about your regular activities it shouldn’t be more than a dull ache that only really makes itself known if you’ve been inactive for awhile. Standing up after sitting through a long lecture or when you first get out of bed in the morning are when you might feel it the most.
When you’ll feel it the most is around 24-48 hours later, which is why it’s called delayed onset muscle soreness. As long as you stretch or roll out you should be OK to keep practicing, although it might be worth taking a day off from the erg and hopping on the bike or going for a run instead. If you get back on the erg the following day you might feel some lingering soreness but it shouldn’t be anything that actually detracts from the quality of the workout. If it is, spending a longer amount of time rolling out will usually help.
This is that sharp feeling that hits you all of a sudden in the middle of a piece or when you move a certain way, like bending over to pick something up. Rather than just being focused on the muscles, pain can/will extend to your joints too, which is when you start hearing about a “shooting pain” in the knees, shoulders, hips, and low back.
Unlike soreness which might hang around for a day or two at most, pain can be felt for several days at a time, sometimes consistently and other times off and on, even after taking time off to rest. It’s at this point where you should be making an appointment with the trainers or your doctor, particularly if it’s been a week or more without any improvement.
As your workouts get longer or ramp up in intensity, experiencing some soreness is inevitable but still manageable as long as you’re diligent about going through some sort of recovery sequence after practice. If you don’t have 10-15 minutes to spare because you’ve gotta get to class, make sure you’re holding yourself accountable and finding time to do it later in the day.
Sharp pains or anything that instantly makes you think “this isn’t a normal feeling” isn’t something you should push through because that’s what leads to an injury. Communicating that to your coach is important so that they’re aware of what’s going on and can adapt the workouts as necessary while you recover. Get over yourselves, put your egos aside, and keep your coaches informed if/when you’re not at 100%.
I won’t lie and say they’re not gonna be annoyed or roll their eyes when you leave the office (sometimes we will be and sometimes we do – it’s our coping mechanism) but I can promise you that no coach who is serious about their job and cares about their athletes will make you work through an injury. In the post I linked to at the beginning I said that if it seems like they’re pushing you to keep practicing it’s usually because they’re skeptical about whether you’re actually in pain or if you’re just mistaking soreness for pain. Knowing the difference between the two and being able to clearly articulate how you feel, what you’re feeling, where you’re feeling it, etc. can go a long way in helping you recover faster because the sooner you communicate with them, the sooner they can give you time off, and the sooner you can start doing whatever’s necessary to get back to 100% (even if that literally means doing absolutely nothing at all).
For the coxswains, there’s obviously not a ton you can do here so my suggestion is to put your observation and awareness skills to the test and just keep an eye on your teammates. If I see the guys grimacing on the ergs (beyond the usual amount) or get off mid-piece I always ask them if they’re OK and then follow up with them a little bit later or after practice to see how it’s going. From there I’ll pass on whatever they said to the other coaches since they’re not always aware that something’s up. One of our coxswains is really good about this and being that in tune with how the guys are feeling has done a lot as far as helping her connect and develop that trust with them.
Advocating for the rowers in situations like this can also fall on your shoulders. If the coaches are skeptical about what’s going on and/or the rower hasn’t communicated with them then you might need to be the one who says “hey, just so you know Sam’s been having some back pain over the last few days and I think the 30 minute piece this morning made it worse, which is why he didn’t finish it” or “I know we’re supposed to be seat racing today but Dan was pretty sick all weekend and still isn’t feeling well – any chance we can push it back to tomorrow?”.
Again, not gonna promise that they won’t roll their eyes or be annoyed but it’s not your responsibility to care about that. You’re the messenger and sometimes that means getting poked with an arrow when you’re passing along info that the other person doesn’t want to hear. It’s not that big of a deal. What is a big deal though and can help you earn their respect of the rowers is being aware of this stuff as it’s going on and advocating for them when they need it.
Next: Overtraining and burnout