Question of the Day

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)

Thanks!

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.

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Pause drills

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.

Things that affect the set: Handle heights

Previously: Bladework || Timing

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.

Video of the Week: The erg as a tool for learning technique

This is a talk that Bill Manning (formerly of Harvard, now with the Princeton lights) gave a couple years ago on using the erg as a tool to help develop better rowing technique. It’s a long talk (an hour and twenty minutes) but for coxswains who are looking to develop a better understanding of the stroke and technique in general, this would be worth watching and taking notes on, that way when you get back from your training trip and are back inside on the ergs you’ll be better able to coach the rowers if/when necessary.

Pro tip: Get on the erg

Previously: Advice from a former novice || Maintaining the set while on the rudder

I’m not talking in a “get a workout in” kind of way, I mean “get on the erg” in a “develop a better understanding of what the stroke feels like” kind of way. My coach had us do this and his reasoning (that I’ve since heard nearly every coach I’ve worked with repeat) was that when we’re communicating something about technique to the crew, we’re primarily doing it based off of what the bladework looks like. Visual cues aren’t what rowers primarily go off of though, they’re operating more off how their body feels.

By getting on the erg or in the tanks and going through the stroke yourself, you can get a better idea of how the body feels throughout the stroke – what muscles are engaged, which ones are stretched, what shouldn’t you be feeling, etc. Having a better visceral understanding of the stroke can help you make more efficient calls and in turn initiate changes faster because instead of telling the crew not to grab at the catch you’ll be able to say “feel the lats engage as we take the catch” or “as the drive starts let’s make sure we’re feeling that engagement with the lats rather than with the shoulders”.

Can you make those type of calls without taking a stroke yourself? Sure … and for a long time you will because you’ll be going off what you hear your coach saying … but at some point when you feel like upping your game and increasing your credibility, you’re gonna look for ways to do that and this should absolutely be one of them. When you hear rowers say they want you to get on the ergs and feel what they feel, that doesn’t mean you’ve gotta go crank out a 10k or do anything “workout” related either. Them seeing you on the ergs learning something and then actively applying that the next time you’re coxing them (regardless of whether that’s during the indoor season or the next time you’re on the water) will earn you just as much street (…water?) cred as if you did a 2k alongside them.

Things that affect the set: Timing

Previously: Bladework

Square timing

This is one of the easiest, if not the easiest, thing to spot and correct – not pointing it out is just straight up laziness. You’ll notice this affecting your set the most on days when it’s windy or there are particularly strong gusts due to the wind catching the blades at different times (vs. at relatively the same time when squared together). Make sure you and the crew know where they should be squaring the blade and make the call if you see someone squaring (and likely entering the water) late. For example, we square over the toes, meaning when the handle is over the toes, that’s when the rowers square the blade. Other common spots are half-slide or at the ankles.

Bodies not moving in sync

It’s not just about getting the blade in the water at the same time, it’s about syncing up (in this order) the tap down, the hands away speed, the rocking over of the shoulders, the timing of when the wheels start, the point at which the bodies should be set, the unweighting of the hands to drop the blade in, and finally the timing and smoothness of the leg drive. Making the call to get the catches in together is fine if you’re coxing novices but if you’re in a boat with anyone more experienced than that, your (and their) visual cues should be focused on matching up the body movements. You don’t need to see the bodies to do this either – just make the call and confirm via video review later who the specific culprits are so you can make more targeted calls the next time you’re out.

Lack of rhythm or pace

If the stroke’s pace or rhythm is inconsistent or you’ve got rowers rushing the slides into the catch, the boat’s going to be off keel more often than not. A lack of or inconsistency in the pacing will make it tough to follow and if the rowers can’t anticipate what the stroke is doing, they’re not going to be able to match up the body movements that I mentioned in the previous point. Alternatively, if rowers are rushing into the catch then as they rotate out towards their rigger their weight is going to get thrown down to that side which in turn will pull the boat over (and result in a lot of smashed knuckles against the gunnel as that side tries to take the catch).