Top 20 Terms Coxswains Should Know: Pause Drills

Previously: Rush(ing) || Body angle || Pick drill || Suspension || Skying the blade || Quarter feather || Pin || Run || Lunge || Washing Out || Missing water || Footboard || Check || Ratio || Over compression || Release || Cut the cake || Hanging the blade || Shooting the slide

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

Pause drills happen on the recovery at any of the following points: the release, mid-thigh, hands away, bodies over, quarter-slide, toes, half-slide, or three-quarter slide.

What does it mean/refer to

Pause drills are a way to slow everything down, organize the bodies, and establish your positioning as you come out of bow. They’re an active process (similar to shooting drills in basketball) that tap into the need to be prepared. Each pause also acts as a “collection” or “gathering” point for the rowers to check themselves and ensure they’re in the same position as the other seven people so that the rest of the recovery leading into the catch is executed smoothly and in unison.

Relevant calls

There are few times when a coxswain (particularly novices) sounds more robotic/”IDGAF” than when their crew is doing pause drills. The overwhelming majority rely on (and say) only one word for the entire duration of the drill – “go”. Not only does this get really old, really fast, it just makes you sound bored and disengaged. And trust me, I get that pause drills (like most drills) are boring but just because they are doesn’t mean you can be. There’s not a lot of “pause drill-specific” calls that you’ll make outside of general technical reminders (which by this point you shouldn’t have trouble coming up with on your own) but one thing you can do is stop saying “go” and replace it (or at the very least, alternate it) with stronger words that tie into what you want the rowers to do.

For example, if you’re doing a double pause drill at hands away and bodies over, instead of saying “go … go” after each pause, replace both of those with “pivot … row”. Instead of the rowers reacting to a word and doing whatever they want (not literally, more in the sense that whatever they do isn’t likely to be done together), they’re responding to a direct command (“pivot”) and focusing on swinging together into the next pause. Similarly, when I think of the word “row” I think of everyone moving together in time whereas “go” doesn’t really have that same feeling to it.

This isn’t specifically about calls but it’s also important to remember to make the pause long enough that the coach can jump in if they need to address something. We specify to our coxswains whenever we do these to “add in a two second pause at [wherever]” (it’s always two seconds) and that gives them enough time to actually pause and us enough time to jump in if/when necessary. There’s no sense in doing pause drills if your pause is 0.3 seconds long so count it out in your head (“one one thousand, two one thousand, row…“) and make sure the timing of each one is consistent.

What to look for

What you’re looking for with pause drills is going to relate less to the “pause” and more to whatever thing the pause is actually addressing – i.e. if you’re pausing at the toes, square timing and body prep will be two things to keep an eye on. You should discuss with your coach (if it’s not mentioned at the start of practice) what the goal is for the drill, what the rowers should focus on, if there’s anyone in particular that we’re doing the drill for (i.e. 3-seat has been having issues with getting his shoulders forward before the slide starts so you’re doing bodies over pauses to help him work on that), and what you should be looking for as you go through it.

Related: Hi! I’m a novice and I have a problem with my oar. My coach said that it doesn’t square early enough. I square just before the drive but he said I need to square earlier. I don’t understand how I can do this ? I feel like I will catch a crab if I square too early (which I did twice today). Do you have any solutions or a way to know how to square at the right time? Is my oar too close to the water on the recovery? Thank you, your blog is the best btw!!

Outside of that, try to stay aware of how the slides feel after the pause(s). There shouldn’t be any rush to get to the next catch (especially if slide control is something you’re trying to address) so remind them that once they break the knees, let the boat come to them and keep the weight off the foot stretchers until the blade is locked in the water.

Effect(s) on the boat

Pause drills are effective because, like I said earlier, they slow everything down and when done/called right, get everyone to breathe, relax, and focus on taking quality strokes instead of just moving back and forth on the slide.

Related posts/questions

I’m the senior girl’s cox for my school club and my crew is really struggling with having a slow recovery then accelerating to the finish and putting in pressure. When I call to go slow up the slide they might slow down 1 or 2 points or not even at all. And the pressure dies when the rating slows. Then the rating goes up when I call pressure. Do you have any ideas about how I can help them get into a slow steady rhythm but still put in pressure?

Really quick question. How do you call switches between pairs/fours when you’re doing a pause drill. I find myself saying, “in two stern pair out, 5 and 6 in… uhm… I mean… just switch here” when they hit a pause and it’s awkward for me and my rowers. I don’t know what else to do though. Ideas?

Top 20 Terms Coxswains Should Know: Shooting the Slide

Previously: Rush(ing) || Body angle || Pick drill || Suspension || Skying the blade || Quarter feather || Pin || Run || Lunge || Washing Out || Missing water || Footboard || Check || Ratio || Over compression || Release || Cut the cake || Hanging the blade

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

The drive.

What does it mean/refer to

Shooting the slide refers to what happens when you drive your legs without actually moving the boat. The lack of coordination between the legs and the body results in the trunk collapsing during the drive and the seat moving towards bow faster than (and without) the handle.

Relevant calls

One of the main calls I make here is to remind the rowers to sit up at the catch, keep the chests tall, low backs flat, cores engaged, etc. because if you’re finishing the recovery in an overextended position (aka lunging) then you’re most definitely going to shoot your slide when the drive begins.

To get the rowers to move the legs and handle together I’ll say “push with the legs as you hang off the handle, then add the bodies and draw through to complete the stroke” or something to that effect. It’s less about monosyllabic calls here and more about bringing the coaching from the launch into the boat (which means you need to be very in tune not just with what’s going on in the boat but with what your coach is saying in response to what he’s seeing, that way you can incorporate the same words, feedback, etc. in your calls).

What to look for

If you can feel the boat getting checked on the drive (which you always can), someone or several someones are shooting their slides. You shouldn’t be feeling any sort of strong pushback in your direction at the catch – rather it should be a smooth turnaround as the slide changes direction – so if you can see/feel the boat moving back towards you then you’ll want to remind the crew to bring the handle with them as they start the drive rather than limiting their power output by relying on the upper body to do all the work.

This video shows what shooting the slide looks like from a side-perspective. If you see someone doing this on the erg you should work with them to correct it, preferably beside a mirror if you have some in your boathouse. This is one of the habits that is picked up the fastest and takes the longest to break so you want to prevent it from becoming muscle memory sooner rather than later. (If it doesn’t start there already, skip ahead to 5:40.)

Effect(s) on the boat

Shooting the slide creates a backwards push against the foot stretchers that creates check and limits the run of the boat.

Related posts/questions

My coach always emphasizes a quicker leg drive. I can get them down fine without it being a problem but sometimes I try to go quicker than normal on the leg drive and it doesn’t seem AS powerful. Why? Is this cause Im not getting enough pressure behind the blade? Is there anyway to improve on this?

How to fix shooting the slide with an RP3

Top 20 Terms Coxswains Should Know: Hanging the Blade

Previously: Rush(ing) || Body angle || Pick drill || Suspension || Skying the blade || Quarter feather || Pin || Run || Lunge || Washing Out || Missing water || Footboard || Check || Ratio || Over compression || Release || Cut the cake

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

The catch.

What does it mean/refer to

The majority of the time when we talk about hang we’re talking about suspension but in this case “hang” means to pause at the catch and let your blade hang in the air before dropping it in the water instead of placing it immediately as the wheels come to a stop.

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Suspension

Relevant calls

This is where you’ll make/hear a lot of “direct to the water” calls. You can/should also remind the rowers that they should be unweighting the hands (not lifting – unweighting) the hands in the top quarter of the recovery so that the moment when the blade enters the water and their slides stop coming forward is the same point in time. One shouldn’t happen before the other. When I’ve coached younger crews, explaining the catch as a motion rather than a position has helped them understand this better and eliminate the pause at the front end (which most of the time they don’t realize they’re doing).

Calls for slide control (coupled with “direct to the water”-esque calls) can also help here because you’ll sometimes see rowers rushing their slides and then hanging out at the catch waiting for everyone else to get there, which usually leads to them having choppy catches or being late.

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Rush(ing)

What to look for

This is slightly less obvious from the coxswain’s seat than it is from the launch but what you’ll see is a very obvious (but quick) pause in the blade’s movement at the front end. It’s not something I’m always on the lookout for but if I notice a rower is missing water at the catch then I’ll watch to see if I can see them winding up (aka dropping the hands at the catch causing their blade to sky) and then stopping before putting the blade in.

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Skying the blade

Effect(s) on the boat

Hanging the blade at the catch turns the stroke into a stop and go movement instead of one fluid motion which prevents the crew from establishing a consistent and easy-to-lock-onto rhythm. It also messes with the catch timing (duh – you’re always going to be late), your ability to have a long, complete stroke (since you’ll be missing water at the start of the drive as a result of not getting your blade in before the slide changes direction), and the shell’s ability to achieve its maximum run (because you’re missing water → not generating as much power → not getting as much send at the finish).

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Missing water

Related posts/questions

Like several of the other terms, this isn’t one I’ve talked about on the blog before this so below are two videos that demonstrate the difference between hanging the blade (the first one) and going straight to the water (the second one).

Very start and stop-y and you can see the missed water as they start their drive.

Much more smooth and fluid.

Top 20 Terms Coxswains Should Know: Cut the Cake

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

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

Cut the cake occurs on the recovery and targets the finish through bodies over part of the stroke.

What does it mean/refer to

“Cut the cake” is a drill that focuses on swing and body prep and emphasizes getting the hands out of bow at the same speed together in order to maximize the amount of run you’re getting on the recovery.

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Body angle

There are several versions of this drill but in the normal one you begin by taking a normal stroke and then on the subsequent recovery you pivot forward with the bodies, swing back to the finish (drawing the arms all the way through), and then swing forward again and come up to the catch. That swinging motion when the bodies pivot back and forth is the actual “cut the cake” part (although I really have no idea why it’s called that).

Relevant calls

The two main themes/calls that I base a lot of what I’m saying around are “pivot” and “stretch”. Pivot has to do with the swinging part of the drill, where you’re going from the finish position to bodies over, and I make calls relating to that because I want the rowers to be conscious of pivoting, swinging, etc. from their hips and not reaching or lunging from their low backs. The stretch call also relates to the bodies over position because when you’re sitting up and pivoting from your hips, you should feel just the slightest stretch in your hamstrings. (Obviously flexibility plays a big part in this … the less flexible you are the sooner you’ll feel that tug as you swing forward.)

Outside of those two calls, I’ll make calls as necessary to even out the speed of the drill if it looks like they’re rushing through the cut the cake part, as well as reminders to hold the knees down and/or break them together as they start the slides.

What to look for

You can see what the drill looks like in the videos below.

One of the things that makes cut the cake complicated and/or not fun is how easy it is to screw up the timing. It’s easy to think that this happens on the recovery when you’re swinging back and forth but it more often happens as a result of people driving at different speeds, which then causes them to finish at different times and then have to rush through the cut the cake part to catch up with everyone else. So, if you find that the timing is off, focus first on getting the finishes together before moving on to trying to match up the hands, bodies, etc.

Another thing to watch for is the speed at which the rowers move through cut the cake. It should be a natural speed that matches the speed at which they’re driving and recovering … it shouldn’t be a steady speed through the drive, fly through cut the cake, and then slowly proceed up to the catch.

Effect(s) on the boat

Cut the cake touches on a lot of different things like balance, swing, body prep, rhythm, etc. but the timing of the hands coming away at the finish is arguably one of the more important aspects of the drill. If you consciously go through the drill instead of just going through the motions then this can really help  the timing on the recovery by getting everyone moving together and at a steady speed, which in turn allows the boat to run out further between strokes (thus increasing the efficiency of each stroke).

Related posts/questions

I haven’t talked about this drill much on here so there aren’t any related posts or QOTDs to share but below is a video that shows a variation of cut the cake called “rusties” (it’s literally the same exact drill with a pause at the finish and bodies over instead of a continuous flow between the two) that we occasionally do as part of our warmup.

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

Top 20 Terms Coxswains Should Know: Release

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

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

The finish.

What does it mean/refer to

The release is the part of the stroke that occurs immediately after the actual finish – it’s when the outside hand applies weight to the handle, causing it to tap down and release the blade from the water. The terms “finish” and “release” get used interchangeably but they’re actually two completely separate parts of the stroke. At the finish the blades are in the water and at the release they aren’t (which is why it makes no sense when coxswains tell the rowers to “sit at the release” before they start rowing), although the bodies are still in the same layback position.

Relevant calls

Many of the calls I make specifically about the release have to do with the set of the boat. One of the things we say to the guys a lot, particularly if the boat is looking wobbly, is “release to the balance”, which gets them thinking about the position of their hands relative to the set of the boat. I’ve adopted this call too when I’m coxing and usually say something like “…let’s make sure we’re releasing to the balance … right [catch] here [finish] … haaands [drive] here [finish]… haaands here …”. I try to save this call for when the boat is consistently off-set rather than just a wobble here or there, mainly because I know it gets the rowers’ attention and I don’t want to wear it out.

Another one is “cut the pressure before the bodies, come down and away smoothly…”. This isn’t so much a “coxing” call that I try to line up with any particular part of the stroke, rather it’s a “coaching” call that I say conversationally as we’re rowing. I try to follow it up with a specific “coxing” call though, usually something like “smoooth here“, “hands here“, “cut it now“, etc.

What to look for

Because the finish and release only differ by about six inches in handle height, one’s ability to tap down at the release is largely effected by their posture at the finish. Not laying back enough or laying back too far can inhibit the movement of the hands here because it’s practically impossible to tap the handle down when your body is directly underneath it. (If you’re laying back too far it’ll be your stomach and if you’re not laying back enough it’ll be your thighs.) On the water you can make reminder calls for this but on the ergs is where you can really coach the rowers (particularly novices) on proper body angles, posture, etc. Plus, it’s a lot easier to do this on land when you can actually manipulate them to the right positions vs. on the water where it can be tough to explain what it should look/feel like.

At the release, assuming pressure was cut before the handle reached the bodies, you should see the blades cleanly pop out of the puddles and then feather over the water. If you’re seeing the blades get stuck in the water as the recovery begins (which at best will cause the boat to go off-set and at worst can cause crabs of varying magnitudes) then a couple things might be happening, the first of which is what I mentioned above about not giving yourself room to tap down. The other is not accelerating the blade through the drive into the finish. If you’re connected on the drive and have good acceleration the blade will naturally pop out more easily at the release whereas a lack of acceleration will cause the puddle to close up and essentially act like a brake (tl;dr physics), which obviously limits the carryover of acceleration and kills the boat’s run.

With regards to feathering, watch that they’re not feathering before the blade is fully out of the water too. You’ll be able to tell if this is happening because you can see the water getting flipped up as the blade rotates. In my experience this happens most often when people feather with both hands because they’re rotating the handle down into their laps instead of drawing straight through, tapping down with the outside hand, and then feathering with the inside. Square blade and outside-arm only rowing, along with delayed feather drills can help fix this though.

Effect(s) on the boat

The effects of a poor release will be felt on the subsequent recovery and catch, usually in the form of the boat being off-set or poor posture on the previous finish causing timing issues with getting the hands down and away (and bodies over) on the next recovery which leads to a late/poorly timed catch. A clean release though provides a stable platform for the rowers to work off of and lets the boat take full advantage of the power and acceleration that was generated on the previous stroke by allowing it to run out further between strokes.

Related posts/questions

Heeey so at the moment we’re doing a lot of work on the finish and the release but I am struggling to come up with calls that really work. I have a few basic ones but not many so I find myself repeating them over and over and over and over. Do you have any calls for technique at the finish and release that i could borrow or modify to suit my crew?? TY x

The Kiwi pair does this really incredible thing where they take their oars out of the water SO FREAKING CLEANLY and I am having such a hard time trying to do it, I can never tell if I’m throwing water around when I feather my blade and IDK if you know what I’m getting at but yeah help?

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

Top 20 Terms Coxswains Should Know: Over Compression

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

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

The catch.

What does it mean/refer to

The position your body is in at the catch – hips behind the shoulders, shins vertical, etc. –  is called “full compression”. Over-compression is when you go beyond this point and your knees end up over your toes (instead of in line with your ankles). Shorter rowers (and novices) have a tendency to over-compress at the catch as a way to get more reach.

Relevant calls

I don’t make a lot of calls for this on the water because I can’t see when it’s happening (unlike other things I can’t “see” where I can pretty closely guess what’s going on based on the bladework). Plus, over-compressing on the water is a more rare occurrence than over-compressing on the ergs so even when I’m coaching it’s not something I see that often (at this point though that might be more of a factor of who I’m coaching than anything else though).

When we’re on the ergs most of what I’ll say will be simple stuff like “too far…”, “stop a little shorter…”, etc. if I see them coming too far up the slide and then once they’re stopping closer to full-compression (rather than going past it) then I’ll have them pause at the catch and tell them to think about what this position feels like and if we’re beside any mirrors I’ll have them look over to see what their bodies look like, where their slide is in relation to their heels, the angles their shins are at, etc. If you have less-experienced rowers who haven’t fully figured out where full slide/compression is yet then utilizing mirrors/video while on the ergs during the winter is the best way for them to figure this out. (You can also use the tape trick to help with this – figure out where full slide is and then put tape on the slide so that the rower feels the slide hit it if they compress too far.)

Sometimes over-compressing can be a byproduct of not getting the bodies set soon enough so if I see that happening then I’ll address that first (read the post linked below for more on that) and usually the over-compressing (which has them sitting straight up, heels right up against their butt, and hips directly under the shoulders) corrects itself.

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Body angle

What to look for

This is what correct full compression looks like…

…and this is what over-compression looks like (note the positioning of her shins at the catch)…

In some cases on the water, usually at the beginning of the season or if the rowers are switching seats a lot, you might find that the footstretchers (if they’re set too far towards bow) need to be adjusted to prevent them from over-compressing. This shouldn’t be the first thing you jump to though to fix the issue unless it’s completely obvious that it’s the cause and not the rower’s technique.

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Footboard

Effect(s) on the boat

The effects of over-compressing obviously have an effect on the boat but they more drastically (and obviously) impact the individual’s stroke than they do the entire boat. The biggest impact is on their power output because it puts you in a weak position when you go to initiate the leg drive; instead of relying on the quads and glutes to help you generate power as you drive off the footboards, you’re now relying on the smaller muscles of your calves as you start the drive. If you’re trying to get more reach you might get an extra inch or two but in the end you’re sacrificing some of your power to do so.

Related posts/questions

Hi! So I recently started rowing not to long ago, as I just did two weeks of long skinny boat camp. But as I was rowing I kept getting told not to over compress at the catch. Also to relax my shoulders. I am short, only 4’11 and I talked to the coach about coxing(my sister is a captain) in high school and he wants me to row first. Do you have any tips I can take from the rowing? Also how not to over compress at the catch? Thanks! I love your blog!

The Stroke Sequence 101: The Catch

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

Top 20 Terms Coxswains Should Know: Ratio

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

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

The recovery and the drive, but it’s primarily referenced while on the recovery.

What does it mean/refer to

Ratio is the contrast between the drive and recovery. The standard ratio for rowing is 2:1, which means that the length of time spent on the recovery should be twice as long as the amount of time spent on the drive. To understand why this is necessary, read the first paragraph of #2 in last week’s post on check (linked below). Pretty much everything that’s discussed in the “check” post and the “rush(ing)” post, as well as any of the other posts linked in there, will be relevant to this one.

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Check and Rush(ing)

As you start rowing at higher rates the ratio is going to get closer to 1:1 (the boat has more momentum so the recovery doesn’t need to be as long) but you can still maintain the same sense of rhythm that you have at lower rates by focusing on letting the boat run under you. Another way of looking at it is letting your feet come to you rather than you moving towards your feet. This ensures a consistent recovery speed by minimizing the chances of you throwing your weight forward or rushing the slides.

Relevant calls

Several of the calls I make for ratio are detailed in the two posts linked below. Another call I recently picked up was “execute some patience”, which refers to keeping the recoveries controlled and consistent.

Related: Top 20 Terms: Run, specifically the “relevant calls” section

You want to avoid generic calls like “slow the slides” or “let me see that ratio” (I hate that call) because they’re not effective and don’t give the rowers anything to go off of. Saying “slow the slides” is just asking for all eight people to slow them down at different times/speeds so if you’re going to make a call like that (which you really shouldn’t unless you’re with a more experienced crew that can infer what you mean from that … and even then, use it sparingly), be specific about what you want and use a call for the drive to emphasize the contrast between it and the recovery.

Related: Calls to control rush? There’s only so many ways to say “control the recovery” and “slow the slides.” Thanks!!

Another thing I do here is to make a call about getting the hands away together and at the same natural speed (which should be at whatever speed the boat is moving) – usually I’ll say something like “let’s re-establish the ratio, hands away here … hands away here” where “hands away” is said midway(ish) through the drive and “here” is said (aggressively and succinctly) right as they tap down. Tone and inflection are important here but in my experience it really helps to establish a good rhythm through the back end which you can then carry over into the ratio by following it up with calls to stay long, composed, feel the run, stay steady on the slides, etc.

What to look for

When the ratio is off at lower rates you’ll feel (and occasionally see) the boat move backwards a little when the rowers are on the recovery. It’ll also usually feel like you’re rowing at a much higher rate than you are. At higher rates it’ll feel like you’re spinning your wheels and like the rowers are just moving back and forth on the slides without any real purpose.

Effect(s) on the boat

Moving faster on the recovery than you are on the drive will cause check in the boat, which decreases your speed minimizes how much run you’ll get per stroke.

Related posts/questions

The Four Defaults

What analogies do you use for different aspects of technique? Am looking for some inspiration for my novices!

I say “catch 1,2” a lot to keep ratio but after the catch when they’re on the recovery, why do I want them sliding back slowly? Shouldn’t that be the quick part when they’re actually taking the stroke? Or maybe my coach likes me to say that just because she still wants us taking it slow?

How do you call a ratio shift to control and stop the rush without lowering the SR? Is it even possible?

Coxed a varsity boat today for the first time. I felt awkward, I didn’t know what to say to them other than to make the calls. Normally, with my novices I know what techniques to tell them to change/fix but it’s awky with var. Also, what’s a ratio shift? My stroke today told me to call it, so I did. It’s just another way of saying “down on the recovery,” correct?  Do you have any tips? Thanks!

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