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Basics of Technique


1 Action of the stroke

the hands move as an ENVELOPE not an ELIPSE

action of the stroke

Keep the blade vertical during the power drive. Stern pitch at the catch is having the top of the blade a maximum of 10° tilted toward the stern. The natural body pull will flex the wrist during the drive. During the drive the blade will be vertical and at the end of the drive the control hand drops and the blade will have a -10° stern pitch, which will help with recovery and lead into the feathering.


No stern pitch at the catch will lead to a weak drive.

Negative stern pitch at the catch will lead to “catching a crab” see later.

Too much negative stern pitch (or early feathering) at the finish will lead to early washing out and a weak finish.

Catch quickly or you lose some of the rowing arc. The Catch must happen before the Drive.

Too deep a blade will lead to “back wash” at the loom of the oar which is a drag and also causes crab catching.

Too high a blade during the recovery will lead to poor balance and windage.

(Feathering the blade at about 45° is enough; don’t do it until the blade is being extracted at the finish and return to the vertical before the catch. Feathering is an advanced technique.)

Keep the leather ½ in and ½ out throughout the action. “Row around the hard pin”. The rowing action is in an arc.

Don’t tow your blade in the water get it out!

2 Blade work


rowing basics
3 Crabbing
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The cox or the rower behind should encourage with “good recovery”.

4 Pins (thole pins)

The pin nearest the bow is of a stronger wood than the pin nearest the stern. This is usually marked with two rings at the top and is of a darker wood.

The oar, during the DRIVE rotates around the hard pin. The leather should stay ½ in and ½ out of the pin gate. If a crab is caught or any other untoward problem occurs, and the recovery is too slow, the soft pin is designed to break. This protects the fragile gunwale of the gig from excessive forces.

Sometimes the hard pin may break. Always have spare hard and soft pins at your seat before rowing away.

Pins should always be free to lift in and out. Do not tap the pins down in their location holes.

Some rowers like to Vaseline their pins (and leathers).

5 Stretchers

The stretcher, or foot bar, has a number of possible positions to accommodate differing leg lengths. Begin by placing it as far forward as possible so that when you sit you are almost falling off the front of the seat. During the DRIVE the legs straighten, you pivot at the hip and the bum tends to move back on the seat a little. Sit too far back and you may inhibit the rower behind you and you also tend to have a weak DRIVE. There are sometimes Stretcher Extensions in a boat that can be used to find a half-way position. Stretcher angles are a debate!

6 Foot straps

Many rowers use foot straps. There are rules about the type and use of foot straps. The principal requirement is that you could slip out quickly if necessary, i.e. boat collision and capsize is imminent (very unlikely!). If you have a good technique at the end of the DRIVE your centre of gravity is so far back that you cannot easily and smoothly reach forward again. As you lead your hands away your feet will want to rise and you spoil your balance FINISH and RECOVERY. You must not use the oar to pull yourself up with.

7 Sitting position.

You do not want to “rock the boat”!

If you sit too close to the gunwale you run the risk of your weight movement causing instability in the boat. Gigs are very stable so bad positioning can be tolerated. However it is better if your inner hip and inner shoulders are close to the centre line of the boat.

Balance is helped during the drive by leaning slightly inboard and towards your thole pin. Many rowers tend to lean outboard away from the pin when they pull. This makes the boat rock and pulls the oar into the boat. You can help the balance by dropping the inner shoulder very slightly, keeping the inner elbow by your side and also by bending the neck, just a few degrees, down to the inner shoulder as you are looking towards your blade. The trunk rotates a little so the back needs to be cared for by having very strong core muscles and core stability.

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8 Holding the oar handle

The outside hand should have the fingers in a strong hook under the oar and the thumb on the end. This is the thumb which will move towards the opposite nipple at the end of the DRIVE. Try not to have a weak hold with the oar handle in the palm and only a few fingers hooked around the handle. Try also not to grip tightly as this will tire the hand, wrist and forearm and convey too much rigidity to the oar. There are good arguments for this hand to be an over-hook!

The inside hand is also a strong finger hook but over the handle. The hands are 1 - 2 hand width apart. Too narrow a grip restricts the FINISH too far apart restricts the power DRIVE.

It is the outside, under or over-hook, hand which provides slightly more than 50% of the power to the oar.

It is the inner, over-hook, hand which helps more with the control.

You can wear gloves but the sooner you can thicken the skin of the palms the better.

Wrists should be cared for. Throughout the rowing motion they should be held in a natural and neutral position to avoid fatigue, cramps and eventually tendonitis soreness in the wrist, forearm and elbow.

9 Timing

Your CATCH and FINISH should be made at the same time as the STROKE rower. If you are weaker then the length of your power DRIVE will be a bit shorter but do try to go-in and come-out at the same time as the rower in front of you.

You will want to watch your blade as you row. As you progress you also see the oar in-front of you and eventually you look more centrally. In larger seas you will want to watch your blade more closely.

10 Steering

Power should be balanced so the boat goes in a straight line. The rudder is a brake! It slows one side down and in doing so turns the boat from the rear. It is not like a front steering bicycle. Use of the rudder can slow the boat more than one oar can speed it. In an event there will be tide, wind and other boats in the way of you making the fastest course. The cox will try to use the rower’s power rather than the rudder and so may call for either STROKE side or BOW side to pull harder rather than use the rudder too much and too often.

11 Elbows

Although your arms must be straight during the CATCH and the first part of the DRIVE the elbows are a little flexed to absorb the shock of impact. Also keep the elbows down and towards the side of you body. Don’t chicken wing.

12 Rhythm and Ratio

Your power is wanted but you need to make it smooth and economic not violent and explosive. You must come back from the “lay back” with the hands-away style. The body moves forward at about the same speed as the boat moves through the water.

The ratio during races ranges from 1:2 at very slow rates to 1:1 when sprinting. This means that when sprinting the drive stroke time takes up about the same amount of time but it is the recovery stroke is speeded up.

At 1:2 ratio the boat can run on smoothly during the recovery and is very efficient for long endurance races. Shorter races and getting to a mark require ratios closer to 1:1 which are faster but harder to maintain and require elite fitness and technique. The quicker, more “jerky” recovery of a 1:1 ratio will disturb the boat during the recovery phase but it does allows more time overall at the drive phase.

The cardinal sin is to shorten and weaken the drive phase in order to think you are sprinting!

The goal is always a long drive stroke, full of power and in-time with all 6 rowers. The recovery is always as smooth as possible and the hip flexors are used to pull the body upright rather than a jerk on the oars. There were some older styles with oars with longer inboard handles which used the long push-past the body to aid the body recovery. These styles and oars are now obsolete.

13 Some drills

Hands Use just one hand, then the other to feel the difference.

Close hands together and then move them far apart to feel the changes.

Catch and finish Sit upright and still and just use the arms to row.

Add in the body rock.

Add in the legs push.

Watch the blade angle. Watch the rowing arc. Notice your elbows.

Watch the CATCH and FINISH.

Contrast/ratio Sting and float.

Start instantly after the CATCH.

Make a full power DRIVE.

Extract the blade but PAUSE THE BODY at the back position until the hands are moved away forward.

Now rock the body forward.

Complete the RECOVERY smoothly and slowly till ready for the CATCH.

The hands do not stop moving but the body has a micro pause.

The RATIO is 1:2 to a count of 1-2/3. 1 for the drive:2 for the rest.

Keeping the drive you can now smoothly reduce the recovery time and move the ratio from 1:2 towards 1:1.5 and on to 1:1 sprinting.

Thrust After the CATCH make a maximum leg thrust/rock back and “lift” your bottom up off the seat

Rate Very slow rate, about 22 spm

Very quick rate about 36 spm

Up and down in the race/sprint rate range about 26 to 32 spm.

Sprints 1 minute flat out rowing “short”

1 minute flat out rowing “long”.

Pyramids Taking either the rate or effort or both up in stages and back down again.

Faults Find the fault, discuss it and name it.

Find the cause, or more likely the causes.

Over emphasise the error correction and remedial action.

Build the correction into race stroking.

Try to work on one correction at a time where possible.

14 Rowing arc.

The thole pins sometimes limit the reach forward. Different seat positions have different reach limits. The catch should be made with the oar as far forward as the pins and the rower can achieve without losing power. This is about 55°. The rowers outside hand should be over the inside foot to accommodate the arcing motion.

At 35°past the pins the finish is over. If you leave the blade in the water or are not still pulling you are just towing the blade and it is acting as a brake. A sharp extract is required. Very few rowers can actually achieve 55°at the catch and 35° at the finish. An 80° power drive arc is a good target.

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So, what are the areas that you can work on to find those inches?

Fitness: be as fit and strong as possible, but make sure it's all specific to rowing.

All-up-weight: the heavier your boat, kit, cox and crew, the more the boat sinks into the water and the slower you'll go or the harder you have to work to overcome it. An estimate is in the order of 0.2% penalty per 10kg weight difference or about 1 boat length in a 600 stroke race.

Power-to-weight: every rower will have a "sweet spot" where their bodyweight and performance are balanced. But, go too light and your performance is likely to suffer.

Catching a crab: it goes without saying that perfect bladework is the aim! At race pace, catching a crab might cost you 3m.

Rudder pressure by the cox: every touch on the rudder puts on the brakes.

Crew weight trim: a "bows down" trim is likely to help reduce drag.(no excuse for #1 to get fat!)

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