In this third part of my learn to row series, I discuss how to create more rowing power in your rowing. Part one discusses how to sit on the seat and how the warm-up (the pick drill) was a technical exercise and a body warm-up. The recovery of the rowing stroke is discussed in part two.
Before I start too much into this discussion of the drive, you must review my post on the recovery sequence. Many faults that appear on the drive mechanics are the result of improper recovery mechanics and posture. As a result, each stroke set up on the recovery is essential for a good drive sequence and application of force.
To start learning how to drive correctly, it is important to think about the beginning of the drive. Video reference: (0:55) You need to connect at the beginning of the drive as early as possible. As a result, it is important to anticipate the connection with the water or the flywheel in the last part of the movement forward on the recovery. This awareness will enable you to change direction at the end of the recovery and the beginning of the drive. This in turn will enable you to generate more rowing power and be well connected.
Try to anticipate the last part of the movement forward and think of the connection as the last part of the recovery. Another way to think about it is to leave your hands where they are as the legs begin to push. If your core is stabilized, your hands will move as you push your legs down, but you will be better connected and have a longer effective drive phase.
There is a demonstration of a helpful drill called “the tap drill” in the video above. Video reference 3:10)
Basically, you are learning to connect with the machine or water as early as possible in the drive. The tap drill involves five minimal “strokes,” which only utilize the first couple of inches of the drive. If your heels come off the foot stretchers, think of this as rolling the heel down and then stopping there. Then go back to the top of the drive and repeat this four more times. When you have done five “taps,” take a full-length stroke to integrate improved connection with the rest of the drive. It is essential to integrate your drilling into the full stroke whenever possible.
Learn to activate your entire body from hands to feet at the beginning of the drive. Sometimes the drive is taught as legs, body, and then arms. However, regardless of your style and sequencing, activating your entire chain is important for rowing power. Note that this does not mean grabbing at the beginning of the drive with the arms. However, some activation of your arms is necessary. You need to hang your weight through the lats to engage and use your bodyweight fully. Active vs. Passive arms is a major point of debate in rowing coaching circles; I write what makes sense from my personal experience.
You can then progress the drill by working the first ¼ of the leg drive five times. Then a full-length stroke. This can also be repeated for the first ½ of the leg drive five times and then a full stroke.
The first part of the leg drive is a leg extension rather than a leg press movement. Once the heels are set, the motion becomes like a leg press where you can engage your glutes, quads, lats, and lower back more effectively.
As the drive begins, suspend your weight off the handle by lifting a small amount of your weight off the seat. Let’s say about 5 to 7 pounds of your weight if you want to put a number on it. We don’t want more than that because we want to drive horizontally. Feel a little weight lifting off the seat as you push the foot stretcher away with your knees. Ensure that you are hanging your weight off the handle and activating your quads and lats. Use your body weight to apply force on the handle rather than muscling the handle to create force and impulse.
It is important to understand that the hips and legs drive the handle for the first part of the drive. Essentially, if the hips move two inches backward, then the handle should move two inches with the seat. At the 18:05 point in the video, I demonstrate an exercise you can do to make this association.
Another exercise you can do involves the use of a rope or something similar that allows adjustment in length. For example, take a boat trailer strap, put one end around the handle, and wrap the other end around the seat. With an adjustable strap, you can set the athlete up so that they are in the correct position at the beginning of the drive and there is no slack in the strap between the handle and the seat.
If you or the athlete you are coaching can maintain tension in the strap for the beginning of the drive, you know that the handle is connected to the hip effectively.
The other aspect to discuss is the amount of pressure you use at the beginning of the stroke. It is important to you should have a sharp catch for developing rowing power. You can use the aforementioned drills to help work on precision and accuracy. I would also add that the first inch or two of the drive should have a little patience in it. The wheel or boat has slowed down during the recovery, and as a result, the inertia is less. As a result, walking the balance between quickness/patience and power/control should always be in your mind when you row. It’s a knife-edge, too hard, and your energy is wasted and comes back into your body, too soft, and you miss critical parts of the force application at the entry.
As a result, be patient in the first part of the drive. It is not that no pressure is being applied. Think of it as 50-60% pressure for the first inch or so and then accelerate as hard and smoothly as you can to 100%. This last sentence should create a visual picture for you as you work on effective acceleration on the drive.
The next part of the drive is the opening of the body angle. There are many versions of how to use the body during the rowing stroke. It is important to open the body angle at a point in the drive phase to keep the handle accelerated. I tend to coach opening the back at the hips when it feels natural to do so. I also engage my arms and try to finish my arms simultaneously with the body and the seat.
If you leave the arms until last, it becomes tough to maintain acceleration. Use them together to avoid a segmented power application. This is also a risk when considering the timing of legs going down and the back opening up. We want to accelerate the shoulders past the hips at the right point in the drive to create as much impulse and send as possible. This should be thought of as a surging through the stroke right through to the end.
Executing the last part of the drive effectively is important for rowing power. As the force increases on the handle and therefore the handle speed increases, it takes more skill to keep the acceleration going.
I would recommend rowing feet out to work on this part of the drive. If you can keep the pressure on the handle and continue to work through the footplate, your feet should stay in contact with the foot stretcher and remain connected to the work. Here is a video demonstrating and discussing the benefits of the feet out drill. A helpful pointer is to imagine that you have superglue on the soles of your shoes. This external cue will help you focus on keeping the feet engaged throughout the drive.
Also, a strong core is important for staying connected all the way through the drive phase. The core is the linchpin between the upper body creating torque on the handle and the legs pushing against the foot stretcher. As a result, I would recommend focusing on good posture through to the end of the stroke. The prerequisite for good posture on the drive is good posture and organization forward on the recovery.
My final piece of advice is that ultimately it is important to concern yourself with the rowing stroke’s organic whole. If the emphasis becomes on the legs rather than other parts of the rowing stroke start to suffer and become de-emphasized. So while this post goes into detail about how to work various parts of the drive, it is important to think about how the handle accelerates as a result of the function of how your legs, back, and arms work together to create connection and impulse on the handle all the way through the stroke.
The main aspect of rowing performance is that the flywheel or boat speed at the end of the stroke is the most important factor. If you are rowing a solid accelerated stroke, your force curve will have a convex nature to it without any concavities. Using the body effectively and organically allows for a smooth force application and produces a force curve that is smooth and maintains a convex nature all the way through. For more information on force curves and what they mean for technique and application effectiveness, I recommend viewing my USRowing presentation on force curves.
Until next time!