The Importance of Teaching Novice Rowers Pause Drills

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Rowing Body Positions

I had the opportunity to coach some novice rowers to today and wanted to share my thoughts about for beginners. I think that one of the most helpful things you can do to help novice rowers is to incorporate pause drills when they are learning the stroke for the first time.

A Brief Overview

The principal component necessary for a pause drill is to involve a moment (2 seconds or so) in the rowing stroke cycle when the athlete pauses. When you start this kind of exercise you want your athletes to pause once per stroke cycle. However, this can progress to a stroke cycle with two pauses. More about that in a minute.

Here are three reasons that make pause drills a critical part of your coaching toolkit.

1. Novices Can Develop Body Self-Awareness With Pause Drills

When you involve a pause in the stroke, it allows time for the athlete to be adjusted in terms of body position or how they are holding the oar(s). This break creates the opportunity for them to understand the correct position at a certain point in the stroke. When novices are learning the stroke for the first time, their brains are trying to handle many different things such as body awareness, timing, rhythm, and processing input from the coach or coxswain. It’s a lot to take on, so providing a pause point can help them learn the correct motor patterns more effectively.

2. Athletes Learn The Correct Sequence For The Recovery

When teaching any movement pattern the sequence of motion is essential. Novice rowers tend to break the knees before their upper bodies are in the correct position with the shoulders in front of the hips. When an athlete achieves the body over position at the proper time in the stroke, many other things in the rowing stroke start to click into place.

3. Pause Drills Help With Timing and Allow For A “Reset” Button

Another benefit of this kind of drill is that it allows all the rowers in a crew to achieve the same position at the same time. The pause allows all of the crew members the chance to collect themselves and push the metaphorical “reset” button when timing suffers. (as it often does when novice rowers are learning for the first time)

Click on the images below to download body position cards.

1. No arms away Position (if you teach arms and body in the same movement)

Rowing Body Positions
2. Arms Away Included

Rowing Body Positions

In the video below, I demonstrate a pause drill as an example.

Choosing When To Pause

When you select the pause point of the stroke, you can address different aspects of technique.

Pausing At The Release

When an athlete pauses at the release, you can assess and provide feedback on the following:

  1. Body angle at the release.
  2. Outside arm position.
  3. Posture.
  4. The rowers have a point in the stroke that they can all gather.

Pausing At The Body Over Position

Regardless of whether you teach arms away and then body over or arms and the body moving out of the release at the same time, this pause helps rowers establish forward body angle early in the recovery. Once this position is set, the rower needs to move toward the catch position without the need to get any more body angle.

I think this is the most important position to get right in the stroke. The benefits are as follows:

  1. Stroke length improves.
  2. The boat gets a speed boost because of Newton’s third law of motion – For Every Action There Is An Equal And Opposite Reaction.
  3. If the upper body angle is set correctly early in the recovery, the rower doesn’t have to set the body angle close the catch which leads to dropping the hands and missing the catch.
  4. The rower has a better chance of sequencing the drive correctly.

Pausing At Half-Slide

When an athlete pauses at half slide, this can help in the following areas, and you can provide feedback accordingly.

  1. The rowers have a way to gage that they are moving together.
  2. The blade should be squared by this point in the stroke in preparation for the catch.
  3. After the pause at half slide, it takes a crew a great deal of slide control and poise to arrive at the catch together without rushing.

Pause Drill Video Courtesy of the USRowing YouTube Channel

Integrating The Drill Into The Continuous Cycle

After a few minutes of pausing every stroke, I increase the number of strokes gradually before a pause happens. For example, I will instruct the rowers to pause every two strokes. Then every three strokes, moving up to five continuous strokes and then pause. Integrating rowing drills into the whole cycle is essential.


As you can see, I am a big fan of pause drills and how they can help stroke development in beginning rowers. These drills are not just limited to a boat and can be used on a rowing ergometer as well. Also, pause drills can be helpful for rowers at any level of development.

I’m interested in your thoughts and feedback. If you have a point of view or you see something I have missed, please let me know in the comments below or contact me at

Until next time!


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  1. Tom says:

    Great article, better understanding of purpose n positioning. Thanks

    • Coach B says:

      Tom, thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it. Email me if you need anything, I hope the low rate steady state work I sent you is going well!

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