Being Accurate and Clever on the Pick Drill

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Pick Drill Rowing Clever Rowing
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I was recently coaching a client in an online session, and we were performing the pick drill. Having reviewed their video, it became clear that their connection and pick up at the catch was not as effective as it could be.

So, we went to work on trying to correct this.

The Intentionality of Self Aware Rowing

It is important to keep in mind that your whole body is a connected system. You will row more effectively when you are aware of your entire body as you pick up the connection at the front end of the stroke.

In my mind, I think that it all starts with the pick drill. Sometimes I see athletes just going through the drill without trying to work on accuracy and control. These are wasted strokes in my opinion.

Rowing with an accurate pick up is critical for connecting at the front end of the drive. I tend to think about this as rowing “clever”, connecting more effectively and dynamically rather than trying to push harder for more speed.

Rowing The Pick Drill

The pick drill for those that are not familiar is just one example standard drill that is used in the warm-up before rowing the rest of the training session. The order of segments in the pick drill are – arms only, arms and body, 1/2 slide and full slide.

It is important to ensure that you are rowing accurate strokes right from stroke one in the arms only portion of the drill. When your arms are extended, it is essential to connect with the wheel or water at the point when the arms are fully extended. The trick is to anticipate this and almost give the handle to the wheel of the machine in the last part of the recovery. At the point where you connect with the wheel, it is important to coordinate the fingers and hands with the feet through your core so that you are creating a connection at the instant that you begin the stroke. This coordination of the fingers and feet along through your core provides the basis for the accuracy of the power phase.

It is important to cognitively engage and be intentional right from the beginning of your pick drill. The best crews and athletes are mindful of every stroke that they take.

Intentional Movement and Power Generation

Every movement you are making should help with speed or boat speed. If you are making a movement that is not promoting boat speed, you should cut it out of your system (movement pattern and force production).

As the pick drill progresses to arms and body swing, continue to work on the timing of pick up again being aware of the pick up between the fingers/hands and feet. If your timing is right and your core is stabilized, you will feel the pick up in both the hands and the feet at the same time and as early as possible at the change of direction at the catch.

This awareness and focus should continue when you get to the half slide and full slide portions of the pick drill. Ensure you are picking up the connection as early as possible and work on your accuracy and timing.

98% Power, 2% Accuracy

When I was rowing in high school, we often talked about rowing at 98% power, and the 2% should be controlled, accurate instead of rowing 100% power with regard for any control. It was better to focus on the focussed, dynamic, and smooth application of power to gain boat speed. When you can pick up the power quickly and cleverly and work on a controlled change in direction at the catch, you will have more spring and sharpness in your stroke, and it makes maintaining higher rates of striking easier. As you get better at this, that 2% becomes smaller and smaller as you grow as an athlete and rower. The goal is to row at 100% power with control and precision every stroke.

The physiology of crews at the championship level can often be very similar. By rowing in this fashion, you are more likely to go faster and more efficiently. This accuracy is important for crews that are competing at a championship level and are needing an extra edge on the competition.

When you develop this level of control in your stroke your second 1000m of a 2km piece is just as controlled as the first half. If you can develop this discipline, your technique will hold together under the stress of a close race and you will be less likely to “drop your shopping” as we say in the UK.


Your rowing accuracy and precision starts right at the beginning of your practice on the first stroke with the pick drill. Row with intention. The other advantage of this intentionality is that it also gives you something to think about when you are doing your longer steady-state pieces. In fact, you don’t have to be at race pace to continue to practice your catch quickness. Even at low rates, you can be picking up the connection dynamically and accurately.

If you have some feedback on this blog or received some value from reading it, I would love it if you commented or pass it along/share it with someone that you think it might help.

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