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Rowing Technique




1974 Long Beach Lightweight Rowing

Western Sprints Champions

Rowing Technique

Rowing Technique / Force Curve and Ergometers

From Peter Mallory:
Let me elaborate a little bit on what Bob wrote earlier today. Good rowing is still good rowing, but I have evolved a bit in how I describe it after 38 years, and technology has provided us with some really useful tools we didn't have in 1974. The most important one is the force curve display that almost any Concept2 monitor now has. If you can't find an erg that displays force curves, I encourage you to keep looking until you do.

The key thing to remember is that all the boat really cares about is how you apply your force, i.e. the shape of your curve. Your curve should look like a snowcone or a haystack or a parabola, smooth and convex all the way, no tail, no concavities. That's the secret. Period.

How do you get that curve? Turns out the best way is not the sequential legs, then backs, then arms rowing that most Americans describe. The best way is "fingers-to-toes commitment," legs, backs and arms all working from the entry and all finishing simultaneously at the release. Concurrent instead of sequential rowing. Entry, faster, faster, faster, send the boat and watch the puddles boil away behind you. Have that image in your mind even at a paddle. You will be amazed at how much perceived effort you will devote to keeping the chain under tension as long as possible at the end of each pullthrough, but that is how to make boats go fast.

Sculling Some people describe it as like what works in sculling, and that is a great way to think of it. That's why Bob recommended as many of you as possible to pick up sculling.

I'll go further. If you can, do as much of your training as possible in singles. And it doesn't have to be a racing shell. It can be the widest wherry/ocean shell around. I spent last week rowing in a Maas Aero, a veritable white whale. It was comfortable and secure, and making that boat run provided a hell of a workout. Just row no feather, and learn to send the boat.

We can set up a DropBox to exchange films and get some long-distance coaching. In the meantime, go make a haystack. Ken, go find a Concept2 erg, check out the force curve, groove in a parabola, and then take the feeling back to your water rower. I'm sure a bunch of you will have questions, so fire away.

Warm regards,

Crew Classic Technique

From Ken
Pete, Thanks for all the target erg numbers, workouts, etc. They're like gold. I wish the heck my school would get its Concept2 delivered - to be honest, I have no idea where I stand on a C2. My gut tells me that the FluidRower and the C2 are that far apart in calibration. But the C2 they have now is so trashed it's useless (PM doesn't work, broken damper adjustment, etc.), so the FR is all I have to work out on.

One quick question, as much for my peace of mind as anything. The club I row with here is real big on "fast hands, slow slide". Am I remembering accurately that our recovery was more balanced and even than that? Or am I just balking at something that should be a part of my muscle memory? I honestly can't remember you coaching that noticeable a difference between hand speed and slide speed - but that was 38 years ago. Of course, I'll row to match the boat I'm in; it's just stuck in my brain that something is different. I want to groove in whatever is best.

One other question: The biggest, most stable boat the club has for rookie scullers (of which I most definitely am one) is a Maas Aero, which is definitely not a wherry. And when it comes to singles, I suck. As I try to become better, what kind of technique/regimen should I use? Or is just a matter of staying after it? Any advice you can give me will be greatly appreciated. Well, enough bugging you for now. Thanks for all your help, Pete, and for your leadership.

Aspects of Training that Make a Real Difference
From Peter:
Ken - Good questions. Your memory is correct. We practiced a steady recovery speed in 1974, but it is my opinion that some things are worth arguing about because they make a real difference, while other things are just a matter of personal preference. Fast-slow recoveries are a throwback to a bygone era, but it actually makes not a great deal of difference, so don't sweat it and go with the flow. There are other things that make a huge difference, and when you are by yourself you should make every effort to do these right. I will elaborate on these in a moment.

First, the Maas Aero is very similar to the Hudson boat I am rowing around the island at Long Beach at the moment. It is basically a very fat wherry from the waterline down, but it is light enough to allow you to carry it by yourself. Another advantage is that there is a good chance that nobody else will want to use it, so you will have it pretty much to yourself. Everybody will think you are a goof, but I'm sure you can live with that.

I presently use some old club Concept2 sculls with outmoded shovel blades. Why? 1) If I were to break one, it would be cheaper to replace, and 2) they are harder to row really well than the more modern hatchet blades. I row without feathering for the most part because it is also harder and puts a premium on perfect balance. After two weeks my bladework is not yet quite flawless, but it is getting very good. I am sure the other scullers at LBRA don't give me a second look, but the fact is that I am getting more good technique training and more good strength and endurance training per stroke than any of them.

Now to the aspects of technique that do make a real difference:

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. It's all about force application! and here's where the Concept2 ergometer comes in. It has a force curve display as one of its menu options. Once you get access to a Concept2, use the force curve display exclusively. As I mentioned in my last email, the curve should look like a symmetrical haystack or a parabola or a scoop of ice cream, you choose the analogy. How do you get that?

Force Curve

The most effective method is to begin leg effort, back effort and arm effort concurrently and immediately at the entry, and then surge with all your might all the way to the last split-second of the pullthrough. Entry, faster, faster, faster, FASTER, release. You are pulling as hard as you can the whole pullthrough, but the continuous effort leads to continuous acceleration which builds boat speed all the way until you send those puddles "boiling aft." And this is the mental picture you follow on everything from paddling to full pressure.

How will your Rocky Mountain teammates feel about this approach to boat moving? My only experience with them was more than twenty years ago when one of their number moved to San Diego and we started rowing a pair together. I had to do a major re-education program before we got the pair to move. What is the alternative that most American teams (below our National Teams) follow? Two things I wrote above tend to make the blood of Orthodox rowers and coaches absolutely boil! First they will insist that the legs must come first, then the backs, and only at the end do the arms begin to pull. Second, they will insist that you must explode at the catch so that the resultant force curve is heavily biased to the first half of the pullthrough. The conversation may indeed get very heated, for you will be talking heresy by their reckoning.

Well, I just wrote 2,500 pages of rowing history completely disproving the Orthodox approach. If you want to go fast, you follow my advice, simple as that . . . and it's not just me. It's upwards of 95% of the medalists at World Championships and Olympics over the last several decades. And it goes back 200 years. Who would your role model be at Long Beach in 1974 and today as well? John Van Blom. I rest my case. It's a complete no-brainer, but don't expect to win any arguments or any friends by discussing it. Just win your seat races. That's the only way you'll gain any respect or credibility at Rocky Mountain or anywhere else.

So far John O. has been quiet. I wonder what you are making of all this, John . . . You told me a couple of weeks ago you thought we were so successful in 1974 because we trained harder than everybody else. We trained pretty hard, but our novices beat everybody else's experienced varsities because we rowed more effective boat moving technique. We won by open water the first year. We would have won by 20 seconds and gone to Henley the second year when we had some experience to go with our approach to moving boats, typical at the international level but rare indeed in America. And as you are well aware, it still is rare in America.

As for a training regime, Ken, go long and steady in the Maas Aero. Do what everybody else is doing when you are rowing in a crew boat. Supplement the on-the-water with erg mileage. Whatever you feel you missed in the boats, do on the erg.
And keep the questions coming, Ken. Everyone else, take heed.

Warm regards,

Surging all the way through the stroke, continued
From Bob Rogen:
My 2 cents here, short and sweet: after reading Peter's first book while training and racing as a masters rower, I convinced the other three guys in our Masters 4 to start surging at the moment of blade entry all the way to the finish, as explained here. We did it in the boat and on the erg. We gained gobs of speed and an amazing feeling of moving the boat, which we were doing anyway and now really did. We had an amazing race at Head of the Charles, just missing medals (and not one former Olympian in the boat...honest). I took the same approach to the single at Head of the Charles in 2006. I take that same approach now on the erg.

It is difficult and it is effective...and it is addicting. It works.

Thanks Peter.

1974 Long Beach Lightweight Rowing Team

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