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Jane’s TWS Talk on HANDS

Jane’s TWS Talk on HANDS

Today’s talk was on the proper use of hands, with their connection to arms and shoulders. Everything in blue was written by all of you. Thanks for taking such good notes!

Jane’s talk started with a review of  prying the boat through the water – Pretend your oars, once planted,  are locked around posts in  the water.  You move the boat forward – rather than moving the water.


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“Row through jello, not through shaving cream” to quote Frank Cunningham. That means creating minimum disturbance of the water. Just a “Squirt” at the catch,  a “Bladefull”  depth through the stroke, and no froth in the puddle at the release.

If you see whitewater in the puddle you’re moving the water not the boat.

Catch- When done correctly a small “V” shaped splash occurs less than width of oar as oars enter the water, minimal water disruption. 

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The masters – Frank Cunningham and Stan Pocock (Click to watch video)

Light Hands The renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin has said “The violinist’s enemy is any tightness of hold…” The same applies to the sculler. A light sure hold is the key to good sculling. It spells the difference between ease and confidence  — and rapidly tiring, tense and injured forearms and wrists. Frank Cunningham The Sculler at Ease p. 16

(As seen in the videos of Frank and Stan) – Wrists flat on pull, recovery and slightest wrist flex at the end of the pull thru to ribs. Blade is squared by the water to 90’, comes out at 45’ angle through the puddle/hole in the water.

      Frank vs. Stan

  • Frank rows left over right.  Stan rows right over left
  • To Frank the beginning and end of stroke is half slide .To Stan, it’s the release
  • Frank – Thumbs are not on the tip of the handle, but rather on lower edge and index finger curls over upper edge.  Stan Thumb on the tip of the handle pushing outward.

The videos were great, especially the ones of Stan’s and Frank’s hands!

 I liked that Jane recommended Frank’s book, “The Sculler at Ease”  [and “Ask Frank”] Maybe next time Frank’s book should be required reading before the talk.



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Make notes of your “personal fit adjustments” in each seat and boat

  • With blades buried all the way at the release, check your mark… oar handles should come to lowest rib edge.  (In video, Jane unable to fully bury blades b/c boat did not fit properly)
  • If no more spacers can be removed to lower the oars, add seat cushions to raise your torso.
  • At the catch, note your mark on the back of the person  in front of you.

So appreciated the information on adjusting height with the seat pads, as well as adjusting the foot stretchers for proper release position.  I didn’t know that the release position should be at the bottom edge of my ribcage and that I should be able to clear my sides.  That’s a huge, important piece of information.

She stressed the value of “Check your Marks” at the beginning of a row in whatever boat you are seated, for optimum body position at the release and catch.

I think the idea of adjusting to fit is great and I will definitely try that in the single. 

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Adjusting Oars

  • Without the ability to achieve the proper finish position, your blades will be stuck in the water and you won’t be able to get a proper release
  • If foot stretchers are maxed out, consider (before getting on the water) moving oar collar inboard.. so  at the finish,  thumbs are pointing at the spine. (Should be able to pull hands past the ribs and thumbs just brush the ribs as you lean 20-30º back.)
  • Spacers are used to compensate for displacement (depth) of boat in water depending on combined weight of boat and rower.
    • Smaller people use fewer spacers under oar
    • If left over right, put one spacer under starboard oar IF riggers not already set that way

Specifically, I thought Jane offered some helpful suggestions to short rowers – seat pads, spacers and shorter inboards.   We at RIRSC should consider that. All our oars are the same and the inboard is set, not for the rower’s size, but for the spread of the riggers on the boat.

I gained a lot of insight as to how a petite person can set themselves up to succeed in boats like ours.


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Straight Arms/shoulders The hands should be on the handles of the sculls so that the pull is in a direct line with the arms. The wrist should be straight. This position is the pulling position with the blades square in the water.
With the arms straight and the body angle kept the same, drive the legs steadily (extend the legs smoothly) as this is the maximum power drive. The arms are used only as connecting rods to the body. George Pocock Notes on the Sculling Stroke

  • Light hands allow elbows and shoulders to be down.
  • At the release, the angle of forearm to oar handle is greater than 90º (up to 120º)
  • At  the catch angle forearm to oar is less than 90º (perhaps 45º).


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Maintain straight line by keeping light hands Coming forward from half slide to the catch, keep the arms straight, wrists flat and the hands light enough to allow the oar handle to pivot under your knuckles. Your arms should maintain a complete straight line from your shoulder through your knuckle to your fingers on the oar. 

Jane did a good job of explaining the light hand hold on the oar handle. 


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Hand Pivot  – Imagine a pin going through the middle  knuckle into oar handle….allowing a relaxed pivot of the oar handle under the hand through the stroke. Practice with blades flat.  Pull straight thru from knuckle to shoulder . Softening the grip is essential to do this.

I am looking forward to trying to be light enough on the oar that the water can finish moving the face of the oar to square at the catch and on release to feather.

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Shoulder Squeeze -When the slide has gone half way along the tracks, start bringing the body upright, and at the same time, start using the arms, slowly bending the elbows until the end of the slide has been reached. Finish the pull with a squeeze, the body laying back about thirty degrees, [20 degrees for older rowers]  the hands coming in as far as the middle of the body above the hips. As this last squeeze is being exerted, and while the squeeze is on, start turning the wrists and shoot the hands and arms away as quickly as you like, the quicker the better. George Pocock, Notes on the Sculling Stroke

Shoulder squeeze at the finish is only possible with relaxed hands with oar handles pointed toward  the spine.  At that millisecond your head is going forward already.    

The shoulder squeeze is at the end of every stroke is essential for an effective finish.
She mentioned the ferryman’s finish and demonstrated how the head and upper body start aft before the release – and that, of course, is the reason for the shoulder squeeze.

Soft hands will guide me… with elbows in and a shoulder blade squeeze before pushing hands forward with flat wrists.I found the concept of hand movement in a horizontal fashion interesting.


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Hands Away – To let your wrists drop under the handles is fatal to a clean release. Your blades have already turned enough to maintain a solid grip of the water and are ready to slip out when your handles are struck away. As the blades leave the water, your fingers allow the handles to roll, laying the sculls on the feather. The best way to ensure a perfect release is to feel the handles trying to pull themselves out of your hands as you change direction. A proper release will eliminate trapping your blades in the water, washing out your finish, striking your thighs with your wrists on the recovery and depressing the bow of the boat. Frank Cunningham The Sculler at Ease p. 37

After shoulder squeeze,  push hands briskly away.  By half slide wrists are very flat.

I came away with a page of notes: blade comes out of water at 45 degree angle; squeezing shoulders together at the finish of the stroke is very important; speed at the finish is key to releasing the blade from the water. My biggest rowing issue is the finish, so these points were particularly relevant, personally.


This is how smooth the Thames Waterman Stroke looks when all the pieces come together, as they do in the Pocock flyweight women’s quad the Lucy Pocock Stillwell.|


Oar depth should be just a "Bladeful" as shown by Frank Cunningham.

Oar depth should be just a “Bladeful” as shown by Frank Cunningham.

Think of the pull-through as continuing past the release. In other words, follow through in the same way a golfer or a batter swings through the ball. This will bring you quickly into position for the next stroke and keep the boat moving forward. The effectiveness of your stroke depends on keeping the blade well covered. Listen for the sound of water breaking against your blades that tells you that your blades are slipping and not properly anchored. Frank Cunningham,   The Sculler at Ease p. 33


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Square blade (bow) vs. TWS catch (stroke)

Square vs flip

The videos you and Jane assembled were helpful.  I especially liked the double to see the squared up catch of bow compared with stroke’s proper Pocock catch, driving the blades in with the legs from a feathered position.

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The TWS in slow motion


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[referring to crew going “fast up the slide”].. Their argument was that they could make a more effective catch by compressing the body and springing into it, muach as one does in the snatch when lifting weights. What they had to learn was that I did not want their catch to be that strong and heavy – just quick. Stan Pocock Way Enough p. 299



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Hand Rolling Drill (from Decent Rowing)

Hand rolling: try a  broom handle or dowel to practice rolling the oars under your fingers. The rower first demonstrates the  dropping the wrist (not correct) and then the correct technique of dropping the knuckles.

Stan Pocock - Flat Hands Drill

Stan Pocock – Flat Hands Drill

Apprehension causes tension. The sculler whose wrists and forearms are sore is gripping the handles, because he is apprehensive about losing control of his sculls and the boat. Lay your open hand on one scull nd keeping your hand and forearm in a straight line, move the blade back and forth above the water. After a few passes, drop the blade to the surface and curl the fingers quickly around the handle with the idea of kicking the handle around rather than twisting it around to make the catch….To return the blade, simply push the handle away, allowing your wrist top top only a few degrees. Straighten your wrist immediately, lifting the “basket” of your fingers and let the blade roll onto the feather. At the first sign of gripping, dropping the wrist, or tension, discontinue the drill. Relax and try again. Frank Cunningham, The Sculler at Ease p. 72

Stan’s Drill – Flat hands and wrists: push away beginning the recovery with fingers straight out, wrists flat.

Relax. Let go: when you get in the boat your ego no longer exists, you are the boat.

Two handed "quick catch" drill

Two handed “quick catch” drill

Start out by positioning yourself a little short of full slide, but with the boat slightly canted supported by light pressure on one blade. With the other scull, starting in the feathered position, try to develop a quick bend in the loom, cutting the stroke uoff after about four inches. When you can do this without using your wrist or moving the rigger up or down, switch to the other scull. Go on using both sculls, stopping the boat after each trial. Apply more and more pressure until you have lifted yourself off the seat. Frank Cunningham The Sculler at Ease, p. 81

Quick catches: at the flat, quarter or half slide use hands to roll handles and feel the water catches the lower oar edge, repeat quick catches.

One-hand quick catches: rest one blade flat on water, use other hand to practice quick clean catches.

The timing between the feel of the water catching the blade and coming off the stretchers is a great connection for me. Can’t wait to get on the water!

One handed "quick catch" drill

One handed “quick catch” drill



Jane is a great teacher: clear, concise, detailed, knowledgeable, not to mention generous with her time. How kind of her to have come. 

Jane’s remarks were on target and well-received.  My thanks to both Jane and her husband for making get props and to you and Toni for getting it all together.

This was marvelous!    I really, really appreciate her wit, knowledge, teaching style and all that I can learn from a fellow petite rower.  I’m super inspired by her. Jane has excellent humor and vast experience.  I appreciated how she stuck strictly to the Thames Waterman method of rowing and the details of what sets it apart.”
Anytime you come away from a talk feeling inspired to be really good at something – whether it’s better timing, stronger connection from the feet through the
Body, lighter hands, effective body position – can’t think of a better way to spend part of a Saturday.
A special thanks from the Nails.
Jane being early, allowed us 15 minutes with her, and we got some new and great information on holding the sweep oar handle.
Great turnout and happy participants.

Thanks as always for all you do to help us become better rowers!
Another model of a perfect teaching situation:
a knowledgeable teacher who has incredible on-the-water and sports coaching experience AND who’s been part of the history of WA rowing
a teacher who relates personally to almost everyone in the room
a teacher with a sense of humor and awareness of time and agenda
a teacher who knows that a combination of words, still photos, videos AND hands-on experiences will reach the largest number of people
a group of students really, really motivated to learn and improve
Jane is very clear in her presentation and the sequence of information and visual aids in building the elements of the rowing stroke.
Her knowledge and enthusiasm for rowing makes it a pleasure to listen to her lectures.

Thank you David for our desktop oars...They give new meaning to "tabletop hands" :)

Thank you David for our desktop oars…They give new meaning to “tabletop hands” 🙂