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Stan on “the stroke”

Stan on “the stroke”

High rates and hard pulling, when combined with bad rowing, do not make a boat go fast. – Stan Pocock Way Enough p.239

There is so much information (along with great stories)  in this book, my copy is bursting with shreds of paper bookmarks – Even so,  I still have trouble re-locating stuff.

From Stan Pocock  Way Enough P.299 For years i had wondered why many UW crews were so short – not quite reaching out far enough for the catch – toward the end of a race. It was as though they thought that sprinting meant taking as many strokes as possible in the shortest time. How the strokes were executed did not matter. By sprinting like this, crews all too often slowed down. Unless well ahead to start with, a finishing sprint could be deadly.

Could this have come from the emphasis we gave to slowing the slide on the last half of the recovery? I had been taught that rushing into the stern before the catch caused stern check which, in turn, slowed the boat. At the same time, I knew that some coaches advocated a pause while in the bow at the end of the drive followed by a rush up to grab the next catch. I wondered what they based their theory on. I preferred, rather, to see an oarsman continue “around the corner” at the end of the drive and then come to a dead stop at full reach just before the catch. My gauge of a good crew was always that of seeing whether I was surprised when they took another stroke. If they simply rushed up their slides and grabbed at the water, there was no surprise.

Coming to a full reach in a finishing sprint its almost impossible if one is trying to slow the slide during the recovery – there isn’t enough time. The natural thing to do, instead, is to come only part way on the slide. That gives the time needed to slow the slide before the pause. But, a short reach means a slow boat, no matter how hard the pull or how many strokes are taken. It seemed to me that it would be much better were the oarsmen to forget about slowing their slides. Instead, they should focus on sliding all the way out to full reach before coming to a full stop in preparation for the next catch.

I tried to help the men develop the habit of doing this by calling the cadence in an erratic manner. Not knowing when the command to catch was coming, they were forced to come to a full stop before each catch. This drill was very difficult – especially for those used to jumping on the catch too soon – and they hated it. The idea, as I say, was that they must slide right up to full reach with no slowing, regardless of the rate at which they were rowing. At the slower rates, they simply had to sit longer at full reach.

The pause before the catch, which we always insisted upon, was designed to eliminate the tendency of some oarsmen to use their rush up the slide as a windup for the catch. I had several who liked to do this. 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. I looked rather, upon the recovery as part of the previous stroke and the pause as marking the end of one stroke and the beginning of the next one.

In using this new approach, we eliminated two of the variables normally present when changing the stroke rate. Rather than easing off at the lower rates as too often happens, the men tended to continue pulling hard regardless of the rate. Also the speed of movement up the slide would remain nearly the same whether they were rowing at 20 or 40.

Another plus was a physical one. Studies have shown that in performing any repetitious activity – which rowing certainly is – the human machine functions best if it is allowed to relax at some point in each cycle. The pause between strokes gave the instant of relaxation that the body needs. I sought to have the oarsmen consciously relax as much as they could during their run up the slide. I even urged them to let their jaw hang loose during the recovery, rather than grit their teeth as oarsmen tend to do. Loose jaws made them look stupid but they helped their rowing.

After many miles and days of this, the crews learned to keep their full reach at the higher stroke rates. The stopwatch indicated that this was helping them go faster. Looking back on it, I suspect that it would be dangerous to start out by teaching this concept to novices. The more traditional approach of slowing the slide during the recovery should be learned first if one is to develp proper control of the body on the recovery.


I like Stan’s idea of “relax up the slide” rather than “slow up the slide”

Here’s the ’36 Berlin Olympics gold medal winning crew. They look like 8 whips cracking at the same time.