Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The basics: the fixed seat stroke

by Sara Bird

One of the beauties of rowing of any kind is that the stroke is so complex that there will always be something to work on: if your brain isn't working as hard as your body then you're probably doing something wrong. The stroke could theoretically be divided into about 30 discrete movements, but we've broken it into 4 phases here…and will expand on these in later blog entries. 


The Drive

Starting with the oar already placed in the water at the catch (see below), the drive is the act of straightening the legs, pushing your bum up and back over the seat, the controlled 'throwing' of the shoulders back into the bow, and, very last of all, the bending of the arms to bring the oar handle into your chest. The drive should feel aggressive, urgent, yet controlled and mean. The drive can be broken into:
- the acceleration immediately after the catch, where you take the boat from its slowest speed after recovery to its fastest speed in the middle of the drive. Your aim is not to lose an iota of power through any bent arms, loose joints or sideways movement, protecting your back. You should feel your feet pushing down firmly onto the stretcher and be using the biggest muscles in your legs and glutes. Ideally you'll be able to lift yourself slightly off your seat as you are hanging all your power off the oar, building up to...
- the middle of the drive, where you open up your body, throw your shoulders back, use your core, glutes and quads, and generate maximum momentum with the oar perpendicular to the boat. It helps to think of this stage as levering the boat past the oar, using your feet to push the boat past the oar, which itself is almost stationary in the water. Sitting tall, and the muscles down the front of the body start to play more of a role, especially if you can get the ball of your foot on the stretcher.
- the final bit of momentum just before extracting your oar is created by bending your arms, and also using the back muscles between your shoulder blades to generate that last bit of 'send'. Lifting the chest up, military style, and avoiding any sideways lean helps this. Keeping the inside elbow up helps your oar to stay square and provide power, now that the outside hand is coming across your body and cannot add much more. Using your calves to maintain connection with the stretcher can add a last bit of power and control. Creating a cavity in the water behind the blade helps extraction, however you want to avoid big 'clunks' at the finish that upset the boat for recovery. The body should not lean too far back (37 degrees is bandied about) and the oar should remain as square as possible so that it is still pushing the boat past the oar, rather than acting as a sea anchor.


Otherwise known as the finish or tap down (as you 'tap' the handle down and away to get the oar out), the oar should come out square, with the focus on a nifty 'down and away' movement with the hands to extract quickly and cleanly and calmly, and with minimal 'clunk' on the pins. The back should be long and tall to ensure you've drawn high and not missed the last bit of the stroke by slumping.

The Recovery

Like the drive, there are lots of stages and elements to the recovery, which should feel smooth, calm, balletic and be a chance to breathe…a very different feel to the drive.
- hands away - keeping your shoulders back in the bow for a few beats helps keep the weight and momentum of the drive towards the bow, but to help minimise the clunkiness of the finish and any rush on the recovery, keep the hands moving slowly and smoothly around the finish. Like icing a cake.

This also helps long legged rowers avoid hitting their knees over waves. Use this movement to feather the oar, using the inside hand, to around a 45 degree angle on waves, or more if on flat water and heading into wind.
- rock forward - looking down the boat you'll see the whole crew's bodies gently swing up and over the hips forward together, sitting tall, hands already away and arms straightening, taking the chance to

open the chest and breathe deep. All movements in the recovery are slow and smooth to minimise any 'check' on the boat, destroying the momentum you created on the drive.

- as the hands go over the knees, three things happen with the hands. The outside hand moves up to bring the oar down ready for the catch millimetres above the water. The outside hand also starts to speed up towards the catch to generate urgency. The inside hand rolls up to hood/square the oar in time for the catch. 

Meanwhile the knees also come up to the catch and the bum bones drop forward off the front of the seat and into the well of the boat. This is the angry gorilla/mildly miffed chimp position: chest up, shoulders back, bum out, knees bent, feet spread, arms straight, as strong and taut as possible in preparation for the catch and drive.

The Catch

You may think it odd that the catch is the last thing we cover here, but it's helpful to think of the catch as the last part of the recovery (rather than then first part of the drive). This is because
- the catch should be before ANY backward movement e.g. straightening of legs, lean back or bending of the arms, otherwise you've lost power before you even get your oar in the water
- the catch should be as you hit the front pin, for maximum length in the water, with the outside hand bringing the handle up to the catch and the blade down to the water
- the catch is simply the act of placing the oar in the water, decisively, without wasting time 'hovering', but without actually moving the oar…yet.
A good catch is quick, has a small 'backsplash' on the back of the oar to show you're not already pushing off the stretcher, and, above all, is in time with the rest of the crew. The better the catch the more sure you are that you've 'got' the water and can hand off the handle with full confidence during the drive.

Simple, no? 

P.S. Click on any pic for a close up and to run through them like a cartoon. It's like you're on the sea :-) 


  1. P.S. I know there should be 5 other rowers and a cox...

  2. P.P.S. Click on any of the images and you can see all and run through like a little cartoon!

  3. Brilliant! I love the cartoons.