Saturday, 21 September 2013

Three ideas for session plans

by Sara Bird

A rowing session is much like a sandwich. You always know the bread and butter - the warm up and cool down, but for less confident coxes it's the filling that is less sure.

This post has suggestions for 3 'fillings' and a bit of guidance for the crusts, and more suggestions from seasoned coxes are welcomed.

The Warm-Up

The purpose of the warm-up is twofold - to warm up the body, but also warm up the mind. Especially after work or first thing in the morning, rowers' minds may be anywhere else but in the boat, so a good warm up will both warm-up and stretch muscles that may have sat at a desk all day, and get the crew rowing in time, with a good technique, and mentally ready to bite into whatever the filling may be. But more on warm-ups in another post...

The 'filling' depends on a few things:
  • whether the crew are uniformly experienced and strong
  • at what point in the training calendar the session falls
  • the weather.
Here are 3 ideas.

1) The Technique Session

If you have a mixed up crew, a crew that know they have a specific issue, it's an unusually sunny day (especially in winter), or a crew that you know have a specific issue, consider a technique session. This involves:
- explain a relevant drill(s): why you're doing it, how it's done, and that it's okay if it goes a bit wrong
- do the drill(s): early in the session while attention spans are at their best
- give EVERY individual in the boat feedback about whether they are achieving the aim, always with one specific suggestion of how to do it better.
- use off/on pressure rowing in the second half of session: in 'off' periods get the technique back, in 'on' periods see if the crew can keep it under pressure. Just 10 strokes at a time is enough, building up to longer periods as technique is held for longer under high pressure. Continue to give individuals explicit feedback and advice if they lose technique under pressure.

We'll put more about specific drills into the blog over time, but in the meantime try one that you have had to do yourself.

2) The Pyramid Session

With a mixed up crew, in colder/rainy weather when you don't want people to get too cold doing techniquey things, or to help build a crew's endurance early in the season, try pyramids, which alternate between mid-rate/mid-pressure (off) and high-rate/high-pressure (on). 

These can be '5 strokes on, 5 off, 10 on, 10 off, 15 on, 15 off' etc and back down, or even '1 stroke on, 1 off, 2 on, 2 off' all the way up to 25 and back down to keep everyone's mind on the ball, or '30 seconds on, 30 off, 1 min on, 1 min off' etc. Or maybe between bridges, buoys, or other landmarks.

In 'off' periods, encourage the crew to focus on technique, sit tall, get posture back, breathe deep, or correct major issues such as blade depth - but don't let the pressure completely fade. In 'on' periods encourage the crew to go all out, counting strokes and giving time checks with positive feedback - and don't let the pressure fade in the final few strokes. In Bristol this is usually to Temple Meads and back.

3) The Endurance Session

This is thanks to Matt Randall, who showed us that it is perfectly feasible to get right up to the top of the Feeder canal and back if you just keep rowing at a good strong rate. Great for cold or rainy days with a strong crew that are rowing well together, to build endurance and fitness. At around 80% pressure: talk to the stroke throughout the session to get to the right rate and power for that crew.

The trick to long rows is for the cox to provide enough direction for rowers to think about so that they don't get distracted or lose focus: call for 20 strokes at a time, and I tend to focus on power for 20, then on technique for 20, with specific calls for each. So examples of power calls are, '20 focusing on levering the boat past the oar', '20 off the stretcher', 'through the glutes', 'off the balls of the feet', 'drive on the CATCH', 'let's see those puddles for 20', 'use the quads', 'ratio' and 'lean BACK as a crew' (focus on speed rather than leaning further). Technique calls may include '20 sitting tall', '20 keeping the lean back and hands away', 'square at the finish', 'draw up', 'hands UP to the catch', 'slow the return' - note all of these allow you to keep or improve power, so should not slacken speed. Perhaps ask each rower in turn to suggest what they'd like the next technique call to be. Allow rowers to drop out in pairs for water but pose this session as a challenge to be achieved in the hour, with a quick turn at the top of the Feeder. 

Timed pieces back from Temple Meads can achieve the same for less fit/experienced crews - if you have a crew that are varied in strength and ability, a long endurance session can take its toll on the stronger people and risk injury, and may result in some pretty miffed rowers who may feel they are doing the lion's share of the work.

The Cool Down

Finally, allow time for a cool down, with no surprise drills or spurts of speed, and maybe use this time to get feedback from the crew. Then go home feeling rather chuffed that there are six people who may not have got a row without you and who do appreciate you, even if they moaned at the time...    

If any other coxes have sessions that would work well for newer coxes, please add them in the comments below, they'd be much appreciated, Sara

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