There is no single magic technique or trick to rowing a boat faster. All aspects of technique have to be worked on.
In whatever way a crew rows, a key requirement is that they all do the same thing at the same time!
A Getting Things Right in the Boat
At the start of the stroke, when the cox has said ‘Forward to row’, you lean forward from the waist, with back straight and your shoulders forward in a comfortable position.
Your arms will stretch forward again to a comfortable position. The knees will have bent upwards and feet well planted on the footrest. Your handgrip needs to be relaxed; fingers hooked around the handle at just less than shoulder width apart, with the wrists straight, level with the forearms.
The outer hand is the main puller and the inside hand is the guiding and lesser pulling hand. (Also the feather operating hand-
You must be relaxed above all, straight-
This is the body set up that you will use. REMEMBER: comfortable and relaxed – no sagging backs.
B The Catch = The blade enters the water
From the forward position you raise your hands to place the blade into the water. Carefully place the blade vertically into the water. Do not slash the blade into the water at an angle. Don’t snatch at the oar handle. The blade should enter the water at same speed that the boat is travelling with the minimum disturbance to the movement of the boat.
C The Drive
When the blade is covered, push hard on the footrest and bring the thigh muscles into play, keeping the arms and the back straight. Pivot from the hips. The weight of the body is used to gain power especially during this part of the stroke.
When the shoulders are above the hips, bring in the arms strongly. Finish this phase with the elbows drawn down and the hands in the chest and leaning back just past the vertical.
Throughout the drive, keep the body square on to the stern: don’t squirm from side to side.
Put the pressure on during the middle part of the stroke. This is the most efficient and sustainable way to row. Don’t snatch at the catch or try to give an extra heave at the end of the stroke. Both procedures will cause muscles to tire quickly.
D Extraction of the Blade
Lower your hands briskly to extract the blade vertically from the water. Great! You completed the stroke.
Now comes the crucial part of obtaining the classic rhythm and poise of rowing.
E Recovery -
This is a most important technique.
Extract the blade vertically (here you would roll it onto the feather – see later) by dropping the hands quickly and smoothly down from the chest with a straight back. Then moving hands and arms forwards.
Some coaches advocate that in this part of the stroke you use “fast hands” and this gives time for slowing down in the second part of the recovery. Other coaches are sceptical of this approach.
(The hands are higher if the water is calm and lower if it is rough.)
Continue in this manner until half way to the start of the next stroke. Really relax here. Back straight, hands loose.
It’s the thinking and even resting stage. Take the hands and arms forward, as well as swinging the upper body forward, (while, if feathering, rolling the blade square ready for entering the water).
Some coaches advocate a slowing down during the second half of the recovery in order to prepare for the catch. Other coaches emphasize the need for a continuous rhythm during the recovery.
You then place the oar into the water. You’re now into the next stroke.
The above is tricky at first, but with some very slow paddling exercises can soon be achieved. It will give pleasure and a feeling of a job well done.
Feathering is an aerodynamic procedure. Into a wind it gains the boat some distance and makes it easier to handle the oar.
At the end of the stroke, as the blade leaves the water, turn the oar handle, with the inside hand, wrist having been straight, so that the blade rolls backwards through 90 degrees. Roll it with the button pressed up against the gate. Make sure not to twist it suddenly with a loose button.
This action helps to extract the blade cleanly from the water.
On reaching the start of the next stroke roll the blade back into the vertical again just before entering the water.
Remember, no jerking, plenty of poise. Job Done!
G Rowing as a Crew
A crew of similar build finds it easier to row with a good rhythm. Crews should strive for good timing, similar body movements, the same depth of oars and height of blades during the recovery.
Crews should try to row with the same length of stroke. But sea rowers come in all shapes and sizes and their natural stroke lengths will vary. Seating rowers with shorter strokes towards the bow may help.
Heavier rowers should be seated in the middle of the boat to reduce the pitching moment, that is, the tendency of the boat to rock up & down and to slow down as a result.
However, in rough seas it can pay to seat a heavier rower towards the bow to help prevent the bow being pushed off course by the waves.
Stroke rate: Experience suggests that for a given effort from the crew, it is more effective to pull harder at a slower rate than to pull less hard at a faster rate.