Technique Drills

Rowing drills can help rowers

  • learn something new,
  • perfect an aspect of technique, and or
  • correct a fault.

Use drills during the warm up, for a few minutes during practice, or for the entire practice. Be sure to spend enough time on the drill to reap its benefits and followup with regular rowing to implement the lessons learned from the drill.

Before a team attempts a dill all team members should know the drill’s purpose and how to execute it. Perfect execution of the drill is important, otherwise it will have no effect, or a negative effect.

See also, putting it together.

Square blade rowing

Rowing with a square blade can help rowers work on a clean, powerful finish because they have to release the blade on the square and cannot cheat by feathering in the water. Rowers can focus on a quick catch without having to square the blade first. Finally, rowers can find and row with a handle height that keeps the blade at an optimal height off the water.

How to:

  • Row without feathering the blade; keep the blade perpendicular to the water, or square, during all phases of the stroke.
  • Focus on the points above.

Square blade rowing can be frustrating, especially for rowers who are used to feathering. But, it is an invaluable drill. Do lots of it, especially early in the season!

Low stroke rate rowing

Rowing with a low stroke rate gives rowers time to feel their body position and movement at each phase of the stroke and is especially effective for working on rhythm and ratio.

Low stroke rate row does not mean that the boat moves slowly. Be sure to keep maximum power on the legs. See rhythm and ratio.

How to:

  • Row at 20 strokes per minute or less.
  • Row each stroke absolutely true, with no pauses or jerks. Try to feel completely relaxed but in full control and balanced.
  • Be aware of flow from finish/release, to recovery, to catch, to drive .
  • Be aware of how your body feels in each position and adjust as needed.

Balance and hand levels drill (stationary)

Releasing and burying the blades may upset boat balance if rowers’ movements are out of sync and if they have different hand levels. This drill helps all six rowers have the same hand levels when the blade is in the water and when the blade is out of the water.

How to:

  • With rowers sitting in various stroke positions – catch, mid stroke, finish – tap the handle down to release the blade from the water and unweigh to drop them back in. Repeat.
  • Rowers will need to make adjustments until everyone’s hands are at the same level when the blade is out of the water and when it is in the water.
  • The boat should be completely balanced during the entire drill.

Pick drill

Purpose: to isolate aspects of the stroke and to help prepare the upper body for the drive and finish. Transition through each part of the recovery, building each part onto the next.

  1. Start in the finish position with the blades squared and buried
  2. The coxswain will call “arms only, ready, row;” row for 10 to 15 strokes with the arms only. With two strokes remaining,
  3. The coxswain will call, “add the body in two, one, two, on this one;” row for 10 to 15 strokes with the arms and body only. With two strokes remaining,
  4. The coxswain will call “half slide in two, one, two, on this one;” row for 10 to 15 strokes at half slide. With two strokes remaining,
  5. The coxswain will call “full slide in two, one, two, on this one;” row for 10 to 15 strokes at full slide.

Catch placement drill

Purpose: to work on body control, blade control, and timing.

How to:

  • Part I: Start in the finish position with the blade buried. On ‘row,’ tap out and drop in. Repeat until the timing is perfect.
  • Part II: Start as above. On ‘row,’ tap out, recover to the catch position, and place the blades in together. Return to the finish position and repeat until catch timing is perfect.
  • Part III: As above but after the catch placement, take a stroke. Finish with arms away, blades down, check it down.
  • Be aware of hand heights – hands may raise slightly as the rowers approach the catch but they should never drop.

Do these hand level and blade placement drills for the first two or more weeks of the season to help rowers with correct posture, hand level, and timing at the neutral, finish, and catch positions.

Reverse pick drill

Purpose: to isolate aspects of the drive and to practice the drive sequence and coordination of movements.

NOTE: It is not necessary to push overly hard, especially at first. The main goal is to practice using the legs before opening the back at the hips. On the water, try this drill in pairs, then in fours, and then with all six.
  1. Start in the catch position with the blades squared and fully buried
  2. The coxswain will call “legs only, ready, row;” row for 10 to 15 strokes with the legs only (you may start by pushing for 3-4 inches at first, progressing to a full slide push) – no back swing, no arm draw/pull – upper body remains forward and arms are extended
  3. Call, “add the back swing in two, one two, on this one;”row for 10 to 15 strokes with legs and back only.  With two strokes remaining,
  4. Call “add the arms in two, one, two, on this one;” row full strokes with legs, back, and arms.

Pairs and fours rowing

Rowing in pairs or fours gives rowers a chance to row in a balanced boat as the remaining pain or four can balance the boat for them. Rowers can concentrate on their own stroke and can feel the connection with the water.

Coxswains may also use pairs or fours to provide a break for rowers while keeping the boat moving. Pairs rowing is very useful early in the season.

How to:

There are many ways to row in pairs and fours. This is one way.

  • Start with the stern pair (5 and 6) and let them row 10 + strokes together
  • Add in the next pair and row all four together for a couple of strokes.
  • Add in the last pair and row all six together for a minute or two.
  • Drop off two pairs and start again (with a different pair starting this time).
  • Continue in this manner for as long as needed.

Pause drills

Pause drills require rowers to stop at various checkpoints on the way to the catch. Rowers can check sequencing, timing, body position, posture, and tension.

Pause at arms away

Purpose: to work on timing at the release and a smooth, unrushed movement of the hands away.

Watch for the hands moving away together, at the same height. Shoulders should be relaxed and the shoulders and back remain stable as the hands move away from the body.

  1. Row without pausing for a few strokes to get the boat moving
  2. The coxswains will call “pause on this one”
  3. Release of the blade from the water, keeping the body in the lay back position and the legs flat
  4. Push the hands away smoothly, feeling the run of the boat, and pause when the arms are fully extended.
  5. On the coxswains call to row, pivot from the hips and slide forward, and complete the stroke. Do not change your hand levels as you move forward or at the catch.

NOTE: This drill and the double pause drill can also help with quick clean catches as the rowers can focus on the last part of the recovery only, which includes the catch.

Double pause – first at arms away, then at bodies forward

Purpose: To work on controlled movements leading up to the catch.

Watch to ensure all rowers are moving at the same time and at  the same speed up the slide.

  1. Row without pausing for a few strokes to get the boat moving
  2. The coxswains will call “pause on this one”
  3. Release of the blade from the water, keep the body steady and push the hands away, smooth and gentle, feeling the run of the boat, and pause when the arms are fully extended.
  4. On the coxswains call to “pivot” or “body forward” rock your body over from your hips to set your body angle.
  5. Pause when the body is forward, in the 1:00 position – your arms should be fully extended and your upper body angled forward.
  6. On the coxswains call to “row,” slide forward, come up to the catch, drop the blade in, execute the drive, pausing at arms away.

NOTE for coxswains: pause drills provide a great opportunity to work on ratio and rhythm. Ensure that rowers do not rush the movements, including the slide forward.

Pause at the finish

Purpose: To work on patience, clean extraction of the blade, body control/composure, and timing at the finish.

Watch to ensure that rowers bring the handle all the way to the body before the tap down and that they complete the stroke with a square blade before feathering or starting the next stroke.

  1. Finish the stroke sitting tall with the handle high and all the way into the body.
  2. Tap the handle down to get the blade out of the water clean and on the square – do not feather.
  3. Pause in the 11:00 position with the blade out of the water on the square and the shoulders relaxed.
  4. After a slight pause move the arms away together and finish the stroke.

Feet out

When you lose contact with the footboard, you stop moving the boat and you will likely have a weak finish. Rowing with your feet in the straps allows you to lose contact with the footboard as the straps keep you from falling off the seat.

Rowing with your feet out of the straps requires that you use your body to stay on the seat and it will show you how far you should layback. If you lay back too far you will fall off the seat. In addition, rowing with feet out helps activate and develop your glute and core muscles as you will to need engage these muscles to maintain pressure on the footboard and to keep yourself from falling back.

Do this drill on the erg and practice extensively. Only experienced rowers should attempt feet out in the boat.

How to:

  • Unstrap your feet and row
  • Focus on having your legs, back and arms finish at the same time
  • Focus on using your core and your breathing to increase your stability and to keep your feet on the footplate

Cut the cake

This drill helps with body control while in the finish position, coordination of movements with other rowers, and blade control.

How to – v1:

  • Starting in the catch position, take one or two normal strokes
  • Cut the cake:
    • On the recovery of the second or third stroke, move the hands away while keeping the shoulders and back steady
    • Once the arms are straight out, bring them back into the body
  • Move the hands away and complete a full stroke.

How to – v2:

  • Starting in the catch position, take one or two normal strokes
  • Cut the cake:
    • On the recovery of the second or third stroke, move the hands and body away, then, with the blade still out of the water, swing back and draw the arms in
  • Move the hands and body away and complete a full stroke