Updated: Feb 9, 2021
Written by Martin Kay
Q: “What is the point of this sport, expressed in one line?”
A: “It is the business of getting a boat from A to B in the fastest possible time”
These Five Points of Rowing encapsulate the essential factors needed to enable the athlete to carry out this job in the best possible way and win the race.
Three physical ones and two mental ones:
1. Power: Rowing is essentially a power sport. Power = Force x Velocity.
The athlete provides the driving force DF. The passage through surrounding water and air creates an unavoidable drag UDR which results in a residual net positive force DF-UDR being left available to drive the boat onward at the relevant points in the stroke.
The net force DF-UDR applied to the combined mass of the boat plus the athlete produces an acceleration. This acceleration results in increased velocity across the water so long as DF is greater than UDR. Minimising UDR by Avoidance of Boat-Stopping is the key to this.
So the athlete develops strength needed in training and the ability to apply it with quickness in order to create the power needed and resulting in a satisfactory distance travelled per stroke. Strength and slowness of action can never move the boat fast.
2. Endurance: Very simply – its all about carrying out the application of power for long enough to get there first. The longer the passage of time during the performance piece that DF- UDR is sufficiently positive through each stroke, the longer time that the distance per stroke will be maintained, hence you will go faster.
Training at various load levels and getting the related quickness of application develops the engine which drives the boat. Recovery from training and racing is essential and is the key to moving forward to your next endurance level. Study how to recover properly.
3. Technique: If you want to drive a big nail, it does not matter if, despite having a bigger hammer than your competitor, you cannot hit the nail truly on the head with ease and fluidity. “If you can’t do it easily, you can’t do it at all”. (Steve Fairbairn)
Everyone has a particular set of principles they use to find this “sweet spot” of efficient boat-moving. Enabling the athlete’s body to deliver the necessary power with the best economy, while under extreme physical pressure, is the goal of every coach. This is the most important part of the whole package….power is only effective with proper control. Without this principle, the road is extremely rough.
Every coach has their own view of technical development . Suffice to say that in a race of, say, 250 strokes, each stroke is 0.4% of the race. Every substandard stroke taken is an unrecoverable loss which cannot be made up by magically “supercharging” subsequent strokes. A race might be won or lost by less than 0.1%, so one single dodgy stroke could cost the medal.
Between the Ears: Knowledge and Psychology.
4. Knowledge: The rower is always learning. Every outing provides some gain, whether small or great. Knowing about boat construction and how to maintain the craft for best performance is about having a professional approach. How to rig effectively to suit the crew or your personal dimensions, in expected weather and water conditions is like sharpening any tool to give the best cut and finish to a job. Then applying the finishing touches and craftsman like polish to the project is essential when the gold medal might be won by a tenth of a second, for example.
Racing requires knowledge at all levels and this only comes with experience. Making mistakes in implementing your Race Plan are vital for learning to optimize it. Every race, however insignificant in the training process, adds something to your toolbox. Work with others in training whenever possible. It has been said that every kilometre paddling alongside another crew is worth five on your own. Never turn down a chance to “have a dabble”, particularly if you can find something which should be considered faster than your own crew.
“The best coach is the bows of a faster boat behind you.” (Steve Fairbairn)
Many people forget that proper refuelling is essential, and no performance is possible without good health. Maintaining the correct diet is the subject of many sports documents; no winner ever ran on “Empty”. Holding on to good health is all about good personal management and recovery; plenty of advice is out there for this. Learn and research these points. It is just as important as looking after the boat and its rigging.
5. Psychology: How do you rate yourself in your view of the world, the sport in general and your ability to perform “on the day”?
In the race, how much do you actually “want it”? Having confidence to get the boat where you want it and keep it there will maximise your chances of winning and holding things solid when you are ½ length down with 400M to go, but nevertheless knowing that you are not making any mistakes. At what point should you then take a risk to win? If you wish to climb to the top of the tree, you must go up on to a thin branch.
Do you visualize races in real time, in a quiet place, both in previous training and on Race Day? Learn this technique.
Bouncing back from a setback is an acquired skill. Forced personal absence due to illness, injury, finances, family responsibilities etc. can generally be turned to advantage with a bit of ingenuity. Mountains exist, so to pass one , you may need to go round, up over, under, tunnel through halfway up, dig a cutting or simply take a different road and don’t go near it.
Olympians train to still produce a winning performance on their worst possible day by controlling the “controllables” and focussing away from the “uncontrollables” which of course may well affect all the opposition crews just as much.
Above all, Enjoy Your Rowing….every stroke well rowed is a joy in itself.