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Front End Timing
The timing of the blade entering the water (catch) and the beginning of the drive is critical to maintaining the speed of your scull. To help create a picture of the timing of the catch, coaches frequently refer to it as "The last act of the recovery - not the first part of the drive."
In terms of the motion, your coach is hoping that you take the water while the hands move to the starting line, moving your blade heads closer to the finish line. To do this, the hands must move to the stern while the boat runs under the sculler and the upper body softly meets the thighs. Just when the sculler is compressed with shins nearly vertical and with the blade prepared (square), the hands rise slightly to help the blade take the water.
To make this transition from recovery to drive easier, we encourage the sculler to begin with their seat-catch timing. As the wheels of the seat are just about to complete their last roll sternward the hands rise up and away as the blade moves to the water. Some suggest that the seat motion helps put the blade in the water.
Once the blade has taken the water, the athlete's focus changes to hips-handle timing. You have switched from moving the handle to the stern, to moving the handle to the bow. But note: the blade is already in the water when the handle changes direction.
An easy way to practice this transition point in the stroke is sitting on an ergometer. Take two grips or thick dowels in the hands with the thumbs placed slightly behind the end of the grip or dowel, just as in a boat. Come toward the front end of the mono-rail and put your feet on the floor. Keeping your feet on the floor, slide toward the flywheel, as if you were coming in for the catch in your boat. At the same time, reach the hands out and away, then up by pushing the thumb behind the handle, to mimic the catch in the shell. Repeat this exercise 20 times.
At that point, try catching and pressing away so you mimic the hip and handle motion in the shell. The key point to this phase of the drill is that the handles do not move unless the hips do and the hips do not move unless the handles come with them.
Another effective tool to build this hips and handle connection is to row the erg with your eyes closed so you can feel and sense this motion. It you do have a mirror in front of the ergometer use it to reinforce what you have learned while your eyes were closed.
Catching at the right time on the front end requires the multi-tasking of the hands, upper body and hips plus a sharp sense of timing and anticipation. Remember to catch as the hands move to the starting line. Then, with the blade having entered the water, move the handle to the finish line, initiating the drive with the hips. As you perfect this motion the catch action will take on a more circular and continuous quality and not a stop and go motion.
Larry Gluckman is Craftsbury's Director of Competitive Rowing and head of the Small Boat Training Center. Larry is a former US National Team Athlete, has coached multiple Olympians as well as several collegiate programs, most recently Trinity College in Hartford, CT.