Dock Talk: Comfort in the Boat-Letting Go To Find Power

Craftsbury Associate Director Kevin Macdermott demonstrating during comfort in the boat session at COC. Photo – Val Stepanchuk

From Sara Gronewold, Craftsbury Coach, US National Team Rower 1996-2000

“If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.” – Jim Rohn

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso

One of the highlights for many scullers at Craftsbury is the “comfort in the boat” session. Having an opportunity to manage a single, while pushing the boundaries of stability, can release years’ worth of tension in how we carry ourselves throughout the rowing stroke.

While the session often feels like fun and games, it ultimately leads to a generous increase in boat speed. Fear-related tension inhibits blade entry timing, extraction, stability and even squaring the blades correctly. If any of these aspects of the rowing stroke are lacking, there is an inevitable interruption in the power you generate with effort and body weight.

Scullers receive an incredible amount of information during their time at Craftsbury, and I often see people getting stiffer and stiffer as the camp progresses. This is natural, considering the amount of input. The thing all scullers are looking for is to find the longest, most extended strokes which contain enough power to keep the boat gliding well. Once campers have given themselves permission to play, and stop worrying about rowing fast, they can experiment with instability and start relaxing, smiling and sculling effortlessly for the rest of the week.

I am a firm believer in revisiting those exercises when you get back home, to remind yourself how easy it can be to scull well. Here are two drills to try at home:

Push / Pull Drill: Sit at the release position, with the blades squared and buried. Maintaining the squared position, push the handles away from you until you’ve reached the arms/body over position. Pause there, and allow the handles to pull your fingers away from your body. Notice where your “sit bones” are, and whether or not they are wiggling, or relaxed and still. Then, using only your index and middle fingers, draw the handles back towards you until you reach the release, extract, and slow the boat back to a stop.

Once you have done this at bodies-over, push the handles out to half-slide, and take time at the transition point to notice these things. Then, proceed to full slide.

Wetting the Oarlocks: While sitting in the “safety position,” with the handles in between your knees and your chest, press your right hand/handle all the way down to your thigh and hold it there. Then bring the handles together, and press the left hand/handle down to your thigh. See if you can get the bottom of your oarlock wet! Now, keeping your hands passive, use your hips to lower your right oar handle to the thighs, you can even take your right hand off the oar, if you’d like. Then try that on the left side.

Notice whether or not the body feels more natural using the hips to affect the set, or the hands.

Once you have settled your nervous system back down, you’ll find that sculling feels more natural and comfortable, and you can set out for a great row.

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” – Sir Richard Branson

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