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Finding Your Footing
Rowing with your feet
Perhaps the greatest pieces of technology and feedback in rowing are attached to a pair of legs. Rower's are accustomed to calls from coaches and coxswains like "more legs," "more body swing," "less body swing," "don't rush your recovery," and all of these are certainly well intentioned pieces of advice, but how does a rower know when he/she has made the change that the coach or cox is asking for? As an athlete and coach, I frequently like to reference the feet.
Just like any other sport that is played standing on two feet, rowing also requires a great sense of balance and agility that can only be achieved when an athlete is attuned to the feelings in his/her feet during the rowing stroke. The feet can provide great feedback on one's ability to apply pressure effectively, maintain proper posture, and sustain body control on the recovery. All of these are essential skills to good boat-moving ability.
Much of this valuable feedback is unfortunately lost since many rowers turn their attention to "pulling" which must come through the arms and hands. While the hands can provide their own tactile feedback, rowing is a primarily lower-body sport, with pushing or pressing being the driving motions. Being aware of the pressure on the balls of your feet during the drive and recovery sequences is critical to improving your ability to generate boat speed in an effective and sustainable manner. This is no secret; there are many drills that address this, in particular "feet-out" rowing is one that asks rowers to keep their feet in contact with the foot plate through the duration of the drive. This is a great drill, often written about. Beyond its utility in teaching proper pressure development throughout the stroke, I really like it as a drill because it brings one's attention back to the feet.
The sense of balance, timing, and power, all essential components of good rowing, can be detected through one's feet. Try performing your normal set of drills, perhaps some pausing or pick drill, and be aware of how your feet feel and connect to the boat. Do you lose pressure on the balls of your feet at the release? When do your heels make contact with the foot plate? Are you tugging on the tongues of the shoes during the recovery? Are you able to put pressure on both feet evenly and for the duration of the drive? How evenly is your weight distributed across your feet at the body-over position? At the catch? The answers to all these questions can be gathered by focusing on your feet while rowing - and give you clues as to where to next turn your attention to build a faster stroke.