When you’re a length down in the Olympic final, your technique needs to be completely second nature. What we did effectively in the games was execute the idea of the rowing stroke as 60/80.
The front end of the stroke (60) is loose and builds up to a really strong finish (80). For the four, the challenge was to do that together. There were three key exercises that helped us achieve that seamless flow:
1. The half-slide rate build
This really helps you to appreciate the importance of the body coming into the stroke to add speed and momentum. For this exercise, you build your rate up in steps from about 20 strokes per minute up to more than 50, using only half the slide (the track your seat is fixed to). The continual change in pace means you’ve got to be really accurate with your placement of the blade at the catch (the part of the stroke at which the oar blade enters the water). Unless you’re moving well together, there are lots of things that can go wrong. When you begin to use the full slide with the same movement pattern it will feel very powerful.
2. Jonny’s exercise
The most important technical improvement for me before Beijing was to learn to be more patient round the front end of the stroke and not hit it too much. That’s where Jonny’s [coach Jonny Singfield] exercise came in.
Slide up to a compressed position at the catch and drop the blade in the water. But, rather than drive your legs back straight away, hold the blade out there, until it feels like it is pushing you back. Once you feel that pressure, take the stroke. When you get it right, you row a longer, more effective stroke.
3. Cutting the cake
This is all about keeping relaxed on the recovery (the non-work phase of the stroke when the blade is removed from the water and returned to the catch). You row alternate strokes, between an air stroke (a stroke made without the blade having been placed in the water) and a normal stroke. To perform this exercise effectively, you gradually build up the length of the air stroke from arms-only to a full-slide stroke with a normal full-length stroke in between.
This exercise does two things: because the boat is difficult to balance, the crew has to move together perfectly, or the boat will tip. Secondly, to do it right, you have to relax, with no resistance at the front end. You soon realise that you don’t have to work the front end of the stroke as you change direction on to the recovery phase.
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