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Part 2: How I Use the Rowing-in-Place Drill
More thoughts on session design using my favorite rowing drill learned at Craftsbury
Catch up on last week’s post for my new video demonstrating a few variations of the rowing-in-place drill. I’ve gotten to watch Craftsbury coaches use rowing-in-place in all sorts of creative and insightful ways to focus on any element of stroke technique. It’s not just a drill for catch timing, or suspension, or sequencing, or body prep. It can be all of these things and also much more, taking Troy’s concept of nervous system training from his webinar (see last week’s post).
Just rowing-in-place slowly and mindfully for several sets of 5-10 strokes is how I’ve begun each new season of rowing since learning it at Craftsbury. I don’t row when I’m not coaching a camp, so when I get in a boat in May it’s been at least seven months since my last time rowing. Rowing-in-place reintroduces my nervous system to the unique sensations of single sculling and reminds me what I’m trying to do in the session. Troy takes a phrase from the Feldenkrais method: “the absence of relaxation is fatiguing.” I try to identify areas of unnecessary fatigue while rowing-in-place and then eliminate them when rowing.
I’ve yet to find a better drill to bridge the gap in “mind-muscle connection” between land training and the sport task. Remember from my prior “study spotlight” post about external cues on outcomes or targets of an action being generally better for sport performance than internal cues on inputs or specific muscle actions. We don’t want to be thinking about muscle activation details (internal cues) when rowing normally or focusing on power and performance, but some consideration in the augmented drill environment can be helpful to change technique.
Here’s how I think we can get the best of both worlds from our instructional and cueing strategy, referring to last week’s post with the build-up progression.
Stage 1: On-Land
Introduce a muscular stimulus on land immediately before launching to prime the goal technique for the technical focus of the session. Use a simple exercise for lower intensity and higher volume for activation. The goal is to develop a high amount of muscular awareness with just a small amount of fatigue, not doing so much so that the fatigued muscles can’t perform. For example:
Body prep and achieving length and power through the hips: do about 50 bodyweight standing hip hinges to ingrain the hip-pivot motion.
Drive-phase suspension and connection through the torso: do about 50 high-handle bodyweight rows (towel handle on a sturdy boat rack!) to get the shoulders down with active lats.
Sitting up at the release and connection of hips and torso: do about 50 seated rockbacks for back-end pivot and abdominal tension.
Stage 2: Paddle Warm-Up
Tune-in to the sensation of rowing after this activation while paddling for 5-10 minutes. This is part 1 of the cognitive training – can we improve technique at slow speeds through increased focus?
Stage 3: Rowing-in-Place
Continue to think about the activated area while doing the initial rowing-in-place stage of just going back and forth slowly without actually going anywhere. This is part 2 of the cognitive training, focusing on the goal technique through a simplified drill environment.
After a few or several sets of just rowing-in-place, begin the build-up stages. This is the transition from cognitive training to physical training. During the final stages of build-ups and going into continuous rowing, either trade the internal focus for an external focus that supports the goal technique, or try to just clear the mind and hold onto the sensations from rowing-in-place.
Stage 4: Continuous Rowing
Remember from the “study spotlight” post that the control “no cue” condition of undirected attention was as effective as the (admittedly weak) external cue condition of verbally directing attention to the video/environment. “Don’t think, just feel,” is fine, and maybe even better, once we’ve dedicated 20-30 minutes of focused physical and mental attention through the land activation, paddle, and initial rowing-in-place stage. And remember, less talking when athletes are working! Whenever possible, use debriefing during breaks rather than verbal feedback delivered concurrently while athletes are engaged in the task and processing their own intrinsic feedback.
This is how we can gradually shift our focus from internal cueing, augmented by a muscular activation exercise, to external cueing or just focusing on intrinsic feedback from the sport task, without making an all-or-nothing attentional trade. I love to use rowing-in-place as the bridge between the land-based movement focus and the full-speed sport skill focus. I hope this has been helpful for you too.