I want to share with you that one of the biggest challenges for me as a coach when I start working with a new sculler is “The rowing GRIP”
To make it simple and clear, rowing has one single and simple goal that is to move the boat. When you row you want to move, and the faster you move the more fun you have and the more races you can win. Rowing is a feel sport and the more speed you have the more you can feel the boat gliding. So what gives you movement and speed?
The CONNECTION TO THE WATER.
Yes it doesn’t matter that you have an amazing C2 score, you run the mile the fastest, or you look amazing in a boat, what matters is speed and speed comes over CONNECTION to the water. So the ability to connect to the water and be able to lever the boat from blade to feet is what moves a boat. So what is connection? CONNECTION is when you place the blade in the water after the catch and feels like you anchor your blade and it doesn’t move through the water but instead feels like if your blade was stuck against a concrete post and you lever the boat pass the blade, so the blade doesn’t move trough the water but the boat passes by the anchored blade. This is not possible because you will always move the blade through some water but the closer you get to the feel of an anchored blade the better.
So BAD GOOD CONNECTION means that you don’t transmit the blade connection to the feet to move the boat. For each centimeter or inch you have your handle coming to you, you have the boat passing the blade through the pressure of your feet against the boat.
To start let’s talk about the hand and the wrist. I want you to look at this picture and your hand and understand that you need to connect to the oar and the oar to the water so your hand-wrist skill will be key to connect to the water. First take some time to look and play with your hand, thumb, knuckles and wrist. After that understand that all these parts need to play a key role to grip the oar and CONNECT to the water.
In this first picture you can see a good rower getting close to the catch and I want you to look at the position of the fingers, wrist and knuckles. Look where those are and where they are in reference with the handle. You can see he is exaggerating in this picture the approach to the catch by totally opening the fingers. He carries the oar with the pressure of his palm and not with the use of his wrist or fingers.
It is KEY to feel the water and to connect to the water to have a relaxed grip. I always say that we need to have a relaxed grip before the load on the blade to find again the new position of the handle against the hand or the new grip. So every recovery the hand relaxes and with the use of the thumb you release pressure of the handle against the fingers and hand so when the new load on the blade is achieved the handle re-grips again in the hand.
In this second picture you can see that the hands are going up and the rower is getting closer to finding the load in front of the blade and is starting to close the fingers. Look at the hand position, wrist, and knuckles and think about how your look before the catch.
In this 3rd picture we can see the grip with the load on the blade. Here we can see that now the blade is loaded and the body weight of the rower is suspended taking the body weight off of the seat. What we can see is that the wrist has changed and gone a little down and now there is full pressure of the handle against the fingers. If we don’t keep the hand close we lose the oar and then the boat stops because there is no connection from the blade to the feet- boat.
So why it is so important to have a good grip?
It is important because a good grip is the most efficient way to achieve the best rowing to row well and fast and minimize injuries.
The ROWING GRIP is one of the harder bad habits to change on a rower, why?
Because when a rower learns to connect to the water with the wrong grip, to re-learn the grip will make him lose control of the blade and water and as a consequence lose balance, control, and speed. He will feel lost and like a novice rower starting to learn to row again.
One of the things I have experienced is that it takes time to develop the right grip. You need to have the handle in your hands for a long time to get used to the handle, and develop the right comfort with it and develop the right muscles and sensors. So don’t worry if you are learning and cannot do it yet and focus on understanding what you need to eventually do and look like.
In this rowing video you can see the rowing grip at the catch in motion. Look carefully at the video and pause as needed and try to memorize that action and how it looks in your brain. The good news is that you don’t need video or a coach to tell you how you look because you can look at your own hands and self-coach yourself!