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Getting Comfortable at Higher Stroke Rates

BY RICH DAVIS
PHOTO BY PETER SPURRIER

Crews struggle at race pace for a variety of reasons: They’re not strong enough to hold the rate; they haven’t seen sufficient high rates in practice; or their technique is holding them back. If any of this sounds familiar, you are better off instructing your crew to row as high as they can without sacrificing proper technique. But if they are fit and row well, I’ve found that stroke-rate pyramids or fartlek-style stroke training helps. With pyramids, you’re going from a base rate to higher rates for a limited number of strokes. I like the rate pyramids because they make it clear at which rates the technique begins to break down. Holding higher rates for a series of eight 500-meter intervals is another good indicator of the rates a crew will be capable of maintaining for 2,000 meters. I have also had a surprising amount of success in this area during “starts” workouts, in which we tried to see how high the crew could go in the middle section of the sequence. Of course, at the higher rates, they were no longer effective, but it showed them they could hold the comparatively lower race pace without any problems. It’s common for crews to dip below race pace in the third 500 or after a planned burst (even though they somehow find the strength to mount a finishing sprint). These weak spots can be addressed during training, but if the coxswain feels them coming during a race, he or she should make a call for “legs” to get the boat back up to speed. 

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