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Improve Your Rowing by Watching Other Sports

BY OLIVIA COFFEY
PHOTO BY PETER SPURRIER

I once had a great coach tell me that one way to get better at rowing is to watch other sports. As rowers, we are accustomed to reviewing rowing footage, whether it’s race videos from past world championships or slow-motion replays of a recent practice.

Frame by frame, we break down the catch, leg drive, and finish in incredible detail, working towards improving sequence and timing. While valuable, watching rowing videos can feel a bit stale after a while, especially if you’re really struggling conceptually with one aspect of the stroke.

This is where watching other sports can be quite helpful. While rowing may seem distinct from most other activities superficially, three concepts that have really helped me improve my rowing–placement, suspension, and acceleration–are present in almost every athletic endeavor.

When the national team trains at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., over the winter, we walk past the track and throwing fields on the way to the boathouse, which offers the perfect opportunity to see this first hand.

Take, for example, pole vaulters, whose jump is analogous to the rowing stroke. Vaulters run, situate the pole at an exact point, suspend their body weight, leverage past the point of inflection, and accelerate until they release at the apex of the arc. 

If that’s not clicking for you, look at javelin throwers. They run, plant their foot with the back arm fully extended and loose, and pivot their body, suspending and then accelerating the javelin. This sequence of action can offer insight into how you may want to approach parts of the rowing stroke differently.

So the next time you’re struggling with your stroke and at a loss for how to improve, watch other athletes carefully. If you think about the catch as a vaulter might about pole placement–reaching and extending forward, arms straight, shoulders low, suspending the first few inches of the jump–you might start to notice some positive changes in the way that you are rowing.

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