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Condition-Free Technique


The late coach Larry Gluckman coined the term “condition-free technique.” Larry coached his rowers to develop clean bladework skills and technique so they could handle any kind of adverse weather or water. Losing rhythm, being thrown off balance or, worst-case scenario, flipping over happen easily if you are not rowing with your oars high enough off the water to clear the chop or pass over a lane marker. Trouble comes when blades feather in the water or touch down on the recovery.

A first step toward achieving condition-free technique is to spend time on your release and feather. Initiate your release by tapping down on the handle, then feather as your hands move away, angling the top edge of your blade toward the bow, the bottom edge toward the stern. Once your hands move away from your body, continue to establish height of the oar shaft off the water by keeping your weight over the handle. Aim for full shaft height by arms/body away, then maintain the height off the water so you have room to square up.

In practice, Larry would instruct, “Tap down enough to get your blade up and over buoy. Feather over the top of it.” To carry your blades high enough off the water, try 10 strokes of a quarter-feather-to-square blade drill. Release then feather the blade only one-quarter as you set your body angle. Once you start your slide, fully square the blade up until you enter the water. 

Marlene Royle is the author of Tip of the Blade: Notes on Rowing. She is a specialist in masters training, and her coaching service, Roylerow Performance Training Programs, provides support to improve your competitive edge. For information, email Marlene at or visit

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