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    Backing Up Your Skills

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    With the summer of the single happening, you will want to get as proficient as you can as quickly as you can. You need to have a good handle on boat maneuvering and blade work if you plan to put in meters of sculling.

    Perfecting your backing will give you the biggest bang for your buck in terms of boosting your skills. If you get stuck in the bushes on shore, moving your shell sternward is essential for getting you out of the predicament. Besides safety, backing allows you to practice proper blade depth, keeping your handles moving on a level plane, making subtle steering adjustments and to feather-squaring or reverse feather-squaring.

    By taking a backing stroke, then letting your blade gather pressure, you can learn the feeling of a set blade at the beginning of the drive. By watching how you back your boat down, a coach can quickly assess your sculling skills.

    Practice first with your port oar so you move only in a circle. Keep the starboard oar flat on the water and keep the boat set. With the handle near your body at the release position, square your blade in the water and keep the blade in the same position you would while rowing. Push the handle away from you toward the stern. Then, as you release the blade, feather forward so the scoop faces down and you can slide the tip of the blades across the water to return the handle to your body. Practice with each oar, then both together. Begin with your arms and body only, then gradually build up the slide length as you get comfortable taking longer backing strokes. 

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

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