Agility and Neuromuscular Training as it Relates to Rowing

Rub your head and pat your tummy!  Just kidding, but really, your ability to do two things at once is something you can work on to improve your movement in and out of the boat.  Checkout today’s Daily Challenge and read part 2 of Judith Vogel’s post  on Agility and Rowing.

Daily Challenge 4/25:

Read the following post about Agility and Rowing, perform 10 Agility Jumps, and share your experience.

Agility and Neuromuscular Training as it Relates to Rowing

The ability to change directions, powerfully and almost instantaneously, is a key component to the rowing stroke. There are two parts of a rowing stroke in which an athlete is required to rapidly change directions; the catch and the finish. Time spent during these transition points not only affects the rhythm of the stroke but it also disrupts boat speed. Research could demonstrate in which ways agility training decreases time spent changing direction which, when applied to the rowing stroke, will allow the athlete to better establish a stroke rhythm as well as attain greater boat speed.

The conventional definition of agility is that it is determined by an athlete’s ability to de-accelerate, change direction, and accelerate once again in a short amount of time. Agility training has been utilized in many power-based sports to increase a player’s ability to change direction rapidly. A quick search of the Internet will result in a myriad of dodging and lateral sequences for sports such as football, soccer, hockey, and tennis.

It is thought that cyclical endurance sports do not require such training as there are few, to no, points in which an athlete requires such dramatic changes in speed and direction. In actuality the transition points of the stroke, the catch and the finish, are enormously complex combinations of horizontal and vertical movements. The athlete is additionally required to complete this sequence of movements in a very short period of time while, maintaining balance in a narrow boat and sequencing their movements with other athletes. The success of the transition points depends on the athlete’s ability to coordinate their movements and control their center of mass.

In rowing, there are two transition points within the stroke, which demand a very precise sequencing of movement over a very small amount of time. These transition points are the catch and the finish. Rowing takes place on a medium, water, which is unforgiving to very sudden changes in speed. With the aim of maintaining or consistently increasing hull speed over the course of a race, any delay in the transition points results in a dramatic loss in speed.

The rhythm of the agility exercises describes the rhythm of the “place” of the blade and the “press” against the foot stretchers to initiate the drive. The blade requires a bit of time to lock onto the water. Depending on the number of rowers and the size / speed of the boat, the relationship between the place and press will differ. If we were to consider rowing in an eight, the different rhythms would mimic the following scenarios.

  1. Exaggerated slow rhythm – rowing by pairs in an eight, at a 16spm
  2. Normal rhythm – rowing all eight at a 24spm
  3. Exaggerated quick rhythm – race pace in an eight

The rhythm ties into the catch placement by allowing the athlete to coordinate blade placement with the location of pressure on their feet. To avoid a debate about whether the rower should lift their heels off of the foot plate at the catch, or not, we should all at least agree that the pressure on the feet moves from the heels towards (or to include) the balls of the feet as the athlete approaches the catch. As the athlete feels the pressure move towards the balls of the feet, they place the blade into the water. The objective is to place the blade into the water before the athlete feels the pressure on the balls of the feet. This gives them time to arrive at the catch with the blade fully buried. The athlete can then press off of the footplates knowing that the blade is fully buried in the water.

The same rhythm can also be applied to the finish, with the first beat corresponding to the tap down and the second beat corresponding to the athlete arriving at the arms away position. The slower rhythms will match a slower boat speed and the higher rhythms will match the quicker boat speeds.

The application of land-based motor skill development exercises gives the athlete the opportunity to build an understanding of the rhythm required during the transition points in a stable environment.

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