Drills and exercises are how rowers spend most of their time on the water. With or without a coach, most crews will want to do more than simply row up and down their river or lake during an outing. There’s a simple reason for this – the crew who can row perfectly has not yet been born and drills and exercises are the main route to better rowing. There are at least two contrasting approaches to drills and exercises followed by crews and coaches.
The first, used by some coaches and most crews rowing without a coach, is to coach the boat as a whole. Emphasis is on boat performance rather than individual technique and the exercises are selected accordingly.
The second, and my personal preference, is to coach the individual rowers first and THEN coach the boat.
The first approach works well with experienced crews who can feel the small changes in the movement of the boat as adjustments are made, The second approach depends on having a pair of eyes outside the boat, either on a launch or the towpath. It works because – apart from some subtle variations in style, modern rowing technique is clearly defined and very consistent. It can be applied with crews of any standard but is essential when working with beginners and novice rowers who are still learning to read boat responses. An experienced coach can watch a crew rowing and spot the elements of their stroke which are ‘out of line’. As each of these elements are corrected boat performance improves and exercises are used to reinforce the change in technique by exaggerating it and / or repeating it,
A significant part of the coach’s job is to select the appropriate exercise to make the correction, to keep the crew interested while they do it and to ensure that the correction is incorporated into the crews rowing after the exercise stops. Keeping the crew interested is important. If they get bored, they tend to stop trying and once that happens no further progress is likely. If it wasn’t so boring, square blade rowing (an excellent exercise for building confidence and balance) would be used more often and for much longer as an exercise than it is.
In building a programme a coach needs above all a good repertoire of drills from which to select those appropriate to the crew. These can be Static drills, ‘freeze framing’ elements of the stroke cycle, Dynamic drills (e.g. half slide or one-armed rowing), or Sequential drills (e.g start sequence or push sequence). Drills can also be varied by using higher or lower resistance and faster or slower speeds. Recent work has highlighted the importance (for crews training to race) of executing drills at race pace. The biomechanics of rowing vary with stroke rate, pressure and boat speed. In addition, the importance and control of unconscious movement is completely different at race pace. That said, all static drills and most dynamic drills are best rehearsed at low speed first.