The Preparation Trap

It is a common experience among coaches and rowers that an outing follows a predictable ‘quality curve’ , lowest during the first part of the outing and gradually rising – until toward the end of the outing the crew is (ideally) working together and the boat is moving well. From the crew’s point of view this can be satisfying.

From the coach’s point of view it is often frustrating to see a crew ending an outing at the point you hoped they would start from.  As the demands made on the crew increase with the progress of the training plan, the time taken for the crew to reach the required level of concentration and physical performance during the limited time available for an outing becomes a limiting factor on what they can achieve.  I call this the preparation trap because it holds the crew back from reaching their full potential.

There are both physical and mental obstacles to the quality of a crew’s performance early in an outing.

Physically, the crew have to ‘warm up’, bringing their hearts, lungs and muscles to the level of performance required.  The need for a warm-up will generally be greater for older rowers than for younger ones and ideally, any waiting time before an outing should be invested in warm up exercises, whether on the erg, in the gym or (if and when it is safe to do so) on the landing stage.

Mentally, the crew have to deliver the intense level of concentration required to co-ordinate their movement and effort with the precision required to move the boat in a smooth and balanced way. Concentration is an obstacle for many novice and intermediate crews.  In fact, it could be argued that the real difference between intermediate and elite crews is as much the intensity of their concentration as it is the intensity of their training.

Unfortunately the mental equivalents of the physical warm-up tend not to be widely taught to rowers at club level.  This is sad, because they are not difficult, complicated or scarily ‘alternative’  and they can give a real boost to the crew’s powers of concentration.  Even simple mental visualization of the techniques they will be employing in the boat could greatly reduce the time taken for a crew to reach their optimum performance level. There is some useful information on visualization (also known as ‘Imagery’) here: and here:

If you want to get more out of your time on the water, both physical and mental warmups are a good idea.

Physical warmup:

5 minutes light erg @ 18spm followed by gentle stretching (hamstrings, then quads, then shoulders).

Mental warmup:

Body – Visualization of upright ”head up, shoulders down, stomach in” posture in the boat, first at hands away, then leaning forward at frontstops, then leaning back at backstops.

Blade – Visualization of correct blade depth with the top edge of the spoon at the surface of the water. Visualization of relaxed grip on blade handle, feathering with the inside hand (for sweep oar rowers), power from the legs via the back and the outside shoulder to the outside hand.

Stroke – Visualization of the correct stroke shape at the outside end of the handle, with the power phase ending at the correct reference height near the chest, the tap down before feathering, the recovery following parallel to the side of the boat to frontstops and the gentle rise to take the catch.

With a little practice, athletes can comfortably combine the physical and mental warmups, e.g. visualizing body posture while on the erg and reviewing blade work and stroke shape while stretching.  The total time taken before the outing could be as little as ten minutes. Both the mental and physical warmups continue in the boat, but the benefit is that the outing now starts from a higher state of preparedness and both physical performance and mental concentration improve faster and earlier.

At most clubs and for most crews, time on the water is a very precious and  limited resource.  A relatively small investment in preparation can help both coach and crew make best use of it.


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