I notice more and more rowers enduring over-compression at the catch.
Might be caused by longer tracks, or muscle weakness, or a bunch of other things.
Regardless, there is an optimal angle that should occur between the upper and lower leg at the catch.
That angle is typical somewhere between 48-52 degrees. That depends on several things, but it’s an average.
Over-compressing is when the angle is less, often significantly less.
This happens mostly to newbies, and I believe it is because they don’t have a bench mark of where to stop their stern-motion and then begin their bow-motion, on the slide.
When they do make the catch and change directions it could be anywhere on the slide, and that usually leads to over-compression.
But over-compression is certainly not JUST a novice issue. Many rowers over-compress (and some under-compress…but not as many).
Should YOU care about over-compression?
You bet you should. Here are two reasons why.
- First, if you or someone in your boat is over-compressing, you aren’t going as fast as you could be. Over-compression make catches less effective and gets in the way of being fast.
- Second, rowers get overuse injuries. Comes with the territories. And knee injures do happen, a LOT in rowing. I was told once by a good MD friend that over-compression is a main contributor to knee overuse injuries.
Correct foot stretcher placement
An important step in controlling over-compression is proper foot stretcher placement. If I had a helium ballon for every improperly placed foot stretcher I’ve seen, I could float away.
There’s a simple way to properly place a foot stretcher, and it’s using catch length markers.
Here’s how I do that:
- Put boat seats up
- Grab colored tape and a measuring tape
- Find perpendicular through pin
- From there, measure a distance sternward, along the gunwales
- Place tape on gunwale to mark the distance
- Repeat on other gunwale
- That is now your catch length
- Go row
- If you are coaching, watch where the butt of the oar handle comes to the imaginary line across the two pieces of tape when the rower makes the catch
- If it is short of the line, move feet to stern. If it it past the line, move feet to bow
The secret sauce is the exact distance to use for the tape.
There is wide range you can use, obviously, and depending on how you row, style, etc, the numbers will vary.
For my rowing world, and the athlete’s I’m currently coaching, I use 88 cm as my go to length. For there, I add/subtract a few centimeters off of the 88 (for faster boats, I’ll add a few, slower boats, I’ll subtract a few). There’s a rationale to this I’ve written about here and here.
Move seat-tracks to squash over-compression
Once I get the foot stretchers where I want them, I want to get the tracks in the right spot.
You see, at the catch, the shins should be close to perpendicular. With the feet in the right spot for the rower, the super secret sauce is to move the seat tracks so that the stern-stops help reinforce a rower to not over-compress.
- With the rower on the dock, have them come to the catch
- Make a mark (tape again) where the stern wheels of the seat stop, when their shins are in the right position, and the butt of oar is at the catch length marker
- Then, when the boat is in slings, move tracks toward stern/bow to get the track’s stern stop in correct place to act as a STOP for the seat at the catch
- Then go row
If the rower tries to over-compress, there’s a gentle tap when he/she hits the stern-stop. It’s a reminder to change directions to the bow.
The key here is that the stern-stops are just reminders and should not be a brick wall to be run into each stroke. Just-gentle-tapping, and before long you’ve used biomechanics to teach the rowers proper compression!!
It won’t work on all rowers, but it will work on many rowers.
(I cover this topic, and many more, in Nuts and Bolts Guide to Rigging.)
Go further down the over-compression rabbit hole:
- How to improve your technique with biomechanics – Valery Kleshnev
- Improve your rowing stroke length to go faster – Carlos Dinares
- Introduction to the biomechanics of rowing
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