Sunday 10 March 2013

Dropping the outside shoulder at the catch?

Part I in a series of, quite likely, one, posts about rowing technique. This particular one is a bit of a theme of mine. I sometimes wonder if people know what I'm talking about. The answer, or perhaps more accurately the question, is something like this:

That's Caius M1 from Grassy, Thursday Lents 2013. What you see is bowside (they've sensibly bow-rigged the boat, so bowside is stroke's side, so to speak) lunging out of the boat at you. You might possibly argue that they are doing this to excess, and indeed the comment on that pic is "oh god we're all so not in our range". However, they're racing to defend their headship. And as I was taught ages ago when I used to play Go: "anything you can see the best doing, you're allowed to do yourself, even if it looks like poor style". The unspoken caveat of course was "as long as you understand what's going on".

In a way this one:

is more interesting, because Kings have bumped and are just cruising home.

Before we go on, pause to notice the nice compression: vertical shins, chests touching the knee. And of course the separation (note that separation, at the catch, means the way the two sides of the boat part (as viewed from the coxes seat) leaving a lane between their heads (here is an excellent pic of Downing that shows this well); this is completely different to separation, at the finish, which means separating out and doing in sequence hands-then-body-then-slide).

Dropping the outside shoulder

However, that wasn't what I actually wanted to talk about. What I wanted to say followed from a perspicacious comment by Simon E when I praised the first photo. He asked "Interesting that everyone's outside shoulders are dropped, I always thought it should be the other way around?" And now he says that, indeed, yes that is what everyone is always taught, though I can't say I like doing it myself: the "Caius way" comes more naturally; and if you look, only about half of Kings are doing the "right thing", even though I'm sure that nice Mr Smith has been coaching them well.

And the "right thing" is? Well, the "right thing" as taught is to keep the shoulders roughly parallel to the blade, which implies the outer shoulder is higher than the inner. I can't find much detail about this online; this little thread about summarises it: the argument against dropping the shoulder is given as "With high school kids (ie, often with less experience than college rowers), those who drop the outside shoulder tend to also press down on the oar handle before the catch, and sky their oar, leading to a lousy catch." That would apply to our novices too, of course. Holding the blade to stiffly, and leaning at the catch, can easily lead to dropping the hands and skying the blade too.

In which case, its an answer you can discard, as long as you know the reasons for it (which is to say, teach people not to "drop their hands into the shell and sky the blade"; don't teach them "don't drop the outside shoulder"). I think I have no problem, in my own rowing, with simultaneously dropping the outside shoulder and raising my hands into the catch (what I find very hard to do is to do this whilst staring forwards, as Caius are doing so nicely; I far prefer to look at my hands, which really annoys coaches).

Another possible downside is that it can lead to over-extension and weakness at the catch: if you've leant too far out your back will be weak; this can either damage you or weaken your stroke; but again, this is a matter of care rather than prohibition.

Comments on this, particularly by people who know better than me, are welcome.

Other pic

* Boat race crew, training.
* Kiwi Pair (e.g. 4:49)