By Karl Beck
In rowing the catch is often a portion of the stroke that can be improved. My favorite drill for working early connection at the catch in sweep rowing is the reverse pick drill or work the catch. Similar to the pick drill which breaks down the stoke progression of the recovery from the finish, it breaks down the stroke progression of the drive from the catch. The progression I use is top quarter or the first 4 inches of the drive; leg drive only; add the body (no arm rowing); add the arms for full strokes. I like to have my crews do this drill on the square and sometimes with a wide grip or outside arm only to emphasize the level shoulders and rotation through the torso into the catch or outside arm only to work the hang on the outside latissimus dorsi and the handle control from the outside hand.
Have the rowers sit at the catch to start the drill. In the top quarterphase of the progression the idea is to keep the body angle locked, staying firm trough the core (abs and lower back) as they begin the leg drive to engage the blade. The handle should only move with the wheels of the seat. The torso is rotated so the shoulders are parallel with the oar handle. The chest should be level across and the shoulders should be low and relaxed while keeping the spine elongated and chin up. I ask my rowers to see how quickly they can get the blade connected. This is done with light quick hands beginning to unweight the handle on the last 2 inches of the wheels coming forward, followed by an immediate reverse of the wheels on the slide. The arms are fully extended, but they shouldn’t be locked out and tense. Any tension through the arms shoulders and hands will lead to boat instability. With the top quarter the rowers are essentially looking to begin the leg drive until they feel the blade connect in the water. Keeping the body angle locked and arms extended they stop the leg drive once the connection is made and tap down and come up for another catch.
When the shift is made to full leg drive everything stays essentially the same except the rower is going to drop the knees all the way down. The goal is still to keep the body angle locked and arms extended. Now the rower has a chance to accelerate through the connection. The rower is still going to want to let up on the pressure and release the blade just before the knees are all the way down to eliminate have to rock the body or break the arms at all at the release. With the shift to full leg drive they also begin to work the rotation of the torso into the catch.
At the shift to add the body the rower is looking to keep the same idea of the quick connection, engaging the blade with the legs. The pry is added onto the leg drive, so I have my rowers work to hold the body angle, keeping the shoulders in front of the hips during the first half of the leg drive, then adding the back pry onto the leg drive and accelerating though. At this point the arms are still staying straight though the stroke cycle.
When the arms are added the finish should look and feel very connected if the rower is continuous in his/her application of power. Staying tall though the spine and relaxed through the shoulders to stay connected in the lats. Also this drill should help with keeping the rowers horizontal through the drive. Square blade rowing should also help keep the handle heights honest on the recovery as well.
I like to have an 8+ do this drill by 6’s and a 4+ by pairs. I will have the coxswain go through the full drill progression with the same set of rowers and then switch. Depending on the crew once they are fairly comfortable and proficient with the drill I will sometimes rotate it into the warm up for a workout. I won’t start with it, it is important to have the rowers take at least 30 full slide strokes before beginning the reverse pick drill so that their bodies are loose enough to stay up at the front end for 20 to 30 strokes of top quarter only. Many rowers are not flexible enough to come up to a full slide catch and sit there comfortably for an extended period of time. I like to keep it down to 30 strokes or below at each progression to minimize tightness and complacency. To get the full progression to apply the drill to actual rowing have your crew add the feather and then go up to all 8 or all 4.