Saturday, August 25, 2007

From Beginner to World Champion Junior

From Beginner to World Champion Junior
By Dieter Altenburg
Criteria and performance-determining factors for rowing

Research of competitive rowing has found that rowing performance is determined decisively by the degree to which the following abilities and skills are developed:

Rowing technique and coordination
Competition performance in rowing is determined primarily by the degree to which acquired fitness (endurance, strength, quickness) is converted into propulsion. A perfect rowing technique is required for a highest possible degree of conversion. Learning a faulty rowing technique has serious consequences on competition performance since mistakes accumulate on the course and thus the acquired fitness can not be converted into propulsion in the best possible manner. There are close connections between the level of rowing technique and coordinative abilities like balance, rhythm, differentiation, and flexibility.

To take advantage of the good learning age of 11-13 for boys and 10-12 for girls, it is necessary to emphasize an accurate rowing technique in all different phases of beginner instruction and basic training. The training of differentiation, balance, flexibility, and adaptation positively influences the acquisition of rowing technique (from the beginner level up to the control of a racing boat even in difficult situations like wind and waves), the acquisition of boat experience, and the avoidance of mistakes in rowing technique.

Endurance capacity
Competitive rowing is an endurance sport. In the organism, energy is provided on an aerobic basis. Since the level of endurance is determined decisively by aerobic capacity, endurance is a very important factor in competitive rowing.

Strength capacities
Rowers have to push their boat permanently against water resistance. Since resistance is equal to the speed squared, it is easy to see that rowers also need a considerable amount of strength in addition to endurance. In competition, they have to develop a relatively large power about 100 to 260 times, depending on boat category, course, and stroke frequency. Moreover, this power has to be mobilized in a relatively short time span, since the stroke lasts only about 0.45 to 0.8 seconds. Thus, competitive rowers especially need strength endurance and elasticity, but also a high maximum power, since this influences strength endurance and elasticity.

Velocity and velocity endurance
The relatively high stroke frequency and the short stroke duration during competition necessitate a certain degree of velocity and velocity endurance. Both are bound to the lactic and alactic systems, which provide energy in the body.

Rowing is an endurance sport performed in a team. When exercised on a competitive level, it demands a training characterized by a relatively high physical stress over a number of years. Next to a highly efficient and sustained motivation for the training, competition rowers thus need the capacity for sustained concentration, toughness, the ability to mobilize and improve, a performance-oriented self-confidence, and team spirit.

General principles of training method

At higher instruction levels, the desired competition results can be reached through qualitative improvement of the training while maintaining a fixed minimum amount of training. It is also necessary to include all training levels - from basic through high performance training - in a coordinated system.

The following principles can be used for orientation:
- The principle "from the general to the specific" is to be observed in the course of several as well as the individual training year. That is in the lower age groups and at the beginning of training in each of the macrocycles of the training season, a variety of skills on land and water should be developed, and at the higher levels of instruction and towards the end of each season, the training should be increasingly specialized.
- The principle of "increasing load" should guide each step of the training, from the beginning of the training season to the peak of competition.
- A certain training rhythm is necessary to ensure a best possible ratio of workload and relaxation during the course of the day, the week, and several weeks. At the same time, a minimum training amount must be realized. This means:
o Depending on the different amounts of time available to athletes and coaches, weekly training plans should be based on a fixed minimum amount according to the basic guidelines, and arranged in a module system.
o Training elements with similar aims, like strength training, endurance training, or rowing technique should be combined into exercise blocks during the course of the week or several weeks.
o A fixed sequence of training elements should be kept during the course of the week.

- Competitions should be organized and take place in accordance with the aims of the training method of the specific phases. They should be prepared by appropriate types of exercise.
o To take advantage of the natural competitiveness of children and youths, general and rowing-specific competitions are recommended throughout the whole year. The form of competition should be determined by training content.
o The higher age groups should be oriented towards a bi-weekly competition rhythm during the regatta-season; the level of performance-determining factors such as strength, endurance, rowing technique etc. should be tested every 6 to 8 weeks during preparation periods.
- Rowing technique must be perfected by:
o The use of age group-specific boat material with appropriate trim (i.e. 1x, 4x+ in all children's age groups),
o The following two principles: beginner instruction should start in the scull, and rowing instruction should begin only after scull technique has been mastered in previous training,
o By accepting rowing beginners to competitions only after they have proven command of rowing technique in a test,
o Conveying basic knowledge and terminology of rowing technique and boat trim in a form appropriate for the age group,
o The use of objective methods for rating and assessing rowing technique (video, picture sequences etc.).

- The principle "training - performance - training" ensures a high quality of training. This means including a minimum of necessary performance controls, tests, and documentation the training program.

To realize these methodological training requirements, trainers and coaches must be highly qualified. It is their responsibility to achieve a close attachment of the athletes to their sport and their club by providing a training that is pleasurable and emotionally satisfying, and to create the prerequisites for a rowing training that can last years.

Methodological guidelines for the development of rowing technique

3.1. General rules for the development of rowing technique
In principle, beginners should learn sculling first.
All clubs are advised to follow the guidelines below for sculling instruction:

- the right hand is closer to the body than the left
- the right hand is underneath the left

This rule applies to stroke and recovery. Large discrepancies in stroke angle between right and left hand are to be avoided. The insertion angles should differ as little as possible. A flowing and harmonious sequence of the different movements is especially important, since any uneven movement of body or extremities negatively influences propulsion and boat movement.

3.2. Guidelines for movement structure
The following rules are applicable for both sculling and rowing. The special features of rowing will be dealt with in an extra paragraph at the end of this section.
- Catching water begins out of recovery with a wide forward lean (lower legs vertical, upper body almost parallel to the thighs), without delay and without double pulling, with naturally extended arms. Before the catch, the blades are moved towards the water by a light lifting of the hands/arms, which is supported slightly in the shoulders. After the fast, vertical insertion of the blade (splash less towards the bow), pressure is exerted immediately through the opening of the hip angle and the tension of the shoulders at the beginning of the leg kick, so that a continuous acceleration of the inboard part of the sculls can take place while maintaining an even pressure on the footrest.
Main errors in this phase
- forward-leaning angle is too small
- forward-leaning angle is too extreme
- upper body is ducked
- arms are bent too much or prematurely
- inboard parts of the oar are pushed inward
- arms are lifted excessively
- hips give way, i.e. leg kick takes place too early
- upper body deployment (Einsatz) takes place too early
- head is leaned back strongly and back is straight
- head is pulled between the arms and looks to the footrest

- To achieve the combination of the separate components of body force necessary for the further acceleration of the inboard part of the oar, hips and legs are extended swiftly while the upper body and shoulders are taken back slowly. The arms are bent actively through the extension of the hips and legs only after the hands have reached the knees. In this phase, the extension of the legs is completed.

Main errors:
ß hips and upper body give way
ß premature deployment of the arms
ß missing deployment of the arms
ß shoulders are taken back
ß hanging shoulders
ß arched pull of the inboard parts of the oars

- In the following phase, the further increase of speed of the inboard parts of the oars is realized mainly through a bending of the arms and a taking back of the shoulders. While doing so, the upper body is stabilized at a lie-back angle of about 110-120 degrees. The back is bent slightly in the lumbar area of the spine, but remains straight in the chest area. The inboard parts of the oars are moved to a thumb's breadth towards the lower costal arch. Scullers pull with inboard parts of the oars at the same level right and left. Elbows are guided closely past the body.

Main errors:
ß lie-back too small
ß lie-back to extreme
ß stroke is broken off too early
ß upper body falls over the inboard parts of the oars
ß knees are over-extended
ß "hands away" takes place too slow

- A quick finish of stroke begins the lifting phase. Here, the hands slightly push down the inboard parts of the oars and tilt in the wrist. Immediately after the lifting of the blades, the hands are guided swiftly to the knees. The upper body follows the hand movement and is righted from the lie-back position in a fluid motion. Sliding begins only after the upper body has returned to an upright position. Sliding action takes place in a conscious and relaxed fashion. Rolling speed is steady while the naturally extended arms and the upper body is brought into a forward-leaning position. The reversing movement takes place quickly and fluidly out of a medium stretching of the muscles.

Main errors:
ß (sliding) seat holds still too long during lifting
ß uneven beginning of the sliding movement
ß uneven stopping of the (sliding) seat
ß upper body falls into a forward-leaning position
ß catching water while the sliding seat is still

Special features of rowing

While the basic motions of sculling and rowing are the same, the mechanical differences between the two lead to the following divergence in the rowing technique:

While sliding forward, the rower follows the inboard part of the oar, so that at recovery, the lateral shoulder axis is almost parallel to the inboard part of the oar. The inner arm is extended and the outer arm ends with the end of the oar shaft. During the stroke, the inboard part of the oar is guided parallel to the side and accelerated. The shoulders are straight and the lateral shoulder axis follows the inboard part of the oar (tangential pull).

Main errors:
ß bending of the inner arm
ß ducking of the outer shoulder

3.3. Guidelines for stroke structure
The stroke structure should feature a thrust stroke emphasized on the forward pull. This means that while maintaining a maximum stroke angle (scull about 100-105 degrees, oars about 80-85 degrees), a steady acceleration of the inboard part of the oar should distribute the force used at blade deployment over the whole stroke. This means that:

- at the point of catching water, pressure is immediately taken up through a fast increase of swivel force at an oar angle of 50-70 degrees,
- a high level of swivel force is secured through further acceleration of the inboard parts of the oars while maintaining an oar angle of 70-110 degrees,
- thrust is maintained beginning at an oar angle of 110 degrees through the high speed of the inboard part of the oar, while the of force used by the rowers decreases strongly.

3.4. Conditions for an effective development of rowing technique
There are two basic conditions for an effective development of rowing technique:
- correct trim of the boat material, and the use of boats appropriate to the age. Often, a faulty rowing technique is traceable to defects in boat trim. Therefore, the following instructions should be followed:

- Footrest adjustment
The basic adjustment of the footrest is such that the stoppers can be reached from a forward-leaning position at the stern end of the track. The part of the slide actually used by the rowers depends on their size and leg length. Hitting the bow or stern stoppers is to be avoided by all means. Scullers should take care that they can pull the ends of the sculls up to a thumb's breadth to the lower costal arch in the lie-back position. The different reaches of rowers can be accommodated in the crew boat by adjusting the footrests. If the footrest is moved sternward (rowers are closer to the swivel), the forward pull is increased, if the footrest is moved bow ward
(rowers are further from the swivel), the forward pull is decreased.

- Determination of swivel height
The vertical distance between the lowest point of the seat and the contact surface of the swivel is called swivel height. It must be chosen in such a way that stroke, reverse movement, and coasting phase are not impaired. To achieve this, it is necessary to let the blades coast unimpaired in calm water. At finish of stroke, the inboard parts of the oars must reach the lower costal arch with blade fully submerged or flat on the water. As a general orientation, before the coasting of the blades, the following measurements have proven useful:

- Scull up to 80 kg average 135 mm swivel height
- over 80 kg average 155 mm swivel height

- Single scull 120 mm swivel height
- Boat with oars 150 mm swivel height

Contrary to existing guidelines, the difference between swivel heights starboard (higher) and portside (lower) in scull boats should not exceed 5 mm. Swivel height can be changed by adjusting the rowing pins or by inserting a disk between boat and outrigger.

Rule of thumb: a 1 mm disk changes the swivel height by 10 mm.

To prevent the outrigger from warping, the disks under the separate rigger stays must be equally thick. It is important to remember that any change in swivel height brings about a change in swivel distance and swivel height.

- Determination of blade angle
The blade angle is the deviation of the blade from a vertical line. For normal blades, it should be 6-8 degrees, which are composed of 3-4 degrees for sculls or oars and 3-4 degrees deviation from the medium position of the swivel. Adjustment of blade angle is done with the help of an eccentric. Older scull swivels are adjusted by moving the adjustment slide on which the swivel rests. The blade angle is measured with the help of a blade angle caliper, on which the angle can be read directly. It can also be determined by measuring the deviation of the blade from the vertical line. To do this, the boat must be jacked up on land horizontally, the scull or oar inserted in the swivel and brought to a 90-degree angle with the boat's longitudinal axis. With the seat in sternward position, the grip ends are 30 cm over the seat (floating position of the blades). A plumb line is held 10 cm away from the upper end of the blade while an assistant pushes the oar with its contact surface against the swivel. After the plumb line has ceased swinging, the distance between line and blade at the lower edge is measured. When problems occur at the beginning or the end of the stroke (blade inserted too deep, blade lifted too early), the blade angle must be checked at the beginning, the middle, and the finish of the stroke. Due to the force vectors during the stroke, higher swivel height necessitates a smaller, lower swivel height a larger blade angle.

- Determination of the swivel distances
The swivel distance is the distance between the middle of the boat and the center of the rowing pin (i.e. the fulcrum of the swivel). In sculls, the double swivel distance is called the span.

The inboard part of the oar should measure swivel distance plus 30 cm, swivel distance plus about 8 cm in the scull. Even if exceptional cases necessitate a change of swivel distance the ratio between inboard and outboard part of the oar must be retained

Hard transmission means: small swivel distance, small inboard, and large outboard part of the oar.

Soft transmission means: large swivel distance, large inboard, and small outboard part of the oar.

- Leverage ratio
To avoid mistakes on all levels of rowing technique development, it is necessary to adjust the leverage ratio to the fitness level of the young rowers. The leverage ratio can be changed by adjusting the overall length of the oars, the inboard parts of the oars, and, in extreme cases, by adjusting the swivel distance.

A harder leverage ratio can be chosen for athletes whose physical attributes (height, weight) gives them a better fitness level. Big blades are not recommended for the training of children and youths because of the amount of physical fitness necessary to control them in terms of rowing technique.

3.5. Methodological guidelines for the development of rowing technique
The instruction of rowing technique should be based on the following rules:
- Beginner instruction should be lead by experienced trainers/instructors in the clubs. The use of "rowing teachers" has proven successful for beginner instruction.
- If possible, basic instruction should take place in the 1x or K1x (children's skiff). An exception can be made for clubs which lie at waters with strong current. The boats must be trimmed correctly. The settings of footrest and outrigger height must be adjusted to the needs of the rowers.
- All phases of instruction must be geared toward developing a feeling for movement and stroke structure.
- The different phases of beginner instruction should be kept distinct. That is, there should be enough time for excercises to get used to the boat, and details or sequences of movement elements should be practiced only when the previous practice sequences have been mastered.
- No long explanations during practice. Athletes should be able to learn movements through experience. The subsequent next step must follow these experiences. For the instructor, this means:
o use feedback for constant control and demand steady involvement from the athletes. Once movements are experienced, they are quickly imprinted into body and mind. This is true for correct and incorrect movements. Thus the exercises should be performed correctly and in high quality from the beginning.
o Excessive demands upon the athletes should be avoided, and the ability of the group to concentrate must be kept in mind. It is generally better to concentrate for 3x20 minutes than to practice distractedly for 60 minutes.
- Vacation training courses where a relatively high practice frequency is possible have proven ideal for beginner instruction. This compact form of practice enables participants to experience a sense of achievement which strengthens the attachment to the sport. For successful training, fun during practice should be combined with competition forms at the end of each training phase, like f.e.
o tilting of the boat from side to side with inboard parts of the oars pushed completely down
o balance exercises
o turns
o reboarding from the water
o rowing skill tests

Although after completion of beginner instruction, the crew boat is used more frequently, the development and stabilization of rowing skills should continue to remain a fixed part of the training. Even in competition situations, athletes should be in control of rowing technique. Thus it is just as important in long-distance training to
- correct mistakes immediately when they occur,
- use methodic aids (picture, video, partner examples, practice sequences) to clarify the connections between cause and effect,
- execute practice units even under unfavorable exterior circumstances (wind, waves), and to
- deliberately use the training on water to develop a propulsion-effective rowing technique while approximating a 1(stroke) to 2(coasting) ratio.

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