Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Drills: Crescendos and Accelerations

I did these exercises with the RSA JW2x today and we had one of our best sessions of the season so far so I thought I would share the drills.

A bit of background to the recent training. We have just had a camp where we did a lot of speed work as we practiced our World Champs schedule and I wanted to do something that focused on rhythm and feeling rather than flat out speed and rate.

Exercise: Crescendos – After the warm up paddle we started doing crescendos at fixed body, body pivot, quarter and half slide. Normally when we do these it is about building the rate up over 15-20 strokes to above race rate in order to practice getting the hands away and body pivot happening loosely i.e. not sitting at the finish with the handles stuck in the lap, and to ensure that the hands and body pivot are still in the right sequence at high rates.

Today I decided to change the emphasis from rate to power. I asked the girls to do crescendos raising the power as high as possible as they went and still using of rate but not as the main factor. There comes a time when the rate goes up but with no more power and then as it goes up further the power actually drops off as the athlete starts to scramble. If you drew this it would probably be a parabola shape with power in the y axis and rate on the x axis.

I wanted them to feel where the feeling of weight in their hands and push in their toes dropped off and became less effective and then to try to find ways to increase this drop off point. I did not speak to them much at all and only encouraged them to talk to each other and feel it out. I also encouraged them not only try again if they felt it was a bad one and improve but to try the good ones again to find if they could repeat the feeling.

By the time they were getting to half slides they were hanging so well off the handles yet when we stopped to turn they said that they had almost no perception of pulling hard, but had had to really focus on pushing further in order to keep the feeling of power as the boat speed increased.

Exercise: Accelerations – We then moved on to more full slide rowing with accelerations for 10 strokes followed by 10-15 strokes lighter paddling in between. I started thinking about this after reading Drew Ginn’s Blog article Boiling Frog where he talks about the effort needed to raise the boat speed versus maintaining the boat speed. I wanted to get the girls to feel the connection with the water and to find out how to maintain this as the rate/power went up, particularly with regards to what we will need to do in the start of the race.

During the accelerations the girls were asked to try to keep the feeling of power they had in the Crescendos but to build the rate and power up until they felt the power drop off and loss of connection. Obviously with full slides they would need to focus on this from much earlier in the stroke and to think more about holding the developed power through the finish as the boat speed would be significantly higher.

I also did not say much and just let them feel it out and talk to each other to make changes based on what they felt rather than what I saw.

Over the course of several dozen attempts they were able to build this up higher and higher each time and finished their last set at what is normally their race rate with absolutely huge run on the boat. This also filtered down into the lighter paddling as they were trying to keep the feeling of power/connection (good feeling) even though the pressure was quite low.

Their feedback was that it felt easier to do this that what they would normally have to do at race rates. So I think that it was successful in teaching them/allowing them to feel, a better way to get boat speed.

Their warm down paddling was awesome to watch, real goose bump stuff. Simply the best sculling I’ve seen in RSA this year.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Communicating With Athletes

Communicating With Athletes: Timing Is Everything
By Robin S. Vealey,
From Olympic Coach, Vol 17, No 1.

Mary Harvey, goalkeeper on the U.S.Women’s Soccer Team, who won the 1991 World Cup, gave up an “easy” goal just before halftime of the championship game, which tied up the score 1-1. Instead of berating her or questioning her about what happened on the goal, Coach Tony DiCicco simply talked to her about the upcoming second half and what she should focus on to prepare for the next half of play. A year later, Harvey told her coach:“ I never told you this, but at halftime, when you didn’t mention the mistake I made and simply told me what I needed to do in the second half, well, that had an unbelievable impact on me. It gave me a lot of confidence and allowed me to focus on the second half” (DiCicco, Hacker, & Salzberg, 2002, p. 101). Most coaches understand the importance of communication skills in interacting with their athletes. However, most articles written on communication talk about what to say and how to say it. But as veteran coaches know, choosing when to say it is perhaps the most important thing. Sending the right message in the right way at the right time is the most important communication skill for effective leadership. Coach DiCicco understood that halftime of a World Cup Championship game was not the time to criticize or even discuss an obvious mistake made by a veteran player. His choice of message at that time was brilliant, because it provided powerful motivation and confidence for Harvey, and allowed her to focus on what she needed to do in the second half.

Like me, you probably can remember times when you had the best intentions to communicate in a thoughtful way, only to have the situation blow up in your face! Because of the intensity and emotional highs and lows of sport competition, understanding when to communicate certain messages to athletes is a constant challenge. The four quadrants in Figure 1 represent what can happen in four different situations based on the message sent to athletes as well as the timing of the message (adapted from Maxwell, 1998).

The bottom left quadrant represents what can happen when a coach chooses the wrong message at the wrong time. Disaster! As a college basketball coach, I was once attempting to help a player learn a new offensive move. As she struggled in learning the move, I said in a glib attempt to motivate her, “Come on, Mary. You can do it. It’s easy!” She looked at me with frustration, defeat, and tears in her eyes and replied softly, “It’s easy for you.” I realized I was wrong to infer that it should be easy for her to learn this skill, especially at a time when she was struggling and feeling incompetent. It took some time to gain back her trust due to my lack of empathy at a time when she needed reassurance instead of my attempt at lighthearted motivation. My intent was to be positive and motivational, but my timing was wrong.

Even the right message delivered effectively, but at the wrong time, still represents ineffective communication. The bottom right quadrant represents what can happen when a coach chooses the right message at the wrong time. Resistance! I learned quickly as a coach that talking to a team immediately after a heartbreaking loss requires great care. My mistake the first time this happened was to attempt to get my athletes to open up to discuss their feelings about a tough loss to our arch-rival. It wasn’t a bad idea, but they just weren’t ready for it. I met stiff resistance in the form of averted gazes and rolling eyes, which surprised me as they typically responded very openly to me about their thoughts and feelings. The next day at practice they were ready to discuss the loss, and they explained to me that the night before was just not a good time for them to think rationally and unemotionally about their performance. They needed some time to think through what had happened in the game. My athletes helped me learn the valuable lesson of timing, because although my actions were right, my timing was wrong.

The upper left quadrant represents what can happen when a coach chooses the wrong action at the right time. Mistake! With eight seconds left in a game in which we were down by one point, I called a time-out to set up a play for my team. Instead of telling them exactly what to do, I called for an offensive set in which they would then read the flow of the play to dictate who would take the last shot. I used a democratic leadership style, so often lauded in coaching books, to let them determine for themselves who should take the last shot. We failed to score because we turned the ball over due to a lack of execution. I immediately realized that I had chosen the wrong course of action for my team at that time. It was not what they needed from me, and it was a mistake. It was the right time to make a crucial decision, and I made the wrong one.

Fortunately, I was able to rectify my mistake in a game later that season. This situation represents the upper right quadrant in Figure 1, which is where the coach chooses the right action at the right time. Success! Our team found ourselves in the same last second situation we had faced earlier in the year. This time I was ready, as I had learned from my previous mistake. My leadership behavior was totally autocratic, which was the right action for this situation because autocratic decision-making is needed in stressful situations. I told each athlete exactly what they must do on the play, emphasized they each had one job to do, and made those jobs very clear and specific for them. The result was we got a great shot, it went in, and I learned a valuable lesson about choosing the right communication style to use depending on the timing of the situation.

Enhancing the timing of our communication requires a lot of practice, trials-and-errors, and critical self-reflection to learn from mistakes. Here are some suggestions for working on your timing in your messages to athletes:

Consider the emotional needs of your athletes based on the time of the season, the proximity of competition (upcoming or just completed), and the influence of good and bad performances (or wins or losses). In emotional moments athletes are typically not effective listeners or able to engage in thoughtful and rational discussions. None of us are.
Ø Consider your emotional state when communicating with athletes. If anger or frustration blocks your ability to communicate productively, wait until your emotions are under control before speaking with your athletes. Know yourself, and only deliver important messages when you are able to do so in a thoughtful, rational manner. And if you say things that you later regret, simply take the time to explain that to your athletes and apologize if necessary. By honestly and openly taking responsibility for mistakes, coaches gain credibility and the trust of their athletes. In fact, it’s good timing to follow up your mistakes with an honest admission of fault and regret.
Ø Realize that athletes respond better to concise messages as opposed to lengthy explanations or tirades during practice sessions and competitive events.A research study found that legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden rarely spoke more than 20 seconds at a time during practice, with his teaching comments being short, punctuated, and numerous (Gallimore & Tharp, 2004).
Ø In tense situations, communicate in unexpected or lighthearted ways that help athletes loosen up and gain perspective. A high school baseball coach developed a unique (and a bit off color!) sign to give to his players from his position in the third base coaching box in pressure situations. As the batter watched, the coach would go through his sequence of signs and then finish up by touching his thumb and second finger together in the shape of a circle. The sign represented a key sphincter at the rear end of the player’s body that the coach wanted the athlete to keep open and loose. The circle sign told each player to “be loose and take an aggressive cut.” The coach told me that his players loved the sign, and always smiled no matter how pressurized the situation! In pressure situations, also avoid stating the obvious such as “just relax,” “we really need this,” or “it’s all up to you.” I had a well-meaning coach that had the habit of always telling me to “relax” in tense situations. The comment always caused me to wonder “Am I not relaxed?” and to become more tense as a result. Provide some concise instructions, give a verbal or nonverbal show of support, but don’t state the obvious.
Ø Similarly, avoid pointing out or dwelling on the obvious when athletes make dumb mistakes. It only focuses on the negative, so a better strategy is to ignore it or to develop a “mistake ritual,” which is a common gesture coaches can communicate to athletes after mistakes to indicate that it’s no big deal. Examples include “no sweat” by wiping two fingers across your brow as if wiping sweat away, “brush it off” by brushing your hand across your shoulder to brush away the mistake, and “wave goodbye” in softball and baseball by taking off your cap momentarily as if to wave away the mistake prior to putting the hat back on (Thompson, 2003).Ask your athletes to develop their own Mistake Ritual – it really works!
Ø Avoid constantly using high intensity, rah-rah approaches to motivating your athletes. Why? They quickly learn that this is an act, and then in situations where you attempt to communicate intensity to them, they don’t buy it.

Highly successful Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski (2000) talks about the importance of always telling athletes the truth to create trust in what the coach says, or what he calls “instant belief.” Coach Krzyzewski credits the development of “instant belief” for his ability to help his players focus in the final 2.1 seconds of the 1992 NCCA Regional Final with a trip to the Final Four on the line. After a Kentucky player scored on a miraculous shot, Duke called time out down by one point. Coach Krzyzewski knew that the message his athletes needed to hear at that moment was critical, because he saw in their eyes that they didn’t believe they could win. As his athletes came to the bench, he shouted at them, “We’re going to win! We’re going to win!” Could he guarantee this? Of course not. But because he had been an honest communicator all season, his players trusted him and believed him, and what was important at this moment was to create an “instant belief” that they could win. Of course, Duke went on to win the game on one of the most thrilling last-second shots in basketball history. Coach Krzyzewski sent his team the one message they needed to hear and believe at exactly the right time. The key point to remember is that if he had constantly used this rah-rah ploy with his team, they would not have believed him at the critical time when it was needed. When coaches send the right message at the right time, communication flows, athletes learn, and teams flourish. Veteran coaches understand the crucial aspect of timing in attempting to enhance team cohesion, performance, and motivation in their athletes. Develop a file folder in your head of what you learn about timing and communicating with your athletes. Timing is everything in knowing not only what and how, but especially when to communicate with your athletes. Good luck and good coaching.

Dr. Robin S.Vealey is a Professor in the Department of Physical Education, Health, and Sport Studies at Miami University in Ohio. A former college basketball coach, she now teaches courses, conducts research, and consults with athletes and coaches in the area of sport psychology. This article is taken from her book, Coaching for the Inner Edge, available in March from Fitness Information Technology (http://www.fitinfotech.com/).

Ø Gallimore, R., & Tharp, R. (2004).What a coach can teach a teacher, 1975-2004: Reflections and reanalysis of John Wooden’s teaching practices. The Sport Psychologist, 18, 119-137.
Ø Krzyzewski, M. (2000). Leading with the heart. New York:Warner.
Ø Maxwell, J.C. (1998).The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership: Follow them and people will follow you. Nashville: Nelson.
Ø Thompson, J. (2003).The double-goal coach. New York: Harper-Collins.

Myth Sources

Myth Sources
By Dr Fred Hatfield
From www.drsquat.com
Almost every week I go to a different gym in the USA. True. It’s what I do these days. ISSA strength coaches,’ performance nutritionists’ and personal fitness trainers’ certification seminars. It’s interesting because I am getting a cross-sectional understanding of what’s going on in USA’s Irondom that’s perhaps a bit more in-depth than most perspectives. How many people do you know who visits DOZENS of different gyms yearly? It’s also 1) enlightening because I learn things, and 2) frustrating because I am constantly obliged to help so many people UN-learn things. Myths abound in Irondom. That it’s totally understandable how these myths were born is not a consolation. Most of them are couched in shallow science (but deeply enough to take root), and are somewhat believable. I’ll get howls of outrage from many of the perpetrators of these myths as a result of writing this article. See, they’ve said it so many times to themselves and others that they actually BELIEVE what they’re saying! Some have even vested their entire careers -- their very souls -- in their errant beliefs. The most damaging yet curiously enduring ones come from five sources:

Ø The Bill Reynolds Syndrome (a.k.a. The Magazine Editor Syndrome);
Ø The Big Guy Syndrome (a.k.a. The Gym Guru Syndrome);
Ø The “I Feel It” Syndrome (a.k.a. The “It Works For Me” Syndrome);
Ø The Denizens of the Drawing Board Syndrome (a.k.a. The “Form, NOT Function, Stupid!” Syndrome); and
Ø The Supplement Salesman Syndrome (a.k.a. The “Sell it! Sell it!” Syndrome).

Mind you, I realize that I’m giving the industry -- Irondom -- a lot of credit by even mentioning these sources of myth. But, as I’ve said, I have a rather in-depth view of Irondom, and believe there to be enough Ironheads out there who’ll understand and relate to what I say here. The rest of you? Well, you’ll no doubt go back to your social clubs and carbo coolers, content in your current beliefs. We’ll never meet on the platform, I assure you!

The Magazine Editor Syndrome
Bill Reynolds -- now deceased -- was editor of Muscle & Fitness while it was still a great magazine. He was under a lot of pressure to come up with unique stories each month. In one month he wrote a story about biceps training. The next time he does a biceps story, it has to have a biceps training routine that totally different. No one wants to read the same story twice.

Even though there is one way to train your biceps -- lift the damned bar! Bill and I were sitting in my office one day, arguing whether there was more than one way to train biceps. See, the biceps span a hinge joint. The elbow is capable only of flexion and extension. Regardless of starting position or direction of movement, only unidirectional flexion is taking place in the elbow joint. There is no way of “attacking” the biceps from many different angles, as though it were some sort of an invading organism being attacked by macrophages. Bill thought differently. Now, Bill had an advanced degree, had written 30 or so books on training, and was an accomplished lifter in his younger years. He wasn’t stupid about training science. So how come he thought differently? The story is amusing. Bill ran back to his office and came back with two photos of Frank Zane, one from 1973 and another from 1983. “See, Fred?” Bill implored, pointing to the gap between Zane’s biceps and forearm in the 1773 photo. “Zane had a gap there, and it’s gone in the 1983 photo!” I looked. Bill was right. The gap was gone. Then Bill said, “Zane learned how to do better dumbbell curls. Now he starts with the dumbbell behind his back, and curls it outward and then inward toward his opposite ear while supinating his forearm.”

That’s what he said. I swear. I kicked Bill out of my office, as further discussion was virtually spurious. “You on drugs, Bill, or what!” I muttered. “Zane just finally learned how to POSE in the 1983 picture!” See, Zane had twisted his fist outward slightly in the 1983 photo, thereby elongating his biceps by wrapping the biceps tendon of insertion around the radius bone of his forearm. Clearly, Bill had bought into his own drivvel for the sake of selling more magazines.

The Gym Guru Syndrome
Picture this. A youngster walks into a gym and notices a big guy training arms. The big guy has massive arms. No gap either. The youngster says, “Gee Mister! How can I get big arms like you?”

The big guy, not wishing to appear stupid to his young admirer, and instead wishing to appear as though what he does is more “sophisticated” than merely “lifting the damned bar,” says, “Well kid, ya gotta eat thirty chickens a month, train only at 3:30 in the afternoons to coincide with your biorhythms and twist the bar to your opposite ear every rep. And, NEVER do legs on the same day you do biceps!”

The myth is born. The kid buys into the drivel, goes on to get big guns, and passes the myth on to the next kid. He even gets a Reynolds-mentality editor to let him ghost-write about the “science” of arm training.

The “I Feel It! I Feel It!” Syndrome:
So, how do I get more “cleavage” between my pecs? How do I fill in the gap between my biceps and the forearm? How do I get more sweep to my quads? The big guy, the magazine editor, or someone -- it matters very little who -- says, “Ya gotta attack the muscle from many different angles!” Gawd amighty! “Attack?” You at war? What? Attack what!?!!? Look folks, Your muscles all have origins and insertions. Usually, you’ll force the muscle to contract against a greater-than-normal resistance in such a way that the insertion is obliged to move toward the origin. The force is transmitted through the belly of the muscle. In other words, you’re gonna lift the damned bar! That’s what’ll make it grow bigger and stronger. Attacking it from angles other than this will cause NEGATIVE forces, meaning that you’ll microtraumatize the muscle. This is a practice which invariably leads to overtraining. But therein lay the problem. By microtraumatizing the muscle through application of negative forces -- by physically applying shearing or tensile force on the tissue enough to cause It to rupture -- you have accomplished one thing. Tissue destruction. NOT tissue growth. The postexercise muscle soreness you feel the next day comes from hydroxyproline.

The Denizens of the Drawing Board Syndrome
I’ve been in the gyms long enough to remember practically every piece of equipment to hit the gym scene. It doesn’t matter that Arthur Jones got his idea for his Nautilus variable resistance cams from the mid-19th century German therapists (wood carvings of early cam weight training machines exist, and may small museums in Germany feature some of the old technology). His marketing genius gave the industry a rebirth in many ways. Body Masters, Cybex, Icarion and the slew of manufacturers out there all copied him, just as he copied his predecessors. Really, the NEWEST technology to hit the scene came in the early 1900s with Milo’s invention of the adjustable dumbbell and barbell.

But I digress. These machines are not often made by true biomechanics experts with doctorates in their profession, or years of training wisdom under their belts. They’re made by engineers, welders and marketeers. In my travels, I’ve come across many manufacturers who keep an exercise physiologist on staff. Usually, they’re well-schooled youngsters with very little in-the-trench experience in lifting, and even less experience in designing equipment that’s original or biomechanically correct.

It’s chic to have one on staff. It’s good marketing. It doesn’t, however, ensure that the best technology has to offer will be forthcoming from these denizens of the drawing board! In fact, folks, by my reckoning, the dearth of exceptional equipment out there has given rise to a whole new genre of myth. “How best to train” has become the purview of these denizens, the responsibility having been wrested, by virtue of economic power, from the hands of we Ironheads (many of us are educated too) who generally know better. Think of it. By forcing you to follow a given track on any given machine, isn’t the manufacturer “instructing” you that this is the correct form for this exercise? Why else would he have made the machine in that particular configuration? Trust me, it’s generally because everyone else did it before him.

The Supplement Salesman Syndrome
I almost needn’t say more. Salesmen have been filling our minds with falsehoods since the industry began. Of course there’s some great companies out there! Of course there’s some great supplements out there! Of course there’s many in the industry who are truly believers in legitimate science!

Then, there’re others who are not. We, being a gullible race, and most particularly one who is constantly seeking for an edge up to greater muscular size, less fat, improved performance (or whatever). We’re vulnerable. We’re constantly taken advantage of. Therein lies the myth source. We WANT to believe! Many powerful forces make it so. The cagey purveyors of snake oils know this. They’re master at their craft of deception. Beware.

What To Do?
There are many avenues out of the maze. Knowledge is power. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto thee. Stuff like that. One thing for sure, though, and that’s the importance of the mere recognition of the problem on your part!

Learning the Overhead Squat

Core Strength: Learning the Overhead Squat
By Travis Brown
From NSCA’s Performance Training Journal. Vol 5 No. 5. October 2006. www.nsca-lift.org/perform
Core strength, stability, and flexibility are vital to all athletic movements. If the core is weak, unstable, and inflexible athletic performance will be hindered. There are numerous movements, exercises, and apparatus available to help train the core. However, there is one exercise that does not get the attention that it deserves.

Training the Core
When training the core, one of the most overlooked exercises is the overhead squat. This exercise is an excellent way to develop core stabilization, strength, and flexibility. Th e overhead squat forces the muscles of the core to work harder in order to stabilize and support the spine in an upright position. It also forces the trunk to lengthen, in which it responds by activating the muscles of the core. By shifting weight overhead, whether it be your arms, a dowel rod, or barbell, the deep abdominal muscles and spinal erectors are forced to contract. This must happen in order for both stabilization and core extension to be maintained.

Starting Position of the Overhead Squat
Start by placing the feet at shoulder width. The weight of the body should be over the heels versus the ball of the foot or toes. A good coaching tool is to wiggle your toes to reiterate that most of the body weight is centred over the heels. The hands should be placed wider than shoulder width. To estimate grip width, measure the elbow to elbow distance with your shoulders abducted. This distance is the width your hands should
be spaced when grasping the barbell. You should not have to worry about the width of your hands if you are using a normal sized stability ball (65 – 85 cm. in diameter). The towel, dowel rod, or bar should be directly over the ears and shoulders. Try to imagine the bar in a slot between your ears and shoulders. Shoulder and spine flexibility will play a role in bar position. (Figures 1 & 2)

1st Phase of the Overhead Squat
You should start the exercise by bending your knees and hips simultaneously, as if you were about to sit down in a chair. The eyes should be focused towards the ceiling or on an object well above the head. The chest and shoulders should be square and remain in an upright position. A great coaching tool is to inhale deeply while descending, which will help reiterate that posture. (Figure 3) As you descend, you should push your hips back and keep your centre of gravity over shoulders, hips, and heels. If done correctly, you could draw a straight line, perpendicular to the floor, between those three joints. At the end of the 1st phase, or the bottom of the squat, your thighs should be parallel to the floor. (Figure 4) The towel, stability ball, or bar should remain over the ears and shoulders as you descend. There should be minimal to no movement of this position. The entire upper portion of the body should remain in a fixed plane as you descend.

2nd Phase
As you ascend, you should push your hips forward, while keeping your knees behind or over your toes. You should exhale as you come “out of the hole” or bottom of the lift. The stability ball, towel, or bar should remain over the ears and shoulders as you rise. The lift is complete when you stand tall and lock your knees. The second phase of the lift is much like the first, only in reverse order.

Common Technique Flaws
There are numerous flaws that could happen within each phase of the lift. If you are a beginner or novice athlete, then you may see several of these. But practice makes perfect and you can minimize these mistakes by practicing the lift repeatedly, using these helpful cues. As your technique improves, you may progress to a towel, dowel rod, or stability rod. An advanced athlete would attempt the lift with a standard Olympic bar with or without weight.

Technique Flaws in Starting Phase
During the starting phase of the lift, many athletes do not place their feet in a correct position. This is the base or foundation of the lift. Also, the hands are not wide enough or too wide on the bar. Mistakes like these are usually due to lack off concentration or fatigue. These are simple, yet common, mistakes that can be corrected easily.

Technique Flaws in the 1st and 2nd Phase
Some more difficult mistakes to correct include not keeping your weight over your heels, or having your heels rise as you descend into the lift. As previously mentioned, a great tool to help reiterate where the weight should be distributed, is to wiggle your toes right before you begin the lift. This helps you focus on where your weight should be properly distributed. If you are still having trouble keeping your heels down, as you perform the lift, you are most likely suffering a stability or mobility problem. If your heels are rising as you descend, you are having a mobility issue. A great way to fix this is to place a weight slightly under a heel. Start with a ten pound weight, then progress down to a five pound weight and then a two-and-a-half pound weight (each disk is thinner). (Figure 5)

A great exercise to help correct bar position is to place your toes about two to four inches from the wall and perform the lift. As you are able to perform the lift more properly over time, you can move your toes closer to the wall. When you can do the lift with your toes barely touching the wall, you have properly corrected this technique fl aw. (Figure 6)

The overhead squat can be applied as a warm up for Olympic lifting or be used as a core training exercise. It is a complex exercise that can be learned with repetition and by using these techniques. By implementing this exercise into your routine, you will gain more core strength, stability, and flexibility which in turn will make you a better athlete.

About the Author
Travis Brown is currently the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for Pinnacle Athletics in Alpharetta, GA, working with young to elite, professional athletes. He earned his BS in Exercise Physiology and MS in Recreation Administration at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, TN, where he played football for the 1998 National Championship team, and continued working in the weight room with various men’s athletic teams.

Introduction to the Biomechanics of Rowing

Introduction to the Biomechanics of Rowing
By Dr. Volker Nolte
From FISA Coach Vol 2 No 1 1991
When two coaches observe a crew rowing, each will have a different frame of reference. One coach likes to observe the framework while the other watches for the power application by the rowers. What is the reason that the two coaches have different points on which to focus?

It may be that the two coaches have different concepts of what is the correct technique. It may also be the way the coaches look at the movements. One looks for the movement of the bodies while the other observes the movement of the blades. It may also be that the movements are just too quick and the coaches have no real point of reference.

One can learn to see movements but the question really is which pattern of movement is the correct one? Which part should be watched in which order and which emphasis? Can one say that the faster rower utilizes the best technique? Questions such as these are fundamental and apply directly to biomechanics. Biomechanics is the science that explores the human patters of movement with application to physics.

Analysis based on physical laws as well as exact measurements have helped develop a stable base of biomechanical knowledge on rowing technique. It is relatively easy to acquire the basic knowledge necessary in biomechanics and be able to describe the biomechanical connections that the rower can use in rowing practices. This article presents an overview of the biomechanics and provides suggestions to the coach to apply this information in practices.

The Task of Biomechanics in Rowing
The goal in rowing is to make the unit (the rowers and the boat) cover the distance as fast as possible from the start to the finish. Physical performance is necessary to achieve this basic goal and the muscles of the human body produce the necessary energy. Biomechanics is interested in how the rower converts this physiological capacity into moving the boat. Biomechanics describes the movements first and then explains the movements, more specifically, which muscles and joints the rower uses and which forces have an effect on the body and to propel the boat.

There is a vast range of research in this field. The development of photography and video cameras have brought with them great progress in biomechanics. The coach now does not need to rely on his or her eyes only. In this way comparisons with other teams are now possible.

From similar analysis of photographs, the next level of rowing technique analysis can be reached with an improved means of filming i.e. use of the video camera. Angles and lengths can be measured using sharply defined pictures form special viewpoints (90 degrees to the side or from above). Time can be very accurately measured using advanced filming techniques. Careful identification of the joints of the body through a series of pictures can provide effective analysis. By taking each of these frames (pictures) and analyzing them separately you can calculate the actual change in the angles of the major body parts (see figure 1).

The position of the oars and the blades provides another means of analysis. From the sides of the crew, you can analyze the distance of the blades to the water at any point in the stroke (especially at the entry). Another popular type of analysis is to observe the position of the oar relative to the boat. By filming from a bridge, you can calculate the length of the stroke at the entry and the finish of the stroke and compare it to the orthogonal or perpendicular lines to the boat (see figure 2)

The centre of gravity (CG) can be calculated by analyzing the sequence of movements of the body joints. The movement of the CG horizontally and vertically during the stroke cycle is important for the forces exerted by the rower (see figure 3).

With somewhat more sophisticated equipment you can measure the forces on various parts of the boat, such as the oarlock, on the foot stretchers and on the blades (see figure 4). Great progress has been made in this means of analysis over the past several years.

Previously a coach could only rely on trial and error to apply rigging changes and the effects, if incorrectly applied, could ultimately hinder the rower’s performance during the year. Now the biomechanisist can analyze these changes. Biomechanical research has also helped to eliminate the negative mechanical influences on the stroke. This allows analysis of the effects of CG movements by making changes in rigging (see figure 5).

For example, how does lowering the height of the oarlock change the length of the stroke? The efficiency of drills and exercises for improving technique and the effectiveness of fitness training can also be analyzed.

Beyond improvements in performance, biomechanical research has been able to analyze the loss of load to the human body. This research brought prophylaxis, or analysis to preserve health, to our attention. The load on the bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles can now be determined. Movements and techniques can be identified that do not injure the rowers. This is particularly true in the sport of gymnastics in recent years. Functional gymnastics refers to exercises that are adapted to the human body and its parts. This has shown not only that the position of the joints should receive attention but that the velocity of certain movements greatly influences the way the muscles and ligaments are loaded, and therefore, can respond in the correct manner.

Biomechanical research has found certain indicators that are essential to reach high levels of performance. As with other sports, rowing has certain basic body requirements which are necessary for high performance. (I.e. body height, arm length, lean body mass, etc.) Such anthropometric analysis can be made in countries where it is possible to select athletes for sport at an early age.

Practical Biomechanical Analysis
The most important application for the rowing coach in biomechanics are found in the biomechanical principles. They are the basis for the daily instruction by the coach. They determine the rowing technique which will help rowers attain the common goal of rowing faster. The latest research in the biomechanics of rowing follows.

The biomechanical principles show the complete framework for rowing technique. Nevertheless it is obvious that the coach has to adapt these principles to the particular situation, perhaps with the assistance of the biomechanisist. Because principles are comprehensive laws, they apply to tall rowers as well as not so tall rowers, single scullers as well as for the sweep rowers in the eight.

Principle No. 1
All movements have to be performed in a way that the rower is able to transfer his/her physiological performances into optimal propulsion

With this first principle it becomes clear that, for rowing technique, only functional considerations have value. There is no need that the pattern of rowing be “beautiful”. The rower must be able to 1.) produce the highest physiological performance and 2.) transform this performance into the best propulsion possible.

Principle No. 2
The long stroke is necessary to produce a high level of rowing performance.

The long oar stroke length, on the outboard of the oar, creates large reaction forces with the water on the blade and, thus, enables the rower to produce his/her best performance on the inboard portion of the oar. The following factors restrict the practical applications on the length of the stroke: 1) the physiological ability of the rower (the more powerful the rower is, the longer the stroke can be); 2) the velocity of the boat (the faster the type of boat and the higher the level of proficiency, the longer the stroke can be); and 3) the functional capability of the rower (depending on the body height of the rower and the geometry of the boat).

To produce a high level of performance means to generate a large force over a long distance in as little time as possible. This is a law of physics. In rowing there is a double relationship between performance and the necessary distances 1) within the boat, the rower can only attain his/her maximal physiological performance using as long a stroke as possible with the inboard portion of the oar; and 2) outside of the boat, the necessary force, on the inboard portion of the oar, can only be generated through a long stroke length. A blade without movement relative to the water does not create any reaction force with the water. A common myth amongst coaches is that the blade is relatively fixed or “sticks” in the water. Research shows that the blade does move through the water more than commonly thought, similar to the hand of a swimmer moving through the water. This movement creates the force to propel the boat.

Research has shown that for all rowers the angle of the oar at the finish is very similar (Nolte, 1982). It is interesting to note that the body height does not matter in this case. Only the body width and the geometry of the boat can cause small differences. Therefore you can influence the length of the stroke only with the variation of the angle of the oar at the entry. In this situation it is important to know that, contrary to popular opinion, the most effective use of the rower’s strength is in the early drive phase of the stroke, the angle created before the perpendicular point to the boat (Affeld, 1985, 2.4.4.) In short, the second principle says that a long stroke is important for high performance and this length is most effective in the early drive phase of the stroke (see figure 6).

To produce force on the inboard section of the oar, the rower has to move his/her body weight. A considerable amount of power is necessary for this movement. From the total production of the physiological performance of the rower, the following has been determined: 1) approximately 75 percent is used to pull the oar; 2) approximately 9 percent is used to support the horizontal movement of the body; and 3) approximately 16 percent is used for the vertical movement of the body (Nolte, 1984, p. 174)

Performance capacity that is used to move the body cannot propel the boat. These biomechanical reflections created the next two principles.

Principle No. 3
The movement of the rower has to be horizontal as possible so that the vertical displacement of the center of gravity is minimized without losing length in the stroke.

The flexion and extension of the legs, the swing of the upper body from the hips and vertical movement of the hands and arms cause certain vertical displacements of the body parts. With functional coordination and avoidance of unnecessary movements, the vertical displacement can be minimized. Biomechanical research shows clear evidence of this principle. The upper body leaning too far back and straightening up during the early drive are major errors, On the contrary, a position with a naturally rounded back along with minimal vertical movement by the hands are physical signs of a physically correct technique (see figure 7).

Principle No. 4
The horizontal velocity of the rower relative to the boat should be as small as possible. Ex: the displacement of the centre of gravity in the horizontal plane should be minimized without losing length in the stroke and there should be no lost time with stops or pauses.

This consideration can be followed in two main steps: 1) the horizontal distance of the CG has to be minimized and 2) the horizontal movements have to be performed with minimal changes in acceleration. Figure 8 show schematically that you can have the same length of stroke with different horizontal movements by the CG. It is evident that the so-called Karl Adam technique which uses the extended tracks (Klavora, 1977) is incorrect.

To this point we have only considered the performance effect the rower has on propelling the boat. This refers to the rower’s effect to overcome the water resistance of the shell (not to mention the air resistance and elements of friction such as the wheels of the sliding seat). The water resistance of the boat grows proportionally with the square of the velocity. The changes of the velocity of the boat are considerable because of the differences in the stroke and recovery phases as well as the movements of the bodies of the rowers. Because of these changes in boat velocity, the resistance of a rowing boat is much greater than for a boat of constant speed. To show this, let’s consider the following example:

A shell with a constant velocity of 5 meters per second (a men’s pair with coxswain) produces a resistance of 100 Newton’s. If the velocity is changed so that the boat goes the same average speed but spends approximately half the time at 4m/s and the other half at 6m/s it has a 4% greater resistance.

Normally the changes in boat velocity produced by the rowing stroke are even greater. Therefore it is quite important to consider anything that can reduce these changes. By selecting a rowing technique which minimizes changes in boat velocity, the rower can be more effective in moving the boat. The importance of principles 3 and 4 becomes even greater when you can save performance capacity by minimizing the resistance of the boat.

Vertical movement of the center of gravity produces a dipping of the boat and creates even greater resistances. Large and fast changes in the horizontal movement of the body weight also increase the changes in the velocity of the boat. Attention to these principles in boat velocity movements in selecting a rowing technique will have positive effects on the performance of the crew.

Biomechanical Applications in Rowing Training
We have seen that the racing times in international competition for all boat classes have decreased in recent years. The physiological capacity of the rowers has not increased as much as the improvement in times. Therefore, the development of rowing technique is considered one of the major reasons for this success and biomechanical analysis has assisted with development. The women’s pair without coxswain from West Germany who won at the 1990 World Championships is an example of a crew whose technique closely followed the principles of biomechanics. Their technique did not emphasize the excessive layback at the finish employed by the Romanian women’s crews, the previous winners of the event. Biomechanical principles applied by a large group, such as an entire rowing federation, can provide big advantages to the rowers. Over a long period, it is possible to create consistently successful big boats, like the Italian men’s lightweight eight and the West German men’s open eight.

It is possible to reach the top levels of world class rowing only if you employ a sound rowing technique. An outstanding example of this is the 1990 Australian men’s four without coxswain. This boat defeated many excellent pat champions by using superb rowing technique and, in doing so, in the extremely fast time of 5 minutes 52 seconds.

Biomechanics in the future
Research in biomechanics is not finished. Basic research in specific analysis of rowing technique is ongoing. For example, the additional research is necessary to determine at which point the effectiveness of the oar at entry decreases. The measurement tools and analysis methods will be developed so they can be used by coaches at all levels. The efficiency of an individual rower in a crew can be increased with dynamic measurement devices, such as force transducers, in the boat. In the end, the practical education of biomechanical concepts and the simplification of scientific research into language that can be understood by the coaches and the rowers is our goal.

Affeld, A., K. Schichl: Untersuchungen der Krafte am Ruderblatt mithilfe eines mechanischen Simulators. Bericht der Technischen Universitat Berlin, 1985.

Bruggermann, P.: Biomechanik des Sports in: Carl, K. et al (Hrsg.): Handbuch Sport, Band 1. Dusseldorf (1984), p 259-302

Haynes, B. et al: Wenn jeder Schlag sitzen soll…in: Rudersport 3 (1988), p. 67-69.

Klavora, D.: Diewichtigten biomechnaischen Unterschiede bei den heutigen Stilarten im internationalen Ruderwettkampf. In Rudersport 33 (1977), p VI-XI.

Nilsen, T.:Basic Rowing Technique, FISA Development Program. Zurich, 1987.

Nilsen, T./V Nolte: Basic Rigging, FISA Development Program. Zurich, 1987.

Nolte, V.: Rudertechnik und ihre Analyse: Der Arbeitsbereich in Skullboot, in: Rudersport 20 (1982), p. 468-469.

Nolte, V.: Die Stemmbretteinstellung und der Ruderwinkel in der Rucklage, in: Rudersport 25 (1982) p. 544-545.

Nolte, V.: Die Effektivitat des Ruderschlages. Berlin, 1984.

Nolte, V.: How the world class scullers scull their singles, in: Rowing 4 (1986), p 16-18.

Nolte, V.: The inter-relationship between equipment adjustment and efficient technique. In: Report 15./16. FISA Coaches Conference 1986/1987. Minden (1988), p. 153-175.

Schmidtbleicher, D.: Maximalkraft und Bewegungsschnelligkeit. In: Reider, H. (Hrsg.): Beitrage zur Bewegungsforschung im Sport. Bad Homburg, 1980.

Schneider, E.: Leistungsanalyse von Rennmannschaften. In: Grossing, S (Hrsg.): Aus der wissenschaft fuer die Praxis. Bad Homburg, 1980.

Willimzik., K. (Hrsg.): Biomechanik der Sportarten. Reinbek, 1989.

Prepare Yourself to Be the Winner

To Win, You Must Prepare Yourself to Be the Winner – Not Simply To “Do My Best"
By Bruce Tulloh
From Peak Performance http://www.pponline.co.uk/
Winning an event depends as much on the opposition as it does on you, but you cannot do anything about them - the only one you can do anything about is yourself. As a coach I continually see people under-performing due to lack of proper preparation. They have plenty of talent but they are often at peak fitness at a time when it is not necessary and injured or burnt out when the big day comes along. Even when they have got it right physically they fail to get the result they could because they have not prepared themselves to be the winners but merely to 'do my best'. Sometimes this attitude works, but usually only once. The bigger the event, the more likely it is to go to someone who has been expecting to win and who has trained him or herself to cope with all the demands that winning entails. This clearly involves mental as well as physical preparation. Here are the 10 key points that have to be covered.

1. Planning - Working back from the date of the big event, you must pencil in the other vital dates, such as qualifying competitions, selection dates and championships. There will be some dates on which you simply cannot train because of travelling or because they fall too close to the important competitions. This long-term plan should extend over at least six months but preferably over a full year.

2. Periodisation - I hate this word but I can't do without it. Once the important events have been put on to the master plan, you have to decide how many peak competitive periods you wish to have in the year. Each of these will require a build-up phase, a pre-competition phase and a tapering phase. Nobody can remain at peak competitive level indefinitely, and if it is necessary to maintain this for more than six weeks at a stretch, there must be further planning to allow for recuperation.

3. Progress - Within each training phase there must be a built-in structure of progress. In the build-up phase, this will be both in the overall quality of the training and in the proportion of high-quality training, ie, from one hard day a week to three or four. In the pre-competition phase, the progression will be in the intensity of the training; if one was doing a session of 15 x 400 metres, with a 60 second recovery, the average speed will go faster every two weeks. In the tapering phase, the emphasis will be on the specificity and the timing of the training sessions in relation to the competition.

4. Range - In some sports, training consists entirely of practising the event, but in the performance-related sports such as athletics and rowing it has been proved that better results can be obtained by building up the different components of the sport - endurance capacity, muscle strength, lactic acid tolerance and oxygen intake - by specific activities, and then combining them in the actual event practice. For each sport one must break down the particular demands on the system and then look for ways in which these can be trained for. Very few sports do not rely at least partly on pure muscular strength and so weight training for the specific muscle groups must be used.Similarly, aerobic capacity comes into all but the most explosive events and is capable of great improvement. It must be borne in mind that the modem sportsman or woman has to cope not merely with the once-a-week event but often mid-week events or events which last several days, with qualifying rounds. This means that extra endurance training must be done.

5. Avoiding injury - This becomes more and more important as the athlete reaches a higher level because he or she is working closer to their maximum. It is done by balancing very carefully the proportion of hard and easy work in the programme. This is where close monitoring is necessary, both by the coach and by the athlete. The art of coaching lies in knowing how hard you can push an athlete without going over the red line into the excessive fatigue which leads to illness and injury. The older I get, the more careful I become in advising rest and in seeing a physiotherapist at the first sign of an injury. One day missed through over-caution is easily made up, but a week or two missed from trying to 'train through' an injury can be serious.

6. Specificity - It makes sense to mimic as closely as possible the stresses of the competition in the training process, once the athlete is strong enough to handle it. When Richard Nerurkar was training for the 1991 World Championships we knew almost a year in advance that there were only 48 hours between the heats and the final of the 10,000 metres. As part of the pre-competition training we therefore worked to a programme of two hard days out of three and even included two 1O,OOOm time trials, with a 48 hour gap, about three months beforehand. Although in the early stages, training may last for several hours a day, as the competition gets nearer one must get used to concentrating the effort into the same space of time as the competition.

7. Acclimatisation - More and more international competitions are being held in hot conditions, and if two athletes are equal in ability the one who is properly acclimatised will beat the one who is not. In my view, something between seven and 14 days is necessary to adjust to a different climate, and this will also be long enough to adjust to any time change. Monitoring the athlete's body weight and resting pulse on a daily basis will tell the coach when equilibrium has been reached (though, of course, the coach will need to know the normal fluctuations at home, which should be recorded in the athlete's training log).

8. Mental training - The athlete must get used to winning. I have read that winning an event actually raises the testosterone level - certainly there is a synergistic effect, particularly in team events. It makes sense, therefore, to plan the domestic season so that the athlete starts by winning minor events and then goes on to bigger ones. However, he must also be able to lose without it destroying his confidence. The athlete who cannot handle a defeat is not a complete athlete. Someone who expects to win, who feels that he or she ought to win, is less likely to give way under pressure than someone who merely hopes to win. The most useful tool in building this attitude is rehearsal of all the possible scenarios. In a long- distance race, this will include running from the front, closing a gap when somebody has gone out too fast, and putting in a strong finishing burst. It is obviously closely linked to my last two points.

9. Analysing the event - The more you know about the nature of the event, the better you will be able to handle it. For a long-distance race, we would like to know exactly where the hills are, what the going is like, what the weather will be, and whether there are any peculiar features such as very sharp bends, Wherever possible, we look at the course well in advance so that we can go through mental rehearsals of running a winning race. If there are likely to be any problems over travelling, feeding or getting accommodation, these must be thought through well in advance so that the athlete is not worried about them.

10. Race tactics - Just as you need a plan for your training, you must also have a winning plan for the event. This means that you must know the opposition and what they are likely to do. You must have a response to deal with each situation. You must know your own strengths and weaknesses and when you have made your plan you must be able to carry it out under pressure. This is the hardest part. If, for example, you have decided that the best place to strike in a 10,000m race is with seven laps to go because that is a point where people are feeling bad, you must not be put off by the fact that you too are feeling bad. It always comes down to a battle of wills, and you will be the winner if you have built yourself to a point where you will not accept defeat.