Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Rowing the Mahon Way

Rowing the Mahon Way
From Keystrokes – NZ Coaching Newsletter, April 2005
This article was sourced via the internet. I no longer have the source page and have been unable to re-find the link and the author of this document. The purpose of this statement is to acknowledge the contribution of the author and Harry Mahon.

Many of us have witnessed Harry Mahon at work at close quarters. I have asked Harry to put a few thoughts on paper regarding:
What he felt were the main requirements of good technique in order to produce top boat speed.
What were the prevalent faults he had seen in NZ that were hindering boat movement.

Harry Stressed:
The rowing stroke is a push and not a pull.
We must aim to move the boat past the oar, and not the oar past the boat. Hence a large white frothy puddle suggests a waste of energy in that the oarsman is pulling rather concentrating on a good lock up of the blade in the water.
The importance of the inside arm in finishing off the stroke – the inside arm coming past the body with a relaxed shoulder allowing the oar to come easily out of the water at the end of the stroke.
The sequence of legs, body, shoulders, arms and hands during the drive, and in reverse on the recovery.
Placing the blade in the water with the outside arm from a strong body position (sit tall!), and the outside arm again performing a vital task at the end of the stroke in extracting the blade out of the water with a downward
The avoidance of shoulder lift and arm snatch at the catch – the arms merely connecting the oar to the energy source.
Relaxation – easily said, less easily achieved.
Encouraging your rowers to sit and feel the boat running. Hence the importance of picking the boat up at the catch with no hesitation on the front stop.
Sculling being no different to rowing, and providing the ideal vehicle for interpreting the run of the boat – watch the stern movement.
Balance – Harry said he does not stress balance as such but works on those things that in themselves produce good balance. He is wary of balancing exercises that lead to a tensing of the body when relaxation is of prime importance.

Harry noticed:
A lot of pullers
Catches being taken with the arms, and in some instances with shoulders
Tightness of the body at the finish resulting in poor finishes and awkward body movements.
Rushed recoveries with knees coming up too soon
Resulting in arriving at the front stop unprepared in body and mind for the catch and causing unwanted body movements and pauses at the very place that they are not wanted. Harry stressed his debt to the influence of Thor Nilsen as demonstrated at the 1981 Seminar which helped to crystallize his thinking on both technique and training methods. It is interesting to note that in his eight seasons with Waikato their 15 premier titles have been achieved with a variety of techniques as Harry slowly developed his approach to what moved the boats best. The following are some comments written by a club oarsman after a session with him. For those crews who have had the opportunity to work out with Harry, a useful exercise could be to get the rowers, like this one, to put their interpretation of what they heard and did on paper as regards the Mahon Way.

In reading the following remember it is one oarsman’s thoughts on what he heard and understood.
The catch is a placing of, or anchoring of, the blade in the water so you can push against it with the legs.
The stroke involves pushing with the legs, keeping the shoulders and arms relaxed, and at the same time opening hip angle and shoulders to keep the distance between body and oar handle.
The finish of the stroke should be strong with the inside arm, and elbow pushed straight back.
In the recovery phase hands should flow out at the speed they came in, and pack up before moving forward. Emphasis here was on rhythm and flow.
Sit tall with a strong back, and can therefore have the hands higher at the catch which is stronger.
A lot of white water represents pulling and not pushing = loss of power.

Some thoughts on technique by Harry Mahon:
After having travelled to many parts of New Zealand over the past 15 months, it may be of interest to coaches and rowers for me to comment on aspects of the rowing stroke that require attention on order that the many people rowing can improve their efficiency and boat moving effectiveness.

Some key faults:
Pulling the oar with the arms rather than anchoring the oar in the water and pushing the boat past the oar (or sculls). The only pushing ‘mechanism’ available to us is our legs. Some indicators of this fault are: a washy blade (large puddle), and legs not going down quickly.
One arm rowing – this involves taking the catch with the inside arm, in many cases with only one hand on the oar. It generally involves a snatch of the catch with that hand and sometimes means that the person rows short. It is fairly obvious to see, but often a difficult fault to correct. This results in a weak finish. Energy expended on the catch is therefore not available for the end of the stroke.
Tightness (stiffness), particularly of the inside shoulder at the catch. If this shoulder is higher than the outside the entry level is lessened; as well, the tightness does not allow the power from the legs to be transferred to the blade.
Feathering and squaring the blade needs more attention. Oars (and sculls) are being gripped too tightly and the structure of the gate is not being utilised. In general, many people are not ready to enter the water when they reach the front of the slide. The blade must be squared before reaching the front so that entry can be immediate. Only the inside wrist should be used in this operation with concentration on placing the oar in the water with the outside hand. As well, people with an inadequate finish turn the blade (by varying degrees) to help with the extraction.
Lack of finish to the stroke. The power is not finished off with the inside arm. As a consequence the amount of boat run per stroke is lessened. These are probably the most noticed individual faults and the first three mentioned are very closely interrelated. There are some other less commonly seen individual faults:
Leaning away from the oar at the finish of the stroke and consequently not keeping the body weight behind the blade.
Leaning back to far at the finish and pulling up on the shoes. The person is unbalanced and has left the shoulder segment of the stroke too late.
Traveling around the blade on the way to the catch, leaning away from the oar. This creates balance problems as weight is shifted from one side to the seat to the other.
Pushing away with the legs before the blade has been locked in the water. Thus the full leg drive is not utilized and no effective contribution is made to crew power generation.

Finally some crew problems:
Slide control – either too much or too little. In the first case it means that by the time the crew is entering the water the boat has slowed considerably from the previous stroke. Consequently more effort is required to ‘pick up’ the boat again. If the slide has traveled too quickly the run generated from the previous stroke is cut considerably as the boat is not allowed to run. This generally results in a high rating crew which does not have a strong finish to each stroke. It is important that a perpetual motion situation is developed which allows for maximum efficiency.
Crew stiffness in crew movements, especially on the recovery. Additional energy is thus used which should be utilized in moving the boat. As well, balance problems occur.

Note well:
The important thing is that all of these things cannot be worked on at once and coaches must isolate the problem that they feel is the most significant and work steadily through each person’s needs. I tried to correct the whole lot at once because in most instances the time allocation came to just a few minutes per person. So take your time, and many of the smaller problems will take care of themselves.

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