Improve your Stroke – hit the catch
The catch is one of the most critical parts of the rowing stroke cycle. Boat velocity is lowest at the catch, caused by a phase of deceleration when the rower needs to reverse his body’s direction of motion by pushing against the stretcher. This pushing on the stretcher creates a force direct against the boats direction of movement, therefore slowing it down. Last time in “Improve your stroke with Rowing in Motion” we looked at exactly this phenomenon and discussed various strategies to avoid this by adopting a crews motion pattern in the recovery.
Slow catch – “rowing in” the blade
This time, we’re looking at the next part of the rowing stroke, the catch. The key challenge at the catch is to move the blades into the water as fast as possible at the maximum angle. If the hands move up too slow, we see the blade being “rowed in” to the water. The boat loses even more velocity as the rower starts pushing on the stretcher without generating a positive handle force to compensate for that. What’s more important is that a significant part of stroke length is lost that could instead be used to accelerate the boat. In the “Rowing in Motion Video” below you see the blade being rowed in and the corresponding acceleration graph.
Fast catch with “V-splash”
Now, let’s take a look at an example for an optimal catch. The optimal catch is characterised by the typical “v-splash” when the squared blade hits the water right before the maximum angle is reached (creating a backsplash) and is being moved into the water as fast as possible while beginning the stroke (creating a small frontsplash). In the below “Rowing in Motion Video” you can see a better timing at the catch where the blades hit the water earlier and a visible backsplash is created.
Comparing boat acceleration at the catch
For your reference here’s the full video comparing the two different styles at the catch in realtime and slow motion.
From the same video pieces, we have analysed the typical boat acceleration using Rowing in Motion Analytics.The blue graph is from a part of the exercise where the blade has been “rowed in” and the red graph is from a part of the exercise with a better timing at the catch.
We can clearly see that boat acceleration in the early drive phase of the stroke is greatly improved with an optimal catch. As I have detailed in another post in this series, earlier acceleration is better since it increases average boat velocity over the stroke. You can think about it this way: boat velocity changes during the stroke but at the end and beginning, it’s the same (since negative and positive boat acceleration add to zero and the boat maintains its average velocity). How do you increase this average velocity? When the boat is slowest at the catch you need to accelerate the boat as quickly as possible to be fast for as long as possible during the stroke cycle. That’s how you increase average velocity.
Exercises for achieving a good catch
It’s important you try to develop a good feeling for an optimal catch and when you get it right. A slow rise in boat acceleration after the catch indicates that the blade is being “rowed in”. Using sonification the difference between an optimal and suboptimal catch can be exemplified and the crew can use this realtime feedback to associate the correct “feeling” with a good catch.
As I mentioned previously, a good visual indicator for a good catch is the typical “V-splash” that can be observed when the blade hits the water in the right moment. Coaches can usually spot the V-splash easily but there’s no harm to use a simple video analysis to confirm an initial impression. To help crews achieve a good catch, focus on the movement of their hands and upper body. The upper body should remain in a fixed forward position while the hands rise slowly towards the catch so the blade hits the water at the right moment. It’s also important that the blades are being squared early enough so some time remains to put them near and into the water. When the blade is squared too late, the hands usually “dip” down a little to make enough room for squaring – while at the same time moving the blade away from the water and making it impossible to hit the right spot.
Here’s some exercises that may help with a good catch:
- try squaring the blade reeeeaaaally early, best above the knees or ankles
- work with overreactions, make the crew push the blades into the water so a huge backsplash is created
- try to convey to your crew that the blades should be completely buried at the maximum catch angle when they get there, not on the way back
- try split-crew rowing in the four or eight as that increases boat stability and the feeling of traction when the catch was done correctly
If you want to learn more about using boat acceleration to optimize your rowing technique, check out my article “Optimize your Rowing Stroke”.