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balance sculling

How do you balance the boat so you can row in a single with feathered blades off the water?

I have been rowing for one year 4 months now (about once, sometimes twice a week) and still can't do this. I don't know where I'm going wrong and what is preventing me being able to row properly, I've been trying to make a change but don't know how. I have mild scoliosis so I know my centre of balance is slightly off but I cannot blame this.

Are there any exercises that would be helpful?
I know square blades is good for balance and getting a good catch/finish but in a single I end up catching the water practically every stroke, going really slowly, looking dreadful and even capsizing. I find it so frustrating.

At our club we have been taught to row with our left hand leading; slightly in front and above. I think I generally tip to the rower's right more than the left. Also I make the balance bad in a double and this always annoys whichever partner I have. In a quad i am able to row blades off the water, but to me the boat always feels it is really low on the rower's right side.

First off, it takes many, many years rowing in the single before you can effectively set it up with no blades on the water, so don't think that you are behind.  You are just going through the natural learning process.  The single is a much different monster from quads or the 8+, and the amount of time that you have to put into rowing the single reflects that.  Your goal should be to work your way up very slowly.  The first objective is to get to where you can row the single without flipping it.  Then your next goal is to row it where your blades are skimming the surface of the water each stroke, but there isn't any real weight against them.  Even that point is very difficult to get to, and any rower should be impressed with his or herself if they can achieve it.

As for finding balance, you will need to use your body weight in order set the boat.  Your scoliosis should not affect this at all.  You will just use your body weight to offset whatever displacement it has made to your center of gravity.  Start with your hips in the direct center of the boat.  You will ALWAYS want to keep your hips there.  If they slip out of the center of the boat, then it will be impossible to set up.  The next step is to make sure that you are sitting up very tall.  A lot of the time, scullers want to hunch their back in the boat, especially at the catch.  You don't want to do that.  You want to sit tall, with your back straight and the chest up and out.  When you move the body forward on the recovery, make sure to pivot from the hips and not your stomach.  This will keep your shoulders up tall and give you nice balance.  When you are trying to find your balance in the boat, you will use your shoulders to do that.  If the boat starts to tip a little to one side, you VERY slight alterations with your shoulders to adjust, leaving the weight of the hips directly in the center of the boat.

The best exercise for getting better at the single is just going out and rowing it.  It is very hard to do drills in the single just because you don't have anybody else in the boat to set it for you while you attempt them.  This usually means that you already have to be very good at whatever drill you are attempting in order for it to even work.  I would suggest that you just go out and row it while focusing on different aspects of the stroke to make sure that you are hammering them down.  Focus on the weight balance like I was saying earlier.  Make sure that your shoulders are very relaxed on the recovery.  Focus on being very quick at the catch.  The catch is the most unstable part of the entire stroke because the boat is moving the slowest.  Because of this, you want to have your blades already squared and locked in the water when you get there, so you aren't wasting any time up at the catch.  Lastly, make sure that you are getting a nice, solid send with the back and arms.  If you aren't accelerating the boat with the back and arms, the water behind the oar will catch up to the back of the oar at the finish and make it very difficult to get your blade out of the water without tipping the boat.

As for always tipping to the right side, many of my rowers have that same problem when they first start.  I can't say for certainty what is causing your problem with that without actually seeing you row, but I can tell you that the reason that causes them to do it is because they drop their right hand too much.  We teach the left-hand-leading style also.  Most rowers problem, though, is that they drop the right hand too far below the left.  It should be behind and below the left hand, but they should be close enough that they are almost touching.  Dropping the right hand too much will cause a crab on that side every time.  If you feel like your right hand is right up underneath the left one on every stroke and you are still tilting that way, you may need to adjust your spacers on the right oarlock.

I hoped that this helped.  Just remember that it is very important to not be scared of flipping.  Many beginners in the single or double row very scared of flipping, and it drastically affects the way that they row.  I am actually pretty glad when some of my beginners flip just because I know that the rest of the practice will be their best rowing ever simply because they will see that flipping isn't that big of a deal.

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