Don’t rock the boat… might not be that easy.

This week we have turned our attention to boat trim. A significant factor for feel and boat speed, the way an individual or crew affects the run and movement of the boat is a key factor to the skill of rowing but there are a number of different opinions on this. In only one element of the stroke, the check of the boat there has been debate raging for years on what is best.

To start the conversation let’s begin with some science from the recent article by L. S. Cuijpers that appeared in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports; Rocking the boat: does perfect rowing crew synchronization reduce detrimental boat movements?

The abstract reads as follows and bear with us there are some scientific terms in here that may be a little full-on but it’s the overall them and findings that are important:

In crew rowing, crew members need to mutually synchronize their movements to achieve optimal crew performance. Intuitively, poor crew coordination is often deemed to involve additional boat movements such as surge velocity fluctuations, heave, pitch, and roll, which would imply lower efficiency (eg, due to increased hydrodynamic drag).

The aim of this study was to investigate this alleged relation between crew coordination and boat movements at different stroke rates. Fifteen crews of two rowers rowed in a double scull (ie, a two-person boat) at 18, 22, 26, 30, and 34 strokes per minute. Oar angles (using potentiometers) and movements of the boat (using a three-axial accelerometer-gyroscope sensor) were measured (200 Hz).

Results indicated that crew synchronization became more consistent with stroke rate, while surge, heave, and pitch fluctuations increased. Further, within each stroke rate condition, better crew synchronization was related to less roll of the boat, but increased fluctuations regarding surge, heave, and pitch. Together this demonstrates that while better crew synchronization relates to enhanced lateral stability of the boat, it inevitably involves more detrimental boat movements and hence involves lower biomechanical efficiency.

This is very interesting but more investigation is needed as the analysis only includes 2X’s – no doubt sweep rowing and higher crewed boats may be different. It makes sense though that at higher rates the crews move overall together more and that this creates more surge as there is more momentum overall.

Key to the final finding though is the fact that the increased synchronization is seen to reduce biomechanical efficiency. It is common in fast movements that efficiency is reduced but because of rate/cadence/peak force the athlete/s move faster overall. It does open up the ability to further exploree the ‘ideal rates’ for each boat class or crew that reduce the losses most but also enhance speed. It is also interesting to look at crews who don’t necessarily match up superbly in techniquee but are extremely fast and effective – there are many examples of this at the Olympic end, in this exact boat class and in the 2-, I will let you all guess who I am thinking of to avoid an argument next time I see them in the boat park at a world cup!

More of a thought provoker than a range of answers this begs the question what is fastest and best? We always look to the athlete’s individual movement and then the crews because this is how you refine the machine to the best of it’s ability – each part should be operating at its best to be most effective when added to a system. All of our equipment makes the athlete more connected and stable and this would be a good place to start as it is an easy fix however what the article questions is even if you move well together what does that mean, what ratings are best and what should the race strategy be to maintain the best speed vs efficiency ratio?

We love our sport because we can always continue to learn and get better – keep your eyes out as we continue to explore some of the dark arts of rowing in more detail soon.

Find out more with other BAT Logic articles:

  • Thanks to the authors for adding to the knowledge with their piece of research; L. S. Cuijpers, P. J. M. Passos, A. Murgia, A. Hoogerheide, K. A. P. M. Lemmink,, H. J. de Poel.