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Jane’s “Frank” talk – Our class notes..

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

Jane was lucky enough to study under LWRC’s Hall of Fame coach Frank Cunningham – and last Friday we were lucky enough to have her share her knowledge with us.

Rather than try to recreate everything she said, I asked for your takeaways and this was what you said. Everything in blue italics was written by you. Thank you for taking such good notes!

For in depth information, read Frank’s books The Sculler at Ease and Ask Frank, both available in our library (or order your own copy from LWRC.)

  1. -Appreciated her perspective on Frank and Stan – just nice to hear it from someone else. -Jane is modest, funny, direct, non-ego-driven, not wedded to any rigid method yet totally within the Cunningham-Pocock tradition. -One thought I had is how she so well evokes the memory of Frank.  She is so fluent in describing the mechanics of rowing.

Advantages of Frank Cunningham’s style (the Thames Waterman Stroke)

It’s easier to maintain over a greater distance

  1. The many generations of professional Thames watermen who evolved an efficient rowing technique, preserving the body from injury to be able to row for the long haul

It’s easier on the body

  1. Frank taught a stroke that would not injure people and allow them to row well into old age


  1.  The importance of extending the back on recovery and opening the chest at the catch. 

  2. Protecting the spine and not collapsing during layback or hunching to overreach at the catch.

  3. In the second half of recovery keeping the seat behind you, and not sliding it underneath you protects the lumbar region.


  1. Letting the water do the work in the Thames Waterman Stroke is less likely to cause tendon injuries than the “early roll up” technique.

  2. Keeping the hands light on the oars prevents blisters

  3. I will really look forward to her return to talk on hands. Sadly, I am one who gets blisters at the beginning of the season.

It’s arguably faster….

  1. LWRC’s Olympic medal winning rower, physical therapist and scientist Sherri Cassuto, ran trials in various conditions and concluded that the Thames Waterman Stroke was faster than the popular collegiate style.



Swing starts with matching slides with the person in front of you

  1. Moving together in the boat (even if you don’t like the style)  is key to moving the boat fast

  2. Follow the slide of the rower in front of you

  3. Relax on the second half of the recovery!

  4. At the beginning of the recovery achieve the body angle of the catch as soon as you can

  5. ratio !

  6. At first learning the stroke and recovery as sequential steps done one after the other but then learning to blend the parts into one fluid movement.

Doesn’t matter how tall you are – what’s important is swinging together

  1. It was so encouraging to hear that good and efficient technique can compensate for lack of stature

  2. Rowing is for everyone & even if the members of a crew are different sizes, they can make it work if they work together.

  3. I found it interesting that she, as a very small person, said that size shouldn’t matter all that much in terms of making up a crew; short people and tall people can row together successfully. Other things, mainly that the crew should swing together, are more important.

  4. Gratifying that us little people can still be part of the team.

  5. She offered useful tips small rowers can employ when rowing with larger people.

Photo by Paul Danilchik

Photo by Paul Danilchik

Choose a stroke with a good sense of rhythm

  1. Jane said when colleges still had dances, Dick Erickson would watch for a stroke who showed a good sense of timing on the dance floor.

How to match slides – training together

  1. Watch videos of yourselves –  look for: back angle the same, hand height the same, knees going down at the same time, slides moving together

  2. On the Ergs – Swing together, side-by-side matching all of the above

  3. In the Boat, adjust foot stretchers so that oar handles point to your spine at the finish, (sculling, sweep is just fwd of armpit) without excessive layback – and attempt to row through the pin without hitting the front stops (The imaginary line between the oarlocks through which the seat passes.)

  4. two phrases that stand out are:  “find the water” and “Row thru the pin”.

Body Angle half slide

Photo by Paul Danilchik

Catch Drills – Pause halfway up the slide, knees slightly bent, body over, arms in the catch position. The travel up the second half of the slide is very slow.

  1. In doing pause drills, be sure the cox makes needed corrections that only she can see.  Without that, it becomes a mechanical and meaningless exercise


Locking blades in the water….Frank stressed that the the rower should “pry the boat” through the water. The blades should be moving the boat, instead of moving the water.


Imagine a series of pegs in a line. The blades “lock on” to the water as though they were stationary pegs,  and propel the boat forward to the next pair of pegs without disturbing the water.

Starting at 2:40 in the video the sculler unintentionally illustrates this concept as a buoy acts as a “peg”. Watch how   undisturbed the buoy stays at the catch and through the stroke.

The other indication that this oarsman in the “peg” video is getting  the “perfect catch”  is the small squirt of water coming off the front and back of the blade.

Jane likened it to a perfect high dive – creating almost no disturbance as the diver breaks the water’s surface.

  1. The video of the guy rowing around the buoy with nary a splash made vivid that metaphor of having a series of poles in the water and us rowing around them, without disturbing them

  2. I really liked her description of the catch and knowing about the little V-splash and my favorite phrase, “don’t mess up the water”, that one will stay with me.

  3. pay attention to the puddles and try to eliminate turbulence and raised edges

  4. look for the V-shaped splashes as the blade enters the water

(In contrast, Jane showed a video of a sculler with a not so perfect catch – skying at the catch, no slowing up the slide, flipping water off the blades at the finish, and rowing with the back  in a “C” shape.)

A sign that you are moving water instead of the boat is not just the degree of splashing seen at the catch, but also the amount of whitewater and “lip” in the puddles at the release.

1:18 w' whitewater


2:18 w:o whitewater

No whitewater

Controlling the degree of turbulence in the puddles is a function of the release.

The release in the Thames Waterman Stroke is tied in with the “ferrymans’ finish” – a tough-to-master coordination  involving shoulder squeeze, light hands, and maintaining enough pressure on the back of the blade that it will simply “pop out” of the water by itself. Hopefully we will learn all about this in her next talk on “hands”

Jane suggests doing all drills at minimum pressure until the individual or crew masters the sequence.

  1. Too often we rush to the mill and back. I like the idea of learning at low pressure and gradually applying more force.

  2. Only rarely do we pursue one topic long enough to make progress

Next time – Jane will talk about “Hands”

  1. This is the kind of educational event that I’ve longed for in my years with the club.

  2. You selected perfect videos to illustrate your points and, most importantly, you showed them again and again so that our eyes had time to get educated, to actually notice what your words were describing.  And limiting yourself to a few key rowing features was very helpful in this sport that seems to have an infinite number of important variables

  3.  She says she doesn’t coach but she has a natural ability to inspire.  I know I got excited about rowing during the talk, and wished we could all just get in boats right then and there.

  4. The videos were very good for seeing what good rowing looks like even if we can never attain it fully.

  5. She’s very knowledgeable & generous about sharing her knowledge.

  6. I liked the way Jane spoke individually to everyone as they arrived before the talk–that was really nice.

 She was personable, dynamic, knowledgeable, and informative. And generous with her time

  1. Her enthusiasm for rowing was contagious.


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