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Rowing Technique

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

Jim Buckley

The rowing style taught by Frank Cunningham and Stan Pocock is characterized by a catch in which the legs drive the feathered blade into the water, “one cut” through the drive, a finish where pressure is kept on the oar with arms and shoulders while the rower’s head and body are already changing direction, fast hands away to mid-slide and then decreasing slide speed for a long run before the next catch. This technique is well explained in Frank’s book, The Sculler At Ease.

Steve Fairbairn, “the father of modern rowing” and admired by Frank and Stan, thought that mileage made champions. He wasn’t too concerned with style, especially the stilted artificial English Orthodox style. Fairbairn taught rowers to concentrate on blade work and the body will take care of itself. Frank wrote an interesting article on the subject, “A Dialogue with Steve and Stan”, in which he notes that Stan had not read Fairbairn. In fact, says Frank, George Pocock told Stan not to read any books on rowing because they were all written by college men who were amateurs and really didn’t know how to row as well as professional rowers!

Many college and younger Masters rowers, however, emphasize different techniques characterized by squaring the blade before the catch and not feathering until after the release. In a search to explain and justify these techniques, here are some comments and links:

Stan Pocock said, when I asked him at the 2003 Wooden Boat Festival about the picture of the Russians falling apart in the 1960 Olympic straight four race, that it was the way they rowed. When pressed he said they were the first crew he ever saw rowing with squared blades. Then, to his horror, the Americans began imitating them and Stan chastised them first for watching the other crews and then (worse) copying them. “Its a nice trick” said Stan, but it’s hard to keep it up in unison when you’re tired. Then it’s a lot of unproductive up and down motion. “The Pocock style was successful because you naturally fell into it when you were tired and so could keep it up” he said.

Rowing Technique – The Mike Spracklen Method – Mike Spracklen, current national team coach for the US men’s sweep team.

Bottom Line: “Rowing styles differ in where emphasis is placed.” writes Mike Spracklen. Everyone admires the fluid motion of a winning sculler or rower and the purists seem to be able to show how these elite rowers illustrate the “correct” style.


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