The approach

Motor coaching

The understanding of motor learning has improved considerably over the past ten years. However, these insights have hardly changed the way of coaching within the rowing world. In the spring of 2015 Jeroen Brinkman started experimenting with differential learning in rowing. The results of these differential experiments were so convincing that he went even further by applying other recent insights of motor learning in rowing. At this moment the is the worldwide frontier in motor coaching for rowers. Much of this knowledge can be found in this app.

The starting point for motor coaching is that rowers' muscles are deaf. Explaining to a rower how to make his movement (eg "hands together" or "legs first, then trunk and then arms") requires a translation made by the rower from cognitive understanding to motor execution. And a lot goes wrong with that translation. In motor coaching, that translation is made by the coach and he no longer explains the rowing movement. This motor approach appears to be more effective than the classical approach - also for motorically gifted rowers: the rowers learn much faster.

Want to learn more about how to use motor learning in your coaching? Check our Training courses.

Stretching the movement space

The rowing stroke of rowers is in muscle memory. This stroke is not performed in exactly the same way every time, but has movement variations (black lines in the drawing below). These movement variations together are called the movement space (the green bar in the drawing below). This muscle memory is change-averse: it is very difficult to make changes to a movement present in this memory. This is why unlearning is so much harder than learning.

When the rowing stroke motor programme is activated by the rower making a regular stroke, and at the same time the rower is asked to move the muscles outside the range of motion, the range of motion is stretched. This stretching thus occurs in two steps: 1. the rower activates the rowing stroke stored in muscle memory; 2. the rower is 'forced' to move outside the regular range of motion.

When muscles are stimulated in this way, it appears to become easier for the muscles to make a change in the movement space. And this is desirable, to teach the rower a new and better rowing movement.


Not every exercise changes the rowing stroke. While that should actually be the starting point of an exercise. The quality of the transfer depends on the exercise used as well as the amount of attention the coach pays to that transfer. Classic exercises are less suitable than Motor exercises. A standard transfer is made by having the team row a piece with the same focus as used during the exercise (see the 3-step intervention: Intervene). For some exercises, a specific transfer is available, which is described in the applicable exercise.

Motor exercises

Motor exercises are exercises that optimally match the way in which rowers learn new motor skills. In doing so, use is made of modern scientific insights in the field of motor learning. These new motor exercises have been included in this app and are exercises behind the type of exercise. Motor exercises give both a better transfer (transfer of the learned during the exercise to the rowing motion) and a better retention (holding of the learned) than classical exercises.

Differential approach

The differential approach to motor learning challenges the premise that the more often the ideal movement is repeated, the better one becomes at that movement. This approach assumes that variations between performances are necessary to challenge the brain and to learn effectively. It has been scientifically proven that athletes learn up to twice as fast in this way!

In a differential approach you ensure that the room for maneuver is stretched by applying many different variations. Think, for example, of learning the correct trunk movement by bending in a lot and not bending in. Varying the bend angle of the trunk makes it easier to find the right angle.

Inexperienced rowers do not always have the necessary muscle coordination to perform differential exercises directly in the boat. In that case, it is wise to practice on a rowing machine.

Old-way new-way approach

Effective way for quick technique correction in which the old technique is maximally contrasted with the new technique. It is the only approach that is very effective against stubbornly ingrained technical errors. Forms the basis of the 5-step learning process (see: Intervene). 

Training sensory system (focus)

Part of motor coaching is training a rower's sensory system. He learns how to collect feedback on what the boat is doing as well as on its own movements. He can collect this feedback by feeling (kinistetic), listening (auditory) and looking (visual). Training a rower's sensory skills is an important part of motor coaching.

Coaching different

Coaches who use motor learning as a starting point notice two major differences in practice:

  1. They work with a new set of exercises. Exercises with a poor transfer (eg Pause paddling and rowing with Squared blades) are no longer used. They are replaced by new exercises that make use of motor learning. The type of exercise, whether the exercise is classical or motorial, is indicated in the exercise topics of this app.
  2. They use a different approach for presenting the exercises. Less attention is paid to the rower's cognitive understanding of an exercise. The coach places greater emphasis on experiential learning, using the rower's sensory skills (focus on...) and motor skills (differential approach). The rower learns to collect feedback on the correct execution.


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