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Types of exercises

Three fundamentally different exercises are available to the coach/instructor. These are:

Classic exercises

Unfortunately, not every exercise changes the regular rowing stroke. While that should actually be the starting point of an exercise. The degree to which the exercise affects the regular rowing stroke is called transfer. So there are exercises with inherently poor transfer and exercises with inherently good transfer. The exercises with inherently poor transfer, are called classic exercises.

It is important here to distinguish between the intention of the coach/instructor and the way muscles learn. Because that (positive) intention, is not always 'understood' by the muscles. The ingrained rowing movement is in the rower's muscle memory. A movement once ingrained is change-averse, which is why unlearning is so difficult. When the muscles can, they prefer to learn a new movement rather than change the old one. A good example is rowing with un-turned blade to increase putting away depth. During that exercise, the depth is well present: a new motor programme takes care of this. However, when returning to the normal stroke, that depth disappears completely: the old motor programme is active again.

Examples of classic exercises are:
Squared blades;
Pause paddling or easy all.

Fortunately, there are also two modern approaches available that do not have this drawback. 

Cybernetic exercises

The starting point here is that the boat teaches the rower how to row. In this approach, the coach/instructor uses the boat to give feedback to the rower. This approach is called cybernetic because there is a feedback loop: the rower makes a movement, the boat reacts to this movement, the rower perceives this boat reaction and adjusts his movement accordingly. Boats with the most feedback are the small boats with as few rowers as possible (pair and skiff), but a C1 is also ideally suited for this. Cybenetic exercises thus make use of this approach. The coach/instructor can support this in two ways:

First, the coach/instructor can give the rower focus: The rower can do this by looking (visual), by feeling (kinistetic) or by listening (auditory). For example: that the rowing rhythm is good, you can hear. That the sliding is good, you can feel. That the finish is good, you can see from the blade. In this way, the rower can check himself by knowing how to get feedback on his own rowing motion.

Second, the coach/instructor can give the rower a rowing rule: what to do in response to what the boat does. For example, the coach/instructor sees that at the pull-out of a skiff, the left hand does not move down and the right hand wants to. As a result, the boat is on port side. The rowing rule given by the coach/instructor to the rower is then: "When you notice that the boat is on port side, push your left hand down deeper at the finish!".

Examples of cybernetic exercises are:

Lay side;
Stroke against crew.

Motor exercises

With the motor approach, the coach/instructor does not make the rower translate a given command into muscle movement, but provides maximum support in doing so. Thereby, the movement space is stretched  – often with a differential exercise  – and attention is paid to a good transfer. Read more about motor coaching here.

Examples of motor exercises are:
Trunc throwing;
Dynamic lengthening


Whatever approach you take as a coach/instructor, it is important that you see a significant change in the rowers' regular stroke. If this change or improvement is lacking, then your approach is not satisfactory and you need to try something else. Because if you don't see this change/improvement, then you end up with the coaching ritual. In this coaching ritual:


  • as coach, you give instructions to the rowers;
  • the rowers find your instructions very valuable;
  • the rowers are very satisfied with your coaching;
  • but nothing changes in the rowers' regular stroke.

This is similar to a ritual rain dance: everyone knows it's not going to rain, but it dances so nicely! Many classical coaches/instructors are used to seeing little or minimal change and are thus satisfied with small improvements in the regular rowing stroke. This is in contrast to modern coaches/instructors, who are instead used to significant changes and begin to doubt themselves when these are omitted...

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