R. C. (Rudolf Chambers) Lehmann.

The complete oarsman online

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accomplish their "beginning" quickly, firmly, and, it might
almost be said, quietly. Seeing that such is the case, it is as
unfair to eight-oared rowing to term the energetic upheaval
of a sculler's body, when unsupported from the stretcher, the
wrong application of an eight-oared style as it is to the art of
sculling to say that an eight, which does not succeed in apply-
ing all its weight and strength at the beginning of the stroke,
is an eight composed of scullers.

That an effective sculling " beginning " will never look quite
like that of a good eight is inevitable from the difference
of pace at which the two boats travel. With an oarsman or
sculler of no extraordinary strength the body, in its backward
swing, cannot travel faster than the pace of the boat allows
provided the blades are always well covered ; and when we
consider that a good eight over the Henley course travels
nearly two miles an hour faster, on an average, than a fast
sculler, and that, in consequence, it can maintain an average
of from four to five strokes per minute faster than he can,*
we shall realize the difference in pace at which the respective
bodies of the eight-oarsman and the sculler swing back at the
beginning of the stroke, and the consequent wrong inference,
that, because the sculler's body does not move so quickly, he
therefore is not applying all his force.

Whatever force shall be applied to the propelling of a

* It is of common occurrence that an eight will maintain an average of 37-38
strokes per minute over the Henley course, while it seldom happens that a sculler
will exceed an average of 33 strokes. This is almost entirely due to the difference
in actual pace of the boats.


sculling-boat should be applied at the beginning of the stroke,
and it is one of the objects of a good style that all this force
shall be applied only to the propelling of the boat, and that
no misdirected energy shall in any way cause the boat to
stagger or become unsteady. From what has been said,
however, concerning the " beginning," it must not in any way
be inferred that the pressure here should be greater than at
the middle or finish of the stroke. The pressure throughout
the entire backward swing should be uniformly hard. At the
beginning of the stroke, then, the legs and body should exert
their full pressure at once not before the blades are in the
water, nor, on the other hand, should the blades be in the
water before the work comes on. In order to ensure this
being the case, great attention must be paid to the action of
the arms in putting the blades into the water. The moment
the body has completed its forward swing the arms are raised
slightly, without bending them, yet sufficiently to let the
blades sink at once to their proper depth. This action must,
however, be performed so quickly that, although it takes
place when the body is full forward, it shall not occasion even
the smallest pause between the swing forward and the swing

The Swing Back

The next part of the stroke to be considered is that
portion of it from the "beginning" until the body is in an
upright position. Legs, blades, body, and slide start work
simultaneously, and for the rest of the backward swing the
sculler's shoulders always travel faster than the slide, and
always in the same proportion the ratio of speed being
determined by the respective distances the shoulders and
slide must travel, so that they shall finish together. The
shoulders should not travel faster at one time than another,
nor should the slide.

During this part of the swing, and, in fact, whenever the
arms are straight, the muscles which control the angle they
make with the body should never be stiffened. The sculls,





too, should be held at the end of the handle, with the thumbs
across the outside to prevent the hand from shifting its
grasp, very lightly, but not so feebly as to make them liable
to fly out of the hand in case the blades meet a wave or a
sudden gust of wind. While the arms are still straight
i.e. from the beginning of the stroke until the body is upright,
the angle they make with the body is always contracting.
It is at its largest when the blades take the water, and as the
depth of the blades while in the water should not vary, it is
their task merely to connect the force originating from the
clogs to the blades, and in no way to be influenced by the
necessary upward movement of the body. Any stiffening of
the muscles of the shoulders, arms, or hands, in this part
of the swing will inevitably affect the blades, and, instead
of their remaining at a depth of about 2 inches below the
surface,* they will perform a curve in the water, descending
to the greatest depth when the body is upright. The result
will be not only to destroy the effective grip of the blades,
but to cause the boat to lift above its uniform depth in the
middle of the stroke, and to bury at the finish when the body
sinks and the blades rise to the surface.

The Finish

When the body is in an upright position and is ready to
descend to the point, slightly past the perpendicular, at which
it finishes its swing, the elbows begin to bend and the hands
to come in at a rate that will bring them as far as they will
close up, so as to finish closing up simultaneously with the
finish of the body swing. In drawing in the arms no greater
muscular effort should be made than is sufficient to ensure
their being home by the time the body has finished its swing,
as the extra pace that could be got by performing this motion
with all possible strength would in no way compensate for the
almost inevitable consequence of the giving out of the muscles
of the arms before the course or race is over. When an arm

* Measuring from the top and end of the blade to the surface.


has given out really badly, a sculler finds he is obliged to
stop. It must, however, be confessed that, when a sculler has
obtained mastery over all other points of style, that this
action of the arms, in bringing the hands in to the body,
can be performed with an extra firmness that is hardly the
conscious effort of any muscles in the arms themselves. A
beginner will have far more fundamental problems with which
to occupy his attention, and such a finesse must only be
attempted by a good and experienced sculler who knows well
his own powers, and who possesses a critical faculty, born of
experience, which will be a sure guide as to whether his
attempts in this direction really do add a fraction to the
boat's pace.

Body, slide, and arms should finish simultaneously the
elbows being drawn close past the sides, and continuing
back in the same straight line until the wrists reach the hips.
The shoulders, at the finish of the swing, should be well back
and the chest extended, though not unnaturally so.

Such, in its separate parts, is that portion of the stroke
which propels the boat. The legs must exert a uniform
pressure throughout its duration, the hands should be un-
influenced by any upward or downward movement of the
body, and whatever effort is made should have its direct
effect on the blades, else it is valueless. As it is a fault
commonly seen among scullers that one blade or both
wash out at the finish of the stroke, attention should be
drawn to the importance of keeping both blades well
covered till the moment it is intended they shall leave the
water. Such a fault may have a variety of causes, but
the commonest cause is the desire to get extra power into
the finish by giving a sudden jerk either with the body
or the arms. Both blades should, of course, take and leave
the water exactly together, and, in fact, in every action,
which goes to make a complete stroke, both in the swing
forward and in the swing back, both legs, both arms, hands
and sculls should perform identical and simultaneous motions.
There is only one exception to this rule, which occurs in the






middle of the swing forward, and also in the middle of the
swing back. In consequence of the handles of the sculls
overlapping one hand must scull over the other. It is usual
to scull with the left hand over, and in this case the outrigger
on the right hand is set a little lower than the left outrigger,
so that the blades, in their relation to the surface, shall not
be affected by the necessary inequality in the level of the

The Recovery

(B) When the propelling part of the stroke is finished the
first task to be done is to get the blades out of the water.
As in rowing, this is done by dropping the hands and wrists
in the same position in which they are when the blades are
still in the water. It is a movement that extends as far as
the elbow, though not further, and the drop should be just
sufficient to raise the blades clear of the water without turning
them. When the blades are clear, the wrists should be
turned so as to bring the blades on the feather, and then the
arms should be straightened before the body has begun to
move forward. The moment the arms are straight, the body
resumes an upright position, while the slide is held back at
the furthest point it ever reaches from the stretcher. These
are the separate motions of the recovery in detail, and,
although they should all take place one after another in the
order above, the time that has elapsed, from the moment
the hands drop until the body is upright, should be the
merest fraction of a second. The recovery, in fact, cannot
be performed too quickly, provided that its several motions
are not confounded together. It would, perhaps, be rash to
assert that the boat's pace is increased by the instantaneous
recovery of the body ; yet the suggestion is worth more than
passing notice, that the shifting of the weight further aft,
without loss of time, relieves the bows and so gives the boat
a better chance of travelling while the impetus it has obtained
from the last stroke is still fresh upon it. There is, too, the
further reason for its being performed with all possible


despatch, that, since recuperation for the wind and muscles
is desirable during some part of the swing forward, it should
be indulged in where the necessity for steadiness and perfect
balance precludes any haste, i.e. during the swing from the
perpendicular until the body is full forward. There is not
time during the forward swing for two periods of recuperation ;
and since the recovery, in consequence of the action of the
wrists, arms, and body, is not so well suited for such a purpose
as the latter part of the swing forward, in which there is
nothing to be done except swing forward steadily, the
recovery should be performed as quickly as possible. Since
such is the case, too much attention cannot be paid to wrist
work and the shooting out of the arms. A proficiency in
wristwork, in addition to aiding the recovery of the body,
will ensure a clean finish, and so guard against any hindrance
to the free and sharp action of the arms in the shape of one
or both blades bumping along the surface of the water instead
of their being clear of it.

A sculler will do well, in practice, to regard the recovery
as belonging to the previous stroke, or, in other words, to
look upon the stroke as incomplete until the body is once
more in an upright position, with the arms straight out in
front of it. This will help him in his endeavours to obtain
the elastic movement that is so desirable, though he must
always beware, in so doing, lest any action is shirked, or lest
two or more should be confounded together.

The Swing 1 Forward

There remains now to be considered the swing of the
body from the perpendicular until it is full forward, and the
accompanying movement of the slide. The body, in its
swing forward, must always be in advance of the slide in such
a proportion that they will bothl reach their furthest points
together. Steadiness in this part of the swing is most
essential, since any loss of control will be sure to make the
beginning of the next stroke faulty in some respect. This




steadiness is not to be attained by any stiffening of the
muscles, but is rather an easy balance from the only stationary
point, the feet, helped by the muscles of the thighs which
control the downward swing of the body. As this is the only
part of the stroke that is suited for a recuperation of the wind
and muscles, it should be performed as easily as is compatible
with a perfect control and balance of the body.

About halfway between the time when the body is
perpendicular, and when it is full forward, the blades should
be turned off the feather by raising the wrists up to the level
of the hands not by lowering the hands to the level of the
wrists, and the utmost thought should be constantly exercised
at this part of the swing, to let the action of the arms be free
of the downward movement of the body, and to know, without
looking out of the boat, whether the blades are close to the
surface, and not several inches from it.

It is, perhaps, unnecessary to add that the moment the
body is full forward it should again begin to move back on
the next stroke; for it is not only in the most effective
application of power and weight to the blades that a good
style excels an imperfect one, but in the continuity of motion
throughout the entire stroke, so that no fraction of a second
is wasted at those points where a delay would serve no useful


There is much difference of opinion as to the length of
time that should be spent in preparation for a race after a
considerable period of physical inactivity. It is not a question
concerning which a definite period of time can be laid down
which will suit all alike, for the amount of practice required
must vary according, not only to the time that has elapsed
since a sculler was last in his boat, but also according to the
physique of the sculler himself. Two and a half months will
be ample practice for a man of average strength and wind,
who does not put on much extra weight when out of training,


and who has not let more than a year go by since he was last
in regular sculling practice. This is sufficient time to ensure
his getting up to his old form, but of course a longer period
will give him more chance of improving his previous form.

Supposing that he has not less than two months a-head
of him, a sculler should not attempt heavy work in the first
week or so of his practice. After a period of physical
inactivity, the heart, lungs, and muscles are not in a
condition to stand hard and prolonged work, and a too
energetic application at first may very possibly be followed by
a week or more of enforced inaction, caused by the straining
of some muscles, if not of the heart itself, which, of course, is
a more serious matter. The commonest form of strain is that
of the abdominal muscles which, as they get little work to do
in any ordinary routine, are very susceptible to strains in the
early part of practice, and, if the strain is really a bad one, it
may mean a week's loss of practice if not more. The object
of this initial stage of practice should be to exercise the
muscles, together with the action of the heart and lungs, in
preparation for more serious work without danger of straining
any of them though the attention now, as in every succeeding
stage of practice, should never cease to be occupied with
matters of style.

When the danger of early strains is over, a series of long
outings is recommended for the further improvement of the
wind and muscles, alternating with days of short outings with
some short pieces of really hard sculling (about three minutes
without an easy). These long outings must be undertaken with
the fixed determination that the maximum of attention shall
be devoted to every stroke ; for if a sculler looks upon a
journey of 10 to 15 miles as a sort of necessary purgatory,
and toils on with the sole object of getting it over, his style
will have deteriorated in the process and he would have
accomplished better results by devoting himself to short and
lively outings. Not the least virtue of these long outings is
the accustoming of the mind to tackle difficulties when the
muscles are fatigued. Whether or no the muscles become


i-3 S


more docile by being fatigued, it is undoubtedly a fact, that
the trouble taken at the end of a long spell of paddling
without an easy (of 2 to 3 miles) has more lasting results
than trouble taken at times when the muscles are fresh.
These long outings may be continued for a period of three
weeks with profit that is to say, two, or, at most, three long
journeys in a week, varied by days of sharp paddling and
short bursts at full pressure. By this time the muscles, lungs,
and heart will be in sufficiently good condition for harder
work, and if we suppose that three weeks still remain before
the race is due, a sculler should now go into strict training.

During this final stage of practice it will greatly contribute
to the polishing up of the sculler's whole style if an outing is
divided up into comparatively short pieces of paddling at
three-quarter pressure varying from a quarter to half a mile
in which something approaching to a racing rate of stroke
is maintained, and with power applied that is not quite equal
to racing pressure. The chief advantage gained is the
thorough accustoming of himself to a racing rate of stroke,
while this high rate of stroke will tend to make all the actions
sharper, provided that constant attention is devoted to their
becoming so. The habit so commonly indulged in by some
scullers of "slumming" about in their boat at an absurdly
slow rate of stroke, within a few days of the race, can only
tend to a deterioration in their style. If they have already
done too much work in their previous practice, it would be
better to curtail the length of their outings to the minimum
duration necessary to their keeping in form rather than to
make longer journeys in this slovenly fashion.

It is as well to scull over the whole course at full pressure
at least three times before the race, though every sculler
must be careful that he does not become " stale " by doing
too much work. Provided that he is otherwise in good health
there should be no danger of this happening if the three
courses are spread out over the three weeks preceding the
race ; and in this case there will be ample time for as many
half-courses at full pressure, if not for more. It is advisable


to treat the first two courses merely as means towards getting
the body into thorough racing trim, and not with the object
of accomplishing the distance in a fast time. A greater
benefit will result from a man being thoroughly "cleaned
out " in his first course (even if he struggles in at a very slow
pace), than if he accomplishes the whole distance in a faster
time without having exerted himself to the utmost. But the
last course, provided by this time the wind and muscles are in
thorough racing trim, may be negotiated with the object of
accomplishing the fastest time possible, since the knowledge
of the greatest average pace a sculler can command over the
whole course will be of immense service to him in the
subsequent racing. It may sound paradoxical to say that it
is not by sculling his hardest that a man goes fastest, but it
is undoubtedly a fact that if, in a full course, all his strength
is expended in the desire to accomplish the half course in the
fastest possible time, he will accomplish the remaining half of
the course at such a lamentably slow pace that the fast time
for the first half and the slow time for the second half, when
added together, will be considerably in excess of the time he
would have done, had he been content to reach the halfway
mark several seconds slower, sculling hard yet without re-
ducing himself almost to a standstill. The strength, in this
course as in the others, should be entirely exhausted by the
time the finishing post is reached, not by its excessive applica-
tion at any particular point of the course, but rather by its
gradual expenditure during the entire distance. Many races
have been lost by a too feverish desire to get the lead at any
price, and, if a sculler has tested well his powers of endurance,
and knows his own pace, he will be less likely to make such
a mistake. It will also contribute to the knowledge of his
own pace if he occasionally takes an opportunity to accompany
an eight, or four, when it is paddling. It is no easy matter
to keep pace with an eight that is paddling at a rate of 28
strokes to the minute, and the value of doing so lies in the
uniform pace at which an eight travels, when paddling, so
that, if a sculler falls behind, he will know that it is probably


due to a decrease in his own pace rather than to an increase
in the pace of the eight.

Rate of Stroke

The rate of stroke it is desirable to maintain varies a little
according to the measurements of the sculls. With a span of
4 feet ii J inches, and with sculls the measurements of which
are, over all, 9 feet 8| inches, out-board (measuring from the
outside of the button) 6 feet lof inches, length of blade
(measuring across the arc from the neck to the end of the
blade) 2 feet, greatest breadth of blade 6\ inches,* a minimum
rate of 28 strokes per minute should be maintained in
practice, while from 3 2-34 strokes per minute can be maintained
without undue expenditure of strength when sculling at full
pressure during eight or nine minutes. Generally speaking,
scullers err on the side of a too low rate of stroke. Their
low rate of stroke (sometimes 28 strokes per minute when
racing) is not so much due to a deficiency in their work,
as to a waste of time at the beginning and finish of the stroke
in all those actions of the arms and wrists over which no
time should be wasted. In the first minute, naturally, the
rate of stroke is very much higher. Scullers have been
known to complete their forty-second stroke or even more in
the first minute, but the energy expended in doing so
(provided all the strokes are well finished out) is in excessive
proportion to the small extra pace that is gained, and it must
also be remembered that the great drop in the rate of stroke
which must ensue in the second minute, in lapsing into the
rate of stroke they will maintain for the rest of the course, is
extremely difficult to manage without becoming unsettled.
For these two reasons a maximum of 38 strokes in the first
minute is recommended, after which the rate should be

* These were the measurements I used myself, and I insert them here, not only
because, during several years, I thoroughly tested the rate of stroke that can be
maintained with them, but also lest any one with different measurements should
be misled into essaying a rate of stroke which, under different circumstances,
might be either too slow or too fast.


gradually diminished until the sculler is in his accustomed
stride. It is, however, very profitable to be able to scull a
higher rate of stroke than that intended for the race, and if
a sculler can complete 41 strokes in the minute in practice
it will mean his accomplishing 38 strokes in the first minute
of the race with comparative ease.

The Start

Great trouble should be taken throughout practice with
the object of being able to start clean. Even when a sculler
is starting out for a short paddle he should try to get his first
half a dozen strokes absolutely clean and without any clumsy
feathering along the surface, for it is only by constant care
throughout the whole of his practice that he will arrive at that
unerring perfection in getting off clean and hard in the race
which should admit of no faulty exceptions. During the last
three weeks the constant practice of bursts of ten strokes at
full pressure will further contribute to this state of perfection.
The body and slide before the first stroke should be only
two-thirds of the way forward, and care should be taken that
one hand is not further forward than the other. The fact of
one blade having further to travel than the other during the
first stroke is, in nine cases out of ten, the cause of an unclean
finish, and an unclean finish at the first stroke will tend to
make the next half-dozen strokes ragged. The first stroke

Online LibraryR. C. (Rudolf Chambers) LehmannThe complete oarsman → online text (page 14 of 39)