R. C. (Rudolf Chambers) Lehmann.

The complete oarsman online

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wrenched from your hand. You must strike sharply and
rapidly with a pace greater than that at which the wheel is


moving ; and the faster your wheel moves the sharper and
more decisive must the blow of your stick be.

Now, in an eight-oar, and, indeed, in any rowing boat,
normal speed will be attained after three strokes have been
rowed from a fixed start. Basing myself, so far as it will
support me, on my illustration, I consider that I am entitled
to say

(1) That in order to maintain this normal pace against the
resistance of the water, the power of the machinery that is to
say, the weight and strength of the men composing the crew
working by means of oars must be applied with swiftness
and energy.

(2) That in order to increase pace, weight and strength
must be applied with greater swiftness and energy.

And to these I must add

(3) That the movements of the men in the crew must be
absolutely uniform and harmonious in order that the com-
ponent parts of the machinery may create the greatest
possible effect by being applied to propulsion with a perfectly
simultaneous precision.

Translating our first conclusion more closely into terms of
oarsmanship, we may state it thus

(1) The impact of the blade of the oar upon the water
must be performed with a swiftness which shall not merely
outstrip the receding water, but shall be sufficient materially
to increase the speed of the boat. This impact must, there-
fore, have great swiftness and force.

(2) Seeing that this impact must be swift and strong, it
follows that the movements that execute it the grip of the
hands, the rebound of the bodies by which weight is brought
into action, the spring of the feet on the stretcher by which
leg-power is united to weight-power it follows, I say, that
all these must also be carried out with a combination of
swiftness and strength.

In short, the beginning of the stroke must be taken very
swiftly and very firmly.

We have now established the beginning in a position of


great authority. Let us proceed to consider some further

It must be remembered that during a great part of the
time that elapses between the beginning of one stroke and
the beginning of the next no propulsive force of any kind is
being applied to the boat. The normal proportion of swing
forward (no propulsion) to swing back (propulsion) is as two
to one. That is to say, if you divided the period between
two beginnings into three equally timed beats, you would
count one at the first beginning, two as the blade left the
water, and three when the body had swung halfway forward,
and so da capo. This, as I say, is the normal proportion. It
may decrease very slightly at a very rapid rate of stroke for a
spurt, but unless it is substantially observed there can be no
true rhythm in the rowing, and if you disestablish rhythm you
will find yourself forced into scrambling and raggedness and
disunion, the greatest banes of pace in a crew.

Now, it is obvious that if you were to content yourself
with a mere snatch at the water you might easily maintain
proportion by a very short swing, but you would find that
you had created very little pace. The impetus having been
initially small, the tendency to diminution would assert itself
very quickly during the non-propulsion interval. Your object
is to create an impetus which shall keep the boat moving at
her best pace during this interval, and thus, in rowing language,
allow her to hold her way between the strokes. To affect
this you must

(A) Apply and maintain your strength and weight during
the propulsive part over the greatest possible space of water ;

(B) Order all your movements at the end of the stroke and
during the non-propulsive interval so as not to detract at any
point from the pace created, and so as to prepare yourself to
apply strength and weight vigorously to the next stroke.

(A) can be secured only by length of swing forward, a due
extension of reach and an immediate impact of the blade at
the furthest point attained to. Thus you produce length of
stroke in the water, and you are enabled, having gripped the


water strongly, to maintain your power to the finish. Without
a vigorous beginning there can be no firm finish to the stroke
in any true sense.

To secure (B) the extraction of the blade from the water
must be swift and clean. The hands must leave the body
rapidly and be extended at once till the arms are straight, so
that a proper balance may be kept on the oar. Then the
body, having been smartly released for its forward swing, must
continue the swing at a slow and even rate in a condition of
good balance and control. Thus you do not impede pace
anywhere, you prepare your body smartly for the resumption
of its swing forward, and by means of your steady swing you
collect your strength for the next stroke.

We have thus arrived at

(1) A hard beginning swiftly taken.

(2) A long stroke in the water.

(3) A firm finish to the stroke.

(4) A quick and clean extraction of blade from water.

(5) A quick extension of arms.

(6) An elastic recovery of the body.

(7) A long, steady, well-balanced forward swing, accom-
panied by

(8) A good reach with the hands and arms.

In the next chapter I shall endeavour to show in greater
detail how these desirable objects may be attained, and what
are the movements of trunk, limbs, and joints which they
render necessary.


Its Component Parts from A to Z

Q TRICTLY speaking, the stroke is only the movement of
^ the oar-blade in the water from its beginning to its
finish. For my purpose, however, I shall consider as part of
the stroke all those other movements which lead up to it, and
which, as I have said, occupy twice as much time as the strict
stroke itself. If you row at the rate of thirty strokes to the
minute, you spend twenty seconds of each minute on work
in the water, and have to spend the remaining forty seconds
in a series of complicated body-movements, each one of which
is of the highest importance for the purpose of enabling you
at each recurrent impact of your blade to add pace to your
boat. Your actual water-work at this rate takes two-thirds
of a second ; the other movements take one second and a
third. These two sections together must be considered as
one stroke.

Now, of this stroke, so considered, the beginning is, as
I have shown, the most important part. But in oarsmanship
every movement is created by, and is dependent upon, every
other movement into which the stroke may be divided.
Quickness of hands on the recovery is necessary for a slow
and balanced swing, just as a slow and balanced swing is the
requisite antecedent to a swift hard beginning. If your hands
are slow you have to make up time by rushing forward with
your body, and if you rush forward with your body you lose
control and must fail in the beginning of the stroke. So I
might proceed with other movements, but the instances
I have given are sufficient.







I propose, therefore, to start my consideration of the
stroke from the moment the hands reach the chest after the
completion of the water-work. I assume, in fact, that one
" stroke " has already been rowed. What are the tasks that
lie before an oarsman, bearing in view the principles that
have already been laid down ?


The blade must leave the water without a moment's pause.
It must not be turned over before it is completely free of the
surface, otherwise it will scoop up water, and to some extent
hamper the pace of the boat and impede the freedom of the
oarsman's movements. Therefore, it must be taken out
square and clean. To effect this a slight downward pressure
on the handle of the oar with the weight of both hands will
be sufficient. It is to be noted that this movement must
proceed, not from the wrists, but from the elbows. The fore-
arms must go with it. It is important that this pressure
should not be heavy, and that it should not be prolonged for
a fraction of a second beyond the moment when the blade
has been completely released from the water so as to be clear
of its surface by some three inches.


Immediately after the movement described above, the oar
must be turned in the rowlock so that the blade may lie flat,
concave surface upwards. This is done mainly by a very
sharp and springy turn of the inside wrist, the outside hand
helping by maintaining a balance on the handle of the oar
and by a sideways finger-pressure which keeps the button of
the oar firmly pressed, first against the thole-pin and, after
the blade is turned, against the sill of the rowlock. The
handle may be permitted to turn slightly in the outside hand.



During the fraction of time occupied by A and B, the
knees of the oarsman have remained rigidly braced down.
Directly, however, the body will begin its swing, and will
thereafter carry the slide with it and cause the knees to come
up. But so far as we have proceeded with the hands they
are still close to the body. If they remain there, how are
they afterwards to get clear of the rising knees and assume a
position in which they can keep a balance on the oar and
prepare themselves for the beginning that is to come ?
Obviously they cannot do it. As soon, therefore, as the
blade has been turned on the feather the hands must be shot
out very slightly downwards to the full extent of the arms,
with the weight of the hands still bearing on the handle so as
to keep balance on the oar and prevent the blade dropping to
the water, with the wrist still in the feathering position. No
time must be wasted here, for the object of this movement is
not merely to get the hands clear of the knees, but to enable
the body to recover from its backward position and to start
its swing forward in preparation for the next stroke. To
delay at this point will produce a delay in the recovery, and
will diminish the speed of the boat.

I desire to impress upon the mind of the oarsman that the
three movements which I have described under A, B, and C,
though they can be distinguished on paper for the purpose of
sound exposition, ought in practice to follow one another in
a succession so rapid as to blend into one smart and springy
motion of which the parts are indistinguishable from one
another. It is from these movements that the whole stroke
derives its character. If they are dull and slow, or jerky and
ill-combined, the body r swjng will be diminished in effect and
the beginning will be impaired. Swiftly and smartly per-
formed, they produce an elastic recovery, make a long steady
swing possible, and thus le^-d directly to the hard and instan-
taneous beginning which we desire. The extraction of the
blade must in particular be prompt and clean, so that, at the






moment of recovery, the boat, which is then travelling at its

fastest, may have suffered no impediment to its pace.



The body has now to be brought forward. In effect the
three movements already described will have released it from
the extreme point of its backward position, and will have
enabled it, with a slight and elastic spring, to recover itself for
the swing. This forms the initiation of the swing. I have
insisted on smartness in turning the wrists and extending the
arms because I desire the whole recovery, of which these
motions form part, to be swift. That recovery, however, is
not complete until the body has been started. This start,
therefore, must be springily taken as a preliminary to the
slow and balanced swing that is to follow. At the same time
the feet, which have helped to sustain the body during the
first part of the recovery by pressure against the straps, must
be replaced against the stretcher and remain there until the
finish of the next stroke.


Still keeping the knees pressed down that is, not yet
having begun to slide let the body begin a slow, steady,
even swing forward. I assume that the oarsman has been
sitting on his bones, and has not collapsed on to his os coccyx.
His body is to pivot on these bones in a solid column, and so
continue swinging from the hips.


After the body passes the perpendicular the slide may
begin to move forward. In other words, the body, having
fairly begun its swing, may then but not till then begin to
carry the slide with it, and continue to carry it as the swing
continues. Seeing that the shoulders have to move through


a greater amount of space than the slide the latter must move
even more slowly than the former, in order that both slide
and swing forward may finish at the same moment.


As the slide begins to move, the knees, which have been
rigidly pressed down, relax and begin to bend upwards and
slightly outwards, until at the end of swing and slide they
are opened to the breadth of the oarsman's shoulders, each
knee being under one of the armpits. In this position the
thighs form a support to the flanks. The knees must on no
Account be allowed to flop away from one another.


As the body, carrying the slide with it, moves forward
on its swing the arms must still be maintained in ihe
extended position described under C. The oarsman's object,
however, is not to make his blade describe a lofty segment
of a circle in the air, but to carry it back as level as possible,
not allowing it at any moment to rise above the point which
it reached when his arms came to the limit of their extension.
To effect this

(1) The weight of the hands on the handle of the oar
must be relieved. They have been occupied, since the stroke
was finished, in extracting the blade, in turning the oar, and
in shooting it away from the chest, and during all this time
they have had to put pressure on the handle. That pressure
must now be lightened materially so that the surplus weight
of the outboard portion of the oar may assert itself and tend
to carry the hands upward. Especially must this be the case
with the inside hand, which has had the chief share in the
recovery motions, and which has, therefore, been grasping
the oar more firmly and bearing more heavily upon it.

(2) The arms must have free play in the shoulder-sockets,
so that they may not go rigidly with the downward move-
ment of the body-column, but may rise, rise, rise as the body


swings. In other words, the angle which the arms make
with the body after the recovery must gradually increase as
the body keeps swinging. It is essential that there should
be no bending of /the elbow joints during this process. Many
oarsmen " begin their beginnings " in imagination long before
they have finished their swing forward. They do this by
tightening their grip on the handle and by bending the inside
arm, thus making the muscles rigid. The effort is quite
useless ; its only result is to impair their strength for the
beginning, to diminish the effect of that beginning when they
actually get to it, and to make their stroke in the water
shorter than it ought to be, because their arms were not duly
extended, and their blades, therefore, did not seize the water
as far behind the riggers as was possible for them. I must,
therefore, add that

(3) The inside hand must, during the forward swing,
constantly push away against the handle of the oar so as to
help in maintaining the extension of the inside arm, and
also in counteracting the common tendency to swing across
the boat and to overreach with the outside shoulder during
the development of the swing, and particularly at its end.


At the finish of the stroke I shall describe the movement
under a later heading (see T infra) the shoulders have been
" rowed back." During the extraction of the blade, the turn
for the feather, and the extension of the arms, they must
maintain their position. In all these movements they play
no part whatever. They are not to be unnaturally stiffened,
but they do not move. As the body begins to swing and the
hands to reach out, the shoulders necessarily move forward
slightly. If they n4ver moved at all what would be the
sense of asking men, as every coach asks them, to row their
shoulders back at the finish ? What ludicrous and impossible
consequence would befall a pair of shoulders which, having
never moved forward by the fraction of an inch during the


swing forward, were rowed back obediently at the finish of
every stroke ? Some slight movement, as I say, there must
be. This slight movement must, however, be an unconscious
movement. Indeed, the oarsman must be specially on his
guard to check it, so that it may not develop into an over-
reach, which would mean that the arms were loosely coupled
to the body and could not, therefore, transmit to the oar the
springing weight of the body at the ensuing beginning.
Under the next heading I shall describe an additional method
for preventing this fault.



The body, pivoting, as I have said, on its bones, is to move
forward like a swaying column fitted on a sliding base. It
must move from its lower extremity, i.e. from the hips. The
back must not be curved so as to produce the effect of having
a hinge in its middle. Otherwise, being reduced in length
the body will move through a shorter air-space, and, being
diminished in rigidity, it will less easily take up and bear the
strain of the beginning.

The chest must not be hollowed, but must maintain its
natural expansion in order that the heart and lungs may have
free play.

The stomach must be well and firmly set out in support of
the swing, and in relief of the tendency of the upper part of
the body to topple forward ; and, as the swing progresses, the
stomach must go down between the legs.


The head must not be strained back, nor must the chin
drop on the chest. Having been well kept up during finish
and recovery, the head must swing with the body, the chin
slightly rising as the swing ends.



As the slide comes up the heels must remain in position
against the stretcher. If they are allowed to come away the
feet will not be fairly planted against the stretcher, and will
lose most of their power of helping to spring the body back
for the beginning. Moreover, if they are fairly planted, they
help materially towards the end of the swing forward to
balance the body, and to counteract its natural tendency to
tumble. A great strafn is thus placed on the ankles, but they
soon learn to accommodate themselves to it. The heel-traps
which are fitted to the stretchers are, of course, a great
assistance to the novice, and even to the experienced oar
whose ankles are naturally stiff.


The further forward you swing and slide the more the
arms cross the body in the direction of your blade. You
must, however, vigilantly guard against any tendency on the
part of the body and shoulders to follow the hands and to
swing across the boat. Keep your inside knee from flopping,
push out against the oar with your inside hand, and restrain
your outside shoulder.


So far as we have proceeded the oar has remained in the
feather. At what point ought it to be turned back so as to
assume the square position necessary for the beginning ? I
am strongly of opinion that this movement ought not to be
left to the very last moment, so that the unfeathering and the
beginning become practically one. Indeed, with fixed row-
locks it is impracticable thus to reserve the turn. In the turned
position the oar " locks " in the rowlock sooner than in the
square position. Besides, in the turned position your button
is far removed from the rowing pin of the rowlock. For the


beginning it must resume its position against the rowing pin,
but if this resumption is effected at the very moment when
the beginning is due there is inevitably a loss of time. Even
with swivel rowlocks there is, as Mr. Kelly shows in his
chapter on sculling, a certain disadvantage in maintaining
the feather to the extreme limit of the last possible moment.
I advise oarsmen to maintain the feather until their hands
reach a point just above the stretcher. From this point the
wrists should be elevated with a slow and gradual movement.
If, while this is being done, the hands exercise a slight
pressure inwards, i.e. towards the rigger, the button will
steadily adjust itself to the pin, and the oar will be firmly
in its proper position for seizing the beginning without loss of
time at the limit of the forward reach.

I know that some oarsmen hold that this re-turn of the
wrists ought to be a quick sharp movement. I disagree,
(i) because a quick sharp movement at this point may tend
to the unsettlement of the body at a moment when steadiness
and balance are more than ever essential ; (2) because, as a
matter of fact, all the best and most " watermanlike " oars I
have seen have always performed it in the manner for which
I have indicated my preference.

One caveat I must enter. There may be a head-wind so
strong as to make it desirable at all costs to diminish resistance
by keeping the blades flat for as long a time as possible. A
good waterman should be able to judge of this and adapt his
oarsmanship to the circumstances. But for rowing under
normal conditions I believe the method I have described to be
undoubtedly the better, as it is certainly the more usually
employed by experienced oars.

At the limit of the reach the blade, in my opinion, should
not be quite at right angles to the surface of the water, but
should incline very slightly, so that its lower edge may be a
shade nearer to the bows than its upper edge. Thus you get
the advantage of an extra inch or so in the distance behind
the rigger, at which impact actually takes^ place, and you are
more likely, I think, to make this impact clean. This must



not, however, on any account be exaggerated so as to resemble
the curious trick of the Cornell crew who rowed at Henley
in 1895.


As the forward movements draw to an end it becomes, if
that be possible, more important than ever that they should
be slow and well balanced. The tendency of the body to rush
forward increases as it moves. The planting of the feet against
the stretcher, the pressure of the ascending thighs against the
flanks, and the maintenance of the button against the thole
will help to retard it, but this help must be reinforced by a
conscious determination on the oarsman's part to keep his
swing slow. As the tendency opposed to it increases so this
determination should become more active. Be specially
careful to make the last part of your swing slow, so that the
last part of your slide may be even slower. Finish swing and
slide together. If you finish the sliding first your body will
" peck over " the front stop, and the beginning will be lost.
If you finish body first you will never get the last part of the
slide completed at all, and you will suffer in length and

I desire at this point to lay special emphasis on the
necessity for keeping the hands light, and the arms moving
upwards freely from the shoulder-joints. If you stiffen the
shoulder-joints and thus bring the weight of the body to bear
on the handle through the arms as the body swings, or if,
independently of the shoulders, you depress the hands
suddenly at the end of the reach, you will in either event
cause the blade to rise high above the surface of the water.
This is called " cocking the oar " or " skying the feather."
The result must necessarily be to make you miss the beginning
at its due gripping point. The first part of your stroke will
thus be rowed in the air. The blade may smack the water
with a fearful bang, but the resulting stroke will be short and
ineffective, for at the moment when your utmost power should


have been applied to the water your blade will have been

Online LibraryR. C. (Rudolf Chambers) LehmannThe complete oarsman → online text (page 4 of 39)