The ideal physique and technique requirements for each position (and a conclusion at the end).
So, we have a squad of good rowers, and we now want to build a crew. How do we match the athlete to the Seat/Position, and indeed match athletes to each other to produce the most efficient and cohesive crew?
The different potential arc angles at the catch in the 6 different positions in the boat which we looked at earlier in Article – 4, does mean that, all things being equal, you are ideally looking for different physiques to facilitate the different potential of each position. However, it is not just the varying arc angles which effect seat selection, but also the fact that the bow pair of rowers sit much higher above the water than the stern four.
In addition to this, there is simply a different ‘feel’ to the boat in the stern, in the middle, and in the bow, and all these factors influence the ideal combinations of physique (length of reach, sitting height, leg length, etc.), physiology (strength and endurance), body weight (fore and aft trim of the boat), explosive power, speed of movement, other qualities of movement, flexibility, and technical efficiency, required for each position. We are not going to include any psychological aspects of seat selection here because this is yet another ‘can of worms’!
In terms of biomechanics the stroke seat doesn’t necessarily require the tallest athlete, or one with the longest arms or tallest sitting height, because in the stroke position the maximum achievable arc angle at the catch is about 10 degree less than in the bow seat. Although in degrees this doesn’t sound much, it is significant when you realise that the necessary reach of trunk and arms will be something like 15cms less than would be required in the bow, so we don’t need giants in the stroke seat. Whilst this seat also offers a 10 degree longer angle at the release, we now know that much of this doesn’t need to be used as 37 degrees is the maximum angle required at the release.
Like stroke, the #5 position doesn’t require the longest of reaches forward but even so, the catch angle possible does require a slightly longer reach than at stroke, and therefore #5 seat may require a slightly taller athlete. It should be pointed out here that, since the thwart is fixed, the leg length in fixed seat rowing is not so important and can be accommodated by the position of the foot stretcher. Reach potential is therefore a combination of trunk height (sitting height) and/or arm length, and these are more important than leg length. This is in contrast to sliding seat rowing where leg length is relatively much more important.
When creating a crew it is not just about the ideal requirements for each seat, but how particular combinations of athletes complement each other. In this respect a complementary pairing of stroke and #5 is essential to create a combined rhythm strong enough to reach right through the boat to the bow seat. If the stroke does achieve the maximum possible arc angle at the catch, then it is not so essential to have this at the #5 seat but the ideal is to have the “piston” at stroke with a slightly more “rangy” athlete at #5. As a unit, a strong and lively rhythm, good technique, and real consistency is what is required from the stern pair.
Typically a #4 seat rower will be amongst the stronger, and probably heaviest rowers in the crew with a potential to get extra chord length of stroke by having a longer oar outboard, and therefore a harder gearing to optimise his/her extra power. He/she will also need to have a taller sitting height and longer arms than the stern pair to effectively use the longer inboard oar length at the catch. Remember, this athlete sits in the widest part of the boat.
In many respects the attributes required by #3 are similar to #4 so look again at the previous paragraph. You are also looking for more reach (trunk and arm length) in order to achieve the extra couple of degrees length at the catch which is possible in this seat.
The middle pair may not necessarily be your tallest athletes in the boat, (although they need to have more reach than the stern pair), but they should be the strongest. Such athletes don’t always have the best technique, but a surplus of brute power should not be accepted as an excuse for inadequate technique! It is crucial that the centre pair create a powerful and explosive unit, and that they can maintain complementary acceleration through the middle of the stroke. The rowing ‘feeling’ in these seats is one of sustained power, rather than of quickness of movement, and as such this ‘feeling’ should be strongly coached in your middle pair.
In addition the heights of the gunwhales rise sharply towards the front of the gig and therefore the #2 position will be sitting higher above the water.
The other key requirement for the #2 seat is that he/she must have a very quick placement of the blade at the catch and connection to the water and he/she should therefore be one of the two most explosive athletes in the boat. This is because the sensation in the bow end of the boat is that the water is flowing past the boat much faster than it does in the middle or stern where the sensation is slower and more sustained. Whilst a boat cannot actually go faster through the water at one end than the other, there is no doubt that the sensation of rowing in the bow, the middle, or the stern are all quite different, and empirically we have learnt that the quality of movement of the rowers does ideally need to reflect these different sensations.
If the sensation in the bows is that the boat is travelling through the water faster, then the bow end athletes need to be able to get hold of the water faster. To achieve the speed of application at the catch, #2 rowers need to have not just fast and quick movement qualities, but they also need to have excellent technique, especially at the catch, which must be very quick and very accurate – you simply can’t afford to be late in, or to miss the front sector of the stroke arc!
However, the #2 rower can also be considered as part of the ‘powerhouse’ of the boat, but this will depend a little on the relative power and weight of the middle pair. In some crews the ‘powerhouse’ could be the #5, #4, and #3 seats, whereas in other crews it may be the #4, #3, and #2 Seats. The #2 rower therefore does need to be one of the most powerful athletes in the crew, but particularly with explosive power.
Like #5, the #2 seat also needs to be able to transmit through to the bow rower, the rhythm and power coming from the middle of the boat. However, this rhythm transmission role is different from the #5 seat because it requires the ‘sharpening up’ of the sustained rhythm coming from the middle pair into the more dynamic rhythm required from the bow pair.
The bow seat offers the potential for the greatest arc angle at the catch so, like #2, you need a rower with a tall sitting height and/or long arms. In addition the bow seat sits significantly higher than #2 and this also calls for extra trunk height. In fact, virtually everything that has already been said about the #2 seat applies even more to the bow seat, so it might be worth re-reading the previous section!
The bow rower needs to have even more speed of movement and even more accuracy than the #2seat. If power = force x velocity then, for a given power output, the bow seat needs the greatest velocity in contrast to the middle pair who will need more force! In the bow we therefore need a rower with long arms and a long trunk, with good speed of movement and excellent blade-work at the catch. In terms of timing it is better that the bow seat takes the catch early rather than later, although of course ideally they need to have spot-on timing!
Before summarising this section on the qualities required from each position in the boat, perhaps some points on coxing should also be included. Why do so many athletes worry about the weight of their gigs, and then ignore the fact that they are carrying a very heavy coxswain. Since in gig racing, there is no weight limit for coxswains, you should be looking for the lightest coxes possible!
In terms of weight distribution, it is also essential that the cox must sit absolutely inert and still. If the cox rocks forwards and backwards during the stroke cycle as so many do, as they will slow the boat down mainly because, on the recovery phase when the rowers are moving towards the stern, which helps the boat maintain its speed, the cox is rocking his/her trunk towards the bow, which has the effect of pushing the boat backwards so the cox is using his/her weight to slow the boat down! This is a fact which, in sliding seat rowing was measured many years ago – you will never see an Olympic Coxswain moving anything but his/her mouth, and miniscule movements of thumb and index finger on the rudder lines!
A good cox has to be a ‘jack of all trade’ and his/her greatest asset is to be able to ‘multi-task’! This is not the place for a dissertation on the role and qualities of a cox, but suffice to say that they need to be able to steer straight (not as easy as you think), and also steer a transit course across tide and/or wind. At the Newquay Championships this year, (both men’s and women’s), less than 10% of coxes steered the best transits on the first and last legs, and this could clearly be observed from the shore!
So back to the rowers – in summary, there are clear and very different roles for stroke and bow seats. There is also a dual role for the stern pair to create and maintain rhythm, and for the bow pair to be able to apply a fast, long and accurate catch. The centre of the ‘power-house’, and probably the biggest and strongest athletes, will be at #4 and #3, although you can also include #5 and/or #2 to create a central power-house foursome.
In Article #4 we have looked more closely at the rationale for the different oar and blade dimensions required for each seat in the boat, and at trends in specifications for different types of rowers.