Best Rowing Drills: Addressing limiting technical factors with Cal Crew's Mike Teti

Mike Teti and Cal at Crew Classic, 2013 (Photo: B. Kitch)

Talk to former U.S. Olympic rowing coach and current Cal men's head coach Mike Teti about drills, and you'll understand that it's about addressing specific problems in a methodical way. "Instead of saying what are my favorite drills, it's more what do I think the limiting technical factor of a given group is," he explains. "So we'll do a series of exercises that will help fix that problem. That's the approach that I take."

He continues: "That said, for specific problems there are certain exercises that I think are really useful. You could say they're favorites [within that context]."

The faster the boat class, the more the catch and the front end of the rowing stroke becomes paramount. If you're looking to work on the front end of the stroke, there are a few such favorites that Teti often uses with his crews.

1. Pause at Gunwale

Pauses, in general, tap into the need to be prepared. And that's why Teti uses pause drills regularly. "The more I look at sports, the more I feel that it's all about preparation," Teti explains. "In tennis, what do you do? You prepare, then hit the ball. Prepare, then hit the ball. In basketball, if you're going to take a jump shot, you square to the basket and set your feet before you go up. It's the same in rowing—your body has to be prepared early to have an effective catch."

Pausing at the gunwale adds a level of difficulty to the basic arms and body set pause. "I use pause at the gunwale a lot," Teti says, "and that's because when the coxswain says 'go,' the blades descend directly to the water. It helps both with the body set and preparation, and with the path of the blade directly to the catch." There are various ways to add further wrinkles to the drill as well—it can be done by sixes or by eights, on the feather or on the square, and the pause can be transformed into a tap-and-go to make it continuous.

2. Pause at the Finish

"If you're towards the bow, the tendency is to always feel like you're behind, and when you're in the stern of the boat, you always feel that you're being rushed and everyone's ahead of you. And that makes sense because the people in the stern know where they're going, and the people in the bow have to follow. So generally what happens is, a lot of crews have trouble finishing the stroke—they don't complete the stroke—because they're a little hasty out of bow."

He adds: "When I used to go out with Harry [Parker] years ago, they were always doing pause at the finish, and okay, a lot of people don't like that, but even if it's just a slight hesitation, it gives you that fraction of patience to complete the stroke." It also helps with timing. "It gives you a reference point," he says. Another drill that Teti uses to work on the finish is square blades.

3. Placement Drill and 'Rusties'

Two more ways that Teti likes to address preparation and catch placement are the aptly named 'placement drill,' and 'Rusties' (essentially, the 'cut-the-cake' drill with pauses introduced at the finish and body-set positions). You can watch Bryan Volpenhein and Kris Korzeniowski coaching national team crews through these drills in the video below.

4. Stroke and Slide Fractions

Another commonly applied drill for Teti's crews is to break the slide, or the whole stroke, down into fractions during continuous rowing. "We'll go maybe, arms and body, and then full slide, or we'll go half slide and then full slide, or quarter slide and then full slide. Things are happening more quickly, so it forces you to be prepared early and pick the boat up on the run—going with the speed of the boat," Teti says.

But again, the point of the drill is not to be good at doing drills, the point is to make the changes transfer. "Whatever exercise I do, we'll do the exercise and then in order to test if the exercise is working, we'll go continuous, and then add a little bit of pressure." Sometimes, Teti adds pressure and rate, as in the video below.

If the technique breaks down, then it's time to keep working—if not, then the drill has had the desired effect. "So for example, I might go quarter slide, full slide, and then firm. The sensation that you get—it just makes you feel more elastic. What I always say is that the recovery ends with the catch—the catch is part of the recovery, it's not part of the drive. So doing that exercise I think is a good way to exaggerate the separation between the catch and the drive."

Thanks very much to Mike for taking the time, and for being willing to open up the coaching manual for our benefit! This is the second in our Best Rowing Drills series, following up on Kevin Sauer's tips last week (series index can be found on our Rowing Drills page) Again, if you like the idea of more coaching articles and ideas from some of the masters of the craft, please let us know, and share the love—together, we can move the sport forward.


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