Best Rowing Drills: Carlos Dinares on Body Awareness Drills for Rowing

For Dinares, it begins with how you approach the oar (Photo courtesy of Carlos Dinares) 

Carlos Dinares is already a household name in many elite rowing circles, because the athletes he coaches tend to be fast. Examples? South African phenom Ursula Grobler set the lightweight women's world record for 2,000m on the erg, and has competed for the U.S. as well as the RSA national team. And, most recently, double Olympic champion sweep rower Elle Logan made the A Final at the world championships in Chungju in her first year sculling at the international level. Here, Carlos shares some insight into his approach through the below video, made specifically for our 'Best Rowing Drills' series, and outlines two ways to help understand technique better, on and off the water.

1: How We Greet The Oar

"The first part is about how we think, and act, when we greet the oar," Dinares says. "It's about how we connect the handle, which is our connection to the water, to the hand, to the arm and shoulder, and to our frame—our body." And he refines his approach down to the level of individual muscles and nerves in the wrists—key elements to grip, and ultimately to your ability to move a boat. How you grip the oar will determine your wrist position, which will in turn determine the level of your elbows, your shoulders, and ultimately the way your body interacts with the handle and the water. Attention to the little details, and focus on the neuromuscular development over time to produce the most efficient stroke, can pay big dividends in the long run.

In part, this is inspired by Dinares' observation of other sports. "If you take a tennis player, and you have him put his arms next to each other, you'll see that one arm is more developed than the other," he outlines. "You will see a different development." Over time, the body has adapted to suit the refined movement necessary for excellence on the court. "If we look at the Croatian double, for example, and we see the level of skill they have on the water—the message is, that arm of Valent [Sinkovic], or Mahé [Drysdale], or Olaf [Tufte], or whoever it may be out there, that arm has done thousands of repetitions, developing and growing into a rower's arm. It's not from doing push-ups." The more careful you are in your approach to the handle, the more you'll develop the right neuromuscular memory.

You can watch Carlos break down sculling grip with a video of French and Canadian international Julien Bahain here

2: Body Awareness

"A lot of good rowing—a lot of the rhythm, a lot of the consistency of our movement and fluidity of our movement—comes across from having internalized the movement, without the need of having an oar in hour hands," Dinares says. In other words, if you know what good rowing feels like, you can do it without an oar. "You just need to be able to replicate that movement." To practice this, you can have your athlete move through a stroke progression on the water, while the person in front tends to the oar, first moving through legs only to legs and swing before adding the arms and taking full strokes. The movements remain the same—the point is to repeat the exact movements as though you are holding an oar—but the body awareness naturally increases. Also, it can point out gaps in understanding or in neuromuscular training if the rower cannot properly execute the motion of the stoke without an oar. "If you can't row without an oar, then it means that something is missing, and we need to be patient about building the correct movements, not just developing fitness."

He continues: "It's very difficult to row properly with an oar if you don't know how to row properly without one—you are following the oar through the stroke when the oar needs to be following your body motion." 

There are a series of stroke progressions that Dinares recommends in the video. The most challenging wrinkle you can throw at your rowers based on this exercise? A full start sequence, with eyes closed and no oars. If the movements are clearly understood and well enough practiced, this is possible. Then, when you do take up oars, you'll execute. "The oar has no life—you give life to the oar," he says. "If you're the one giving life to the oar, why shouldn't you be able to do it without one?"

Rowing is growing in popularity worldwide. This much was evidenced at the 2013 World Rowing Championships, which saw no less than 73 nations take part. Not only that, but the field is more experienced, with a greater number of Olympic medalists returning for second, third, fourth, and even fifth Olympic cycles. This means that for younger athletes to break into the international and Olympic level, a greater level of skill will be required than ever before.

It's important that this technical approach should begin at the outset of rowing training. "If in early development of rowers we obsess about physiology and don't develop skill, then we will get stuck in the future." In other words, while physiology will carry you to a certain extent, you're in danger of ingraining bad habits and carrying those inefficiencies with you throughout your career unless you are just as attentive to technique from the beginning.

Far from an afterthought, technical development is in fact a part of physiological development. How you build muscle memory and muscle mass matters—the two go hand in hand. And understanding that can make all the difference.

Thanks very much to Carlos Dinares for sharing his experience with us! You can get in touch with Carlos via his website, and check out more of his videos via his YouTube Channel

This is the fifth in our 'Best Rowing Drills' series, following up on Kevin Sauer's favorite fiveMike Teti's approach to techniqueLinda Muri's multi-faceted exercises, and the athlete's perspective with Megan Kalmoe. You can find a series index on our Rowing Drills page. 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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