In the world of competitive rowing, every single avenue should be explored in trying to squeeze out additional speed. Over a 2000m race it all comes down to optimally applying force repeatedly in order to maintain the highest overall average speed. Optimizing the performance around these repetitive moments is the goal.
The catch is undoubtedly the most important part of the rowing stroke. This is the point at which when the oar enters the water and force is initially applied for propulsion of the boat. Small variations in force application at the catch are argued to make important differences to high performance outcomes. Likewise, the relationship between perceived motion, oar placement and boat behaviour has an important role to play in the successful execution of the catch in rowing (Millar, 2014; Millar, Oldham, & Renshaw, 2013). Specifically, matching the passage of the oar going into the catch with the speed of the boat is part of a critical perception-action couplet, known to coaches as ‘rowing with the boat’.
A very interesting study was done by Sarah Millar in which contrasting textures between the water and striped markings or lines on the stern of the boat were examined. The aim was to explore the following hypothesis; by providing a contrast between hull and water, enhanced information about surfaces in the environment could be delivered to the brain during rowing and therefore providing strong cues as to the structure of perception-action relationships in movement tasks including interception. The aim would be to see if this could be used to improve rowing performance.
The theory with a rower who trialled five methods. The first was to row with no lines, the second with vertical lines, followed by a no-line trial again, then a horizontal trial and a final no-line run. Significant changes were noted with the horizontal lines suggesting a beneficial effect on boat speed.
“The question was about how we can maybe help rowers detect the speed of the boat moving through water a little easier. So I hypothesised that lines on the boat will enhance the information about the speed of the water travelling past the boat,” says Millar. “When you are trying to judge speed off something, a textured background will give you feedback as to the speed you are travelling at. Horizontal stripes on top of the boat give rowers the ability to row with their boat. It’s like when you drive a car close to objects, i.e parked cars, you get the perception of how fast you are driving and normally slow down a little. I wanted to test if these lines would have an impact on a rower’s ability to slow down coming forward. And it did!”
And so the question begs; will the touch of the Zebra become standard in rowing coaching programs in years to come?….