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Getting the Hang of Good Suspension

by Mayrene T. Earle | May 03, 2008
Last month, this column addressed the catch. Now that you’ve had a month to focus on and improve the catch, it’s time to move on to suspension.

Last month, this column addressed the catch. Now that you’ve had a month to focus on and improve the catch, it’s time to move on to suspension.

Suspension is all about body weight, and using your body weight effectively is key to moving the boat. The goal in rowing is to suspend your body weight between the handle and the feet. When done properly, suspending your body weight gives you the feeling of being lighter on your seat. In sweep rowing, it is much easier to feel suspension when rowing by pairs, which makes the boat feel heavy so you sense the load.

Anyone who has ever practiced the deadlift in weight training will recognize the similarities between the rowing stroke and the deadlift. Both make maximum use of body weight. In the deadlift, the individual lifts a loaded barbell off the ground while leaning forward from the hips with knees slightly bent. The bar and hips move together on a vertical plane. Similarly in the rowing stroke, the handle and seat move together during the drive, on a horizontal plane.

In the deadlift, the legs initiate and provide the power, while the arms remain straight. It’s the same in rowing. At the beginning of the drive, the legs initiate and provide power, while the arms stay extended. In both, all muscle groups are working, but it is the legs that are strongest and predominant. In both actions, it is necessary to hold a firm abdominal core so the hip flexors and torso muscles maintain the power throughout the leg and hip drive.

In rowing, the arms finish the stroke by pulling toward the torso with an accelerated motion, completing the transfer of power from lower body to torso to upper body. I call this “legs, swing and bring.”

Drills to Improve Suspension

Drill No. 1. Train in pairs by rowing one person at a time using the outside arm only. This drill reinforces horizontal blade work and suspension of body weight. I learned this drill a few years ago from Kris Korzeniowski, who has coached many Olympic and national teams.

Drill No. 2. Sitting at the release position with the oar squared and buried, travel to the stern with the blade still in the water. The resistance will push the boat backwards. When you come into the catch position, wait for the handle to move out into your hand and fingers and then drive. This makes it nearly impossible to bend the forearms or open with the back too early. You will feel the “lock-on” throughout your body, and your weight will become lighter on the seat in the proper way. This drill, which I learned from Sally O’Connor of the Potomac Boat Club and Avalon Rowing, can be done in any size shell. However, it is most effective when practiced in bigger boats with people sitting out, as this makes the load heavier.

Why Suspension Matters

For a technical understanding of why suspending your body weight is important, here’s an explanation that I found at www.oarsport.co.uk. “The weight of the oarsman hanging off of the handle applies a force to the pin, which in turn causes the boat to accelerate past the spoon [blade]. . . .  [I]f you can achieve this suspension then part of the weight of the oarsmen is transferred out of the boat and onto the spoon. This transfer of body weight reduces the wetted surface area of the hull assisting the acceleration of the system.”

Remember, it takes many practice strokes to unlearn an old motor pattern. Be diligent and patient.

Mayrene T. Earle, M.Ed., is founder of MastersCoaching. She conducts camps and clinics for masters rowers around the world. She also provides coaching for coaches. Contact Mayrene at mayrene@masterscoaching.com . Copyright 2008 © Mayrene T. Earle. All rights reserved.

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