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May 09, 2008


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Why, exactly, is the square blade good at allowing a strong finish? By having to clear a full blade from teh water, the rower is forced to lower their handles a corresponding amount - typically 3-4 inches for the 8-ish inches of blade that needs to exit the water. This means that there must be that clearances in front of their body to allow this range of motion. However, if they are pulling all the way to their body (hence the brushing of the thumbs), this clearance does not exist.

However, if they feather & push away at the same time, this problem is eliminated.


In the starting position, hands away, blades square, the part of my finger with my wedding-ring on it is parallel with my flat wrist, my fingers are a hook and the tip of my thumb is on the bottom edge of the end of the grip. If I position my hand so the part of my finger with my wedding-ring on it is perpendicular to my wrist I pretty much have the grip in my palm which I don't want, Right?


Correction. about 45*, not parallel to water and not perpendicular to water, the wedding-ring part of my finger.

Karen Chenausky

1xsculler, you bring up an excellent point. The handle *does* feel like it is in your palm, and is something you don't want. However, the reason I believe the grip I describe is actually better has to do with whether you are really using your palm to grip. In my way of thinking you are not. The palm does rest on the handle, but it is not used to grip the handle. The grip comes from your finger pads (under the handle) and the roots of your fingers (on top of the handle). Your palm is only there because it is attached to the rest of your hand. With this grip, blisters will appear at the roots of your fingers, but not in your palm.


There is no "tap down" in the sense of keeping the blades completely buried until they reach the end of the arc and then removing them from the water. It's mostly a coach's white lie used in teaching and not really what happens. It's a physical impossibility - the handle must still be moving around the arc while the oar lifts out.

Read http://www.biorow.com/RBN_en_2008_files/2008RowBiomNews03.pdf

Coaches use the these sort of ideal images all the time, but they should also understand that they are simplifications or distortions, and in a written piece that will be read and used by coaches as well as athletes, you should indicate that you have that understanding too.


Another minor correction. I shouldn't have made my first and second comments with my laptop in my lap, watching the last episode of "Bachelor" with my wife and a 1 1/2" wood dowel in my hand trying to figure out how I place my hand on the grip. While doing my a.m. water piece today I realized that Karen's, wedding-ring part of finger at 90* to the water at the catch, is quite accurate and you still don't have the grip in your palm.


Hi Karen,
First, I have enjoyed your blog quite a bit and appreciate the time you are taking to write.

I have a question about the grip during the recovering. Does the feather occur by rotating the handle via the wrist, or is the handle rotated by changing the grip?

Some history... Previously, before your article, my handles were in my fingers. That is, the base of my fingers were at 45 deg (not perpendicular) such that on the drive the pressure of the oar was essentially at the middle knuckle. I had always read/heard that the oar is not held in the hand but in the fingers, and the coaches I have had never corrected me, so I thought this was correct.

I had noticed though that in photographs I saw that it seemed like others had the handle not in just in the fingers but more in their hand. That, and their thumbs covered more of the handle end. Thus, when I read your blog entry I had an "Ah ha!" moment.

So then to the boat where upon trying your grip, with fingers at 90deg and the handle on the upper hand-pads, that I felt better connected. It was a little uncomfortable and I'm still getting used to it, but I swear that I'm getting better power out of the stroke. My theory is that I couldn't drive as hard and was subconsciously holding back because I could sense that my fingers were being challenged to hang on the the oar.

Back to my question... To feather the oar and keep "flat wrists" I have been rotating the handle by opening my fingers. That is, the lower part of my fingers, which were at 90deg, rotate up, bringing the handle, towards being more parallel to the water.

However, I've been watching a lot of videos and I don't see anybody do this. It appears that the handle stays at essentially a fixed position in the hand and that the feather is accomplished by rolling the wrist.

So there's where I am at. If you've made it this far, thanks. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Karen Chenausky

Hi TC,

First of all, thank you for the kind compliments. I'm happy that my essays have been able to help you even remotely (i.e., not in person).

Regarding the grip on the handles with the fingers, I think this used to be the fashion. I was taught that way, too, and then un-taught it later in my training career. Since learning the grip I describe, I think I can achieve some important things more easily than with a finger-grip, which is why I promote it. In fact, one of those things is what you mention: it's really hard to transfer all of the force you can create with your legs to the blade if you're only hanging on by your fingers. The connection is indeed much better when you are using the more moder grip, precisely because you can engage the larger muscles of your back better and transfer the force of your legs better.

Now, for feathering. I think that pretty much any way you feather is all right, as long as the wrists get flat right afterward and that you're not scooping up water or causing any other problems in the boat or your arms. It's generally a good idea to keep the handle from moving vertically when you feather or square, but I don't think it matters if you use your wrists a little or not at all. In fact, if I could manage it, I would try NOT to use my wrists. So it's possible that you have managed this yourself. In "Feathering and the Finish" I allude to scullers who can feather without using their wrists -- my husband is one of these. His pinkies are as long as my index finger, and he can just roll the handle between his fingers and thumb without the need to crank his wrists at all. (And he's got worn spots on the ends of his grips to prove it).

So if this is what you are doing, then you have just made me jealous. But if you think that in feathering OR squaring your current method is making the handle change height, then I would suggest developing a method that does not involve that height-change. Does that make sense?


Yea, that makes sense. I watched a couple of my sculling videos this afternoon to help put it all together. I think the main thing is that I was taking the phrase, "The handles should not be in the palm." a bit too far and making my fingers work to hard. Thanks again.


Karen, thanks for all the time you spend on your blog. I'm a novice rower. I'm unclear about the drill Playing the Piano. What is meant by "row on the feather"? Thanks.


like TC, I'm a little hung up on the grip thing, too. I had been taught to use the fingers to feather the oar, so that the wrist is always flat. What you write makes sense, but: if I use the wrist at (after, during) the release to feather the oar, and the wrist movement is to simply reach the "tipping point" before the weight of the oar drops it onto the other flat spot in the oar lock, and then (after the tipping point is reached and the oar drops onto the other flat spot) you flatten the wrist and hands away, doesn't this mean that your grip changes, or that the oar sort of spins in your hand? Otherwise, when you flatten your wrist (after the tipping point is reached) you'd be squaring the blade? [I just jumped to the part of your blog discussing blade preparation for the catch, where, with flat wrists, you roll your fingers down.] I'm not sure I'm getting it. Thanks for any further advice you can offer.

Karen Chenausky

Hi Eugene,

Thanks for writing. I'll address your comments in order. First, "rowing on the feather" means "rowing with the blades feathered". (Likewise, "on the square" means "with blades squared").

Now for your question about whether the oar spins in your hand after you break the wrists just enough to get the handle to its tipping point and then flatten your wrists again. The short answer is going to be that no, it doesn't. The longer answer is that it doesn't because you lift the heel of your hand up off the handles in order to get the wrists flat. You don't just reverse what you just did to feather.

It's hard to describe, but try this: Make a fist, then open your hand out flat. Not only will your wrist flatten a little, but your *hand* will also flatten. That is, when you make a fist, your big knuckles are bent. When you straighten your hand, those knuckles become straight. If you do it a few times in a row and keep the rest of your arm stationary, it looks a little like your knuckles are just rising and flattening, rising and flattening. That flattening motion is what I'm after here, because the handle is going to touch your palm just opposite from the big knuckles (kind of at the roots of your fingers). See, here's where I need to film my hand doing this and attach the video to the page, but I don't know how to do that yet...

Please ask more questions if you have them. If you're wondering, chances are someone else is, too.


Karen, many thanks for your response. I hate to belabor this point; but, as a follow up: is it that motion of the fingers (from the clinched fist to extended fingers) that feathers the oar? If so, why do you "cock" or bend the wrist at all (down, to the "tipping point," and then quickly back to level)?

Another: rowing on the feather, the oar is in the water and pulled while feathered, so the boat doesn't or barely moves?

Thanks again, and I really appreciate you blog.

Karen Chenausky


You aren't belaboring anything; you're simply asking the kinds of questions that get at the real details of a process. And that's always useful. When I (or other coaches) say "row on the feather" I mean "row normally, feathering the blades after they come out of the water and squaring them up before they go back in." When we say "row on the square" we mean "row without feathering." Coach talk is often kind of a shorthand, and the meaning isn't always transparent. So it's good to get clarification. That's why I post my answers to your questions: so that others can get the benefit of them as well.

Now to your question about whether the hand flexion is all that's required to feather the oar. For some people this might be the case. My husband, among other people, is capable of doing just this. For me, though, hand flexion is just a *part* of how I feather, because my fingers aren't strong enough to roll the handle by themselves. So I would say, try it both ways. If you can manage to feather the oars without using the wrists at all, then great! as long as it doesn't cause repetitive stress injuries. If not, then you can use your wrists like most other people do, and will just have to pay attention to getting them flat again after tipping the oar.

Please ask any other questions you might have. I enjoy answering them.

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