Roadmap of Rowing Biomechanics

Roadmap of Rowing Biomechanics

Performance in rowing is a complex matter as in any sport. It requires high physiological power production, effective technique, mental toughness and smart management of an athlete's lifestyle and training. The main purpose of biomechanics in rowing is the improvement of technique. The main questions to ask are:

·       What components of the rower’s skills can be analysed to develop optimal technique?

·       What biomechanical variables need to be measured to provide data for the analysis?

Figure 1 schematically shows relationships between the components of rowing skills and biomechanical variables. The real picture is more complicated, since different components of technique are interrelated and are usually affected by many other biomechanical variables.

1. Road map of rowing performance with the main components of biomechanics.

The road map of rowing biomechanics has three levels: measurement, analysis and performance. At the measurement level we collect information from sensors, process it (apply calibration, filters, averaging, etc.) and store it for the next level (analysis).

During analysis, we combine data from various variables, calculate derivative variables (e.g., power from measured force and oar angles), record absolute values (e.g., max. and average force), producing some meaningful information. There are two separate areas at the analysis level: theory and practice. For theory, we produce and publish some generalised knowledge, e.g., average values in athlete groups, correlations, normative criteria, etc. In the practice area, we compare the acquired data with the normative criteria and produce recommendations for specific athletes or crews, which leads us to the next level, performance.

At the performance level, we try to correct rowing technique with instructions obtained at the analysis level. Various methods of feedback can be used at this level: post-training and real-time feedback as well as various drills and rigging adjustments. After a technical correction is made, the athlete is retested, measured and analysed to see how the correction has impacted their rowing - this can be used to evaluate the athlete's improvement as well as their adaptability.

At the measurement level, there are three groups of variables related to very basic mechanical categories: Time (stroke rate), Space (drive length – rowing angles) and Force (applied by rower). Together these three variables produce the fourth mechanical category: Energy (rowing power), which is very closely related to the average speed of the rower-boat system and therefore with rowing performance. Below is a brief description of the main measurement areas:

  • Force curve defines the total impulse supplied by the rower as well as the dynamics of the system. An optimal force curve must be “frontloaded”, full and not have any bumps.
  • Coordination of the body segments' velocities is related to the force curve and defines rowing style, which is a key component of technique.
  • Rigging defines the kinematics of the oar and rower through the gearing ratio and the kinetics of the system. Lighter gearing makes the rower’s movements faster and possibly increases power production but reduces blade efficiency.
  • Oar handling skills of the rower could be evaluated using measurements of the vertical angle, which is related to the rigging (say, blade pitch and height of the gate) and could impact blade efficiency.
  • Patterns of the boat velocity and acceleration during the stroke cycle result from the dynamics of the system and should be good indicators of the quality of rowing technique.

To evaluate the measured values in these areas, we usually compare them with target values and curves, or what are known as “Biomechanical Gold Standards”, based off of statistical and scientific methods, combined with creativity and common sense.

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