Last September Stephen Aitken, a well-known coach in the Thames Tideway rowing world, came to Bergerac for a week’s training. This included an introduction to rowing-oriented yoga plus individual sessions on the river and the RP3.
In the Yoga studio, we zoned in on the subject of Sit Bones. These are often discussed in relation to Yoga, and in cycling also, but are often overlooked in a rowing context. Technically described as the ischial tuberosity they are in fact highly relevant to any discussion of connection and balance in a boat. This is because downward pressure and weight distribution on the seat is just as relevant as horizontal pressure in determining the net motive power in a stroke.
In other words, how you sit on the seat throughout the stroke may be more important than you realise. The key point is to keep your weight on the centre of the seat: leaning back too far creates downward leverage which will divert energy into unnecessary vertical oscillation rather than forward motion. Depending on your body geometry and sculling habits, it may be advisable to shorten your customary stroke.
To many people this is counter-intuitive. Surely a shorter stroke means less power delivery? Maybe so – but what if the decreased power is offset by increased efficiency?
Yoga can be a great help in exploring issues of this kind, with floor exercises followed by sessions on the water and subsequent video analysis to discover and record the most efficient body-angle at the finish for a particular rower. It was gratifying to see how useful the sessions were for Stephen.
Here’s a clip from one of many videos we shot to record the progress he was making during his stay.
Back in London, Stephen promptly emailed his rowing friends and pupils, as follows::
Last weekend I was coached properly for the first time in 23 years (discounting shouts from other crew members) and found out it’s good that you try to “do as I say not as I do”.
The most important for me was about Sit Bones, and it may be useful for some of you – so if I shout “Sit Bones” this is what I mean:
Sit bones at the finish. If you remain sitting on your sit bones at the finish you will have a stronger held in finish. Your spine will stay straighter putting less strain on your lumbar spine. However if you let your pelvis collapse backwards and end up sitting on your coccyx you will have a weaker finish and wash out. The collapsing pelvis will cause your lumbar spine to bend and together they will drop your shoulders several centimetres, meaning the spoon will rise out of the water twice that, causing wash out.
So what to think?
Be conscious of the seat and how you are sitting on it throughout the stroke. As you push off the stretcher after lifting the handles you should feel much less weight on the seat as you suspend. Then as the handles approach the finish your weight will drop onto your seat bones on the seat. Make sure they stay there at the finish – sitting up tall will help or may result from staying on the bones. The handles at the finish will probably be higher than usual, so a bigger tap down will be required.
Before you complain, your stroke length at the finish will be shorter but your effective stroke will be longer, as you are not washing out. And at high rates you will be quicker off back stops, as you are not dumping your torso down at the finish and having to lift it up at the start of the recovery.
EAB comment: This message is spot on. Stephen is right to emphasise the need for constant awareness of posture, and the relevance of the Sit Bones. It’s pleasing to see how our work together on these points not only helped bring about performance improvements, but has also inspired him to spread the word! I look forward to welcoming him back in Bergerac before long.
PS: if you’re unfamiliar with the Thames Tideway and are planning to come to London for an event, you should take a look at Stephen’s comprehensive PowerPoint guide to this unique stretch of water.