All novice rowers are taught not to race the recovery. Many rowers and rowing coaches develop a sense of “good” rowing. It is a question of balance, rhythm, power, ease of motion, yin and yang, feeling for the water, etc. We immediately recognize the skilled rower, and by teaching our pupils we pass on the art of rowing from generation to generation. So, all rowers are taught not to race the recovery, and for a skilled rower, it just ‘feels’ wrong, and it hurts to see a novice rower race the recovery.
We know when the rowing feels good, when the stroke feels light and we let the boat run easily through the water. We don’t waste energy to move the boat. No, we almost effortlessly and oh so playfully persuade our shell to slide through the water. We are using the right rhythm. We are rowing in sync with the rest of the crew. We are one with the elements, with the crew, with the boat.
Not racing the recovery is where it all starts. So I had this all rationalized: Conservation of momentum tells us that if we race the recovery, we force a sudden increase in the shell speed, which is a very bad idea because the shell’s drag resistance scales with the square of the shell velocity. On the other hand, doing a really slow recovery is not smart either, because the drag force would decelerate the boat, and one would need a very strong stroke to compensate. So, by hand-waving arguments I had concluded that there must be an optimum stroke-recovery ratio! All I needed now was the back of a napkin to jot down a few equations and voila!
The back of the napkin turned into a notebook full of notes, which then turned into a numerical model. So is there an optimum stroke recovery ratio? Perhaps. Let’s see.
Is racing the recovery a bad idea? You bet!