I have always enjoyed browsing through William C. Atkinson's Atkinsopht Rowing Site. It is a reporting and interpretation of the results of computer modelling to see what really makes boats go fast. If you're a fan of engineering and the science of speed - with a bit of a bent towards math - this is well worth the look. It can be a bit daunting otherwise - but if taken in small doses even the most math timid of us can gain something from this work. At the very least - it gives good "food for thought" that coaches can use as the basis for their own experimentation on the water.
Mr. Atkinson suggests that his model can help understand what mechanical changes can produce speed, but wisely he qualifies his work by noting:
A computer model treats only of the mechanical aspects of rowing and rowers. Crews win races through their capacity to add to the base mechanical skill of body and equipment those crucial elements which one can hope will never lend themselves to modeling: teamwork, resolve, spirit, etc. Beneath these intangibles, however, it behooves any winning crew to tune its mechanical base to the highest practical degree.
If you are a fan of Volker Nolte's Rowing Faster Atkinsopht includes a commentary - and a bit of constructive criticism on his site here.
The site reports several findings of the model. Each of them links to a separate and very thorough article that provide more in depth information than I report here:
1. Blade surface area should be as large as a rower can easily handle - the increased surface area makes the blade more efficient by reducing slippage - her does note anecdotal concerns about an increase in injury risk with larger blades.
2. He confirms the intuitive notion that the peak force during the stroke should come when the blade is 90 degrees to the boat.
3. The author feels that there is a best oar length and lever ratio for every rower depending on their strength. This is a point he reinforces in various places on the site - and clearly something that few ocoaches pay attention to. Moreover, he suggests that erring on the side of longer oars for all athletes is prudent.
4. The recovery (or "free return") cannot be coached - rather no one style is more efficient than the other. I have always believed that it is not how hard or soft you change from recovery to drive - it is all about timing hte insertion of the blade - and that timing is generally far easier for crews who come to the end of the recovery the slowest.
5. It is better to pull hard at a lower rate than to ease up to maintain a higher rate - all else being equal.
6. There is no "pinch problem" with steep catch angles. This supports the July 2006 report inthe Biomechanics newsletter as reported here.
7. A reduction in blade pitch seems warranted - he even suggests that scullers experiment with 0 degrees and sweepers with negative pitch - effectively creating more catch angle.
8. An increase in peak handle force of 10 percent yields an increase of shell speed of 3.5 percent.
9. Oarshaft flexibility has no effect on shell speed.
10. Well buried blades are more efficient than shallow blades. I don't see that he has adequately accounted for the increased cost of extracting a deep blade, or of burying one - and he does admit this saying: "insofar as the penalties for deeper immersion at the catch and the finish can be kept small, it seems to me that "digging deep" would not be a bad thing." He also seems to be evaluating the blade independent of the shaft which in my experience can slow the boat if buried too deeply.
11. Oarblade efficiency is not a useful concept to study.
Head to the site and see what you think. There must be a few dozen of you who have strong opinions of these findings Has anyone experimented with some of them?