The following is an attempt at a description of the stroke at present rowed by Harvard crews. It is limited to that part of the stroke which is taught in the gymnasium. If any assistance is thereby rendered the crews, it will be followed in spring by directions for shell rowing and for watermans ip.
For the carriage of the body and the arms, very few directions suffice; but it often takes months to develop the muscles necessary for a proper execution of the directions. The body should swing forward and back with a hip, and not a back movement. Eight years ago Harvard crews used to row with a bent back. In considering the advisability of a change during the captaincy of our late coach, it was argued that a straight back, and an active chest allowed free and easier breathing, an important consideration in a race of from twenty to twenty-five minutes. Further, it was thought that an "eight" composed of amateur college oarsmen could attain greater precision with a long steady hip movement than with an irregular back movement.
When the body is bent forward, and the arms are extended to their "full reach," the shoulders should always be kept down and back, for a shoulder movement is jerky, as well as extremely tiresome. It is unnecessary work which often severely taxes an oarsman's strength. Meanwhile the arms are kept perfectly straight, (not rigid, for rigidity tires the muscles), until the body stops to reverse its motion just back of the perpendicular. At this point the arms are drawn to the chest at the rate at which the body has been swinging back; but, as soon as they touch the chest, they are shot out forward and are again held perfectly straight. This arm movement is called the "shoot" because it is rapidly executed. A quick shoot is necessary; first, for the sake of uniformity: second, to avoid splashing when rowing on the water. The shoot, however, must be executed gently, for any violent motion jars a shell, and thereby greatly impedes its speed. After the shoot, the body is again swung forward, continuing, as it were, the movement of the arms. In fact, at no instant does motion cease. When the body is upright and about to reverse, the arms take up the motion, and as soon as they are at rest, the body, in turn continues it. These movements should follow one another with such exactness that no break or halt should occur at any moment. A gentle, well controlled, continuos movement will also be the most graceful, and most efficient one.
It is hardly necessary to mention the minor directions; they are of less consequence, and the reasons for them are obvious. The eyes should be fixed on the neck of the man in front; the wrist near the machine should be held slightly curved upward, so as to shorten the corresponding arm; the elbows should be held close to the side, when the arms are bent; the swing forward should be extended until the hands are above the toes, (this distance, however, varies somewhat with individuals); the body should always swing directly over the keel of the boat, never swerving to either side. As all of the crews are at present on sliding seats, no directions for the use of the slide have been given. They are simple, and comprise only an additional movement. This movement is easily acquired, providing the above rules are carefully followed.