Who hasn’t heard the refrain, “Square earlier!” a squillion times?
In my limited experience, it’s often a call that has no effect because the rower doesn’t actually know what to do to make it happen. For whatever reason, sometimes the brain refuses to speak to the hands. Or perhaps the hands just don’t listen.
For me, what finally worked was seeing someone do it, seeing that it was possible. Seeing someone squaring up not just a millisecond earlier, but squaring up insanely early—in sculling, by the time the hands cross over.
Here they are—the Sinkovic brothers in the 2x—showing us that squaring by the crossover is possible.
The Sinkovic brothers squaring insanely early (2’30” to 3’10”)
Like to see that in a 4x? Here’s the Croatian 4x that won Olympic silver in 2012 (Sinkovic brothers, Damir Martin and David Sain):
Squaring insanely early – the Croatian men’s 4x that won silver at London 2012
Having seen it, I just went out and tried it, with immediate success. I blew my own mind! I tried it first in a double scull with my partner setting the boat up. Later I tried it in the single. Whatever mental block I had before, I overcame it in one session, as did my partner, though we both still need to be reminded to square earlier now and again.
You might say, “Why do that? You’ll never need to race like that.” Indeed. But it has helped me in 2 ways:
- Knowing I can do it, I feel in command of my blades, which is empowering. Rather than thinking I can square early, it’s more that I can square on demand—as early or as late as I like, as the situation calls for.
- Even if only for a millisecond, I love that feeling of travelling with the blades in the square. But the real reward is that once I’m square, the only thing I need to think about is the timing of the entry—when am I going to drop my blades in the water? Dropping them in too early is not a problem I have ever had. And, even in a crew boat, I would be delighted to hear someone say, “You’re dropping your blades in too early!” or “Square later!”.
And, hey, if this exercise is good enough for Valent and Martin, it’s good enough for me.
Having said all of that, a couple of weeks ago I tripped across a video made by US Olympian John Biglow—a really well put together clip that left me, well, quite flabbergasted and not a little emotional. It’s a reminder that there is more than one way to row fast.
Below is US Olympian Sherrie Cassuto demonstrating the ‘flip catch’ which she learnt from Frank Cunningham in Seattle and which, she explains, is the style of rowing used by the Thames watermen back in the day.
She also talks about posture and what we can learn from the deadlift.
It’s a must-watch, right to the end:
Sherri Cassuto demonstrates the ‘flip catch’, part of the Thames waterman style of rowing
On a first viewing, I kept thinking ‘square earlier!’ But the style began to grow on me as I watched it again and listened to the sweet sound of her catches—she’s not missing any water, that’s for sure.
I wonder how would it be in rough water? She must’ve encountered plenty of that on Lake Washington.
What do you think of this style?
Thank you John Biglow for making and sharing this video. I think it’s important to capture not just the now unpopular style of rowing but the contagious enthusiasm and determination of this remarkable woman, Sherri Cassuto.