5 parts of stroke cycle

The 5 parts of the stroke cycle are: The Drive; The Release; The Recovery; The Catch (itself); and The Catch (timing). By focusing on each part in turn, on good technique, and on drills to perfect each part, the individual can develop and refine their sculling. Of course each part of the stroke affects the other parts, requiring the sculler to integrate the work on each part with the continuous ‘flow’ of the stroke cycle.

Below are detailed descriptions of the 5 parts and links to recommended drills.



  • The leg drive should be initiated directly after the catch when the blades are in the water (NOT before).
  • The pick-up of the drive at the catch should be in tune with the speed of the boat.
  • The sequence of movements is as follows:
  1. The drive should be taken with the legs first—the upper body and shoulders remain over the knees while the feet press into the stretcher.
  2. This creates what is known as the Hang where all the tension is in the legs as the prime movers—they are by far the most powerful muscles. The arms and shoulder girdle are drawn forward and body feels light on the seat, suspended between the feet and the hands. This arms are not exerting any force at this early stage of the drive.
  3. At mid-drive maximum force is being exerted on the boat because the blades are exerting force on the boat directly in the direction of boat run. The angle between the trunk and the horizontal has opened (unrolled) a little, and the body weight is still suspended between legs and arms.
  4. As the stroke comes through mid-drive the arms start to come into play, the movement being initiated by further opening of the body and drawing the shoulders back.
  5. Legs, upper body, and arms all work in an overlapping sequence and should finish almost together for maximum accumulation of force and acceleration. (In actual fact the legs finish slightly before the arms, but it feels as if they finish together).
  6. The leg drive should accelerate through the stroke as does the boat speed. The speed of the handle(s) accelerates through the drive, reaching maximum speed just before the release. This will result in a clean finish as there is a “pocket”of air formed behind the blade which makes it easier to take the blade out of the water.
  7. The blade should be just covered throughout the stroke at an even depth. This can only occur if the draw is “flat”, i.e. horizontal.
  8. The force applied to the boat during the drive should be smooth throughout, without any “two-part”action. This will result in the maximum summation of forces possible from the legs, upper body, and arms working smoothly together in correct sequence.


The Aim of an effective release or “finish” is to extract the blades from the water at the completion of the drive with as little disturbance to the run of the boat as possible. Key points

  1. A good release should be part of the continuous acceleration of the drive so that the air pocket created behind the blade doesn’t fill in and create a “dirty” finish where there is a lot of water splashed around the blade as it is extracted. A dirty finish will slow the boat down just where it should be accelerating.
  2. The power of the finish should derive mainly from a strong leg drive with a coordinated opening of the body and arm draw to add to the total force applied.
  3. The release should be flat, in line with the rest of the draw, not drawn down into the lap. The rower needs to feel that he/she is pulling the handle up into the finish.
  4. The release should be executed with flat wrists or a slight downward rotation of the wrist to help feather the blade, with minimal tap down of the handles for sculling blades (just enough to clear the blades from the water). Try to feather the blade in the air pocket created behind the blade, which will ensure a clean release.
  5. With sculling blades learn to feather by rolling the handles into the fingertips rather than by dropping the wrists.
  6. At the release the elbows should be drawn back past the body, with forearms parallel to the water. The shoulder blades should also be drawn back (and should feel as if they are meeting in the middle of your back in sculling boats).
  7. The release should be smooth, not jerky
  8. At the finish the hands should come in, around the turn, and away without stopping—it keeps the finish smooth and saves time when rowing at high ratings, so that there is less need to rush forward up the slide
  9. A strong stable body is necessary for a strong finish because the body must be held steady while the blades are drawn to it.
  10. At the release the body should be just leaning back from the vertical about 25 degrees but not slumped, and the head should be looking straight ahead


Aim: To carry the blades forward to catch, with minimal effect on the run of the boat; a time for recovery from fatigue and to relax the prime moving muscles

  • In tune with the speed of the boat; at least twice the time of the drive; sets the rhythm of the boat; a top sculler will always have a relaxed efficient recovery.
  • Sets the sculler up for a relaxed, but sharp catch, with little missed water.
  • Sequence of movements:-
  • Hands come away smoothly from the release, knees held down, allow the boat to accelerate from the release
  • As hands pass over the knees, the shoulders follow the hands forward, followed by the seat moving smoothly up the slide, as you let the boat come all the way underneath you.
  • The body angle for the catch position should be achieved by half-slide.
  • The speed up the slide should be constant, or slowing slightly, all the way to the catch, with no jerky  movements or pauses at any point
  • The hands should come forward at the correct height, normally half a blade width off the water.
  • Hand heights should be even, scull with left hand leading, rather than left over right at the crossover. (see rowingwithcalmwaters video)
  • Upper body should be as relaxed as possible (“rubbery”) on the way forward. This allows the muscles a chance to recover, replenish oxygen. Also useful in rough water, where if the scullers is tense, the movements of body and boat will be exaggerated.
  • Above all the scullers should develop a “feel” for the boat, and the way the boat runs under him/her so as not to disturb the run.


As the seat slides forward to the catch, the body position is stable and the arms, while straight-ish, are relaxed rather than ramrod straight.

  1. Only the hands need to move up and forward slightly to drop the blade(s) in. This is achieved by stretching the arms and shoulder girdle “up and away” from you in a smooth and coordinated way while simultaneously letting the blades fall. (We are not talking big movements here—it should be barely perceptible from a coaches speedboat.)
  2. The splash from the blade as it drops in should be even on each side of the blade.
  3. The blade should drop so that the whole of the blade is just beneath the surface of the water—the blade is designed to float at this level.
  4. When the blade has dropped the legs/feet should initiate the leg drive, which should be in tune with the speed of the boat (i.e. slower leg drive for single scull).
    (Note: If you were to let the blade go entirely as you were dropping it in, the blade would drop slightly below the surface of the water then bob up again before settling in its floating position. A good trick is to think of initiating the leg drive (smoothly) before the blade can bob up).
  5. All the above should be executed in a way to minimise disturbance to the run of the boat. (This means being smooth into the front and having a momentary period of calmness as the blades enter the water before the leg drive is applied.)
  6. With a good catch where little water is missed, the blades make a ‘gloop’ sound as they enter the water (rather than a smacking or splashing sound).