This week, TI Coach Bill Lang sent me a link to a NY Times obituary for Allen Rosenberg,the US national coach for rowing in the 1960s and 1970s, a period of transformation in rowing form and philosophy. Bill shared this with me because he saw such strong parallels between Rosenberg’s principles and those of TI. See if you agree.
Rosenberg, a former coxswain, stood just 5’1” and weighed barely 100 lbs, but earned the faith and respect of athletes more than twice his size because his methods produced such striking results.
Most notably, he was the U.S. Olympic coach in 1964 in Tokyo, where the American heavyweight eight — eight rowers plus a coxswain, the showcase event in world rowing — reclaimed the gold medal the U.S. had lost in 1960 after decades of domination. He also coached a gold-medal boat in the 1974 World Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland.
While Rosenberg transformed the sport in the 60s, his influence endures 50 years later.
These excerpts from the article illustrate:
By profession, he was a lawyer and a pharmacist, and he used academic-like acuity to help transform rowing from a brute enterprise into a modern amalgam of science and sport.
“More than any coach I’ve ever known, he studied how to make a boat move,” said Ken Brown, who, at 6-3 and 194 pounds, was one of the smaller rowers on the 1974 championship boat. “He took what was often a frenetic way — putting the oar in the water and whaling away at it — to something more relaxed. His constant comments were about lightness of hands and relaxing and balancing in the recovery part of the stroke. Concentrate on a long pull in the water, quiet and even. The less water you disturb, the faster the boat goes.”
The traditional rowing motion in the United States employed a collective burst of power. Rosenberg taught his rowers to fire muscle groups in rotation rather than all at once. He explained its logic by using the metaphor of moving a boulder.
“Some coaches say that if you want to move it, you put everything you’ve got into a single great heave. I contend that it is better to use muscle groups in sequence — legs, shoulders, backs, arms — because the problem is not merely to budge the boulder but to keep it rolling as smoothly as possible. No worthwhile races are won by crews who work the entire distance.”
Applying the ‘Rosenberg Principles’ to Swimming
Swimming and rowing are similar in two ways:
- * Both feature a ‘human-powered vessel.’
- * Both were traditionally thought of as brute-force-and-fitness enterprises.
Swimming and rowing differ in even more significant ways:
- * In rowing the vessel is perfectly designed to travel at high speed while barely disturbing the water. The rower must think only of applying strong, steady pressure to the water via the blade.
- * In swimming, the ‘vessel’ is perfectly designed to disturb the water a great deal at even the slowest speeds. The swimmer must divide attention between reducing drag and creating propulsion.
- * A men’s heavyweight crew races over a 5000m course, finishing in about 5:30 at a rate that rarely exceeds 40 strokes per minute. I.E. An Olympic rower must take only 200 or so strokes to complete the distance.
- * A typical triathlete (or open water competitor) racing 1.5k is likely to swim for some 35 minutes at a rate of 60 or so strokes per minute. I.E. An open water swimmer must take at least 10 times as many strokes as an Olympic rower!
- * Despite the greater difficulties and demands of swimming, old-school thinking—faster, harder strokes as the recipe for speed—has been far more resistant to change than in rowing.
The similarities of TI technique and Rosenberg technique are manifest:
- Those who minimize workload win races. Not those who work hardest.
- Focus more on stroke length. Less on rate.
- Apply steady pressure. Not hard.
- Don’t disturb the water. Especially during recovery!
- Keep hands light for overall relaxation and to ‘keep the boulder moving.’