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Breaking down the Pause Drill

This article is part of our series ‘Novice Coach Resources‘.

The Pause Drill is a fundamental rowing drill used to improve technique by pausing at specific points in the rowing stroke to emphasize proper positioning and sequencing. This drill is suitable for both novice and experienced rowers. This is one of the best rowing drills in existence because of its customizability and functional benefit for all level of rowers.

For those new to the Pause Drill –

Objective: The primary objective of the Pause Drill is to promote better rowing technique, blade control, and synchronization among rowers.


  1. Set Up: Start by assembling your rowing crew in the boat or on the rowing machines. Ensure that they are seated correctly, with each rower’s oars placed flat on the water.
  2. Choose Pause Points: Determine which specific points in the rowing stroke you want to focus on for the drill. Common pause points include the finish, the catch, and the release. You can choose one point to focus on during a session or incorporate multiple pause points.
  3. Execution:
    • Finish Pause: If you’re starting with a pause at the finish, instruct rowers to row normally until they reach the finish position, which is the end of the stroke. At the finish, rowers should pause for 2-3 seconds while keeping their oar blades out of the water. This pause allows them to concentrate on their body position, handle height, and blade extraction.
    • Catch Pause: If you’re starting with a pause at the catch, rowers will row normally until they reach the catch position, which is the beginning of the stroke. At the catch, rowers should pause for 2-3 seconds, with their oar blades just above the water’s surface. This pause emphasizes proper blade placement, body position, and connection with the water.
    • Release Pause: If you’re starting with a pause at the release, rowers will row normally until they reach the release position, where the oar handles are moving away from the body. At the release, rowers should pause for 2-3 seconds while keeping their oar blades just out of the water. This pause helps them work on the release sequence and body control.
  4. Focus on Technique: During each pause, rowers should focus on specific aspects of their technique, such as body posture, blade position, handle height, and relaxation. Coaches can provide feedback and make corrections as needed.
  5. Resume Rowing: After the designated pause duration, instruct rowers to resume rowing normally. Repeat the drill as many times as needed, alternating between different pause points to address various aspects of the stroke.
  6. Video Feedback: Consider using video footage to review the rowers’ performance during the drill. This visual feedback can be invaluable in helping them understand and correct any issues with their technique.

The Pause Drill is a versatile and effective training tool in rowing. It allows rowers to break down the rowing stroke into specific phases, providing opportunities for focused practice and technical improvement. It’s a valuable tool for coaches to help rowers build a strong technical foundation and refine their skills.

The Pause Drill in rowing offers several benefits for rowers and coaches alike. It is a valuable tool for improving technique and enhancing overall rowing skills. Here are some of the key benefits of incorporating the Pause Drill into rowing training:

  1. Enhanced Technique: The primary benefit of the Pause Drill is that it allows rowers to break down the rowing stroke into specific phases, focusing on individual elements of technique. This can lead to significant improvements in stroke mechanics, body position, and blade work.
  2. Increased Awareness: Pausing at different points in the stroke forces rowers to become more aware of their body position, blade placement, and the overall feel of the boat. This heightened awareness helps them identify and correct errors in real-time.
  3. Improved Blade Control: The drill emphasizes blade control, which is crucial for effective rowing. Rowers learn how to handle the oars with precision, ensuring proper placement in the water and clean extraction at the finish.
  4. Better Timing: Pausing and holding positions during the stroke helps rowers develop a better sense of timing and synchronization with their crewmates. This can lead to a more harmonious and efficient rowing stroke.
  5. Strength and Balance: The pause positions, particularly at the catch and finish, require rowers to stabilize their bodies and the boat. This builds strength, balance, and stability, contributing to a more powerful and controlled stroke.
  6. Error Identification: Coaches can use the Pause Drill to identify specific errors or weaknesses in individual rowers’ technique. This enables targeted coaching and correction to address those issues.
  7. Customization: The drill is highly customizable. Coaches can choose which pause points to focus on based on the specific needs and skill levels of their rowers. This adaptability makes it suitable for both novice and experienced rowers.
  8. Reinforcement of Fundamentals: The drill reinforces fundamental rowing concepts and ensures that rowers do not neglect basic elements of the stroke in pursuit of speed and power.
  9. Mental Focus: Rowers must maintain mental focus during the pauses, as any lapse in concentration can lead to technique breakdown. This aspect of the drill helps develop mental discipline and concentration.
  10. Immediate Feedback: With the ability to pause and analyze specific positions in real-time, rowers and coaches can provide immediate feedback and make corrections. This accelerates the learning process and facilitates quicker skill development.
  11. Transferable Skills: The skills and improvements gained from the Pause Drill are transferable to regular rowing. Rowers can apply the refined technique and blade control to their full stroke, leading to better overall performance.

The Pause Drill can be beneficial for both novice and experienced rowers, but it may be particularly valuable for novice rowers as they are learning the fundamentals of rowing technique. Here’s how its application may differ for novice and experienced rowers:

For Novice Rowers:

  1. Skill Development: Novice rowers are just beginning to learn the basics of rowing technique. The Pause Drill helps them break down the stroke into manageable parts, allowing them to focus on specific aspects of technique without being overwhelmed by the entire stroke sequence.
  2. Fundamental Building: Novice rowers benefit from the drill because it reinforces fundamental rowing concepts, such as body position, blade control, and synchronization with the crew. These fundamental skills are essential for safe and effective rowing.
  3. Error Identification: Coaches can use the Pause Drill to identify and correct errors in novice rowers’ technique early on. This helps prevent the development of bad habits and ensures a strong technical foundation.
  4. Increased Confidence: Novice rowers often lack confidence in their rowing abilities. The drill provides a structured and controlled environment for them to practice and build confidence in their skills.

For Experienced Rowers:

  1. Refinement: Experienced rowers already have a solid understanding of rowing technique. For them, the Pause Drill becomes a tool for refining and fine-tuning their stroke. It allows them to focus on subtle details that can make a significant difference in performance.
  2. Advanced Technique: Advanced rowers may use the drill to work on more advanced aspects of technique, such as catch placement, blade work, or the release sequence. These refinements can lead to performance gains at a higher level of rowing.
  3. Targeted Improvement: Coaches can use the drill to address specific areas of improvement for experienced rowers. For example, if a rower tends to rush the recovery or has a tendency to bury the blade too deep during the catch, the Pause Drill can be used to target these issues.

In summary, while the Pause Drill can benefit rowers of all levels, it is often a foundational tool for novice rowers to establish proper technique and build a strong technical foundation. For experienced rowers, it becomes a tool for fine-tuning and addressing specific areas of improvement to enhance their performance at a more advanced level of rowing.