Rowing Telemetry – Just for the elite?

Previously I’ve touched on several companies that either have on the market, or are looking to bring onto the market, products for measuring the boat telemetry or a rowers stroke in order to see ways of improving that stroke to make the boat go faster and also why using telemetry to measure power could be the next big thing in rowing like it has been in cycling. Here in the UK we are starting to see more and more crews turning up at events with their boats sporting wiring on the riggers which are a tell-tale sign of a rowing telemetry system being installed on the boat:

And often on the broadcasts of International rowing events you can see crews racing with the same wiring visible

So rowing telemetry is becoming more popular at the elite level, but is it solely useful for elite club or international crews? In this artilce I wanted to suggest ways in which the same telemery may also be useful for the non-elite rowers, and also how it may be used in ways other than trying to perfect a crews technique

Potential for use with Novice/Junior squads
Now normally I am sure that using a rowingtelemetry sytem with juniors and novices would not be the first thing to spring to a coaches mind, but in many ways it could be considerably more useful for a coach and novice to get the live feedback of their rowing than someone who has been rowing for a considerable amount of time. Rowers and coaches alike know it can be a long and difficult road untraining technique that has been learned over months or even years on the water, so being able to track technique at an early stage and work to improve it would have a huge benefit further down the athletes career. The developer of the Oarinspired system had this in mind when he initally started working on his Intelligate system, as he recently discussed:

My business goal is to develop a solution that can be applied from the first day someone takes to a boat. I get angry when I see a group of novice school kids on the river with atrocious technique and the coach is in his speed boat 100 meters behind making sure no one is drowning. No-one is giving them the instant analysis and feedback they need to improve.

SNRYHCUDIXKOAEI.20130221180222When you analyse how junior rowers develop their technique over time so much comes down to trial an error. After 12 months of trying many give the sport away as it’s too hard to get the boat to sit up and run. They never experience the exhilaration and adrenalin rush of having the boat singing underneath them. That is a shame because once you experience that sensation it’s hard to give the sport away. Those that do stay on develop some rally bad habits which selectors for the top crews often see as too much of a challenge to fix, so rowers who were once potential champions are relegated to the “B” team.


My personal challenge;  what if we can use technology not only for the elite rowers but for the junior rowers who are just learning. Give them simple easy to follow feedback that encourages good technique and we can build the talent pool, having more kids staying on in the sport and developing a larger pool of skilled rowers for senior selectors which could take the sport to a whole new level. I think it is possible  but for this to work the technology has to be robust, cheap and easy to use which is what I am aiming for with the Intelligate and our recent arrangement with Rowing in Motion.

Rowing is a sport where there is a lot of talk about “feel” for making a boat go well. “Feel” may be important but without hard data or good explanation it makes it hard for someone new to understand what they should or shouldn’t do, meaning they rely on a coach to help judge what they are doing is right which, given the numbers of rowers to the number of coaches in most junior and novice squads, means each rower never gets the amount of 1:1 time they perhaps should. With telemetry, especially live telemetry that the athlete can see and is easy to use, it makes it easier to explain what the coach is looking for and with trial & error the athlete can quickly learn what force/acceleration curve they should produce, what the “feel” is when they are producing it and how to repeat the curve every stroke. Imagine how much more satisfying this would be for a novice or junior just starting with the sport, to be able to make changes and see what effect those changes have had, and be able to track their improvement over time

Potential for use when selecting the right shaped hull/blades
As mentioned at the start of this post, a lot of coaches use rowing telemetry to select the “correct” rowers to make a fast crew, but could it also be used to select the “correct” boat?

Currently there is a wide range of boat manufacturers all of which have their own proprietary hull shape, but there is very little information on what the differences are between them, and even with several different hull shapes being offered within one weight range (for example to stampfli X1 and S1).


Part of the reason for this are the inherent differences between people’s technique, from rower to rower and from club to club, meaning that you never see “exactly” the same rowing technique between crews which would also mean that a boat that is fastest for one crew may not be the fastest for another. For example for scullers weighing 70-80kg if you looked at just one boat manufacturer like Filippi you can instantly see that if you fall in this weight range then you have a selection of 3 shells different shells. The F7, F45 and you could also consider the F22. But which is the best/fastest? Filippi themselves admit that some shells are better than others depending on factors with your rowing, like the F22 is “A suitable mold for rowing technique where smoothness is the strength point” but how could you know if this applies to you?

If you had access to rowing telemetry then you could easily organise testing out different hulls, and be able to accuratly compare how the different boats respond to the crews technique and make an eductaed decision on which is best for your crew. A full telemtry system (measuring balance, speed, acceleration) would also be a better solution than just which boat you performed your fastest time in as well  because it could show whether there is the potential to have an even better performance in on boat at a later date, for example if the crew were not able to produce their maximum force in one boat because of fatigue or discomfort, but the telemetry showed if the crew wasnt fatigued or had more time to adjust to the boat then it could be the quicker hull. There is a reference to exactly this on the biorow website where the coach of the 2012 olympic gold medalist Mirka Knapkova talks about using telemetry to pick the best boat for her, which wasn’t the boat she initially went faster in during testing, but was the boat where the telemetry showed she had a lot of potential for improvement and therefore was the better long term choice.

[Biorow] has helped us to choose the most suitable boat for Mirka. Though another boat was faster during the testing, the data provided by Valery allow us to look into the selection at a different angle of view. The problem was that Mirka was not able to produce her highest power in the fastest boat. Later we were able to achieve it and the result was excellent.

These are just two examples of ways in which a club or coach could use rowing telemetry outside of testing the elite athletes at a club. Rowing telemetry obviously has a lot of potenial in rowing for changing how the sport is currently run, unfortunatly at this stage the prices that most of the systems are at the market I think are prices it beyond what a lot of clubs can afford, especially if there is the mindset that telemetry is only for the elite, however I would hope that clubs could see that the outlay would be worth it as having a system available to the whole club could help encourage members to stay, help clubs and athletes justify the equipment purchases that the club makes, and could also help improve the overall quality of athletes aiming for national and international level competition.


About stelph82

I am a rower who is a lot of a technology geek as well!
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6 Responses to Rowing Telemetry – Just for the elite?

  1. Carlos says:

    Good blog bro , greetings from Madrid,Carlos

  2. sculla says:

    Great article. convincing.

    Price clearly a consideration. Whilst rowing technology hasn’t changed vastly in the last few decades, clubs have competed with largely similar equipment.

    Break throughs may mean clubs with the new technology jump ahead of clubs who can’t afford it as the playing field changes.

    • stelph82 says:

      Thanks for your thoughts. I agree that price is an important factor although I would hope that as technology advances we would see cheaper products coming out. Look at cycling for example, currently you can get power meters like the power tap for around £1000 which come with pre wired expensive carbon or metal wheels, parts that are already quite expensive in cycling. In rowing all the forces go through a plastic gate that costs less then £50 with only really one moving part, so surely it could cost less than the similar cycling devices.

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