Using telemetry to select the best rowing equipment for you

“Which boat manufacturer makes the fastest boat?”

Search through any rowing forum and you can see this question asked a multiple of times about both boats and blades, and always there are a number of different answers from users with their opinions on what boat is fastest that are always different and quite often are contradictory. The problem with this question and the answers you get are that is that opinions of which boat is the fastest is just that, an opinion, there is very little absolute data out there on what (if any) equipment is faster than the others. As well as this there is the added fact that what may be the fastest for one rower may not automatically be the fastest for another due to differences in their rowing techniques, boy shapes, crew weights etc, which means its very difficult to say absolutely what might be the fastest equipment for a rowing crew than testing the equipment in time trials or going with the “safe bet” that everyone else is getting

But is there a better way? As I’ve discussed before in this blog, I am starting to see rowing telemetry become more and more widely used in the rowing world here in the UK, and it is mostly being used to measure the athletes performance and technique, but can it also be used to measure the equipments performance in order to help you pick the best for you? This is the question that Rowing in Motion posed the other day on their blog, and funnily enough I had recently run some testing between sets of blades for a crew and so I thought iid discuss what we did and the interesting outcome

Essentially at the club we currently use a set of standard concept 2 smoothies in a 4-, however the club also has a set of Fat2 smoothies with Vortex edge available, and we had been curious to know if switching to the Fat2’s would provide a benefit. According to concept 2 the Fat2’s are more efficient through the stroke (particularly at the catch) and in their testing they saw a significant speed improvement over the standard shaped blades. that combined with this very detailed website that discusses the mechanics of a rowing stroke which suggests the most effective stroke is one that emphasises the catch suggets switching to the Fat2’s may give a speed increase, and so we thought to set up a test to explore this.

To run the basic test we decided to run 4 pieces at the rate caps shown below, the first was downstream with the standard blades, then we spun and did the next upstream, then landed and switched blades to the Fat2’s and repeated. The Fat2’s were set up exactly the same as the normal ones but with 5cm less on the outboard as suggested by Concept.

In order to record the testing we used an iPhone running the Rowing in Motion app and also our coach followed on the bank on a bank to take the time. After all the pieces were done the coaches stopwatch showed that the crew went 2-3 seconds faster over 1500m with the standard blades than with the Fat2’s, but this goes against what concept 2 have found! So whats going on?

As we had taken the rowing in motion app with us we could look in more detail at what differences there were in the boat acceleration using the two types of blades, and I have copied below the 4 acceleration profiles from the 4 pieces

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Blue line – standard blades at 32spm

Green line – Fat2 at 32spm

Red line – standard blades at 28spm

Purple line – Fat2 at 28spm

(each line is the overall average acceleration of the boat for a stroke during that piece from catch to catch)

The curves show that there is a noticable difference in our rowing when using the two types of blades. They seem to suggest that the crew were actually picking the boat up better with the standard blades at the front end of the stroke (higher initial peak on the left with the standard blades)

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but that they would keep the acceleration better through the middle of the stroke (slightly higher second peak with the Fat2’s).

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You can see that there wasnt a significant difference between the two blades, but understanding better how the boat is reacting to the two blades makes it easier to think what we could do next to continue the testing. Knowing that the crew weren’t accelerating the boat as well at the catch with the Fat2’s as the standards means that we could experiment with tweaking the gearing in order to improve the efficency at the front end, and if we could do that and also keep the higher second peak then we would eventually find a set up which produced the best average acceleration through the stroke and therefore the fastest set up, without using telemtry in this way this wouldnt be possible without a significant amount of trial and error or a coach with a lot of experience and a really good eye. Being able to make decisions in this way and back it up with data is also a great psychological boost for the crew as well as it means you are investigating all parts of the eqipment that they use, and means when they turn up on race day that have at least one less “what if?” question bouncing around in the back of their heads.

This is one example of how telemetry could be used to help make an educated decision on what equipment is best to use, however my example is defiantly a very basic and simple test and there are ways that the testing could be hugely improved

Removing the effect of the Stream

Using the iPhone’s GPS does cause issues as GPS is sensitive to the stream (i.e.it will say you are much faster going with the stream than when you are going against the stream), ideally a system which uses an impeller would be best as that allows you to ignore the sream as it measures your speed compared to the water you are in, not the ground as GPS does, making it easier to compare pieces

Reducing or measuring the fade or measuring the force input

One big issue is how much effort is being put into a piece, either fade or excitement about it being the last piece (come on, we’ve all been there) means we may pull at different pressures between pieces which could skew results. Ideally you would include a telemetry system that measures the force being applied so that you could check and ensure the equipment that “won” didn’t just do so because you were pulling the hardest in that piece!

Adjustability of the rowing system around the changes you are making

When you are tweaking the blades or the set up of the boat, ideally you don’t want to have to spend a lot of time fiddling with wires or moving measuring gates every time you test things, in that way some systems may not be as ideal as others since they don’t allow you as much flexibility to make changes. For example the smart oar system would be great for changes to the boat and measuring those effects, but not so much for checking what blades would be best as they are bound to the oars.

Due to this i would say that the best system for this kind of testing would be one that is easy to switch between boats/equipment (wireless), one which uses an impeller to measure the speed and acceleration and one which accuratly measures the force applied stroke by stroke. Really the only systems that fulfil this requirements at the moment are BioRow’s wireless telemetry system and the proposed Oarinspired system , that’s not to say that the other systems on the market are bad, but in my option I feel the wireless advantage that these two offer would mean a lot less time adjusting during testing meaning a lot more time can be spent on the water actually rowing (which is what we are here for after all!)

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About stelph82

I am a rower who is a lot of a technology geek as well!
This entry was posted in Biomechanics, Rowing Telemetry and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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