Slow Motion Movement
“At the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval ship engages a French vessel at close quarters. A French sniper, hidden in the rigging, eventually pins down the British crew. John Franklin, the Arctic explorer, watches his shipmates being picked off one by one. A friend dies in his arms. By the time Franklin takes up a rifle to engage the enemy sharpshooter, his shipmates are hysterical, screaming at him to hurry up and fire. He does the opposite. He slows down. Bullets ricochet off the wall behind him, but Franklin takes his time. He points the rifle at the rigging and calculates the angles, height, and distance. He wanted to fire only if he was completely sure that he could hit his target. Then he fired. When the sharpshooter tumbles to the deck, the message is clear. Even in war, when everything speeds up to a blur, slowness can prevail. Franklin refuses to rush his shot. He keeps his head, while all around are losing theirs. He triumphs. His slowness is heroic.”
– Sten Nadolny, The Discovery of Slowness
Slow Motion training is extremely beneficial for slowing down the mind and the body, so that the sculler understands, feels, and records the accuracy of Movements. A few years ago, I was coaching a young Naval Academy graduate at Craftsbury Sculling Camp. He was having a difficult time grasping the concept of Slow Motion until I spoke of it as the “Tai Chi” of sculling. Immediately, the light bulb went on and he became a convert. So Slow Motion is an excellent exercise for athlete and crew. You can easily self-analyze Slow Movements, which you cannot do at higher speeds. It also gives the coach an opportunity to analyze. His eye can see more of the details of each athlete’s timing. “You must be slow on the inside to be fast on the outside and through unhurried, controlled movements, you acquire more self-awareness, concentration, and patience.”1 It also provides an opportunity to adjust the athlete’s dynamic posture, if the work is being done on the ergometer. Slow Motion is very effective for drills and simulation exercises.
Claxton, British psychologist delineates between Fast Thinking and Slow Thinking. For Claxton, Fast Thinking is rational, analytical, linear, and logical. This is the type we use under the pressure of racing.2 Slow Thinking is the type that we require when we are engaged in practicing the stroke. It stirs our imagination, particularly when we are in Slow Motion practice pieces. This is the “wisdom of slowness.” Relaxation and slowness go hand in hand. Relaxation is the precursor to Slow Thinking. As people think more creatively, we are calm, unhurried and free from stress. A famously counterintuitive piece of advice from Jackie Stewart, the Formula One Champion, “Sometimes to be faster you have to be slower.” 3
Slow Motion inserted into the training program is critical for four reasons:
- One, it provides an opportunity for the athlete to feel Movements and dynamic posture, more accurately;
This Slow Motion practice is especially effective with young overly aggressive males. All that he wants to do initially in the shell, is to pull hard and to pull fast. Slow Motion training, on the other hand, allows him to gain some experience with the accuracy of each movement at an early stage in his development.
Pilates, Yoga, and Tai Chi are all performed with slow motion movements. This has been the case for centuries with Yoga and Tai Chi. Western sport scientists are now beginning to observe and embrace the concept that exercising more slowly can produce better results. So people are walking more slowly and lifting weights more
- Two, it is so important for developing timing of various components;
- Three, it is an excellent form of exercise for doing Quiet Sitting while sitting in the shell. It is a nice counter to the speed of contemporary society; and
- Fourth, the athlete can monitor his own breathing slowly. We are now promoting that a significant amount of rowing training be done in the slow motion mode.
When we speak of relaxing the sculler, I have found that by relaxing the facial muscles, they go faster. One wrote me this comment, “So last night I hooked up my speed coach in my single and experimented with this. The more relaxed my face was, the quicker the shell went. Interesting … My initial reaction is that by relaxing my face, my shoulders are less tense and my upper body is quieter, so my blades are then just floating at blade depth.” In the 100-meter dash, you can see the same relaxed facial feature in the athletes as they power to the finish line. They are so relaxed in the face that their jaw muscles bounce.
Carl Honore wrote, “The struggle to find and live by one’s own rhythm defines what it is to be human.” In slowness, and specifically the practice of Slow Motion, we are finding our own rhythm. This is a critical factor when we are learning the five Movements of the Release – finding the correct rhythm for the movement.
This reason is quite important, as we try to add a meditative component to training. It certainly makes us aware of the Quantum nature of the stroke cycle as we realize how connected the Movements are to each other. It also highlights how things are connected in life. We are all connected.
Slow Motion is a feature that is common ground in a number of sports, including golf, tennis, baseball, and rowing, where athletes practice their respective swing actions at lower stroking rates. The golfer for example always takes a practice swing before he addresses the tee. This form of simulation exercise is employed as a warm-up and precursor to the actual competition. It is almost like a reminder for the athlete of his stroke pattern.
Scott Ford, an excellent Tennis Professional, has this to add to the subject of Slow Motion, “One of the major components of Flow is a sense that everything moves in slow motion. The fact that you are introducing ‘Slow Motion Training’ early on in the learning process, adds this sense of temporal expansion to the mix, right from the get-go. I try to do the same in my tennis training and have found it quite effective when a player is having trouble with some ‘part’ of their stroke. Doing ‘the whole’ stroke in slow motion, even creating contact in slow motion, has an amazing curative effect on the parts of the stroke.” He obviously uses this practice with his tennis training and he directly relates Slow Motion to the idea of Flow.
I recall doing high rate short pieces years ago. In the beginning, everything felt rushed and strained. However, after a period of training, everything began to slow down and felt smoother, especially movements of hands and wrists. So mind and body were referencing a much different timing sequence. Everything had slowed down. There was no rush to the movement, when I began doing this practice. Doing Movements in Slow Motion certainly helped this development of a more rhythmic and less rushed action.
Slow Motion is an effective way to perfect the movements as it takes us deep into ourselves. One key practice is simulation exercise on the ergometer of the Recovery from the Release to the Entry without using the handle. This practice uses and emphasizes Trunk Swing. In doing so, we learn the correct action of each movement and subsequent effect on our musculature. All of this is accomplished through our concentrative feelings. It is here that Mind and Matter meet in a slow-moving artistic dance. We are moving deeper into ourselves. We come to look forward to this particular part of the training.
On a personal note, this is how every practice ended for me with a spontaneous slow paddle into the dock. Each ending was done with a specific exercise. I was attempting to perfect the Movements as I completed the practice session. This is where the next day’s practice would begin. The shell would slowly come alongside the dock with such accuracy it almost seemed to have a magnet attached to the bow. Many times a bystander would try to assist by catching the inboard scull, but would be waved off so that maneuver could be completed. It was such great fun and a significant source of pride in my skill. I loved this part of the practice, as I could concentrate deeply and feel the exact movement involved with each stroke.
There are other ways to employ Slow Motion as a part of the warm-up or the warm-down. It can also be a way to recover from hard pieces, so that it has regenerative value. It can be an integral part of a long, slow distance piece done in absolute silence. So the exercise is completely meditative.
Mike Wagner wrote, “This reminds me of a phrase I have used while coaching of ‘same speed less effort’. But this has more to do with conservation of energy. I do remember you teaching us the idea of slow motion sculling at one of the sculling camps. Truly slowing down to 4 strokes per minute and feeling each movement is both a great teaching and a great learning experience.”
It cannot be overstated that the training of the athlete must have at its core a strong meditative base. It is imperative that the coach finds ways to insert this training into the program. Slow Motion is one of these ways. It is a meditative practice as much as Quiet Sitting. The same qualities are present, excellent posture, focused breathing, attention to detail, and the utter simplicity of the practice. This is where the coach’s flexibility, imagination, and insight must come to the fore. It helps immensely if he is regularly meditating.
This type of training is so important for the expansion of the inner self. This is where the athlete is becoming whole. There are two dimensions to the athlete that have to be addressed, the inner and outer athlete. He can make significant strides in his training, preparation, and his racing, if the inner athlete is developed as well as the outer athlete. A significant portion of the athlete’s development can come from the use of slow motion sculling and other forms of Quiet Sitting.
Stroke Rating can range from 4 to 16 strokes per minute. At these low rates, it becomes a highly concentrative and exploratory exercise. This development and practice carries over to the sculler’s life outside of the shell. He becomes more gentle, more empathetic, and more of a conservationist. “Simple” can be used to describe his life choices. So there is a cultural dimension to this type of training. It is hoped that with fostering of this cultural aspect in the athlete, his performance will be affected positively. He will be more aware, more attentive, and a more sensitive human being. He should begin to feel more connected to the world.
1 Carl Honore, In Praise of Slowness, p.130-131
2 Carl Honore, In Praise of Slowness, p.121.
3 Carl Honore, In Praise of Slowness, p.134.