The oar is the lever we use to move the boat; the grip connects us to the oar and thus to the water. The better our grip, the better our control of the oar and the better we transfer our power.
The grip matters in rowing just as in in tennis, golf, and hockey. What happens to your control when you hold the handle away from the end? And how much power do you have when you only use one hand? How smooth is your action when your grip is too tight? Just as your ball was sliced or hooked or merely dribbled when you wanted it to fly so to is it with rowing and a poor grip. We miss our connection with the water, send the boat and blades in the wrong direction and change the way our bodies move.
When an athlete learns to grip the oar well then they are able to manipulate and control it properly. The catch can become better because the hands are in good control of the blade and can now time the entry correctly. The finish can be more efficient because the pressure can be kept on for longer and be more cleanly released.
A blade with a clean finish can impart more acceleration to the boat and the balance is liable to be better because the hull is not disturbed by the extraction.
After time spent improving the grip you can expect the blade work in general to be neater and more effective and it is often a good idea to move on from a grip focus to one on the turning points of the stroke.
Try hanging off a chin-up bar with both hands – not just for a second or two but for as long as you can. What do you notice about your grip? Where is your thumb? What about the palms of your hands – are they touching the bar? What shape is your wrist? Where do you feel the pressure on your fingers?
A bad grip imposes costs on the athlete. A too loose or too tight grip reduces the maximum power that can be transferred from the legs, body and arms through the hands to the handle.
Bent wrists, hands, especially outside hands, slipping off the handle at catch or finish also diminish the power transferred.
Bad grip also exposes rowers to higher risks of injury. The various forms of overuse injury in the wrist, tenosynovitis and others are often caused by grip and feathering technique that requires an exaggerated movement to rotate the oar.
During the drive we hang off the handle as we would hang off a chin-up bar. The handle is loosely held with the fingers wrapped around so that the second knuckles are in front. The thumbs are underneath and the handle is held so that there is space between the webbing of the thumb and the handle. Both wrists are flat.
The outside hand has a static grip. The wrist stays flat and the fingers stay still. In effect the grip is a hook, and the handle is free to rotate in this hook when the blade is free of the water and there is no pressure being applied.
To find your correct grip place your hands on the oar grip with the outside hand at the end of the oar. Open your thumbs out between your hands. Move your inside hand toward your outside hand and where they just touch is where you should place your hands. To find your oar height for proper rowing sit at the finish, blade square and buried your outside wrist should be just outside of and alongside the first rib.