Kruck’s Rowing Technique

Eugen Kruck’s “Technik des Ruderns”(1929; 1941)

6 June 2019

By Larry Fogelberg

Larry Fogelberg finds an interesting pamphlet.

On a shelf at my German rowing club, I discovered a small, 30-page pamphlet: Technik des Ruderns by Eugen Kruck. Intriguingly, it concludes: “New York in the year 1929, revised in Neu-Isenburg, spring 1941.” Had Eugen Kruck returned to Germany prior to WW II and revised his little pamphlet? Elsewhere, I have found that an Eugen Kruck had rowed for my club, Frankfurter Rudergesellschaft “Germania” von 1869, in the 1924 German national regatta in the double sculls.

Neu-Isenburg is nearby, so it is very likely the still young Eugen wrote the original version in New York, revising it a decade later – more about that at the end of the article.

I shall just provide a few excerpts from it, plus a couple of personal comments.

The foreword (translated) is an interesting reflection on rowing 90 years ago:

By studying various successfully applied techniques, I have come to the conclusion that it is wrong to call one of them the best. Based on this knowledge, I have broken down rowing into as many individual processes as possible and treated each phase and each moment of technical interest for rowing individually.

Rowing, for the purpose of the fastest possible movement of a boat, is such a complicated matter whose individual phases will always remain controversial, because the most appropriate execution of them in the context of the overall activity cannot always be proven. One only has to think of the mass moving back and forth in the boat, the many different angles of the oar to the boat and the complicated source of power from the rower to come to this conclusion. This is why I believe that the topic of “rowing technique” cannot be considered often enough and from the most diverse perspectives. After all, everyone can choose what suits him best and what he thinks will get him furthest.

I do know, however, that my approach here, and its demonstration in many instances that it may have been successful, is not yet available in the relevant literature.

So I hope that my remarks may contribute to the further development of the speed and effective style of rowing, and wish that they are an incentive to take a stand in this way from another side of the rowing world for the increase of speed.   

Eugen Kruck

The last sentence suggests that the pamphlet was written in New York in 1929, addressed to the German rowing community, perhaps suggesting that Eugen had learned something new in the States about technique or the ways to describe it. What did he offer in just 29 pages, with a text printed in small type?

“Technik des Ruderns” contents page.

His alphabetical table of contents has 39 positions. The translation won’t be alphabetical:

Arm work,   breathing,   squaring the oar,   lifting the blade,   reach [to the catch],   balancing the boat,   leg work,   movement per se,   blade work,   the catch,   the recovery,   end of the stroke and sitting up,   the elbows at the end of the stroke,   the catch timing with the slide,   grip on the oar,   head position,   back work,   liveliness in the crew,   experience sculling,   steering the boat,   depth at the catch,   hands on the recovery,   the catch,   the catch sculling.

Can the reader think of anything Eugen forgot? Maybe he covered it in his 12 following positions about equipment: position of oars and sculls [in the oarlock],   measurements of the boat,   leather [on oars and sculls at the oarlock],   shape of the blade,   thickness of the grip,   swivel or fixed oarlocks,   stretcher,   height of the roll seat,   size of oars and sculls [proportion inboard, outboard],   oars and sculls [stiffness, … ],   slide,   rigger adjusting.

Eugen didn’t stop there, his last three topics are exercise and sport, training, race tactic. All that in just 29 pages. His longest points are about back work, the recovery and catch.

The reader could be curious about his “swivel or fixed oarlocks”. At Henley in 1964, Eton still had fixed oarlocks, not the next year. Here is what Eugen said:

The swivel oarlock enjoys justifiable general acceptance. However, every oarsman should be capable of rowing well with a fixed oarlock. The ultimate fine control of an oar can best be learned in a fixed oarlock, then without the cord over the top.

Today’s oarsmen and women will have to forego that test of their blade work. Sixty years ago, I read a little book about rowing, printed a few decades earlier. It explained the supposed virtues of the fixed oarlock, not mentioning the swivel oarlock, also about how the then not so stiff oars made up for their bending at the catch by adding pressure at the end of the stroke.

Eugen’s “liveliness of the crew” is also interesting. He was of the opinion (that of someone in the States?) that the bow pair of a racing four – bow four of an eight – should be just a fraction of a second earlier at the catch, not visually recognizable. He explains that taking the catch that way gave impetus – liveliness – to the boat, but if they were sluggish at the catch, it would infect the rest of the crew. He says that the stroke only sets the tempo and will be worn down, if his tempo is not picked up by the crew; the crew must immediately respond with Eugen’s “liveliness”.

Relative to that, an older German oarsman has told me that in his youth, strokes had a slightly narrower blade, making it easier for them to maintain and increase their tempo. (See also here.)

In Eugen’s paragraph about the catch in sculling, he suggests that it often appears that a sculler’s catch is not as powerful as that of a sweep oarsman, which he explains is due to the better blade work of the sculler. He then goes on to recommend sculling for sweep oarsmen as a way to improve their blade work, assuming, of course, that they have become comfortable in a single.

Remember, Eugen, was a sculler in national competition. Certainly, now in Germany, most youngsters start in sculling boats. I might add that the old, narrow blades in Eugen’s day were less forgiving, compared with the modern “hatchet” blades, which tend to right themselves if not completely squared at the catch.

His explanation of “leg work” agrees with all we aim for today: maximum power at the catch, whereby back-swing should also occur. He refers in this section to the ergometer shown at the end of his pamphlet with this statement: “On the ‘control and training-rowing-apparatus’ made by the firm Georg Ehrhardt, it can be seen that the greatest application of power is achieved in the middle of the stroke.”

That seems to contradict what Eugen wanted. Certainly coaches now want the see the “power curve” on an ergo’s monitor jump straight up at the catch. I suspect that on the “Krucky-Ruder-Apparat” there was a little “play” at the catch, the indicator not able to immediately show the full power applied. I know that from old ergos on which one had to pick up slack at the catch before it gave full resistance.

Krucky-Ruder-Apparat: the name is no coincidence. I found Eugen Kruck’s December 1937 U.S. patent application for a “force measuring device.” In February 1937, he had applied for (or received) a German patent for the device, which can be recognized in the illustration. It seems apparent that the 1941 revised edition of his pamphlet related to the production of the ergometer.

Enough of my intruding on Eugen’s interesting analysis of rowing as he knew it 80, 90 years ago.

If a reader is curious about other of his topics, I will be happy to paraphrase them – but not all of them. The ones mentioned seemed the most interesting.

One comment

  1. I was pleasantly surprised that HTBS added a hyperlink to my German friend’s remark that in his youth – 1950s – strokes sometimes had a narrower blade. The link is to three HTBS articles about “shaved blades”, all discussing narrower blades for strokes in English rowing for the same purpose, to avoid that the stroke fade and not be able to lead the crew to a strong finish in the race.

    I realize now that this relates to what Eugen wrote about “liveliness”. I reread what he wrote about “size of oars and sculls” and found it more interesting in this context.
    Paraphrasing: A lighter weight man naturally manages the upper body work more easily than a heavyweight, who has greater strength and a more powerful stroke. In compensation, the lightweight can have a different rhythm, and to achieve this have a narrower blade or shorter outboard oar length. He uses his arms to transfer the momentum of his back swing to end of the stroke, timing the catch to avoid check at the end of the recovery. The result is a more fluid and relatively higher stroke.

    Like you heavyweights, I don’t agree with Eugen that your upper body work is not as good as that of the lightweights, nor that you cannot row at their strokes/minute, but maybe 90 years ago, when a longer layback was in vogue, things were different.

    Eugen does not suggest a shaved blade for a lighter weight stroke of a heavy crew. He is describing his impression of the apparent difference between the rowing styles of light and heavy crews in his day. Collegiate lightweight competition started in USA after WW I.* It seems logical that it took a couple of years for what Eugen suggests to develop. Into the early 1960s, maybe later, college lightweights still rowed with narrower blades.

    Was there an intercollegiate rule about that? Did introduction in USA of Karl Adam’s spoon/macon blade replace wide and narrow pencil blades? Did Eugen in his German pamphlet not mention formal ltwt crews because there were none in Germany at that time? Questions for someone else to answer.


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