Have you tried the Coxmate GPS yet? Maybe you're still waiting for a friend to get one first so you can get their firsthand review before snatching one up for yourself! Girl on the River = next best thing. We'd had a unit sent out to Patricia Carswell, a well-known blogger in the rowing world, not too long ago. Thankfully, the rain let up in her part of the world long enough for Patricia to take the Coxmate GPS out for a ride. 

Although there were some teething issues Patricia says she ran up against, we think she was pretty psyched to have been able to play with our little gadget! Here's a quick snippet for you from Girl on the River blog:

"The more I used it, the more I found I was hungry for the information. We are, of course, just heading into regatta season and rowing in different line-ups, so I found it really interesting to know how fast we were going and what our coverage actually was. Puddles, let’s face it, whilst less prosaic, are not wholly reliable as an indicator of speed. I can see that if you were in a more organised training regime than I am, it could provide invaluable feedback on what (and who) worked in the boat, plus the tools to analyse it afterwards."

Get Patricia's full, unabridged review on her blog. The article is Rowperfect Coxmate GPS – a Luddite is won over

Thanks so much to Patricia for trying us out! And for all our readers, make sure you bookmark Girl on the River for good rowing stories (and may we say, Patrica, REALLY great photos!).

Have we got your interested piqued? We've got a couple more reviews you might like to take a look at, too, then!

Volker Nolte reviews Coxmate GPS

Coxmate GPS NK / GPS comparison review

Coxing Magazine

Coxmate are delighted to learn about the launch of a new Coxing Magazine - handily called, Coxing Magazine and edited by expert coxswain, Jen Whiting.

Coxmate got on the phone to Jen and we had a discussion about the project. 

Why did you start this?

Well I got the idea a long time ago but my work life was very busy at that time and so it sat waiting until suddenly I realised that 2016 was the year to get started.  

As a long time coxswain I know that finding useful information is really challenging - most of the rowing press and websites are focused on athletes rather than coxes.  It's time to redress the balance.

How can I get hold of a copy?

Well at launch (End April 2016) we will be printing a real live magazine and that can be shipped to any USA address.  We do have plans to run a digital version and that will be available worldwide.

Check out the Coxing Magazine Website

Boat Race, Oxford Cambridge, Coxswain, Coxmate

New coxswains rarely understand, nor are taught the importance of how they hold their hands and the rudder wires.  Today we’re going to look at the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race coxswains and use their expertise to showcase what you should be teaching your coxswains.

Holding the rudder wires

This is a DELICATE task, it does not require a fist gripping tightly.  

First - make sure that your rudder strings or wires have identifiable points which are fixed on the loop of wire  This can be the handles, knots in the rope or tape markers.  I like to also put a coloured loop of electrical tape stuck against itself like a mini-flag on the exact centre point so the cox can see when the rudder is straight.  You can add a corresponding tape marker on the deck below or on stroke’s wing rigger so there’s a visual alignment as well.

As your cox gets more experienced, you won’t need this.

Explain the light touch hold as a means of feeling the boat moving and when steering is happening  Remember that an inexperienced crew or one where bow side is stronger than stroke side will also “steer” the boat using power and the cox should be able to feel this in the rudder wires.

As the expert coxswain and tutor, Kayleigh Durm of Ready All Row blog says 

One thing that helps avoid oversteering is making sure you’re holding the strings correctly. Don’t just grip them with your full fist like you’re holding a broom handle or something – you’ve got to ground yourself in some way to the boat otherwise you’re not going to know when you’re making conscious adjustments or when your hands (and in turn, the rudder) are reacting to the boat surging, falling off keel, etc.”

Now that’s a good start - but the cox cannot be continually watching her hands - she’s got plenty else to be looking at.  And so an additional aide is to use the side of the boat as a SECOND reference.

By touching the side or flat top of the boat (called the gunwale or sax board) exactly next to where you’re holding the rudder wires, you can tell if you are moving your hands relative to the fixed side of the boat. 

Kayleigh goes on to add “I also hook my pinkies over the gunwales. This forces me to make millimetre adjustments at a time and nothing more, which is great for when we’re doing straight-shot pieces or I’m racing. If I want /need to make a larger adjustment then I have to take my pinkies off the gunnels and since 99.9% of my steering these days is auto-pilot, that conscious movement of moving my finger  “wakes me up” to the fact that I’m steering and forces me to evaluate why I’m doing it.”

The Boat Race Coxes are Experts

I was watching the 2016 boat race at the weekend and you can clearly see from these pictures how they hold their hands.  Each time the camera cut to the cox camera you saw that at least one of their hands was holding the gunwale so they created the static reference point described above.

Oxford's Sam Collier above has his little finger of his left hand controlling his hand position on the side of the boat and a very light thumb/forefinger contact on his right hand for the steering.

 

Cambridge's Ian Middleton above shows the little finger on the sax board (gunwale) very clearly.  His elbows rest on the flange sides of the boat to aide stability.

We were stoked when our friends at Rowperfect UK approached the famous rowing physiologist, athlete, coach and author of Rowing Faster to put our GPS through its paces.... and here is the report he kindly wrote of his usage.  We are proud that it passed his rigorous testing with flying colours - and a couple of caveats.

Buy yourself one today.

FEEDBACK REGARDING THE COXMATE GPS ROWING MONITOR

From: Dr. Volker Nolte

I had the chance to use the Coxmate GPS monitor in my training and have been asked to put my feedback in writing. Before I do this, it should be clear what I am looking for in a performance monitor for rowing. I use a performance monitor in research, my coaching, as well as in my own rowing. In both cases, it is important that the monitor produces reliable and precise feedback that can be used to monitor my physical training and technique, as well as controlling tactics in races and high intensity pieces. Ideally, the monitor also has the capability to store all the data during rowing, so that they can be analyzed afterwards. I need to be able to rely on the data and see immediately if a technical modification or change in effort produces a specific feedback.

I used for my testing the new Coxmate GPS parallel to the Nielsen-Kellerman SpeedCoach Gold. I am very familiar with the NK unit and numerous tests indicated the accuracy of that unit when properly calibrated. Therefore, I consider it as the ‘Gold Standard’ so-to-speak that gives me a solid base to compare. Since I row on a lake without current that has a buoyed and surveyed 2,000m Albano Course, it is easy for me to calibrate and evaluate accuracy. The lake is wide open with no obstructions like mountains or large buildings around that could interfere with the view of satellites.

A second test battery was done by one of the most experienced and best rowers on the University of Western Ontario rowing program to receive additional feedback. 

THE MANUAL

The manuals that are delivered with the unit or can be downloaded from the company’s website need improvements. 

Of course, it is challenging to present information for all the many monitor options, but it is somewhat frustrating to find out features through trial and error, or to not understand others. For example, you can receive feedback about “ratio”, but the manuals won’t explain what it is.

There are also some videos available that help with the monitor and the analysis program, which are a step in the right direction, but one does not have always access to a computer where a piece of paper could be of better help.

THE MECHANICAL SET-UP

The Coxmate unit comes with three different setup options. I tried the connection to the stretcher adjustment rail and the slide on mechanism to a NK bracket.

A glass filled plastic pin is used for the stretcher rail connector that is supposedly pretty strong. Not only did the monitor shake on this mechanism what made it harder to read the screen, the pin actually broke when we switched the monitor from one boat to the other. This was of course our mistake and we may not have taken enough care, but this may be an area of concern that this part would need some more strengthening.

Of course, it is very handy to have such a universally usable mechanism, but I ended up using the slide on to the NK bracket.

THE MONITOR

The first thing that you realize when you turn the monitor on is the colourful touch screen. This is a nice and neat feature that opens a large number of options on each screen to immediately choose from.

According to the manufacturer’s information, the battery life is ~6 hours. We could not quite realize this length of battery life. After two normal training sessions of about 75 min each, the battery indicator showed still three bars, but it quickly went down to only one bar during the next workout. According to the manufacturer, the indication is designed to be slightly pessimistic, so you are inclined to re-charge the unit. GPS obviously uses considerable energy and the size and quality of the battery would come with a price, so you have to keep an eye on the battery indicator and accept the inconvenience charging the unit frequently.

When you set the unit to the rowing feedback screen, you are down to only two colours – black and white. You have the choice of colour combination and I liked the black numbers on white background best. This is probably an individual preference, but the thin print of the numbers should definitely be changed to be bold.

While the touch-screen is nice, ideally it should be larger. Like with the battery, a larger screen would affect the unit’s price, but the current screen size limits you with the readability of the information on the screen, especially while rowing. This is especially important for rowers that need prescription glasses. 

Also, one needs to think about the number of fields you want to have displayed. Currently, you can choose between either two or five fields. The monitor lets you choose the information that is displayed, but two fields are not enough! I know the monitor gives you the option to use the ‘changing screen’ with the two field display. This means that the information switches in the two fields from stroke to stroke. Personally, I do not like this option, too much focus is needed, since one would have to keep an eye on the monitor for several strokes consecutively which takes a lot of focus away from the task to row well. 

For good rowing feedback, you need the following essential data presented: stroke rate, splits or speed, distance or time! Stroke rate and speed information gives you the essential pieces of information about your performance and effort, and without distance or time, you cannot monitor training pieces. Therefore, two information fields are not enough.

However, five fields are too many. You cannot compute such a variety of data and the digits become so small that they are hard to read. As long as you can choose what you want to see, three fields would be ideal in my mind, which is currently not an option in the program.

While the screen size is already limited and with it the size of the digits, there is too much space taken by the “Ready”/”Run”/”Stop” field that is displayed next to the measurement numbers. Use different background colours or other features, like red for ‘stop’, green for ‘run’ or blinking for ‘ready’ to indicate the state in which the monitor runs at a time, but use the whole space for real information.

The monitor offers several more options like “Recall” and “Set-up” that would take too much space to discuss appropriately. It also offers to select “Workouts” and “Navigation” which are of course neat features if you like to pre-program your training or pre-set the path you want to row. Such settings would keep you on track with your training and remind you of turns or stops you have to make. It would require some preparation time to set these things up properly, but after some time of getting used to them, they could come quite handy.

THE DATA PRESENTED

Every rowing monitor provides time and stroke rate information. The Coxmate monitor provides these data without any magnet necessary. The built-in accelerometer starts the clock and detects discrete positions of the stroke to calculate stroke rate. Both features work well and precise and can be trusted. In fact, the manufacturer feels so confident about the accuracy of the stroke rate measurement that it is presented to one decimal place. As a rower you have to learn to interpret such data. I am not sure, if it is necessary to know whether you row 20.4 or 20.5 strokes per minute during your steady-state training? I actually believe that up to 0.5 strokes per minute is a natural fluctuation of stroke rate for every rower, so you expect to see the first decimal place changing all the time.

A very interesting feedback is speed which is obviously connected with distance measurement. Currently there are two different measurement systems on the market: impeller and GPS. It is an ongoing discussion which is better, the impeller system giving more stable feedback and instantaneous response, but needing an impeller, wires and calibration while the GPS’ big plus is convenience, since it works in any boat, is easy to install and does not need calibration. One needs to realize that the two systems actually measure two different distances/speeds: the impeller measures relative to the water and GPS measures relative to land. It remains an ongoing discussion what is better and how a rower needs to interpret the respective data especially in changing environments like wind and current. I will leave this for a different time. 

However, important is to receive accurate and stable measurements when rowing. Here is my experience with the Coxmate GPS monitor:

  • It takes about 10m until the unit starts measuring distance. This means any distance measured is off by at least 10m. On the 2,000m course that I used, the two units that I compared presented in the range of 10m exactly the same measurements. The final distance rowed was in the range of 5 – 10m to the surveyed distance for both units which I would consider very accurate.
  • When you start rowing or when you switch speed/intensity there is considerable delay with the Coxmate unit until the measurements catch up to the actual speed. It took anywhere from 7 – 12 strokes until the numbers were ‘correct’. In most of the situations one can live with the delay, e.g. when you start a long distance piece. However, if you for example plan to do high intensity pieces of short duration like 30 sec or 30 stroke pieces, you will not get any meaningful information for the first 10 strokes (except for SR). The impeller system is in these instances far better.
  • The splits presented by the Coxmate unit “jumped” quite a bit, means while I was rowing with constant speed, the split numbers varied up to +/- 5 sec from stroke to stroke. I tried different settings and combinations. The numbers became a little more stable with averaging “5” setting, but it took more strokes to get to the proper level. Again, the impeller system was much more responsive to speed changes.
  • Distance per stroke is called “cover” and could be an interesting measurement. However, I saw large variations of this data of in average ± 1 m from stroke to stroke that would not help me in my training. In one training while I was rowing at constant SR and speed, measured by the impeller system, the distance per stroke values varied even by up to
    ± 1.5 m. Rowing at constant SR and speed of course would mean also that distance/stroke is constant, which was not achieved by the GPS unit.

THE ANALYZING PROGRAM

The initial download of the analyzing program on to my computer was not straight forward. The manufacturer tries to protect from illegal downloading by having you enter some code that only buyers of the unit will receive. This may or may not be necessary – who would download the program without having a unit to use it with? – it certainly inhibited my progress, so that I had to use the company’s help to get the job done.

After downloading the analyzing program, it was easy to navigate. Downloading the data was fast and simple. One need a little bit trying, but the program is in general self-explanatory. Generating a graph of the data is easy and the graph is displayed in proper size, however the scales, especially on the vertical axis need improvements. The fonts are too small. The scales and tick marks need to show numbers. 

The display of the graphs were acceptable. The splits showed the considerable variations that were discussed above. They are simply too large to help with any meaningful interpretation. Even the variations in the stroke rate seemed larger than observed during rowing. Since the magnitudes were not presented on the scale, it size of the variations can only be speculated.

IN CONCLUSION

The Coxmate GPS is clearly based on a unit that was designed for bicycling and running. The velocity in these sports are more constant, so that the measurements are more stable. In rowing, we have the situation that boat speed varies considerably over one stroke which takes in general between 1.5 – 3 sec. This situation presents for a common GPS system a huge challenge, so that we see these typical speed variations. 

Additionally, there is an inherent delay in catching up to speed changes, since speed data is calculated over a number of strokes. 

Finally, if you are rowing on a river with current and in wind, you need to learn to interpret the GPS feedback. All these factors are limitations of a GPS unit. 

 

The Coxmate unit with its colour touch screen and several of its features is a good step in the right direction. Its price is certainly an advantage. Depending on the interest and expectation of the rower, this unit can be acceptable for an entrance level or recreational rower. If you are a serious trainer, you may not be completely satisfied with the current model. 

This is an audio transcript from a public talk given by Katelin Snyder the USA womens 8+ coxswain, Marcus McElhenney, and Kayleigh Durm at the 2015 Sparks Winter Coxswain Camp in Tampa, FL on December 28th, 2015

Losing weight is about being smart - crash dieting does not make me a good coxswain because when it’s hot out if you aren’t fuelling your body well enough you will suffer.

Katelin Snyder Weight Loss plan for coxing

For me, losing 5 - 10 lbs starts in the winter and I start with exercising.  First off I do 30 minutes twice a week, then three times a week, then 40 minutes three times.  I try to work out 4-5 times a week in the winter.  I eat as much as I want but I try to get my metabolism up.

I race in August and so in April / May I watch what I eat in order to start losing weight along with exercise to keep my metabolism high.

It’s about consuming whole foods - I increase fruit and vegetables rather than restrict calories.

I load up with a big salad and then I don’t want to eat as much bread.  

I cox women but in University I was coxing men at minimum 125lbs weight.  That was easy for me by comparison with women coxing minimum weight at 110lbs.

If your coxswain is under-weight 

Don’t let them chug water before weighing in….. trying to crash diet affects your brain and you won’t compete well.  I was in a tight race once between two coxswains and one who was crash-dieting - when I supervised the weigh-in one came in at 125lbs on the nose… and the other was a bit under weight.  The one who crash dieted - he wasn’t listening to me.  I asked him “where did you park your car?” he was incapacitated and couldn’t reason straight.  He was carrying his car keys but had no recollection of how he got to the boathouse.  An extreme example of what happens to crash dieters.

My advice is to do bench presses, do curls and put on solid muscle if you are under-weight rather than try to put spanners in your underwear or drink water to weigh more.

Coxswain Weight Matters 

Weight is the coxswain’s responsibility to take care of.  Know your weight know if you need to lose or gain weight.  Be ready before your coach asks you how much you weigh. 

 

When you weigh in wear something similar to what you will race in.  For test weigh-ins is it sensible to weigh yourself naked?  Don’t do this because otherwise you haven’t got an accurate idea of what you actually weigh wearing clothes.  

Don’t cause yourself stress because when you’re stressed out it’s harder to lose weight.  You start sleeping less and that can add to weight gain…. also women your monthly cycle can make you retain water and gain weight.  This can affect you and you need to be aware of this stuff and not shy away from it.  Also flying in aeroplanes and getting dehydrated and then rehydrating after eating salty foods can affect you.

The number one rule for coxswain weight

Tell your coach where you are at.