009 | Interview with Deirdre McLoughlin
Welcome to CoxPod - a podcast for coxswains. I'm Sally, I'm Anne, I'm Breana, and we're three coxswains with a combined 50 years of experience in the seat. We decided to share our knowledge with coxswains everywhere via this podcast and ultimately we hope to create a community among our audience where coxswains can learn from each other.
SALLY: On today's episode, we are delighted to welcome our second guest - someone we've worked with in the past as coxswains and who brings a special level of expertise - Deirdre McLoughlin. Deirdre, would you please, please introduce yourself?
DEIRDRE: Hi Sally - hi Anne - hi Breana. I'm a physical therapist. I rowed in college at Boston University and I've been involved in coaching pretty much since my last year of PT school ... up until about 2013 ... when I like to say that I retired from coaching. So yeah, I've been really lucky to meet you through coaching and lots of other amazing people. And I've been able to put PT and rowing and coaching all together for my career, so I'm excited to be here.
BREANA: We're excited to have you on, Deirdre. Thank you for spending some time with us. And we really think that coxswains out there are going to get a lot out of this episode, so I would encourage you - if you're like me and you started coxing because you don't enjoy anything about exercise or physical exertion - stay with us. This is going to be different from your typical advice of 'you should work out with the team because that'll earn their respect'. There's a lot more to it that Deirdre is going to bring to us about how to take care of our bodies - because there is a physical aspect to the work that we're doing in the coxswain seat. So we hope that you get a lot out of this episode.
ANNE: I'm so thrilled that you've opted to join us in this conversation, Deirdre, because where else can you find a physical therapist who actually understands and considers the physical aspects of being a coxswain? I mean - we've made reference to some of those physical aspects particularly in our bowloader episode, but we're going to delve into more of that and hear from Deirdre about all things coxswain.
SALLY: Or as much as all things coxswain can come from someone who towers over all of us.
DEIRDRE: Well it helps that one of my best friends is a coxswain, so I have to say I've been influenced by her prodding to care about the little people, you know.
ANNE: We appreciate that. So what do you think about when you think about coxswains from the perspective of being a physical therapist?
DEIRDRE: I think - for lack of a better word - maybe they're often ignored. You never really hear about a coxswain not being able to be at a race because of an injury or missing practice because of an injury. We think of the rowers in that respect. So coxswains aren't the top of (probably) coaches' minds ... the athletic trainers' minds ... PTs' minds in terms of injury. And I even see - working with both collegiate and national team - when the coxswains have an injury and then they'd sign up for an appointment, they often feel badly about taking an appointment away from one of the rowers. So I think the concept of 'coxswain being a team player' and doing (you know) the selfless service to the team ... to the rowers ... can slide over into the 'taking care of the body' part of their lives, also.
SALLY: We've often described coxing as 3D chess, so it's very interesting to move from something so cerebral to something so physical, because having coxed for so many years, I definitely have some long-term issues from being in the coxswain seat and trying to withstand 2,400 pounds of check on my - what I'd like to think is a 6'2", 220 frame - but inertia and gravity will say otherwise. What do you think we should do to prepare ourselves to face the rigors and tortures and terror of check?
DEIRDRE: Aside from the rowers rowing a little bit better?
SALLY: There's only so much prodding we can do.
DEIRDRE: That's true. You do have to do some sort of working out, right, and be strong. And I think you have to consider that you're an athlete also. And I say that about people who have to sit at a desk all day - you know - I say they're an upper extremity athlete. It takes a certain amount of strength to sit and type all day long, and if you overdo that then you have an injury. So I think coxswains also need to have a little mindset of being an athlete - a different type of athlete - but an athlete nonetheless. Doesn't mean you need to go run 25 miles. You're not an endurance athlete the way the rowers are, so there needs to be a certain amount of strength and core strength to be able to hold yourself in a position. And then you have to be able - just like the rowers, or just like my office worker - to be able to sit and get into ... I'm going to say: the best position possible. Because, as you know, when talking about bowloaders, sometimes you can't get into the right position. Or if the boat is too small or you know, all of those factors. So positioning would be both number one, number two, and then having some amount of strength. Core stability would be those top two factors.
SALLY: Is there any specific core strength that coxswains need ... similar to rowers ... different than rowers?
DEIRDRE: Yeah, you do need abdominal strength. Core strength - we talk about that a lot. Nobody really talked about core strength when I was rowing. We didn't do planks. We did a bunch of sit-ups. But that ability to hold yourself ... so I like to do things like: hold the plank for a minute (you know) - 90 seconds. Because that race or that practice is a long amount of time. It's not just doing 100 sit-ups. So having some core stability would be a similar strength to the rowers, and I would even say (like) scapular stability. So the muscles that are behind your shoulders right ... the muscles behind your back that hold your shoulder blades together ... because you need to have some stability for your head, which is often in a scrunched up, forward position - especially when you're racing or doing something really intense. And then you get off the water and you rub your neck and then you sit as a student or as a worker with probably not the best posture at your desk ... and then you're rubbing your neck muscles all the time. So those would be two similar things we would think of rowers having - strong backs and strong cores - that I think coxswains need to have also.
SALLY: Generally all the long-term coxswains I know kind of have that hunch forward. Maybe that's just the physiological effect of what we're doing to ourselves.
DEIRDRE: Yeah, you're in that same position for (you know) an hour a day ... two hours a day depending on what situation you're in. Are you coxing a couple times a week? You know, six days a week? So you're in that rounded position and it's really important to try to have some stability in that position, but also then to get out of that position. I see a variety of people - high school kids to adults. So one of the things I try to impress upon younger people (maybe) is the idea of avoiding little old lady hump, right? That you don't just wake up when you're 80, "Oh gosh, look at this little hump I got on my neck"... all hunched over. That just happens with gravity - gravity's going to have an effect and push you straight down, so when you're out of the coxswain seat, being able to stand up tall and the ability to come back to a straighter standing posture so that you don't constantly sit hunched over (which is difficult in our society with phones, texting, computing) - that's the position we often get into anyway. So if your extracurricular is also being in that position and - in fact even more so - then it's extra important to be able to unwind and get out of that position.
ANNE: I am really glad that we're talking about the scrunching and also the concurrent need to be stable in the seat. And right now I'm speaking specifically about being in a stern loaded boat, right? So I personally (you know) - between the forward position ... the scrunching up ... trying to get my behind into a spot that is not designed for me at all ... and then also bracing my core for usually an hour (maybe more) - when I get out, I feel that. And I know that I need to do a better job about stretching when I get out, but of course, that's when the coxswain's busy on the dock and trying to get the boat out, and the very last thing (honestly) I think about is my own self at that time.
DEIRDRE: Yeah, and I think isn't that part of the coxswain's job, right ... is to be somewhat selfless, right? To think they're the person in between the coach and the boat and to make things work. And if in a practice something's not working (you know), you don't want to make excuses. You get your boat to the starting line ... wherever we're starting practice. You make it happen. And you're not making excuses for your team or why you're not there on time, you know. You just have to make it happen. So I think probably a little bit of shifting that great skill that coxswains have - of being selfless and doing things for others and making things work and making things right - has to be focused a little bit to themselves. You know, a couple times a week just do a little bit of self-care so that you can be the best coxswain, right? If you're in pain and uncomfortable, it's going to be a distraction for your team or for your practice that day.
ANNE: Let's talk about that pain and that discomfort. I mean in real terms, right? Let's get friendly with that seat in a stern loader ... in an eight. When I get in many of the boats, I try to put my tush back and lean forward and be braced, but honestly there are many times that my one - or both legs - will fall asleep, or there isn't a place for me to have my feet secured against something. I mean - Breana or Sally - do either one of you run into those situations at all?
BREANA: Absolutely. This is a theme for me in a lot of boats and I think it's worth addressing this because many coxswains' experience - when they start in the sport - is likely at best ... a coach just gesturing generally to that area and being like, "Here's where you go" and then off you go. And there's no discussion of how to sit properly in that seat. So I think this will really be a valuable discussion. And I've definitely had that issue where a boat is not designed for the anatomy that many of us have as humans ... and our hips don't actually fit into that seat. And so you're making a decision between: am I kind of like hovering above the seat ... am I sitting on the deck (which is going to throw off the boat and I can't do that in a serious competitive situation). I've often settled for the approach of (like) twisting my hips so that they're sort of fitting sideways in the boat and then my legs fall asleep. So once one falls asleep, I switch the other side. And then when you get back to the dock, it's all you can do to just kind of like roll onto the dock and then get back up and make sure that you're getting off the dock as fast as you can and stumbling around. And so I definitely relate to not having time for yourself. So I think it's worth it for us to talk about if there's any way that we can mitigate some of these discomforts and challenges to keep ourselves healthy long-term.
SALLY: And it's all about the image, right? Nothing's more humanizing than you've just done this incredible dock in a quartering cross with a bunch of novice rowers and you glide into the dock, and then you go to try to stand up and your legs don't work and you fall face first into goose poop. The universe likes to keep me humble.
ANNE: Theoretically speaking, of course.
SALLY: That never, ever happens to me. But Deirdre, is there a way you can recommend that we sit in the seat that will help minimize the impact on our bodies and try to absorb some of the theoretical check that rowers are offering. And for our listeners who are in the UK, 'check' is what when a freight train is coming at you and you're going the other direction. That's how I would describe it. Anybody?
DEIRDRE: Yeah, and you absorb all of that with your spine, your neck, and your back. So sure - I mean of course - what I'm saying: people are probably going to roll their eyes because I'm going to offer something that as you've already mentioned, is not always possible, right? So I'll offer the ideal. So the ideal would be that yeah, you get your butt and scooch it all the way to the back of that seat so that you're sitting on your sit bones. And for those of you listening who don't know where your sit bones are ... if you're sitting on a hard chair and you sit up really tall and (you're basically) your low back arches and your belly (you know) sticks out and comes forward, now your sit bones have rolled to the back of the seat and then as you start to start going into the slump position you should feel that your weight centers on each of your sit bones (underneath each of your butt cheeks) and then you can keep slumping and keep going and keep going and keep going and now you have slumped all the way ... and now your sit bones are aiming more towards your feet and forward. So often, that's how we sit at our desk or on the couch. We sit in this slumped position and that's when our pelvis (we call this) is tilted backwards or tilted posteriorly and your upper body scrunches down. And so I see a lot of coxswains sit in that position because it's a way to kind of be theoretically aerodynamic (right) and get smaller. But I think there's a way to do that a little better ... where you can take your hips and move them all the way to the back of the seat and try to be on your sit bones and then you can lean forward a little bit into that body angle position so that your shoulders are in front of your hips. But instead of your spine being slumped from the bottom, you just are in that same body angle position. So if any coxswains are working with their rowers, you see that you don't want your rowers to be in the same position. You don't want your rowers to be slumped underneath ... there's not a lot of strength in that position. And then on your sit bones and getting body angle is how you'd like the rowers to be, so that's the same positioning for you. And then your feet (if possible) braced against something with your knees in nice alignment. This is perfection, right? You're not ... your knees twisted in or out. But that's not always possible, so I think if your hips don't fit, then getting into that position as much as possible. But yeah, I would slide right or left and just keep alternating. One of the things your spine loves is movement - not check ... not that kind of movement - but it doesn't really like staying in that one position. So moving back and forth is probably the best you can do to take some weight off of one sit bone or the other, or one side of your hip. You can experiment on a seat (on a hard seat) of tilting back and forth and trying to find your sit bones. And you know where they are if you've ever had somebody sit on your lap and they dig their sit bone into your quad as they're shifting around. That's your sit bone. So that would be a start of how to position in a stern loaded boat.
ANNE: I appreciate that description and I guess I also have to add a tip that I have not utilized that much because I don't feel so comfortable in it ... is putting some padding underneath you. Sometimes people use a part of a life jacket or whatever to lift them up just a little bit so that their hips are in the wider section of the u-shape of the back. Have either one of you - Sally or Breana - done something like that in some boats - or seen people do that?
BREANA: I coxed for a team for a kind of day-long clinic once who had a practice of using yoga blocks - so kind of a hard piece of foam - that they would stick in the coxswain seat. And that is pretty thick so it does lift you up fairly far, which you may decide you don't want in a racing scenario for instance - you may want to be closer to the hull - but for that very lengthy time that we were out on the water, that was an absolute game changer for me to finally feel like that extra physical discomfort was mentally off my plate and I could give my full attention to (you know) working with this boat. So you know, there's no shame in exploring that, I think. Boats (again) are not always designed with the actual human anatomy in mind you know - having looked at a real person and how their hips are made - so I encourage people ... like, that's not just a strategy for (like) rowers who are too big to fit in the seat. That can be a strategy that could take something away from you that has been distracting you from being able to give your best at practice - like we've been saying.
SALLY: And just to put it in perspective, Breana is choosing to sit on yoga blocks which are known for their creature comfort and softness ... which is why so many mattress tops are made out of yoga blocks and that she's finding softer and more pliable than perhaps the rigors of a coxswain's seat. So just balancing out how much pain she's actually in.
BREANA: That's very true - on the spectrum of comfort, if a yoga block's an improvement, you know there's some work to be done in improving our seat. And I think what you said, Deirdre, is also really helpful and empowering is just that the spine loves movement. I think that is a straightforward tool that coxswains can carry forward. Like one thing that I try to encourage the coxswains that I've coached to do - which I don't think we're always given permission to do - is to take a break in between pieces just like the rowers do. So when my legs are falling asleep, I'll hop up on the deck. Just (you know) know your own shell and whether you can do that. But that's allowed. There's no reason when the boat is sitting still and the coach is having a casual chat and the rowers are sipping their water ... you don't need to still be hunched down and braced. You're allowed to sit up, stretch your legs (you know) ... stick them up on the gunnels ... do whatever you need to do. So I'd like to encourage any coxswains listening to take this permission from me - if that's worth anything - to give yourself a little physical rest in between pieces and things as well.
DEIRDRE: That's an absolute great point. I mean ... rowers are often doing that, right? Even rowers will ask me what can I do to take a break. Lie down, right? So rowers are in that flexed, rounded position, so sometimes in between pieces, I ask them to lie down flat and stretch over the foot stretchers behind them. So absolutely - taking as much time as you can to move and fidget and twist is a great idea.
SALLY: We've all done it. We've all done sitting there in the coxswain seat trying to smack the blood flow back into our legs in a certain piece. So, I know numbness as a whole is bad. Are we doing any permanent damage or is it just (you know) one for the storybooks?
DEIRDRE: That's a good question. It would be difficult for me to answer that ... if you're doing permanent damage. In general, numbness is not helpful - it means that there's compression on the nerves - just like if you've ... you know anyone out there that has not experienced this yet, but if you hit your funny bone, you're hitting the ulnar nerve at your elbow and your pinky goes to sleep. And you shake your hand and might say a few four letter words and it really hurts. So if you're getting numbness in your legs, generally it might be from compressing your sciatic nerve in your glutes. But you also (you know) some people get numbness in their leg when their foot is crossed. There's lots of different nerves in your body you can be compressing, so I'd like to avoid that as much as possible. So whether it's changing your position using some padding ... anything that you can do to try to avoid that. If it happens in a race and that's just the way it is because you don't want to bring the padding in the boat for a race (you know), I don't think you're going to do any damage if that happens on an occasional basis. You have six, eight races a year depending on your season. But any numbness also coming down your hands - I've seen that sometimes with coxswains. So we talked about the slumped position in your lower back, right? The same thing with the nerves that go down your arm - they start in your neck. So if your neck is what I call 'garden hose neck' - so if everyone is sitting up and looking straight ahead at something and then you slump, but you still maintain your eye contact looking straight ahead, because you've now slumped and rounded your upper back but you've kept your head looking straight ahead, your neck gets kinked. And I call that officially 'garden hose neck'. It is not a medical term. Do not look it up. But you're just compressing all the space in your vertebrae in your neck, so that can lead to some nerve compression that you might get tingling and numbness down your arms. You should definitely be seeing somebody about that. You should definitely be going to your athletic trainer or your PT or your doctor to get that looked at, because that's not something that you want to have all the time. And you need to be able to find some ... either have someone work with you and see if there's a place that the PT or the athletic trainer and your massage therapist can take some pressure off of those nerves that go down your arm ... or help you with positioning. And you should be able to talk to your trainer or your PT to demonstrate what you need to do, and even if they're not rowers, they should be able to help you with that. So yeah, avoiding that numbness and tingling is a good thing. Is it permanent? Certainly the longer you compress a nerve, the more unhappy it gets, so it wouldn't be unreasonable that you could damage a nerve permanently. But I don't think that that would be a major risk factor.
ANNE: It's coming to my mind that we cannot state too clearly that numbness, tingling, pins and needles, pain - those sorts of things that indicate the nerve compression of some sort. They're not normal. Those are indications that you should pay attention. Am I right, Deirdre, that you should pay attention to your positioning and do everything that you possibly can do to avoid those positions? Now we've already agreed you can't always avoid those positions, but there are things that you can do. But please - I hope coxswains out there (of any age) will understand that this is not necessarily the price that you have to pay to be in that seat. In fact, as Breana mentioned, many times it's a distractor. So for your own health - but also for your ability to be a good coxswain - the more we can avoid those situations, the better. Is that fair to say?
DEIRDRE: Absolutely. Absolutely.
ANNE: I personally struggle a lot with bowloaders - having spent a lot of my time in bowloaders - with where the bars or the support straps go. And we talked about that quite a bit in a prior episode ... about bowloader safety and comfort. But do you have any suggestions about what to do in those situations?
DEIRDRE: Yeah, that's a hard one just because there's also so many different seat configurations. Again, I would use Breana's (you know) advice: whatever that shell is, if there's some sort of safe way to do padding ... you don't want to get stuck in the bowloader ... you can't do all these extra life jackets and then be unable to get out - but moving the bar, adjusting the strap and then hopefully you have a good relationship with your coach and you can ask your coach to take a look at that boat. Or give it to your rigger, your boatman, to add a strap or to fix the strap. That's not ... I shouldn't say that's not their priority as coaches, because I'm sure there's coaches out there where it is their priority ... but often the coaches are also pretty stressed. They have x number of boats on the water and unless the rower comes up and tells them, 'Hey, my foot stretcher's broken' or 'Hey, my seat isn't moving right', or 'Hey ...'. They don't always know that either, right? They're not automatically checking every single seat except when it comes to race day. And now we're rigging it incessantly at the Crew Classic and checking every little piece. So I would say as coxswains also ... maybe part of that speaking up for yourself and asking your coach to take a look at that or can you add a strap? There's a lot of amazing boat persons out there who can fix things and that would be probably my best advice. And then taking breaks, standing up, having some more of that core strength (that we touched upon in the beginning) so that you give your spine a little stability. I think that's really important. It doesn't mean you have to plank for 10 minutes, but there is a certain level of being able to take care of yourself and understand that you are an athlete. And that if lying in that bowloaded boat - in an awkward position - is an athletic endeavor ... that you need to have some stability and some strength to be able to do that. That's a difficult thing to do: to hold yourself in that position.
SALLY: Yeah, there's a reason why Lazy Boy recliners aren't built in the shape of coxswain seats.
ANNE: Oh, if only...
BREANA: Nothing in the world should be built in that shape ... frankly, including coxswain seats.
ANNE: Got such a point. And I know we've been talking a lot about the core and the neck and the spine, but I'm also thinking about how many times in the bowloaders I've been appreciative of the fact that I have fairly decent upper body strength, because extracting myself from the bowloader ... getting myself up and out ... it does require a lot of physical effort. Is there anything that you might recommend for specifically building those muscles to be able to be more limber about getting out?
DEIRDRE: Certainly, an easy one is just what you describe ... doing tricep dips, right? Being able to hold your body weight up and doing dips. So you know, I've put together - I think you'll talk about it later on - but just some basic core stability and strengthening exercises that I think coxswains should do. And then if you would like to lift with the team and just have general upper body strength then of course, I would never say that that's not helpful - to have some good general upper body strength.
BREANA: Yeah, we're very eager to share these resources that Deirdre has put together in our show notes, and we'll describe those in further detail a little later in the episode as well. And I wonder if there's anything in particular you maybe want to highlight about that because I think the advice that coxswains are often given to improve their own physical strength is like, well why don't you just erg with the team? And doing that puts you in the exact same position you're in the whole time that you're coxing. So if you could maybe highlight something - or recap something - give a general gist of what coxswains can find in these resources that you're going to provide so that they have a better strategy (perhaps) to strengthen themselves and kind of undo the damage that is being done to our bodies as we're put in these positions.
DEIRDRE: Yeah, sure. So one of the ones I made is the 'undoing', right? So I called it 'unwinding after coxing' ... that you are in this one position of being rounded forward ... maybe you're slumped ... maybe you're trying your best to get your sit bones to the back of the seat, but you're still in a flexed or a rounded position in your low back which isn't a terrible thing, but you just want to try to undo some of that. It's the same as if you took your wrist and you bent it all the way ... you wouldn't want to hang out in that wrist flexed position for six hours. Your body's made to move, so a lot of these ... 'the unwinding' have a lot of back extension or arches, rotations, hip extensions ... just opening up the front side of your body and moving it in the opposite direction. I've given a lot because I talk a lot, so I've given you a lot of exercises. You don't need to do them all. Even if, when you get out of the boat, you just reach up to the sky and do a stretch or put your hands in the small of your back and do a back extension (where you arch your back) - even that can be helpful. So I've given a bunch of exercises. You could do them all if you get to work out with the team. You can save these on your phone or you can try to do a couple of them every day ... or a couple of them in between class ... or a couple of them before practice. So I'd like for these exercises to become more part of your life, not 'I need to do these 15 exercises every practice'. That's not what I'd like you to do. The core works is just some ideas of things that you can do for your abs. So there's some 'dying bug' or 'dead bug' exercises in here, which people should be familiar with ... some bridging ... some planking. And what I would do is - try to hold these for 35 seconds, 45 seconds, a minute, and think about what you're asking your body to do in a practice is to hold a position for an hour and a half ... or of course, taking breaks like Breana mentioned ... but you're asking your body to hold a certain position, so that's what I'd like you to think about with some of these core exercises. I have some diagonal work just to change your body a little bit because: yes, you're holding yourself in one position, but to go back to the concept of check - you have to resist movement, right? So if there's a crosswind ... if for some reason the boat is really going over to port side at the catch ... yeah, you're trying to fix all that of course, but some days you just can't. Or the wind's blowing you over, so you have to be able to resist movement which then means your obliques are working and different parts of your spine. So the rotation exercises that I have are important to strengthen those parts of your body. So it's not just planks, but let's not forget about the rotational movements because those are the muscles you need to resist (you know) the force pushing you over to the right side of the shell. And then you switch directions and now the force is pushing you over to the left side of the shell. So I did not put your typical weightlifting exercises in, but I think that that's self-explanatory. For general health, bicep curls ... triceps ... things like that are always helpful to add in for all of us.
SALLY: Now, speaking of general health, many of our rowers talk about this great catharsis of being on the water and being able to focus on nothing but rowing. And I know the three of us have talked about it ... we are focusing on everything from where the clouds are, to what time it is, to who's doing what, and we're get off the water not physically but mentally fatigued. Do you have anything to add about exercising and our general well-being?
DEIRDRE: Yeah, I think that the benefit, which is ... now this is again, this is really difficult for coxswain's, right? Especially if you're a student athlete. You go to practice the same number of hours the rower goes to practice. You have school the same number of hours that the rower has school. And then you have to go to the secondary workouts, too, maybe to provide moral support or to count or to write scores down, right? So that is hard - because then I'm asking you - for your mental health - to go work out, right? But I think finding some time ... a couple days a week ... for you to do the thing that you like to do - it doesn't have to be running up hills or doing stadiums (doesn't have to be something like that) - but I think there's a mental benefit of you going and working out and doing something that's enjoyable for you. And it might be uplifting. It might be following my little PDFs of doing exercises - they might bring joy to people. But I think that's really important for you to find that time - for your mental health and your physical health as well. In finding a little time to work out ... and not so much pressure of 'I have to work out (you know) to stay with the team'.
BREANA: There's a simple little quote that has stuck with me and I have no idea who to attribute it to initially, but it's just that - "The best exercise is the exercise you're gonna actually do". So I know that I absolutely hate running. I get no joy from that type of exertion. I just don't find it interesting at all, but I really like to walk. So I'll just (you know) nowadays put on a podcast - perhaps ours - and walk around town. Just kind of, you know, getting that sort of exertion. So maybe if the coxswains want to get together for even just so a vigorous walk, that's something you could do. Or if you're trying to multi-task putting on a - if you have an audiobook version of a textbook for one of your classes and giving that a listen .... re-listening to a lecture recording and just walking is good. So it doesn't have to look like something very visible to the team - that you're taking care of yourself - it can be something that you're just doing personally that is getting you moving and that you're actually willing to do and enjoy. So if you set some kind of impossible goal like 'I'm gonna do the team's warm-up ... jog every day', and then you can't actually keep up with them and you hate it the whole time, then you're not gonna do that more than one week worth of time. So find what does work for you and kind of relish that.
DEIRDRE: Yeah, and if you can talk to your coaches - if there's a time when your team is doing land training - if you don't need to count or to be there to (you know) run the workout ... if you're lucky enough to have a strength coach that's running the workout ... you know, maybe you can do some of - whether you want to join the group and do some of those things - or do some of the stuff that I gave you. I think that's great to just try to talk to your coaches and try to find some way that you can utilize some of the hours that you have to be at team practice, to get something out of it for yourself. And I don't mean just the physical (right) strengthening, but just that mental part we're going to practice. You get to have that opportunity of letting your mind just be clear, and you're just thinking about finishing that movement and getting some good endorphins for you instead of sitting and counting and cheering us bigger people on. We need the cheering on.
ANNE: Since I rarely have a coach available when I'm out with a master's group, I wanted to just share with our audience that what I have tried to do is - as rowers are drifting into the boathouse for the practice, that's a time that ... once I've got my gear with me and understand what's happening for the day ... I take those (probably) five to seven minutes to do some stretching before I even get on the water, because after the water, everybody (including myself) is rushing to get into the car and get to work. So do you have any particular stretches that you might recommend when you have that five minutes and you do you have to consciously take that time and say: 'I know that I'm not really on duty quite yet. I'm going to take this time to do x, y, z,"?
DEIRDRE: Yeah well, two things that struck me: one is - often a piece of advice that I try to give my patients is - to find a way to fit in whatever rehab exercises I've given them ... to fit it into their routine, right? So sure - if you find an extra 25 minutes in the day and you want to do all of these stretches and all of this core work, great - that's terrific. Often we don't have that, so finding a way to fit in one or two stretches every day that you go to practice - that's fabulous, because in a year, you've done this little PDF that I'm gonna give you, you've done it (you know) 60 times. So the first one I put on here is the world's greatest stretch. You know, it works your hip, it works trunk rotation, it works your chest. So it tries to open up your chest - your pec muscles - from being in that hunch position. So that's a great one. It's sort of a 'Warrior II meets the game of Twister'... that's sort of what it looks like. So that's probably the biggest one that you could do. You could do some back extensions - those are always easy ... to stand up, reach for the sky, push your hands to the small of your back and arch your back. But I would (you know) if I had to pick one, I would just say the very first one on this sheet is the world's greatest stretch. This is a piece of advice I give the rowers, too. I mean, when I coached masters for so long, I teased some of the some of the high school athletes that come across ... I'm like (you know) when you're at the boathouse and you see the masters get out of the boat, they're like ... and they're groaning and they're arching their back like ... right? That's what everybody should be doing. You're in this rounded position. Get up, put your hands to the small on your back and stretch. So I don't know ... maybe as a coxswain, you could get all your team to do that, right? Make it a fun thing for your whole team - to arch their back and stretch and reach up and just (sort of) do an instant little unwinding after you get out of the boat. If you cox masters, you probably see they do that already.
SALLY: Octogenarian groan in two, please, ready.
DEIRDRE: Exactly. Make it fun.
SALLY: Deirdre, you and I bonded over the fact that we both coached, managed, and subjected ourselves to a master's team for quite some time.
DEIRDRE: We did.
SALLY: Is there any coaching - any words of wisdom - you've had from coaching coxswains in the past, because I know that you've been largely developmentally appropriate to us as a people, and see us as humans, and not (you know) equipment. So do you have any feedback as a coach of coxswains?
DEIRDRE: It's unfortunate that I think there are some athletes - maybe even coaches - who maybe don't think that coxswains can make a difference except in a negative way. It's very easy to see when you don't steer the right way, or you mess up the timing of the work. Sure, those things are easy to see from a coach's perspective. But I really believe that a good coxswain can win the whole thing ... can change every practice ... can win the race for you. So sometimes coxswains have to be their own coaches, right? So asking for feedback, recording yourself, all of those things are really useful. And you may need to be your own advocate to do that. When I was coaching at Marin Rowing, I had the junior program there and I coached the master's program. So I felt super fortunate. Not only did we have a couple of adult coxswains who were part of the team (and not just jumping in and filling in for races), but we had some junior coxswains who maybe weren't in (you know) the ... I don't know how many boats (you know) the varsity women would have, but sometimes they would have a lot of coxswains. And so those coxswains would call me up and ask if they could cox for our masters team in the morning. And I just had tons of respect for these kids who would come down at 5:30 to cox a bunch of masters that they don't know - they're not really getting anything out of that the way you do when you cox your teammates and your peers - and they would just come down and cox. So I felt like it was really my job to make it worthwhile and to make sure they were getting something out of it, because we were certainly benefiting from having their presence. And one of the things that we did was recording ... listening to them cox a race ... listening to them cox a practice ... and then just spending a little time with the coxswains to talk about the workout or what we were doing or their steering. So if your coach isn't doing that, then I would just see if you can ask - that (you know) go up and talk to your coach. And take a little time and ask how things are going, 'Can I give you a recording? How's my steering? What do you think of a, b, or c of what's happening?' So you may just have to be your own advocate ... in that scenario ... with getting better at coxing. If that answers your question completely, Sally? I'm not sure.
SALLY: I think so. I mean (again) you're coaching us, which is rare and few and far between.
BREANA: Yeah. I'm almost getting emotional over here despite being an ISTJ. Just the idea that a coach would coach coxswains, I mean. I hope people listening - whether they're coxswains themselves or coaches - I hope that that can start to be the bar. Because again, I think what is most common (and this has generally been my experience) is to just kind of point to the seat and then say, (you know) 'That's where you go. Right hand forward to go right, and hope you stick around over four years because that's the last thing I'll say to you while you're working with our team'. And so even just the bare minimum of listening to a recording is more time than most coaches out there, realistically (I think our audience can corroborate) will make for their coxswains. So hopefully this shows that in the same way that it's very actionable and easy to insert one stretch into your practice, for coaches that little bit of attention to a coxswain is very doable and will really bring a ton of value to improving them and making them someone who can be that person who wins races. And more often, the more that you work with them.
DEIRDRE: Yeah, I think that's really important. I mean ... rowers - we have somebody to look up to when you're a freshman - you can look up to the upperclassmen and see how they're doing it. As a coxswain, you're over in your boat while the senior coxswain's over in their boat. You know, how do you learn? And I think sometimes as coaches ... and I'll speak for myself ... maybe not in terms of the coxswain, but I'll just use a story with rowers. So when I'm coaching masters rowers, I'm going to spend a little more time on the rowers that are causing ... I'm saying causing me trouble ... but that are affecting the boat negatively, right? I'm going to spend a little more time on trying to get this rower to not rush the slide, or this rower to move their hands. So if you're doing pretty good, I might not spend a lot of time on on you. So I would say the same thing for coxswains - if you're doing pretty good and you go out and you run the workout and you're not crashing into anything and you're on the dock on time and you're safe and you're doing everything I ask - great. I'm gonna go home and say, "Nice job. Sally is excellent. See you later." But I haven't really given you any feedback, right? You just haven't caused me any trouble, but that now I'm not really helping you improve. I don't think coaches don't want to coach coxswains. I just think sometimes - when you have a situation in a practice where there's 15 problems, you're going to address the top five problems. So if you're not a problem child, that's great, but you may have to be your own advocate to ask for some coaching feedback ... or ask your coach to help the athletes give you some feedback (in a healthy way, of course, which can be challenging). But I think you have to be your own advocate - which seems to be a theme in today's podcast - of being your own advocate ... for your body, also.
ANNE: Should there be coaches ... and there are some who do take that time to communicate with the coxswain ... not just to pull information from them ... but to even just acknowledge that they are athletes of a different sort and understand what potentially are areas of discomfort. Just ask (you know) - 'Are you having any issues with how you feel in the boat that you're in physically? How are you doing? Can I give you a special time to be able to do that stretch or whatever it is that you want to do?' That coach is a rare bird, but so deeply appreciated. And to Breana's comments - wouldn't that be great if that's where the bar moves? Your coxswains will be very, very grateful.
SALLY: Yep, they're nine heads in an eight - poorly named, by the way. Is there anything you feel that we should cover ... haven't covered?
DEIRDRE: I think the message of coxswains being your own best advocate (right) for self-care, for coaching ... that seems to be the thread here. And coxswains, I think, are selfless. It's an eight, right? We kind of forget about them in that sense - 'we' being the collective, right? I suppose that would just be a theme here: of self-care - which I hope the coxswains listening don't think of that as like another burden, you know. Of like somebody else to take care of. I think that seems to be the general lesson both for improving your skill and taking care of your body.
ANNE: And again, as you do that, acknowledging the physicality of the position and that some of us didn't expect that necessarily. But it is a big part of it.
DEIRDRE: Yeah, you are an athlete - whether you look at that as something with pride ... like, 'I'm an athlete also'... or whether you come to this position thinking, 'I really hate working out ... I'm not an athlete so therefore I'll be a coxswain'. Whichever path you're choosing, the fact remains you are an athlete. You have to hold that position. You need to be braced. You have x number of pounds of force coming down at you. Somebody was just telling me they had a stress fracture in their spine (right) from being a coxswain - from that part of their back (like) hammering up against the back of the boat. Like, that's crazy, right? That's crazy. You have to be able to hold that strong position - so you are an athlete whether you like it or not.
DEIRDRE: Yeah, it doesn't mean you have to have six-pack abs and you can run a marathon - that's a different kind of athlete, right? But you have to be able to hold that position and take care of your body (in that sense) so that you don't come see me or some another physical therapist later on with some permanent nerve damage ... and telling me that your foot falls asleep all the time ... and it's never been better since you were coxing in college. That's crazy, right? It's crazy. You have to be able to take care of yourself.
ANNE: Well, we certainly appreciate you taking the time to talk with us - not just as a physical therapist but also as a rower and a coach. I appreciate that's a rather unique perspective that you bring and you've been very generous with giving us insight and recommendations and much to think about. And hopefully, some things to actually take action on.
DEIRDRE: You are very welcome - it's a pleasure. I love my coxswains. We can't do it without them. And I truly believe a coxswain can make the difference in a boat - can make the difference in how the boat goes in practice - and can absolutely make a difference in how the boat succeeds. If succeeding means winning - great. If succeeding means making the final, that's also great. But a coxswain has that ability and that influence to do that - they're not just there to steer and to run a practice for the coach.
SALLY: For that statement and many others, you have been a very respected friend all these years. So again, I echo Anne when I say thank you - you're very generous with your time.
ANNE: Let's remember that you have not only given your time but you've also given us some goodie bag items, right? Breana's gonna mention where you can find some additional resources that you've been so kind to share with us.
BREANA: Yeah, we just want to highlight again that in our show notes for this episode (which you can find as with all show notes for our episodes) at CoxPod.com. We will have those PDFs of those resources - of different stretches and exercises that you can do - that Deirdre has so graciously provided for us. So as she suggested, pull those up on your phone. Do them on your own. Get a group of coxswains together at the beginning of practice and start a little routine of doing those together, you know. Incorporate those realistically into your life and - as a final note here - Deirdre, if you could also share how our audience can get in touch with you or connect to you if they would like to do so.
DEIRDRE: So sure. The easiest way would be email: my first name is a little challenging to spell ... so 'Resolute Rehab' is the website, which is a lot easier to spell than Deirdre. So you can just email me from there - . And I'm happy to assist you with either finding a therapist or somebody that lives near you if you needed some work done, or just exchanging an email or two to see if there's some quick way I can help direct you.
ANNE: This has been so much fun and as always, I am going to try to bring us to a conclusion. And one of the ways we conclude is that we have an episode Quick Pick, and we decided that we wanted to have the Quick Pick today be: hot showers or anything else that helps you to recover from potentially a very difficult physical role.
BREANA: And we will also give our shout-out for this episode which is: we just want to acknowledge our growing and global audience. We actually have had listeners across seven countries in the world so far, which is awesome!
BREANA update: Hello everyone. It's Breana during editing here. Since we recorded this episode, we actually have nearly doubled that number from seven to 13 countries. Thank you for tuning in from all over the world - we are delighted and honored to have reached that wide of an audience! And now back to me from the past.
BREANA: So wherever you're listening from, perhaps you have some company out there. And we hope that we can just continue to expand that audience. And a final reminder to just find those incredibly useful handouts of stretches from Deirdre on our website at CoxPod.com. Find the show notes for this episode and you will have those there for your perusal.
SALLY: In the meantime, we invite you to engage with us on social media and on Slack. We already have had some great questions from our Slack community that we are planning on incorporating in an upcoming episode, so keep the questions coming. We'd also like to thank our earliest Patreon supporters. Already up on Patreon, we have behind-the-scenes looks at our graphic design and some fun statistics where our audience is listening from ... and so much more to come. We are excited to bring you more content soon, and until next time, I'm Sally, I'm Anne, and I'm Breana - signing off for now.