Rowing is a lovely way of staying in shape. If you do it the old-fashioned way, it lets you enjoy the beauty of nature as you soak in the fresh air along the winding rivers or the expansive lakes. Thanks to modern innovations, rowing is no longer a reserve for the outdoor adventurer, as indoor rowing machines are in practically every gym.
The only problem is that not everyone knows how to row, and jumping in as part of a New Year's habit can quickly cause injury, especially if you're just getting back into exercising regularly. But don't worry, we've got a few tips to help you get more out of your rowing without risking injury.
Muscles Used in Rowing
Rowing targets nearly all major muscle groups in the body. It activates both the upper and lower cores of the body at once, giving you a more intense workout with every back and forth stroke. To understand the muscle groups involved, we need to look at the mechanics of rowing techniques:
The catch is the start of a rowing stroke, and as the name suggests, it involves stretching forward the arms as if making a catch, with the knees bent close to the chest. This move works on the hamstrings, calves, triceps, deltoids, trapezius, abdominal muscles, and lower back.
For the second phase of a rowing stroke, the rower stretches the legs forcefully until they're almost fully extended. All the while, the upper body should be in an almost upright position as you start pulling the handle towards your abdomen. The muscles activated in this move include the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, and gluteus muscles in the lower body. The upper body engages the biceps, deltoids, trapezius, and other upper back muscles.
In the third phase, the legs are fully extended, and the upper body leans back slightly as you pull the handle much closer to your abdomen. Your arms, shoulders, and back do much of the work in this movement, but a few leg muscles also do the lifting. The muscles activated include the Latissimus dorsi, trapezius, deltoids, forearms, glutes, quadriceps, and biceps.
The last move in the stroke feels like a reversal of the first three phases. You will start moving back to the catch position, extending the arms out in front, and bending the knees. The recovery phase invokes the abdominal muscles, calves, trapezius, hamstrings, deltoids, triceps, and forearms.
Common Injuries From Rowing Exercises
It is easy to avoid injuries once you have a good idea of the muscle activity involved. We're going to look at some common injuries many people experience when jumping into a new rowing habit unprepared.
Lower back pain
Most rowing injuries result from improper technique, and nothing illustrates this better than back pain. Leaning back way too early or far too late causes more strain on the lower back, forcing it to bear unexpected weight at wrong body angles. A good rowing stroke should be powered by your arms and legs, as the back remains unmoved.
Knee and Achilles tendon pain
The majority of knee pain from rowing injuries is connected to the tendons. Kneecap injury occurs when damage happens to the patellar tendon connecting the quadriceps muscles. Stretching the Achilles tendons may cause injury, especially where the rower hasn't done enough stretching before the exercise.
Iliotibial band syndrome
The Iliotibial band is a group of connective tissue stretching from the hip and running across the knee down to the shin. Iliotibial band syndrome is a persistent pain on the outer knee, usually caused by repetitive bending activity. It's often caused by mistakes in training and can be corrected with proper technique.
Shoulder and neck pain
A sore neck from rowing usually happens because of poor upper body posture and technique. Many newbies fail to make their arms and legs do the work, forcing more strain on the rotator cuffs, causing pain and irritation in the shoulder.
How to Prevent Injuries From Rowing Exercises
Properly executed rowing can be a huge asset to your training regime, giving you high-level cardio while working all your major muscles. However, leaving with back pain should be the last of your worries every time you hit the rowing machine. Proper technique, sufficient rest intervals, and releasing muscle tension are the best tricks in the book when fighting injury.
Maintain good technique
If you need to achieve your fitness goals and minimize injuries, you need to pay more attention to your technique. Unnecessary movements are wasteful of your energy and put more strain on body parts that should bear the brunt of the exercise.
Rowers need to practice limiting their back movements and strengthening their cores to support the back throughout the strokes. Rowing should essentially involve pulling with the arms and pushing with the legs, and your back shouldn’t bear the strain in any of these movements.
Give yourself time to rest and recover
Proper rest and recovery should be top of your list of things to know when starting rowing. Besides, your muscles need time to heal from all the strain of the rowing activity. Different studies have proven that muscle growth is achieved during your rest days.
Always observe proper nutrition to give your body the fuel it needs to recover. Hydration is also important as it stabilizes many of the body's processes, such as cooling, digestion, and blood pressure regulation.
Release tight muscles
Tight muscles put you at high risk of strains and injuries. Because rowing involves doing the same thing over and over, you might need to infuse stretching exercises in your training program to condition your muscles for the activity. Stretching flexes the muscles and improves their range of motion in the joints.
If you're already experiencing pain and tightness at the hip, the Hip Hook can be a very convenient tool to relieve the tension. The NUCKLE is another minimal impact tool that you could use for tension relief on the neck and shoulders.
As you're discovering more things to know when starting rowing, check out the Aletha Health website for more tools and instructional resources to help with alleviating pain and revitalizing your fitness journey.