Row, row, row your boat

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There are a lot of young rowers out on the rivers and lakes of Waikato right now getting ready for the Maadi Cup. Over the years I have seen many come into Advance Physiotherapy with a tight over-trained back, wondering why they keep injuring themselves.

The repetitive action of the rowing stroke, combined with the imbalance of stroking the oar to only one side, can create a severe muscle imbalance in the spine.

The resulting overload of the lumbar (lower) and thoracic (mid) spine in the developing young adult can lead to a lifetime of back problems, not to mention a severe limitation to performance right now.

The three most common traits I see in young rowers with injury are:
1. Tight hamstrings
2. Anterior pelvic tilt with poor core control
3. Poor mobility in the thoracic spine.

Because legs are the powerhouse in a rowing stroke, they take a huge workload. This often leads to tightness.  As the hamstring becomes tight it limits how the pelvis moves, placing pressure on the lumbar spine.

For the young rower, being intentional about releasing this tension is the first step in boosting performance and limiting injury.

The best way to reduce tension, increase circulation and increase flexibility is to use an Obie foam roller after every rowing session.  Below are three critical exercises to release the hamstrings and legs in general.

 ITB release: Lie on the roller with it just below your hip. Keeping your elbow on the floor, use your foot to gently roll up and down the outside of your leg.

ITB release: Lie on the roller with it just below your hip. Keeping your elbow on the floor, use your foot to gently roll up and down the outside of your leg.

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Quad release: Keep your legs straight. Using your elbows on the floor, roll yourself back and forwards to massage the length of your quads.

Hamstring release: Lift yourself off the ground with your hands. Push yourself back and forwards along the roller to release tension in your hamstrings.

Hamstring release: Lift yourself off the ground with your hands. Push yourself back and forwards along the roller to release tension in your hamstrings.

The second problem area for developing rowers is the pelvis and lumbar spine. With the rower always in a flexed position, the pelvis can develop a severe anterior tilt. The main cause of this is a tight psoas (so-az) muscle. With a tight psoas muscle the deep inner core is unable to activate correctly and the spine becomes unstable.

So as long as the psoas muscle group is tight, any core exercise performed is pretty much a waste of time.

Below is a standard hip flexor stretch but the majority of people do it incorrectly as in the first picture.  It’s critical to tilt the pelvis under rather than leaning forward. The psoas is a high hip flexor muscle and leaning forward does nothing to that muscle group.  Getting a deep psoas release from a properly trained therapist is often the only way to get the psoas going in the right direction.

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Finally the third problem we often see in the young rower is a tight thoracic spine. This is one of the simplest things to correct and should be done by every rower, cyclist and office worker out there. The first exercise is a posture stretch on the Obie foam roller as pictured below. This lengthens the spine and returns everything to the correct neutral position. The second exercise is rolling the spine from neck to just below the shoulder blades, this will extend the spine and release any tension built up in the back.
For a video link to the above exercises and discussion on how to do them please go to this link:
www.advancephysio.co.nz

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