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rowing

Many of life’s activities involve using our legs in a reciprocal pattern.  Find out why training in half kneeling position can help.  Exercise instruction and demonstration included in a video link. Learn the four steps to a successful fitness program and how to correctly use the Concept 2 rowing ergometer.

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No, No Row Your Boat

Why I Don’t Row And Neither Should You

Equipment manufacturers have produced an endless selection of cardiovascular conditioning machines.  We have access to treadmills with shock absorbing decks, elliptical units with stationary and moving arms, escalator stairways, and every imaginable variety of bike.  The simple rowing machine has recently become more popular in fitness classes and training gyms.  I purchased a state of the art rowing ergometer in 1986.  While the training sessions always left me gasping for air, I developed several problems when my rowing sessions became more intense.  Four years later, I abandoned the rower as an exercise modality.  Over my thirty years as a physical therapist, I have treated numerous patients with rowing machine related injuries.  I have come to believe that some individuals can use a rowing machine and achieve excellent results, but the vast majority of us should stay away from a rower.

Lower Back Pain History
The rowing motion produces a compressive load on the lower lumbar joints and discs while subjecting the spine to many cycles of end range flexion.  This is the ideal formula for a posterior disc derangement.  If you have a history of debilitating lower back pain (80% of the American population) or a lumbar disc related problem, you should find another mode of exercise.

You Sit All Day
For many of us, work and daily commute time combine to account for six to ten hours of sitting a day.   In your fitness program, the last thing you want to do is chose an exercise activity performed in a seated position.  The deleterious effects of prolonged sitting must be trained away and not enhanced by your exercise activities.

A History of Anterior Hip Pain
With every repetition of a row, you fold the front of the hips into full end range flexion.  This can create all kinds of impingement/tissue distress problems on the front of the hip joint.  I have treated several patients with labral tears of the hip and “sports hernia” pain problems developed after a series of rowing sessions.

You Are a Postural Mess
If your mother always told you to “sit up straight” and you never managed to listen, the rower is probably a less than ideal training tool for you.  Age, wear and tear, and the passage of time tend to pull our skull, shoulders, and thoracic spine forward.  If you already have a head start on the slumped forward rounded over upper body, I would nix the rower.

Big Belly
If your abdomen protrudes to the point it inhibits the motion of your hips and the draw of the erg’s handle, you will not be able to row with a mechanically efficient stroke.  The knees out, 20 inch pull you so often see performed on the row ergometer is at best ineffective and often injurious.

Clueless on Technique
For many people, the rhythm of a proper rowing motion is difficult to learn and even more difficult to maintain in a fatigued state.  When your row technique falls apart, the stress on your peripheral joints and spine increases dramatically.

Cumulative Compressive Load
If your training week consists of deadlifts on Monday, box jumps on Tuesday, Olympic lifting on Wednesday, squats on Thursday, and then rowing ergometer on Friday, you will have performed five consecutive days of high spinal compression activities.  The older you are, the stronger you are, and the more intense you train, the more you need to be considerate of the cumulative compressive load placed on your spine over the course of a training week.  The rower is probably not the ideal training modality in this training scheme.

Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

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