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Welcome to Rowing 101

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By Anja Kuys and Dr. Robert L. Herron |

The sport of rowing is a unique combination of accomplishing a skill while challenging the cardiovascular system. Rowing relies heavily on the aerobic system, as a race is typically completed between 5 to 8 minutes, and the anaerobic system when athletes require a quick start and fast bursts throughout the race. There are several distinct types of boats which can race. They include one, two, four, and eight people and can either have one or two oars (besides the single).

The beginning race is the most important part, and it begins with a few quick strokes to get the boat up and running. The athlete needs to have explosive power to be effective in this aspect. This is the main part of the race when the anaerobic system is major contributor.

The aerobic system is the predominant system in an 2km rowing race. As opposed to sports like soccer, which use the aerobic system but is comprised of stopping and starting, the aerobic system must be applied evenly throughout the race and always at what feels to be 100%. To train for this cardiovascular aspect, athletes typically row steady states (>30 minutes at the same pace) which can take place on water or on a rowing ergometer, and interval training which helps athletes train with pace while being tired. Often, to get rowers out of the water, an ergometer is used. This machine is convenient and can be used by one or have a whole crew on separate ergs to practice with timing. Cycling is also a popular alternative for rowers as it uses the same muscle groups and has a similar movement yet can be a pleasant change for the athlete.

Muscle activation in the rowing technique is made up of 60% legs, 20% core, and 20% arms, and is very similar to the movement of a traditional deadlift. The catch of the rowing stroke is like the beginning of the deadlift with legs flexed and hands reaching forward. The drive is initiated, and the legs fully extend, this is when the oar is moving through the water. The release occurs when the athlete snaps their wrists down and the oar pops out of the water. The final step is the recovery when is when the athlete brings themselves forward on the slide and begins the sequence from the catch again.

Improper technique in rowing could lead to several injuries. If an athlete is pulling more with their arms and back, rather than pushing with their legs, upper and lower back pain might occur. Lack of overall fitness can also attribute to injuries as poor fitness is associated with poor form. Wrist tendonitis and knee pain are from the cause of overuse. These two problems are more common in advanced rowers who train more than beginner rowers. Finally, blisters, an injury that is bound to occur in every rower without having much to do to help. A few ways are to wear gloves while rowing or drying them out with an alcohol solution.

Hop on the ergometer or find a crew to explore this challenging sport.

Anja Kuys is a Graduate Student studying Exercise Science at the University of Montevallo. Anja is also a Midfielder on the Women’s Lacrosse Team, has led the team in scoring multiple years, was recognized as an All-Conference player and achieved Academic Honor Roll in the Gulf South Conference, and represented her home country of New Zealand in the 2022 Women’s Lacrosse World Championship.

Robert L. Herron, Ed.D., NSCA-CSCS*D, ACSM-CEP is an Assistant Professor in the Exercise and Nutrition Science Program at the University of Montevallo. Dr. Herron is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® with distinction from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA-CSCS*D®) and a Clinical Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM-CEP®). Dr. Herron is a graduate of the United States Sports Academy and serves as a Non-Resident Faculty Member.

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