Rowing and Kayaking Stretches and Flexibility Exercises

Rowing stretching exercises to improve your performance and do away with rowing and kayaking injuries for good.

by Brad Walker | First Published September 14 , 2008 | Updated August 14, 2017

Rowing and Kayaking Stretching ExercisesAs soon as man decided to traverse the waterways of the Earth, he began rowing. It is not clear when rowed vessels began to be used. Some of the main references are as under:

  • 1274 – First reference to the term “regatta” (racing event of rowed watercraft) in Venetian documents;
  • 1454 – First Lord Mayor’s water procession held in London. This continued for four centuries until 1856;
  • 1715 – Thomas Doggett started the first recognized major competitive event for rowing;
  • 1807 – Boat racing began to be recorded in the United States;
    1816 – First Canadian boat race recorded in the St. John’s Harbor, Newfoundland;
  • 1830s – Many races began offering cash purses of $1,000 to $2,000 to the winners;
  • 1900 – Six different rowing events contested at the Olympics;

In 1990, the FISA established the World Cup competition for both men and women.

Anatomy Involved

Rowing requires good endurance and upper body strength. Flexibility in the upper torso is essential, as well. Maintaining flexibility in the lower body and core is important to prevent injuries.

The muscles of the back, shoulders, arms, and core are important. The muscles must be strong enough to pull the oars through the water. They must be conditioned enough to handle repetitive rowing motions and flexible enough to move through a full range of motion.

  • The muscles of the upper back; the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and the trapezius.
  • The muscles of the chest and shoulders; the pectorals and the deltoids.
  • The muscles of the arms; the biceps, triceps, and the muscles of the hand, wrist and forearms.
  • The core muscles; the rectus abdominus, obliques, and the spinal erectors.

A comprehensive training program to strengthen and condition the muscles listed above will help the rower reach their optimal performance level and prevent injuries.

Most Common Rowing and Kayaking Injuries

Rowing and Kayaking Stretches and Flexibility ExercisesRowers, whether competitive or just recreational, repeat the rowing motion over and over again. This repetitive motion can lead to overuse injuries. Incorrect form can also lead to chronic injuries.

Some of the more common injuries that affect the rower are wrist and shoulder tendinitis, knee bursitis, patellar tendinitis, and lower back pain.

  • Wrist and Shoulder Tendinitis: Tendinitis in the rower is commonly caused by the repetitive strain of gripping the oars or rotating the shoulders during the rowing motion. This type of tendinitis is often caused by repetitive movements in a range of movement outside of normal use or with excessive force. It can also be caused if the motion is done using incorrect form, placing the tendons in a path outside the normal range. Tendinitis is commonly treated by discontinuing the activity that caused the problem, NSAIDs, and ice.
  • Knee Bursitis: Bursitis is caused when the bursa, a fluid filled sac that cushions the tendons and ligaments where they cross the bone, becomes irritated and inflamed. It is commonly accompanied with redness, pain and swelling in the area. In a few cases the bursa can rupture and the fluid will leak out and impair the cushioning ability of the bursa. Repetitive flexion and extension of the knee, such as the bending and flexing of knee during the full rowing motion, can irritate the bursa on the outside or top of the knee. Rest, ice and NSAIDs are usually enough to heal the condition. Strength and flexibility training during rehabilitation may help reduce the chance of bursitis recurring.
  • Patellar Tendinitis: Patellar tendonitis in rowers is most commonly due to overuse, or incorrect rowing form. The repetitive bending of the knee during rowing causes the tendon to rub over the bone and cause inflammation that, in turn, aggravates the condition, setting up a cycle of inflammation and pain. Tendinitis treatment includes rest, NSAIDs, and ice. Increasing flexibility in the quadriceps will relieve some of the tension on the tendon and helps heal and prevent future problems.
  • Lower Back Pain: The bending and straightening during the rowing motion can cause pain in the lower back due to poor posture or fatigue. The lower back muscles can quickly become fatigued during rowing. Muscle strains are possible, as are disc problems. Lower back pain can be treated with rest, stretching, and massage. More severe injuries and pain may require professional medical help.

Injury Prevention Strategies

Conditioning and training in proper form can help prevent injury.

  • Instruction in the proper form when rowing will help prevent injuries caused by incorrect body mechanics.
  • Strengthening and muscular endurance training will help ensure that the muscles are ready for the strain and repetitive use of rowing.
  • Proper training on water safety and swimming will also help prevent drowning or near-drowning injuries.
  • Flexibility training will prepare the muscles for the activity and help prevent the muscle strain of rowing.

The Top 3 Rowing and Kayaking Stretches

Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for rowing and kayaking; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions below each stretch.

Rowing shoulder and rotator stretch

Arm-up Rotator Stretch: Stand with your arm out and your forearm pointing upwards at 90 degrees. Place a broom stick in your hand and behind your elbow. With your other hand pull the bottom of the broom stick forward.

Rowing shoulder and neck stretch

Reaching-up Shoulder Stretch: Place one hand behind your back and then reach up between your shoulder blades.

Rowing upper hamstring stretch

Standing High-leg Bent Knee Hamstring Stretch: Stand with one foot raised onto a table. Keep your leg bent and lean your chest into your bent knee.

The Stretching Handbook, DVD & CD-ROMWhile the recommendations on this page are a good starting point, you'll get a lot more benefit when you include a wider variety of stretches.

To do away with stiff, tight muscles and joints, and become loose, limber and pain free, grab a copy of the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility. In no time you'll...

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Get back to the activities you love. Whether it’s enjoying your favorite sport, or walking the dog, or playing with the grand kids. Imagine getting out of bed in the morning with a spring in your step. Or being able to work in the garden without “paying-for-it” the next day.

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Brad Walker - AKA The Stretch CoachAbout the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.