Rowing and Kayaking Stretches and Flexibility Exercises


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


As 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, but there are many references to them in ancient history. Many of the warring vessels from Persia, Greece, Rome, The Norse Viking ships, and trade vessels were powered by rowers. This set the stage for rowing as a sport. Many modern sports are based on practical everyday events, or military applications.

If you’re looking to improve your rowing or just seeking to prevent rowing injuries it is important to follow the information in this article. In addition, adding a few simple stretches to your fitness program will also help. To get started on a safe and effective stretching routine that’s just right for you, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility.

rowing_1The first appearance of the term “regatta” was made in 1274 in Venetian documents. The numerous waterways in the city made for a dependence on water transport. In 1315 it is noted that the Venetian regatta also included boat races and other aquatic activities.

In 1454 the first Lord Mayor’s water procession was held in London and included many colorful water events. This continued for four centuries, until 1856. In 1715 Thomas Doggett started the first recognized major competitive event for rowing. He established a prize for the winner. The Coat and Badge given to the winner brought fame and an opportunity to be crew on the Royal Barge during state occasions. It did not bring much fortune to the winners, however.

In 1775 a major water festival brought attention to boat racing. It opened the door for future races. The first race logged in England’s ANNUAL REGISTER was a race between two eight-oared cutters from Westminster to Richmond on the Thames in 1788.

In 1805 the first boat race was held in Australia. In 1807 boat racing began to be recorded in the United States. In 1814 the first race for women was held with a two guinea prize payout. In 1815 Oxford organized the first college boat club. In 1816 the first Canadian boat race was recorded. It was held in the St. John’s Harbor, Newfoundland. The race, the “Quidi Vidi” continues today.

In 1823 the Knickerbocker Club became the first boat club in the United States. The remainder of the 1820s, 1830s and into 1840 saw more clubs being organized and many more races contested. Walker’s Manly Exercises, published in 1836, first in London then in Philadelphia, was the first book extolling the physical benefits of rowing. In the late 1830s many races began offering cash purses of $1,000 to $2,000 to the winners.

In 1849 Henry David Thoreau added his hand to the literature involving rowing when he published A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers. The next four decades saw many more publications dealing with rowing and the sport of boat racing.

Harvard defeated Yale in 1852 in the first intercollegiate competition. This developed into an annual race that has been held regularly since 1864. The first trans-Atlantic race occurred in 1867, which took place in Paris. In the 1900 Olympics six different rowing events were contested.

During World War I, from 1914 to 1918, most boat races were suspended. The first women’s collegiate competition began in 1919. Rowing competitions were suspended again during World War II, from 1941-1945. The rejuvenation of the sport after WWII saw the formation of many more competitions, clubs and organizations. In 1976 the first women’s rowing competition was held at the Olympics. In 1990 the FISA established the World Cup competition for both men and women.

Rowing may be done in a traditional crew type activity or in simple row boats. Canoes and kayaks have joined the ranks of race boats, as well. Whitewater racing and ocean kayak races are gaining a footing in the amateur race world.


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_2Rowers, 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 beside each stretch.


rowing-stretch_1Arm-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-stretch_2Reaching-up Shoulder Stretch: Place one hand behind your back and then reach up between your shoulder blades.






rowing-stretch_3Standing 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.





Get more Stretching Exercises here...

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 improve your full body mobility and freedom of movement, grab a copy of the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility (Handbook, DVD & CD-ROM).

In total, they include 135 clear photographs and 44 video demonstrations of unique stretching exercises for every major muscle group in your body. Plus, over 80 printable stretching routines for 22 sports and 19 different muscle groups.

The DVD also includes 3 customized stretching routines (8 minutes each) for the Upper Body; the Lower Body; and the Neck, Back & Core, plus a bonus CD-ROM that allows you to print out over 80 stretching routines that you can take with you wherever you go.

The Handbook and DVD will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch correctly. Plus, you'll also learn the 7 critical rules for safe stretching; the benefits of flexibility; and how to stretch properly. Check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility for yourself.

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.

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