Rowing Stretches and Flexibility Exercises

Rowing stretches to improve your performance and do away with rowing injuries for good.

by Brad Walker | First Published October 14, 2010 | Updated November 13, 2018

Every sport requires specific muscles to be more flexible. This is because during the sport, players need to perform a variety of movements that they do not normally perform in their regular lives. One such sport is rowing, which requires high upper body strength and endurance level. This can be achieved when your rowing training includes a number of rowing stretches.

Muscles used in Rowing

Rowing Stretches and Flexibility ExercisesRowing places a large emphasis on the core muscles, as well as the muscles of the arms, shoulders and back. These muscles must have strength enough to efficiently and swiftly pull the oars through the water. Muscles should also be conditioned well to be able to handle the continuous rowing motion. The following muscles are strongly at play during rowing:

  • In the upper back, the trapezius, rhomboids and latissimus dorsi muscles are used.
  • Among the chest and shoulder muscles, the deltoids, rotator cuff muscles and the pectorals are involved.
  • The muscles of hand, forearms, wrist and arms (the biceps and triceps) are important.
  • The core muscles, such as the rectus abdominus and obliques, and the spinal erectors are involved.

Most Common Rowing and Kayaking Injuries

Rowers, 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 Benefits of Rowing Stretches

One of the major benefits of stretching is increased range of motion, whether it is for rowing or any other sport. Apart from improving flexibility, regular rowing stretches also help to reduce the likelihood of muscle injuries that rowers are generally prone to, such as wrist and shoulder tendinitis, knee bursitis, patellar tendinitis and lower back pain.

Also, a regular rowing stretches are key to maintaining flexibility, which in turn fosters a good posture and reduces lower back pain and discomfort.

Despite the numerous benefits, it is important to bear in mind that stretching can have detrimental effects when done incorrectly. Improperly done stretches can over time cause permanent damage to ligaments and joint. When performing the stretching exercises below, be sure to warm up first and if any of the exercises cause pain or severe discomfort, discontinue immediately. Review my article on the rules for safe stretching for more information.

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.

Watch the Rowing Stretches below

Click on the play button below to watch the 10 minute rowing stretching exercises video.

The Big Book of Stretch RoutinesWhile 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 and stretching routines.

Get over 150 of the best stretch routines to do away with injuries; increase your flexibility; improve your sporting performance; and become loose, limber and pain free.

There's a routine for every muscles group in your body, plus daily stretching routines to help prevent over 35 different injuries. Get your daily stretching routines here.

Brad Walker - AKA The Stretch CoachAbout the Author: Brad Walker 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 (author page) 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 1,000's of verified customer reviews. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.

Disclaimer: The health and fitness information presented on this website is intended as an educational resource and is not intended as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the exercises described on this website, particularly if you are pregnant, elderly or have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain.

10 Free Stretching Routines...

Shoulders, Chest, Back, Hips, Buttocks, Quads, Hamstrings, Groin & more.

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