The 3 Best Stretches for Rowing

Improve your rowing and minimize injuries with 3 of the best rowing stretches.

by Brad Walker | First Published October 14, 2010 | Updated April 18, 2019
Rowing, as a form of transport and warfare, dates back to 1,400 BC, but some form of rowing was likely used long before that. Rowing in its modern form started in England in the 1700’s and has developed into a sport practiced the world over. Rowing, as an Olympic sport, can be traced back to the original 1896 games in Athens. Variations of rowing include kayaking, canoeing and paddling.
Stretches for rowing

Muscles used in Rowing

Rowing 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. 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.
  • The large muscles of the buttocks and legs, including the gluteus muscles, the quadriceps and the hamstrings, provide power during the “Drive” portion of the rowing stroke.

Most Common Rowing Injuries

Rowers, whether competitive or recreational, repeat the rowing motion over and over again. This repetitive motion can lead to a number of chronic (overuse) injuries. Some of the more common rowing injuries include:

  • Both upper and lower back strain, including disc injuries;
  • Rib stress fractures;
  • Wrist and shoulder injuries, including rotator cuff tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome;
  • Iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome; and
  • Knee injuries, including bursitis, patellar tendinitis and chondromalacia.
Rowing Stretches and Flexibility Exercises

Injury Prevention Strategies

Thorough conditioning and training in proper technique are both essential in helping to prevent rowing injuries. Keep the following points in mind:

  • Complete a thorough warm-up prior to all training and especially before competition.
  • Cool down properly after training and competition (including stretching).
  • A comprehensive strength training program will help to minimize muscle imbalances and prevent many injuries caused by the repetitive movements required during rowing and other paddling sports.
  • Incorporate cardiovascular endurance training to prevent fatigue in later stages of training and competition.
  • A comprehensive flexibility training program will help prepare the muscles for activity and help prevent the muscle strain of rowing.
  • Instruction in biomechanics and the proper rowing technique (or form) will help prevent injuries caused by incorrect body mechanics.
  • Proper training on water safety and swimming will also help prevent drowning or near-drowning injuries.

The Benefits of Rowing Stretches

One of the major benefits of stretching is increased range of motion and improved flexibility, which in turn fosters good posture and reduces lower back pain and discomfort. Regular rowing stretches also help to maximize performance and reduce the likelihood of overuse injuries that rowers are generally prone to. And finally, even the most basic rowing stretches can just make you feel better.

The 3 Best Rowing 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 of the best stretches for rowing; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions with each stretch, and if you currently have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain please take extra care when performing the stretches below, or consult with your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the following stretches.

Instructions: Slowly move into the stretch position until you feel a tension of about 7 out of 10. If you feel pain or discomfort you’ve pushed the stretch too far; back out of the stretch immediately. Hold the stretch position for 20 to 30 seconds while relaxing and breathing deeply. Come out of the stretch carefully and perform the stretch on the opposite side if necessary. Repeat 2 or 3 times.

Shoulder and rotator stretch for rowing

Arm-up Shoulder and 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.

Wrist and forearm stretch for rowing

Rotating Wrist and Forearm Stretch: Place one arm straight out in front and parallel to the ground. Rotate your wrist down and outwards and then use your other hand to further rotate your hand upwards.

Upper hamstring stretch for rowing

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 video

Click on the play button below if you prefer to follow along to a 10 minute video of the best stretches for rowing.

These rowing stretches are best done after your rowing training, as part of your cool down. They can also be done as a stand-alone stretching session to improve your rowing flexibility, but make sure you’re fully warmed up before starting the stretches.

Want more Rowing Stretches?

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Research and References

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.

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