Shoulder flexibility, kettlebell arm bars, and overall rowing mobility

So I landed a spot in a Dartmouth alumni eight at the Head of the Charles in Boston at the end of October, which is the largest regatta in the world.  It’s been 10 years since I raced to a middle-of-the pack finish in the Championship Single there.  It’s also been a year plus since I’ve been in a sweep rowing boat, and I will most likely need to row starboard as one of the universal truths of rowing is that there is always a shortage of starboards!  I can row both sides, but have greater flexibility and elasticity on port because that is what I rowed when I first started in college, and, frankly, my left shoulder girdle got stretched out and I have a couple of inches more reach at full extension.

In doing turkish get-ups, I have more stability in my right shoulder for overhead work – my left is loose and gets “jacked up” more easily, even though I favor it for carrying or pulling heavy loads.

So I asked Steve Macioci, my coach at Crossfit Ignite, for suggestions on how to improve flexibility and reach in my right shoulder, and he suggested arm bar work with a kettlebell.  This arm bar video shows basically what an arm bar is about.  This is the first time I’ve asked for a specific prescription to solve a problem, and I’m excited that Crossfit has a specific prescription.  To date, I’ve viewed Crossfit as a means to improve strength and conditioning for rowing.  I have not really explored the mobility issue, and I think this will be a major area of learning and development for me over the next 6 months.

I have weaknesses in:

Overhead work – just shoot me

Shoulder girdle – I’ve never heard a rowing coach use this term in 25 years even though we regularly put 1000 newtons of force through it ???

Midline stabilization – I am intrigued by this concept – I watched Kelly Starrett’s video on Executive Stretching in which he used a rowing example, and remembered reading a Rowing Biomechanics Newsletter on thoracic curvature in elite scullers.  I am still trying to wrap my mind around this issue but am intrigued by what Crossfit has to offer on this subject.  I tend to row with a more upright “Undine” or “California” posture, which gives me a strong connection through the finish but may also result in more vertical motion in the boat.  Stay tuned on this one – I sense some upcoming work with mirrors and video on the erg this winter.

Hip and ankle flexibility – this has always been a limitation for me, which has caused me to adopt a more upright posture in the boat.  Maybe I can finally start to address this with something other than static stretching?

Knee joints – the barefoot running has helped tremendously here.  I can say that no Crossfit exercise has caused me knee pain except when I accidentally jammed my elbow behind my kneecap doing heavy thrusters – ouch.  The knee pain I sometimes got after 20K rows in the boat is no longer there, because I don’t do 20K rows anymore 🙂

Anyway, if practicing arm bars can get me a more flexible right shoulder in 6 weeks, it will be a major revelation for me.  Stay tuned.

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