Core Stability for Indoor and Outdoor Rowing

During the early fall, there is an opportunity to reduce the focus on sport-specific training for rowing and work on cross-training and rebuilding parts of the body that have suffered over the high-intensity summer racing season.

For CrossFitters and rowers alike, there is also an opportunity to do some injury-proofing before changing over to indoor training in the winter months, with its heavier loads and the propensity of indoor rowing to overstress and compress the ribs and spine.

While I have never suffered a serious injury in my rowing career, as I get older the minor aches and pains resurface and remind me that it could happen at any time unless I take precautions.

For scullers, there is the additional challenge of jumping into sweep boats for head races.  While the load and compression is less than that of sculling, the challenge of twisting and off-center forces increases the risk of injury if you’re not used to it.

Here are a few of my favorite exercises to develop core strength and injury-proof my body.

In the gym:

  • Planks – nuff said.  Do standard planks, then side planks.
  • Turkish get-ups.  CrossFitters will be familiar with these.  I like to so them slowly and make sure I am fully stabilized in each position before progressing.  These are especially good for developing stabilization on your weaker side for sweep rowing.
  • Hollow Rocks or raised leg circles – I usually start doing sets of 10, then continue until I can’t even do just one.
  • Back extensions or Supermans – especially important for rowers to flex the spine in the opposite direction we normally do.
  • Chop and Lift or Slash using the cable machine.  As detailed in the Four Hour Body, these are easy to do in almost any gym since most have some form of cable machine.

On the water:

  • Stand-up paddling (SUP).  There is no better full-body integrated core exercise.
  • Stand-up paddling on a stationary dock.  This is incredibly hard.  The resistance is huge and it takes a couple of seconds to complete each pull.  The cross-body forces are large and it’s very exhausting.  I usually do 30 reps each side then rest and switch.  This is awesome for the ribcage.
  • Kayaking.  It’s a different motion and uses the torso in unusual ways.

Off the water:

  • Land paddling on a longboard.  This is insane fun, and involves even more twisting than traditional SUP as you have a sideways stance.  I think this is especially fun for training on your weaker side if you are going to be jumping into a sweep boat for the fall.  It preps your shoulders and ribs, and it gets you paying attention to precision on your “goofy” side, which for me is starboard.

Right now I am trying to get at least 2 sessions in per week that focus on core stability and strength.


4 thoughts on “Core Stability for Indoor and Outdoor Rowing

    1. Neikei,

      I think the answer depends a lot on your age and the details of your personal situation, but here’s some suggestions. You want your body to find equilibrium so that you are not in a position to have to make weight by dehydration, nor do you want to have to crash diet in the pre-season. The best approach to eating that I’ve found includes a focus on whole foods vs. processed foods or supplements. Lean meats, lots of vegetables, a few “non-white” carbs and a good amount of healthy fats like nuts, guacamole, and olive oil. Don’t fall for the “eliminate fat from your diet” trap. Don’t fall for “carbo-loading” as that’s more geared to ultra-endurance athletes, and usually involves eating lots of “white foods” like bread, pasta, and pancakes that are basically equivalent to eating sugar. Stay hydrated, remembering that intensities over anaerobic threshold (75% pressure and up basically) require a lot of water to convert fuel into energy in your muscles, so you will dehydrate quickly even if it’s not hot out. Good luck, stay healthy, and stay hydrated!

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