Connecting the body to the legs

Getting into a compressed position at the catch requires flexibility of the ankles, knees and hips whilst being able to maintain a flat low back, a curved upper back position and an ability to ‘hang’ with the large lat (latissimus dorsi) muscles about to take load.

As the oar enters the water the knees start to descend and the body starts to open up. When young, developing rowers learn to row they are taught to press the knees down first then open the body up. Rowing is technically very difficult and this is a great way to learn technique. However, as the rower develops, technique can be progressed to adding body opening as the legs are pressed down. This spreads the load across the pelvis and low back in a more even way and makes the rowing stroke more powerful and efficient.

Opening the body while the legs are descending is a very difficult action for the large gluteal muscles. They have to engage when they are on full stretch and have to work through approximately 130 degrees of hip flexion shortly after the catch to approximately 70 degrees of hip flexion at the finish position. They need to brace against the large forces coming from the quads to transfer load through to a stable trunk and arms that eventually impart pressure in the oar.

This featured exercise is a muscle patterning exercise that rowers can use to practice the sequencing of leg to body connection. Rowers need to have enough ankle, knee and hip range  to get into the crouched sitting position that is similar to the position at the catch. Once in this position;

  • bend forward over the legs and cup the elbows
  • cupping the elbows ensures that the shoulder blades come out around the upper back a little as they do at the catch
  • keep the low back flat and the upper back relaxed
  • push through the heels and keep the elbows pointed towards the ground, lifting the elbows can allow you to raise by stabilizing your spine with your hip flexors and pushing through your quads
  • this exercise teaches you to push through your glutes and quads while keeping your trunk muscles on
  • raise up by pushing your knees back and opening your body slightly, keep looking toward the ground and do not stand all the way up – after all, you do not lie flat in the boat!!

3 lots of 20 repetition was performed with control is an ideal amount to aim for.

You can also do this as an active movement exercise as part of your warm up – do sets of 10.


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