Push ups – a Christmas gift for rowers!

Young, developing rowers often spend time off the water over Christmas to take a well earned break with families.  In the Australian School Rowing system a moratorium also restricts how much rowing can take place over this time so that everyone can have a holiday.  A break over Christmas is so important for keeping young athletes happy but sometimes this break can inadvertently lead to injury.

A decrease in training load from a break over Christmas is always followed by an increase in load as training recommences.  Often, schools or clubs will hold a camp after the Christmas break and this results in a very steep increase in training load.  A steep increase in training load is a risk factor for overuse injury but a decrease in load followed by a steep increase in load results in a much greater risk – especially in the three to four weeks following the increase in load.  In Australia we see a ‘spike’ in low back pain and chest wall injuries in late January / early February due to the pattern of an unload followed by a significant reload.

How can injury risk be reduced and young, developing rowers still have a family break over Christmas?

There are two ways of reducing this injury risk;

  1. rowers can complete some of their own training over the break period so that the ‘unload’ is not as large
  2. coaches can ensure that rowers are steadily progressed back into training without such a steep load increase when rowing recommences

In the graph below, a typical young Australian rowers training load is depicted with the yellow line.  A more ideal training load is depicted with the green line.

Training load

If rowers are to keep some training going over Christmas, they need to understand that both general fitness training and training that loads the body regions used in rowing are equally as important.  Attention is often paid to continuing T1 and T2 training with cross training such as running or cycling BUT often this results in a reduction in chest wall and low back loading – this can predispose to chest wall injury including; thoracic spine pain, rib stress reaction or rib stress fracture & / OR low back pain when the rower is reloaded in the boat or on the ergometer after a break.

Exercising 3-4 times a week doing activities other than rowing can keep T1 and T2 fitness up over a break.  This might include activities that can be done with the family including bush walking, mountain bike riding, cycling, swimming, surfing or skiing.

To ensure the chest wall and spine are also continued to be loaded, the following suggestion may help;

  • Using a rowing erg two to three times per week, ideally at a high load for a shorter duration with a day between sessions (bones like load then unload for tissue adaptation)
  • Research tells us that posture fatigues at high load on an erg around 30min, if ergometer rowing restricted to 30min or broken into 2 x 15-30min pieces with a short break before continuing, this is ideal

If rowers do not have erg access, other chest wall and low back loading activities can be used, including;

  • Push ups, pull ups and chin ups
  • Weight bearing through straight arms and elbows to do planks with varieties of both hands, one hand, hands stepping up and down onto a step, going from elbows to hands and back down, feet on a fitball walk outs
  • Upper body weights including bench press, bench pull, incline press and rows
  • Squats, deadlifts and steps ups to load the trunk and low back region
  • Ideally, a variety of exercises can be performed –  too much of one exercise can also predispose to other injury.

Performing a 20 minute mini-circuit of a variety exercises x2-3 times per week with at least a day in between is sufficient but does not need to be completed if this can be achieved on an erg.

Coaches that are running camps after a break also need to think of what training load they are prescribing so that the chest wall and low back do not undergo a significant increase in load that may result in injured athletes 3-4 weeks after the initial reloading period.  Way to reduce the injury risk of athletes include;

  • a steady and slow introduction back into the boat and on the erg eg. shorter sessions x3-4 per week with day in between initially
  • keeping the rowing training load increase in time and intensity no more than 10% greater than the week prior
  • ensuring a variety of other activities are also offered at a training camp shortly after a break that do not involve rowing eg. team building, walking, cycling
  • ensuring that sessions at a rowing camp do not include lots of sitting for breaks out on the water, even though the athlete is not rowing, the low back is still loaded in sitting
  • ensure you understand how much individual athletes have trained and kept load on their chest wall and spine over the break – some may be able to do more than others without the risk of injury

ENJOY YOUR CHRISTMAS BREAK!  Be happy to perform some push ups (with some other exercises) every seconds day to keep your chest wall loaded and your trunk muscles strong!  Get your families outside exercising together to keep a smile on everyone’s face and stay injury free through the first two months of 2019.

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