Flexibility for Rowing

Importance of Stretching


The major movements in rowing primarily target the upper body. There is also leg work involved, so that should not be ignored, but considering rowers stress their back more than many other athletes, it’s important to try and incorporate a good stretching program along with your training. Even supplemental stretches that you can easily do at home can go a long way, especially if you’re day job involves sitting at a desk all day.

Flexibility is definitely important in terms of performance, but in this article, we will mainly focus on flexibility from an everyday life perspective. Therefore, much of these stretching tips will focus on the back and neck.

Before Activity

Before starting an activity, it’s always important to stretch. First, it will be necessary to perform a warm up, even a short one that is about 5-10 minutes long. This will help ensure you get the blood flowing and your muscles are warm and ready for stretching. Many people prefer a stationary bike or treadmill for this, but if you don’t have one handy, running on the spot, skipping, jumping jacks, or anything else that is simple and you can do for a few minutes without exhausting yourself is good too.

Once you have completed your warm up, try and stick with dynamic stretching. This is the type of stretching that involves body movement, rather than static stretching, which is the stationary stretching most people immediately think of. Static stretching can actually decrease your peak power output, so if performance is important to you on that particular day, try and stick with the dynamic-style.

A good neck stretch is pretty simple. A slow roll from left-to-right and back again will do the trick. Try not to “crank” your neck into any unnatural positions, and try not to roll to the point where you end up looking straight up in the sky. Rather, looking at the group, tilt/roll your neck slightly left and right, in a slow, smooth, controlled manner. You should reach the point where you feel a slight stretch on each side (rotate to right, feel the stretch on the left, and vice versa).

For shoulder and back stretching, we would recommend arm circles at varying widths. You can try going from very narrow and quick circles to almost a full range windmill circle, doing one arm at a time. This mostly loosens up the shoulders, but can also free up the chest and back a little it too. For a back stretch, I like to bend over with my arms dangling towards the floor, and then loosely swing them so my palms reach up around my back like I’m hugging myself. To cap it off, I like to do torso rotations. For this one, plant your feet shoulder width apart with a slight bend in the knees, cross your arms over your chest, and simply rotate your torso using your hips as the pivot point. This will target your lower back, obliques, as well as your abdominal muscles.

After Activity

Once you’re off the water or done with your dry-land training session, it’s always a good idea to do some stretching while you are still warm. Given you are already warm, you don’t need to warm up again, but this time it may be more beneficial to focus on static stretching. This is the standard stationary stretching we mentioned previously, for example, sit-and-reach stretches for hamstring flexibility.

For the neck, I actually like to do the same dynamic stretch we mentioned at the beginning of this article, just much slower and holding the ends of the range of motion for a bit longer, maybe even up to 10 seconds. As long as there is no discomfort and you are in complete control, this should feel pretty nice.

Arm circles are fine to do again as well, but in this case I usually lay on my side and do these much slower. This allows gravity to pull the arm down, achieving a nice stretch while you are capable of relaxing a bit more. This stretch feels great, but you have to make sure you do it slow and you don’t push the limits. Remember, feel the stretch, but don’t put yourself in any pain.

The Mad Cat is another classic stretch. It looks a little silly, but who cares, we’re all stretching for similar reasons. For this stretch, put yourself on all 4s and arch your back so you’re pointing your belly more towards the ground. You will feel this in your lower back, but most of the stretch is actually occurring in your abdominals. Hold this for about 20 seconds and then arch your back the other way, creating a nice round back pointing more-so upwards towards the ceiling. You may not feel a big stretch, but this will actually be quite useful in stretching out the majority of your back muscles.

For the lower back, I usually like to keep things simple. Sit on your knees so that your butt is resting on the back of your feet. Now slide your hands out along the ground in front of you, but try not to bring your butt with you. It may take a little bit of playing around with to find an optimal position that achieves a good stretch while still being able to relax. For an added progression, once you have achieved the nice stretching position, try crossing your arms while they are still stretched out to achieve a better stretch in the upper back as well.


That’s it! We hope some of you are able to pull some good information or useful ideas out of this. If you have a teammate, trainer, or coach that is providing guidance as well, even better! As long as you have stretching in mind, then you’re on the right track!

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