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From Doctor Cummins: Rowing for Gold This Spring Season

1997 UW Men's Crew








The racing season will be here shortly and although you may have the perfect plan to get your newbie and veteran rowers ready for their first hard strokes, you might also have noticed that some of your athletes’ bodies are not been up to the task. Do you find yourself with a collection of broken rowers? Or do you wonder, “Am I doing enough to prevent injuries?”

For the last four years, a large percentage of my practice has been focused on helping rowers get back on the water and optimize health and performance. My background: I have been rowing since age 12, rowed on the US Junior and Senior Teams, at Cornell University and at the University of Washington. My clinical experience, personal trials with various injuries, and my time under different coaches has led me to the following conclusions.

The single greatest cause of rowing injuries is fatigue. Although I would agree that the limits of athletic performance are imposed by an athlete’s psychological boundaries, it is also true that in most cases, the mind is stronger than the body, and the body will fail before the mind.

The spine has only so many strokes it can take at full pressure before it breaks

down. This will occur even if an athlete does not feel pain.

Between the vertebrae of the spine is the cartilage structure called the disc.The disc allows the spine to bend while resisting the compressive forces from pulling on an oar.

Despite the disc’s exquisite design, it has limitations. It cannot resist infinite high force loading cycles without injury. The more hard strokes you take, the fewer strokes before damage occurs. But, you can decrease high compressive forces through efficient core muscular stabilization.

The greater the endurance of the intrinsic stabilizing muscles around the spine, 

Thus, two key variables in disc injury are number of hard strokes and endurance of spinal musculature. 
the more strokes can be taken without damage to the disc.

If you want to avoid back injuries apply these concepts:

#1- Avoid repetitive long duration high intensity pieces. If you resist this advice on a regular basis, you will virtually guarantee damage to the spine.

#2- Work to increase endurance of spine stabilizing muscle. Develop a land training routine that works everything from the shoulders to the hips. For the purposes of injury prevention, endurance exercise trumps strength exercise. Example: Planks, bridges, and push-ups, will be more useful for injury prevention than deadlifts, cleans, or weighted stair climbing.