Learn core strength for rowing by understanding muscles, how to train them and what strength you can gain and injuries can be prevented.
In the last decade ‘core’ has been one of the biggest buzz-words in sport. Having a strong core is reported to improve performance in almost every sport. So what’s it all about and how do we take advantage of this as rowers?
What is the ‘Core’?
Major muscles included are the pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae (sacrospinalis) especially the longissimus thoracis, and the diaphragm. Minor core muscles include the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, and trapezius.
– Wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Core_(anatomy)
The core muscles are essentially any muscles which make up the abdomen or ‘trunk’. They are employed in almost every movement of the body; to allow movements such as lifting, reaching or twisting, or to brace against a load. A strong core will enable good posture, allow stronger positions to be maintained and facilitate more powerful movements.
How does the Core relate to Rowing?
Rowers use their core to achieve positions through the stroke, hold posture, connect the leg drive to the handle and maintain stability.
A strong core will allow rowers to hold better posture throughout the stroke. Rowers will be able to achieve full compression at the catch without collapsing and losing potential power. Connection through the drive is improved as the rower can keep a strong back. Rowers can maintain the drive and flow into the recovery by sitting tall through the finish.
The entire stroke can be performed with improved stability as rowers use their core muscles to hold their bodies stable, rather than balancing the boat using upper body movements or knee wobbles.
As well as posture and stability, effective power can be greatly improved through stronger connection and transfer of the leg power through to the handle and the blade. Using the core for posture and stability frees up other muscle groups to generate power. This power is better transferred through a strong core, so the rower is more efficient.
Core strength allows rowers to be more durable and robust, reducing the chance of injury during rowing, cross-training and weight lifting. By putting the body in the correct position through the stroke (only possible with a good core) the extra strain on other muscles is reduced.
How to Develop a Strong Core…
There are many exercises which can be used to build core strength. These involve holding a position (static), controlled movements from a held position (dynamic) and movements with resistance (resisted). The addition of equipment such as gym balls, thera-band or thera-tube can add a degree of instability or resistance for the athlete to work against. Resisted exercises require a partner, weights or other equipment. For this article we will focus on static core exercises which can be done without any additional equipment.
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Ben expands on this article and gives you all the information you need to be the land-based support for
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Regular club rowers like Ben (and you and me) have to do it for themselves.
It’s worthwhile because you improve your body strength, ability to recover from strenuous training and prevent injury.
Be your Own Support Team is in the Rowperfect shop
Static Core Exercises
This is the classic static core exercise and a good test of general core strength. The body is suspended between the toes and elbows, with the legs and trunk in a straight line. This position is held still for between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. Beginners tend to lift their hips too high or let them drop as they get tired. Check your hips are held straight and strong, not twisted.
Push-Up Plank – body held on toes and hands, instead of elbows (like the push-up position).
Raised Leg – either from Plank or Push-Up Plank position, raise one foot just a few inches from the floor. Keep hips flat.
Raised Arm – from Push-Up Plank position, move one hand to below the centre of the chest and raise the other hand just a few inches from the floor. Keep hips and shoulders flat.
Similar to the Plank, the Side Plank also works the muscles along the side of the trunk.
The body is suspended on the side of one foot and the elbow, with legs and trunk in a straight line. The non-supporting hand lays along the top of the body, rests on the hip, or is raised towards the ceiling to increase the difficulty. Hold the position for between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. Change sides and repeat.
The tendency is to let the upper shoulder fall forwards and twist the hips over. Imagine being stuck between two panes of glass so your body is always in a vertical plane.
Side Plank Variations:
On Hand – lift up so you are on your hand rather than the elbow.
Lift Top Leg – either from elbow or hand position, raise the top leg, keeping the hips in the vertical plane.
Raise Top Hand – from ‘on hand’ position, raise the top hand towards the ceiling. Keeping the shoulders in the vertical plane.
Star – from ‘on hand’ position, raise the top hand and top leg to make a star shape. Keep a straight line between the lower foot and the lower shoulder.
A good hip, glutes and back exercise. Lying on the back with knees bent and feet flat, raise the hips making a straight line between knees and shoulders. Squeeze the glutes and keep the hips strong and supported. Keep shoulders flat on the floor. Hold the position for 1 to 2 minutes.
Straight-Leg – before lifting the hips, straighten one leg. Lift the hips keeping both thighs in-line with one leg out straight. This adds weight and creates an offset weight. Keep the hips flat and resist twisting.
Repeat with opposite leg.
On your hands and knees with back flat (also known as the ‘table’ position) straighten one arm in front of you and the opposite leg behind you. Keep the shoulders and hips flat without letting the unsupported side drop.
Squeeze the glutes and stretch the arm forward.
Hold the position for between 30 seconds and 2 minutes.
Repeat with opposite leg/arm.
From sitting position with legs out straight, extend both arms straight in front of you.
Lean back slightly and raise the legs to 45-degrees.
Point your toes and keep a strong lower back.
Sit on your sit-bones and hold the hips strong to prevent collapsing back onto the glutes.
Hold the position for 30 to 90 seconds.
A ‘favourite’ among my crews, 5-Minute Plank is a good test of static core strength.
Done as a crew exercise after a rowing or ergo session it is a good crew bonding exercise as no one wants to be the one to give up early.
This exercise is only to be done once athletes are capable of holding a good position in the front and side planks for 2 minutes. It can be shortened to suit athlete ability. Any time over 5 minutes will not be beneficial.
The coach or cox should call out the time changes, or set a timer to beep after each minute.
Athletes move straight from one hold to the next without any rest.
1 minute: Plank
1 minute: Side Plank (on the left side)
1 minute: Plank
1 minute: Side Plank (on the right side)
1 minute: Plank
How do I add Core to my Training Programme?
Core muscles are best exercised once warm and slightly fatigued. After a technical rowing session or light ergo is an ideal time to work on core strength. The most benefit will be seen by doing two or three core sessions per week. These can be just 10 minutes long, or 20 minutes by repeating the exercises. Start with the basic holds and gradually increase the length of time for each over a few weeks. Once the athlete is able to hold a good position, move on to the variations for each hold. Take things slowly. A session is too long if the athlete’s core gets too fatigued to hold the positions properly or for the required amount of time.
With all of these exercises, you should be looking for quality rather than quantity. Holding a good position, with particular attention to keeping hips and shoulders level and the body in-line, is much more important than trying to do the exercise for long periods of time in a position which is not correct and not producing any benefit. Many people’s basic core strength will initially not let them hold these positions for more than 30 seconds. Start with short holds paying attention to your position. You will quickly find that you can progress to longer holds.
Combine core work with yoga and stretching to make improvements in strong length and strong posture.
Let us know how you get on, or if you have any favourite static core exercises, by using the comments section.
In the next article on Core, we will introduce Dynamic Core exercises to build strength and stability with movement.