I grip rowing oars too tight – how to cure it?


Lately I have been having problems with my left forearm and hand. When I have been rowing the muscle in my left forearm spasms and twists which then pinches the nerves in my arm and shuts off the blood flow.

My coach thinks it may be happening because I take the catch slightly with my arms and because I hold the oar to tight with my left hand. I was wondering if you had any ideas about why this would be happening or anything I could do to try and fix this.

Cures for tight rowing grip

Photo of scull grip in recovery Photo of scull grip in recovery

Thanks for this – great question and a real knotty one!

You don’t say if you sweep or scull but I’m going to assume you scull.

With regard to holding on too tight – try ‘playing the piano’ on the recovery.  wiggle your fingers as you come up the slide and this helps to release tension in the grip.

Your coach may be right about this – and so if you can un-learn your grip habit, you may have an easy cure.

The second thing to try is to take the catch with your LEGS or FEET not your hands.

Try doing the Straight Arm Rowing exercise.  

Have someone else hold the boat steady for you (or practice on the ergo) and don’t use your arms at all – leave them out straight just holding the oar handle.  So all the work is being done by your back and legs.  See if you can keep your grip appropriately loose.  Do you still get spasms?

Lastly, try an alternative grip.  Here’s a Rowing Grip article written by a reader 

I haven’t tried this myself but it may be worthwhile for your particular situation.

I can put you and your coach in touch with the author if you’re keen to discuss it further.


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This Post Has One Comment

  1. David Harralson

    I am going to assume you sweep, since the problem is localized to one hand. I had the same problem when I started Masters rowing, and it also happened when sculling to both hands.

    I suspect that you are holding the oar in the palm of the hand, with the fingers and thumb wrapped around the oar. It is very difficult to hold the oar and not unconsciously compress the hands around the oar handle, stressing the forearm muscles. This eventually leads to cramping of the forearm muscles.

    One thing about any athletic endeavor is that muscles not actively engaged in performing the athletic motion should be relaxed. When relaxed, they do not use any energy, so that more of your body’s energy resources are available for the athletic motion.

    In another thread, a coach mentioned the same exercise as Rebecca did, play the piano with your fingers on the recovery. The theory behind this is that if you can wiggle your fingers, you are relaxed enough so that your forearm muscles will not cramp.

    Further discussion on alternative grip is here:


    I think the key concept is to get the oar handle away from the palm of the hand. If it is in the palm, it is hard to relax the muscles in the forearm.

    As Rebecca mentioned, you should take the catch with straight arms (both if sculling, the outside arm if sweeping). A bent arm is much weaker than a straight arm, and engages more muscles during the stroke.

    A combination of these two suggestions should provide a resolution to your cramping problem.

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