This article is in response to a request from a reader and addresses a topic dear to my heart. The position and use of the back in rowing is central to both safe and fast rowing. A good back position makes a rower faster and simultaneously protects his back from damage.
The key to understanding back position in rowing is the concept of a neutral pelvis. In good posture the pelvis is said to be neutral and aligns with the lower vertebrae of the spine. If an athlete holds her pelvis in neutral and reaches forward to approach the catch the pelvis rotates and length is achieved by stretching the hamstring and gluteus muscle groups. Then during the drive these large and powerful muscles can contract and add power to the movement and swing of the torso and thus power and speed to the stroke.
The abbreviated sequence below shows this:
A neutral pelvis is also the key to preventing back injuries in rowing. If the back and pelvis are kept aligned and reach forward is gained by rocking the hips then the back is much safer. This is because with a straight spine the loads on the inter-vertebral discs are spread rather than concentrated. In order to reach and hold good back positions the abdominal (core) muscles must be strong and the hips and hamstrings flexible.
These two examples above both show high risk back positions. Rowing like this exposes the low back to high loadings and risks disc injury.
Compare the position of the rower below to the two scullers above.
Not only is he minimising the chance of damage to his spine he is in a position where he can use the gluteal group and the hamstrings to swing his body towards the finish and add much extra power in the latter parts of the drive.
Achieving and holding a neutral pelvis position in rowing requires strength, flexibility and control in the abdominal, hip and hamstring area muscles. All rowers and scullers should do some land training to strengthen and mobilize the low trunk and hip areas. Pilates, Yoga and many of the variants of Core Strength training are all good.
There is another page on the Rowperfect site that deals with the same issue. Follow this link.