Rowing Injury Prevention Series: General Injury Prevention Tips

This article is Part 1 of the Rowing Injury Prevention Series, brought to you by Rowperfect UK. In the following installments, you’ll hear from fellow rowing strength coaches, Will Ruth and Joe DeLeo, as they discuss common rowing injuries including; rib stress fractures, low back pain, snapping hip syndrome, as well as how to reduce injury risk with strength training. These articles will take us up to February 14th when the three of us will be featured on “RowingChat” right here, on Rowperfect. These resources are presented to help you learn the specifics of strength training for rowing, to improve performance, and to enjoy a healthier career. We hope that these will help you avoid making the same mistakes we have, and prevent you from having to re-invent the wheel. In the meantime, you can find us at our websites below.

Will Ruth:

Joe Deleo:

Blake Gourley:

Sign up for our Rowing Chat episode here:


Are Injuries Just Part of the Sport?

It’s no surprise to any rower that rowing places extreme demands on its participants. The movement itself, the intensity, the technique required, and the traditional approach to training makes injuries a common occurrence. Studies have found that 32-51% of rowers will experience an injury each year. When it comes to back pain, 82% of rowers report pain annually (3).

So, is that just the nature of the sport? Is there no way to get around these numbers? What most people don’t realize is that we are completely capable of flipping the switch on these numbers.

Fortunately, there are only 3 ways to get injured from rowing (excluding a freak accident or a serious crab).

1) Over-use or Under-recovery

2) Technical error

3) Developed imbalances

Since rowing is a non-contact sport we have control over all 3 mechanisms listed above. Lucky for us, we don’t have to deal with contact injuries such as ACL tears and concussions that are so prominent in other sports.  The only way you can truly keep a football player safe is by keeping him on the sideline. We, on the other hand, can reduce the chance of all injuries from ever even occurring in the first place. All we have to do is make injury reduction a priority.

The simple truth is, that staying healthy is the easiest way to improve your performance. Rowers are really good at putting in the time and effort. What rowers often miss, is the fact that you not only have to outwork your opponents, you have to outsmart, and out-recover them as well.

These injury rates are not the sport, it’s not normal. It’s how we’ve been training for it.  In fact, there are several things that you can do that can drastically reduce your chance of getting injured. Just to be clear, no one can prevent injuries, but we can reduce the overall number of injuries significantly. If we get lucky, and we put in the time and effort, we can have an injury free season(s).


The 3 Easiest Ways to Reduce Injuries

The human body is a marvelously designed machine. It was literally made to adapt and respond to all types of stress. If we stress the body within its limits, and allow it time to recover, the body will adapt and improve. Therefore, if we can do more to speed up our recovery time, we will be more likely to improve, and less likely to end up without a seat. The following 3 topics are the easiest ways to increase your recovery time, and in-turn, reduce your chance of injury.

1) Sleep

Athletes who sleep less than 8 hours per night have a 1.7x greater risk of being injured (2).

Recommendation: Aim for 8-10 hours of sleep per day. “To function at full capacity, most athletes require about 10 hours of sleep per day, a portion of which usually takes the form of naps”(1).

2) Hydration

Dehydration compromises the bodies ability to resist disease & injury. Dehydration of only 3% is associated with a 10% loss in strength. Proper hydration, on the other hand, has been shown to improve performance by up to 25%.

Recommendation: Try and drink 50%-100% of your bodyweight in ounces of water daily.
Read more about hydration here:

3) Nutrition

We need to replenish what we lost from exercise, including glycogen stores and muscle protein breakdown. Nutrition can also influence the amount of inflammation within the body for better or worse. Although there are times when inflammation is appropriate, an excess can slow recovery. Proper nutrition will speed your recovery between workouts, helping you perform better, and reducing your chance of injury.

Recommendation: Consume easy to digest carbs and protein before, during, and immediately after practice. Consume slow digesting carbs, protein, and fat at all other meals. Do not attempt to go low carb! That diet trend has no business with rowers! When glycogen stores are inadequate, muscle recovery is slowed. Rowing can completely deplete glycogen stores within just a single 3 hour practice.

Example Pre-training & During Training: Orange juice, water, and whey protein mix

Example Immediately After: Chocolate Milk

Example Post-Training Meal: Grilled Chicken, Sweet Potatoes, Spinach Salad


3 More Injury Reduction Strategies

1) Use the 10% Rule

Avoid increasing your training load by more than 10% weekly. Drastic increases are commonly associated with injury. Training load is calculated by multiplying time by intensity. For example, on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the hardest, my 30 minute workout was a 7. The training load would then equal 30 x 7 = 210.

2) Create a Warm-up Specific to Your Weak-Links

Every individual is different. Find a professional and have them take through an assessment. I recommend an FMS practitioner. They will look at your movement, identity your weak-links, and give you correctives to help keep you healthy.

What I have found with the FMS over the past 5 years is the following:

Men tend to have mobility restrictions at the ankle, hip, and t-spine.

Women tend to have great flexibility, but they also tend to lack stability.

To find a FMS practitioner near you follow this link:

3) Strength Train

Rowers’ mean force per stroke during a race was found to be 123 pounds in one study(1). If an athlete doesn’t know how to pick-up a weight on land how are they going to safely take 200 reps on the water? Rowers also develop muscular imbalances that can lead to both short and long-term injuries. Both sweep rowers and scullers develop imbalances as a natural part of participating in a sport that entirely neglects/disproportionately loads certain muscle groups. It is critical to strength train in order to develop muscles not used in the rowing stroke and to maintain a muscular balance. If you don’t know how to properly lift, find a qualified coach near you.

I hope this information helps! Please let me know if you have any questions.

Sign-Up for Rowing Chat on February 14th below:


1) Bompa, T. & Buzzichelli, C. (2015). Periodization Training for Sports. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

2) Milewski et al. (2014). Chronic Lack of Sleep is Associated With Increased Sports Injuries in Adolescent Athletes. Journal Pediatric Orthopaedics.

3) Wilson, F., Gissane, C., & McGregor, A. (2014). Ergometer training volume and previous injury     predict back pain in rowing; strategies for injury prevention and rehabilitation. British         Journal Of Sports Medicine, 48(21), 1534-1538.


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