Rowing

01 Overview

Rowing has been a Summer Olympic sport since 1900. There are two types of rowing, whether performed recreationally or competitively: sweep, where 2, 4, or 8 rowers each maneuver one oar; and sculling, where 1, 2, or 4 rowers each maneuver 2 oars. Rowing is governed locally by Rowing BC, with over 3,600 participants province-wide. Common injuries in rowing occur mostly to the upper extremities and back.

(see Section 04 - Prevention)
Athlete silhouette
View Common Injuries by clicking the blue dots on the silhouette

Lower back pain is the most common rowing injury.

Tendonitis (inflammation of the tendons) is common among rowers.

Blisters are common injuries seen in rowers.

Rowers experience pain and tenderness in the muscles of the shoulder.

Rowers experience pain and tenderness in the muscles of the neck and upper back.

Rib stress fractures are an injury seen in rowers; however, these tend to occur in elite athletes engaging in a high volume of training.

Knee pain, pain around the kneecap, also known as 'runner's knee' (chondromalacia patella), and inflammation of the thigh from the hip to the shin (iliotibial band friction syndrome) are common injuries experienced by rowers.

02 Injury Statistics

The most common injuries in rowing occur to the back/trunk, upper extremities, and the knees. The most common injury across all levels of rowers is lower back pain. Periods of intense training can lead to low back pain. Among elite rowers, rib stress fractures are a common injury, most often due to overtraining.

Rowers experience both overuse and acute injuries, especially university/college athletes with intense training regimens. Chronic injuries experienced among rowers include low back pain, runner’s knee (chondromalacia patella), rib stress fractures, inflammation of the thigh from the hip to the shin (iliotibial band friction syndrome), inflammation of the tendon (extensor tensynovitis), and wrist tendonitis. Other injuries are most often blisters on the hand. University/college female rowers experience 23 acute and 30 overuse injuries for every 10,000 coach-directed sessions.

Curious about the research on injuries?

It is estimated that...

03 Risk Factors

Risk factors in rowing include: rowing equipment, technique, previous history of injury, fitness levels, time of year, training volume, and training level.

  • Equipment

    The rowing machine (ergometer) may be associated with low back pain in rowers from overuse. New equipment, such as oars and certain types of rowing blades, are associated with increased risk of injury. Ensure you are educated on the proper use of new rowing equipment.

  • History of Injury

    Previous history of injury increases your risk for injury, including in the low back, wrist, and knee.

  • Time of Year

    Time of year is a risk factor in rowing. Rowers are more likely to develop low back pain in the winter months as compared to the other seasons, most likely due to the higher level of training volume during the winter months.

  • Training Level

    High-intensity training can increase the risk of injury among rowers.

  • Technique

    Proper rowing technique directly influences the load placed on the spine. Poor rowing technique, such as not sitting correctly in the board, or using an uncoordinated rowing motion, can increase the risk of injury.

  • Fitness Level

    Having weak or inflexible muscles, poor posture, and weak abdominal muscles can increase the risk of injury while rowing.

  • Training Volume

    The amount of time spent training with the rowing machine (ergometer) can increase the risk of low back pain among rowers, particularly sessions that last longer than 30 minutes.

  • Experience

    A beginner rower is more likely to incur injuries compared to more experienced rowers.

04 How can I prevent injury?

Some muscle soreness or joint pain is expected when increasing your level of physical activity. However, it is important to listen to your body for persistent or worsening pain, and to know when to rest. Learn more about how to prevent injuries in rowing.

  • Participant & Parent

    Talk to your coach, rowing club or organization, if applicable, about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Incorporate balance and strength conditioning to reduce your risk of injury. For competitive rowers: Ensure you have a proper warm-up protocol and an appropriate training regimen.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    Adopt strength training exercises designed to prevent injuries to the shoulder and back. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help reduce the risk of shoulder and back injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Get Set Neuromuscular Training
    The Get Set app contains exercises that can be done at home. Created by the Oslo Sports Trauma Center, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, and Making Waves AS in 2014 for the International Olympic Committee, the app allows you to search by body part to view exercises that work to strengthen each area of the body, or search by sport to view a library of exercises that are specific to rowing.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Education
    Take lessons or receive coaching on proper rowing technique, safety protocols, and training load.

    The State Government of Victoria (Australia) has some information on rowing and safety suggestions.

    Training
    Ensure you have a proper warm-up protocol and an appropriate training regimen. Consider building endurance of the trunk muscles to facilitate proper (lower back/pelvis) lumbopelvic rhythm. Factors such as rowing intensity, fatigue, and skill level also influence trunk control during rowing. As rib stress fractures are common during training, it is important to recognize onset of injury and know when to decrease intensity of training. Preventing rib stress fractures includes incorporating core and upper-back strengthening exercises as part of the regular training program and avoiding long, high-load training sessions on the rowing machine (ergometer).

    Equipment
    Ensure you choose a suitable boat and oar for your size and skill level. Rowers should follow their local guidelines with regards to wearing a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD). Ensure your skin is protected from sun damage by wearing suitable clothing (including a hat and sunglasses) and applying sunscreen with an SPF of no lower than 30. Wear protection from the cold in wintertime, including pogies (rowing mittens).

    Sport-related Physicals
    Competitive rowing is physically demanding and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Coach & Teacher

    Talk to your school, rowing club, or organization (if applicable) about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Incorporate balance and strength conditioning to reduce the risk of injury in your rowers.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    Adopt strength training exercises designed to prevent injuries to the shoulder and back. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help reduce the risk of shoulder and back injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Get Set Neuromuscular Training
    The Get Set app contains exercises that can be done at home. Created by the Oslo Sports Trauma Center, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, and Making Waves AS in 2014 for the International Olympic Committee, the app allows you to search by body part to view exercises that work to strengthen each area of the body, or search by sport to view a library of exercises that are specific to rowing.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Education
    Educate your rowers on proper rowing technique and safety protocols.

    The State Government of Victoria (Australia) has some information on rowing and safety suggestions.

    Training
    Ensure that your rowers have a proper warm-up protocol and an appropriate training regimen. Consider building endurance of the trunk muscles to facilitate proper (lower back/pelvis) lumbopelvic rhythm. Factors such as rowing intensity, fatigue, and skill level also influence trunk control during rowing. As rib stress fractures are common during training, it is important to recognize onset of injury and know when to decrease intensity of training. Preventing rib stress fractures includes incorporating core and upper-back strengthening exercises as part of the regular training program and avoiding long, high-load training sessions on the rowing machine (ergometer).

    Equipment
    Choose a suitable boat and oar for your rowers’ size and skill level. Rowers should follow their local guidelines with regards to wearing a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD). Ensure the skin is protected from sun damage by encouraging the use of suitable clothing (including a hat and sunglasses) and application of sunscreen with an SPF of no lower than 30. Make sure your rowers wear protection from the cold in wintertime, including pogies (rowing mittens).

    Sport-related Physicals
    Competitive rowing is physically demanding and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Official & Administrator

    Talk to your coaches, teachers, rowing club or organization (if applicable), or school about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Incorporate balance and strength conditioning to reduce the risk of injury in your rowers.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    Adopt strength training exercises designed to prevent injuries to the shoulder and back. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help reduce the risk of shoulder and back injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Get Set Neuromuscular Training
    The Get Set app contains exercises that can be done at home. Created by the Oslo Sports Trauma Center, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, and Making Waves AS in 2014 for the International Olympic Committee, the app allows you to search by body part to view exercises that work to strengthen each area of the body, or search by sport to view a library of exercises that are specific to rowing.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Education
    Make sure that rowers are educated and provided with resources on proper rowing technique and safety protocols.

    The State Government of Victoria (Australia) has some information on rowing and safety suggestions.

    Training
    Ensure that rowers have a proper warm-up protocol and an appropriate training regimen. Talk to your coaches and teachers about building endurance of the trunk muscles to facilitate proper (lower back/pelvis) lumbopelvic rhythm. Factors such as rowing intensity, fatigue, and skill level also influence trunk control during rowing. As rib stress fractures are common during training, it is important to recognize onset of injury and know when to decrease intensity of training. Preventing rib stress fractures includes incorporating core and upper-back strengthening exercises as part of the regular training program and avoiding long, high-load training sessions on the rowing machine (ergometer).

    Equipment
    Make sure that your rowers have the appropriate boat and oars for their size and skill level. Rowers should follow their local guidelines with regards to wearing a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD). Ensure the skin is protected from sun damage by encouraging the use of suitable clothing (including a hat and sunglasses) and application of sunscreen with an SPF of no lower than 30. Make sure your rowers wear protection from the cold in wintertime, including pogies (rowing mittens).

    Sport-related Physicals
    Competitive rowing is physically demanding and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Health Professional

    The role of health professionals in preventing injuries in rowing has two main components:

    1. Providing ongoing education to rowers, parents, teachers, and coaches on effective injury prevention programs such as balance and resistance training; and
    2. Ensuring that injured rowers are completely healed and fit-to-perform before returning to activity to prevent re-injury or chronic injury.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Encourage rowers to incorporate balance and strength conditioning to reduce the risk of injury.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    Adopt strength training exercises designed to prevent injuries to the shoulder and back. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help reduce the risk of shoulder and back injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Get Set Neuromuscular Training
    The Get Set app contains exercises that can be done at home. Created by the Oslo Sports Trauma Center, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, and Making Waves AS in 2014 for the International Olympic Committee, the app allows you to search by body part to view exercises that work to strengthen each area of the body, or search by sport to view a library of exercises that are specific to rowing.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Education
    Encourage rowers, parents, teachers, coaches and club administrators to understand the importance of appropriate clothing and equipment for their desired level of rowing. Encourage the use of preparedness plans in case of emergency and to seek training and resources on proper rowing technique and safety protocols.

    The State Government of Victoria (Australia) has some information on rowing and safety suggestions.

    Training
    Have rowers, coaches, club administrators, and teachers consider having a proper warm-up protocol and an appropriate training regimen.

    Assess parameters that influence poor lumbopelvic technique, including hip flexor and hamstring flexibility, and the function of muscles around the lumbopelvic region. Rowers can increase the endurance of their trunk muscles to facilitate proper lumbopelvic rhythm. Factors such as rowing intensity, fatigue, and skill level also influence trunk control during rowing. As rib stress fractures are common during training, it is important to recognize onset of injury and know when to decrease intensity of training. Preventing rib stress fractures includes incorporating core and upper-back strengthening exercises as part of the regular training program and avoiding long, high-load training sessions on the rowing machine (ergometer).

    Sport-related Physicals
    Competitive rowing is physically demanding and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides information about preparticipation physical evaluation.

    Learn more about Preparticipation Physical Evaluation.