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Rowing has been a longtime popular sport in the United States. In comparison to contact sports, rowing has a very low injury rate, particularly for acute injuries. However, because rowing requires repetitive motions and rowers typically train intensively for the months prior to their seasons, they often face overuse injuries. 

Get Fit Tips from the NEBH Sports Performance Team
Preventing Injuries
Common Injuries
Injury Statistics

Get Fit Tips from the NEBH Sports Performance Team

Rowing is a unique sport because it requires power, strength, endurance, and most importantly, correct technique.  It is a full body sport that requires strength and power output from the legs, hips, core, lower back, and back.  Despite the demand for power, rowing also requires the athlete to repeat the same stroke for hundreds of repetitions. It is important to use your legs, torso, and upper body for each stroke to decrease the chance of fatigue. Also, it is imperative for the stabilizing muscles of the hips, core, and back to be able to do their job in order to keep correct technique.  Form usually breaks down as a result of fatigue.

Try the following to improve rowing performance:

  • Consider a training program that consists of strength training and cardiovascular exercise.

  • Strength training should focus on strength and power and the stabilizing muscles such as the glutes, core, and muscles of the shoulder blades.

  • Exercises should include the full body, such as lunges, squats, rows, and core.

  • Once you mastered correct form while strength training, perform exercises that develop power. Try plyometrics, various medicine ball throws, and explosive exercises.

  • Maintain flexibility by stretching hip flexors, lats, and legs. 

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Preventing Injuries

To help prevent injury, make sure you practice these general safety tips:

  1. Warm up and stretch before and after you row.

  2. Have a coach review your rowing technique to minimize the risk of injury.

  3. Stay hydrated during practices and regattas.

  4. Take rest days to help reduce your chance of overuse injuries. Consult with your coach about additional ways to prevent overuse injuries.

  5. Participate in a conditioning course to strengthen your muscles, particularly your core and back muscles.

  6. Avoid rowing when you’re injured, and maintain dialog with your coach and doctor about when you’ll be ready to return to the sport.

  7. Have a physical examination to make sure you’re healthy to compete.

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Common Injuries 

Back, Neck & Spine
    • Lower back pain   

Arm & Elbow
    • Tendonitis
    • Tennis Elbow   

Leg & Knee
    • Patellofemoral syndrome 

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Injury Statistics

  • Prevalence of spinal pain in rowers has been reported as high as 85% in elite rowers, making it the most common site of pain and injury in rowing1 
  • Overuse injuries most frequently result from an abrupt change in training volume, technique, or the type of boat rowed1
  • In a study of nearly 400 elite junior rowers, 73% reported overuse injury and 28% reported traumatic or acute injury2
  • Female rowers have a higher rate of injury than males, with the male rate at 0.9 injuries per 1000 training sessions and the female rate 2.36 injuries per 1000 sessions3
  • Injury risk factors include changing sides, lack of experience, and greater than 7 training sessions/week3

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Remember to always check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. If you have any type of persistent pain, be sure to see a doctor.

1 “Rowing Injuries,” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.

2 “Rowing Injuries and Physiotherapy,” Back in Business Physiotherapy.

“Common Rowing Injuries Prevention and Treatment,” Jo A. Hannafin, MD, PhD.