Lacking ankle range of motion? Limitations here will cause issues with compression and body position into the catch. It will also limit the athletes ability to get their heels down quickly (an ideal ability). Common injury potential includes the foot, knee, and back.
Below are some common faults seen in the stroke when the ankles are limited.
We know from several studies that an asymmetry exists in foot pressure on an erg and on the water, whether that be sculling or sweeping.
This asymmetry in foot pressure may affect boat speed and cause a sheering force at the hips and spine. This could contribute to back pain or back injuries.
Symmetrical ankles may play a part in limiting these asymmetrical forces. Asymmetrical ankles may play a part in contributing to these asymmetrical forces.
One study found that high density textured insoles may help rowers balance out foot pressure, increase stroke length, and apply greater force to the footplate. May be worth looking into...
Are your ankles symmetrical?
Our goal as coaches should be to ensure our athlete’s safety and optimal performance.
One way to do so is to make sure they are physically able to reach positions required by their sport. This is the first post in a series that will explain what is required from a rower to safely and effectively move boats.
As human beings we are meant to move freely and effortlessly. However, as we have evolved our daily tasks have become automated and less and less movement has been required from us. Most of our athletes sit all day in class and then head to practice and continue to sit in a boat. For this reason as well as others, our movement has been altered. If proper human movement isn’t addressed we will develop movement limitations. Movement limitations act as roadblocks or emergency brakes. They slow us down and cause unnecessary wear and tear. With clean movement, we find ourselves in an optimally aligned position which produces the most amount of force with the least amount of effort.
From our experience we have found that those athletes with the fewest movement limitations tend to have the opportunity to be the best technical rowers. They respond to technical changes effortlessly. On the flip-side, you know those rowers who never seem to make a change? They’re trying, trust me. They want to make a change but they’re hitting a roadblock. Clear up their movement and you’ll see a change.
Is your movement clean? What’s holding you back? Do any of your athletes have trouble making a technical change?
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. Train hard, but make sure your body is ready for it. Train hard, but avoid pushing yourself beyond what you can recover from.
Athletes, are you training harder than usual? Place extra focus on your movement quality & recovery, this will allow you to handle more training stress.
Coaches, are your athletes run down and under-performing? Are they stressed out from school or some other outside stressors? Giving them the day off may be your best option.
The simple truth is that staying healthy is the easiest way to improve performance. The rowers who can perform at the most practices have more opportunities to improve. The rowers who have to take weeks off at a time, suffer. Do what you can to keep yourself/your athletes healthy and you will see progress.
More Quality Practice = Better Performance
What are you doing to stay healthy and available for every single practice? What are you doing to keep your team healthy?
Rule #1: Reduce injury potential
No one can prevent injury. Injuries happen. It is possible however, to reduce the chance of an injury from ever occurring in the first place. As coaches, we need to accept that injuries that occur during our watch are partly our fault. This is especially important in a sport that only has three injury mechanisms, all of which are under our control. We should be looking to reduce injury potential during training, and during competition. Finding the right training program will keep your athletes healthy at practice, and make them more robust for competition.
Rule #2: Improve Performance
The other part of course, is to increase performance. Prioritize safe, progressive training, but make sure that it's effective. Think about the risk/benefit ratio and let it guide your decision making. Think, what is the minimal effective dose? How can I get my athletes as fast as possible in the least amount of time? How can I do so without hurting them? Anytime you can load someone less (with weight or volume) and still get the same benefit, the better. Do not confuse the term less, with lazy. This is not lazy, this is not easy. Sometimes doing less actually results in better performance.
Do you put your athlete’s health first? Do you take responsibility for your own health?
Although injury rates are high, fortunately, there are only 3 ways to get injured in rowing (excluding a freak accident or a serious crab).
1) Over-use or Under-recovery (training error)
2) Technical error
3) Movement Limitations
Since rowing is a non-contact sport we have a lot of 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.
Over-use or Under-recovery is a training error. We did too much too soon, or we didn’t do enough to recover in time. We have control over this. Technical errors are our responsibility. There’s no reason to repeat a technical error under-load. We have control over this. Movement Limitations can be identified and cleared. We have control over this.
Have you experienced a rowing injury? Does it fall into one of these categories?
Injuries, like mine, are far too common in the sport of rowing. Yet the biggest issue is that these rates are accepted as normal in the sport. Every season athletes get injured and not much effort seems to be put into avoiding these injuries. As Mike Boyle has said, coaches treat the sport as a "survival of the best bone and connective tissue contest, a twisted take on the survival of the fittest theory. Those who don't get injured by the volume of training survive to compete”.
All too often this mentality creates an environment where rowers are pushed to the point of injury and often through injury. Injuries in rowing are NOT normal. We can no longer assume injuries are just a part of the process. We have to be better. We have to change our mindset.
Have you accepted injuries as normal?
What would happen if we valued health, just as much as performance?
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 (2).
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.
What are you doing to keep you athletes/yourself healthy?
Having been a competitive D1 rower who experienced a career ending injury, I was driven by my personal experience to give back to the rowing community. It’s due to this fact that I spent the last 9 years of my life coaching, training, and screening rowers. What I’ve found is based on my education, hours of research, and years of practical experience.
What’s to come? Information on improving movement, performance, and recovery. What the optimal stroke looks like and how to get closer to just that. Followed by practical recommendations based on thousands of data points collected over the past 9 years. We collected this data via screening ~120 rowers twice a year.
Blake Gourley holds a Masters of Science in Sports Performance Training and has over 10 years of experience working with rowers. Read more