Running and Rowing

By Dr. Daniel C. Batchelor

If you’ve been reading my articles in various fitness magazines over the years, you will know that besides working seven days per week, I like to spend time either running, cycling or kayaking every day after work. I treat a great number of runners, cyclists and kayaking athletes but I also treat many beginning, novice and college rowers. My clinic is less than a mile from the Atlanta Rowing Club so it’s only natural that I end up treating rowers.

Running is great for the lower body and for the cardiovascular system but if that’s all you do, it’s time to begin a little cross training. Kayaking or rowing might be in your future.

First, let me educate you a little bit about rowing since many people don’t really understand the sport. Rowing is not kayaking.

Athletes with two oars – one in each hand – are scullers. There are three sculling events: the single – 1x (one person), the double – 2x (two) and the quad – 4x (four).

Athletes with only one oar are sweep rowers. Sweep boats may or may not carry a coxswain (pronounced cox-n) to steer and be the on-the-water coach. In boats without coxswains, one of the rowers steers by moving the rudder with his or her foot. 

Sweep rowers come in pairs with a coxswain (2+) and pairs without (2-), fours with a coxswain (4+) and fours without (4-) and the eight (8+), which always carries a coxswain. The eight is the fastest boat on the water. A world-level men’s eight is capable of moving almost fourteen miles per hour.

The pairs and fours with coxswain are sometimes the hardest to recognize because of where the coxswain is sitting. Although the coxswain is almost always facing the rowers in an eight, in pairs and fours the coxswain may be facing the rowers in the stern or looking down the course, lying down in the bow, where he or she is difficult to see.

Athletes are identified by their seat in the boat. The athlete in bow is seat No. 1. That’s the person who crosses the finish line first (which makes it easy to remember – first across the line is No. 1 seat). The person in front of the bow is No. 2, then No. 3, No. 4, No. 5, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8, a.k.a. the stroke. The stroke of the boat must be a strong rower with excellent technique, since the stroke sets the rhythm and number of strokes per minute the rest of the crew must follow.

As you can imagine, sweep rowers almost always develop one sided muscle imbalance. Scullers on the other hand do not so much. For obvious reasons, most of the rowing patients that I treat are sweep rowers. 

When you use one side of your body more than the other and you do it day after day, the lower back and neck muscles on one side of your body become stronger. As a result, the vertebrae in your lower back and neck will rotate off to one side. When they begin to pinch on the sensitive nerves that exit between them, pain, numbness and spasm can result. Your next logical step is a trip to my clinic 1/2 up the hill from the river.

Can’t the sweeper just switch sides of the boat every other workout to even things out? Try to convince a coach of that and he will tell you that switching sides is not a good idea because each rower has developed so much strength on one side of the body that if they switched sides, the boat would not be as fast.

Of course, the best option is a solo boat but there are only so many solo boats to go around and not everyone can be a sculler either. 

After I examine a sweep rower, my primary goal is getting them out of pain. They frequently walk into my clinic bent over forward and leaning to one side. Once I get them out of pain, I must develop one-sided exercises for them to perform at home. The exercises will help balance out the muscle symmetry that has developed from one sided rowing. If they could switch sides of the boat, that would really help the problem but I’ve never met a coach yet that would allow that. 

I love kayaking because it is a completely symmetrical sport. I can kayak all day long and it only enhances the symmetrical stability of the muscles in my body.

When I show a sweep rower their x-rays, they are usually a little shocked. When I text them a picture of their x-ray so they can show their parents, the parents usually contact the coach and request that their sweep rowing child switch sides of the boat. 

If it’s not possible to change sides of the boat and the imbalance remains uncorrected, pain usually gets worse and they will experience increased wear and tear on one side of the body in later years. My job as a Doctor of Chiropractic is to prevent that from occurring.

See you on the road, on the track, on the trail, in the water and in my clinic.

Roswell,  GA Chiropractor Dr. Dan Batchelor is Metro Atlanta’s top doctor/athlete.  He is the winner of over 350 endurance races and has treated thousands of patients over three decades.  Be the best you can be. Let the doctor who practices what he preaches show you how.  770-992-2002



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