by Ben O’Grady
During my time in the sport of rowing, I’ve seen all manner of injury: oblique strains, lat strains, lower backs, shoulder issues, sports hernias, bad wrists, and a host of other ailments. What all of these have in common is they’re overuse injuries, caused by pushing the envelope with some combination of volume, load, and technical breakdown.
Over the years I’ve learned a lot of techniques for maintaining a healthy body and preventing overuse injuries.
Before we get to my list, let’s establish that rest is the best tip if you feel like you’re headed towards an injury. Talk to your coaches and take a practice off or do an alternative workout. If you’re already injured, there’s no question that taking time off and getting treated by a professional is the best and safest route to getting healthy.
Tip #1: Slay Inflammation. Inflammation is the enemy, and to combat this enemy, I use a combination of items: fish oil, rhodiala, ice, and ibuprofen. If I’m seriously training and pushing the envelope, I don’t mind pounding ibuprofen, but I prefer more natural methods. I also combine this with anti-inflammatory foods and even drink green tea during the day. All of this gives me an edge on staving off muscle inflammation related to heavy training. Reducing inflammation equals reducing the risk for injury.
Tip #2: Treating muscles. I spend time using a foam roller to roll out aching muscles and a lacrosse ball to dig in deep. What I’ve noticed is my muscles get “hard and crunchy” during heavy training so I have to knead that stuff out, aka myofascial release. Supple muscles are healthy muscles. I use foam rollers and lacrosse ball almost every day, and during a competitive season I’ll do “recovery workouts” where I only use these techniques and skip actual working out. Works like a charm.
Finally, I’ll spring for a sports massage when I really need it. All of this goes a long way towards keeping my musculature in good shape during heavy training. Coach Patrick Rufo covers some of the particulars of myofascial release in his rules on recovery. Check it out!
Tip #3: Mobility and flexibility. The older I get, the less flexible I am, and this increases my risk for injury. It also reduces my ability to have good technique! To combat this, I spend a lot of time getting more mobile with mobility exercises. If you’ve ever been involved with CrossFit, you’ve heard of Kelly Starrett, who is the Yoda of Mobility. Try viewing any of his wealth of videos for mobility exercises, and in particular try these specific for rowing: here, here, and here.
This stuff is pure gold and is appropriate for all levels of rowing. If you’re not on the MWOD bandwagon, get on it immediately and get an edge on your competition.
Here’s a classic Mobility WOD video on rowing, starring Erin Cafaro!
I also recommend adding in yoga at least once a week to work on agility and getting your Chi aligned.
Tip #4: Ice Bath. Ice baths totally suck, but they’re totally effective. If you’re getting brutalized with tough training, submerge yourself in ice water for 10′ to suck away that nasty inflammation. At the Division I level, you’ll find ice tubs in training rooms across the country and pretty much every athlete on every team will try these at one time or another. Need to do it at home? Fill up your bathtub with a couple of bags of ice and go to town.
In a pinch, I’ve submerged in a cold swimming pool and even the ocean. It’s not freezing cold (usually) but it helps.
If your muscles are gnarled and hurting and you think you’re headed towards an overuse injury, take some time off and rest. It’s better to get knocked out for a week than to miss an entire season because you blew out your back.