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Symmetry of sweep: the importance of foot placement through the stroke

Sweep or single oar rowing has a long history as a competitive sport, with regatta events recorded as early as the 13th century.

As a means of transport for early Greek vessels and Viking ships, the history is even older and more diverse – slaves who could ‘pull an oar’ would have always been in demand. The method of pulling an oar on one side of the boat, and hence on one side of the body, originated from these wide vessels, as the technique allowed crewmen to sit side by side. However, it has now evolved to what we enjoy today – the sum of up to eight bodies pulling on different sides of a thin cigar shaped shell of carbon fibre to make it track straight up a course at great speed.

Sweep athletes are very often defined by bodies that tell a tale of their role within the boat, whether that be on stroke or bow side. Asymmetrical muscle bulk of the mid-upper spine, a slight side-bent mid spine with one shoulder sitting higher than the other define these athletes, as a body adaptation in response to the thousands of strokes they take each week. Many osteopaths and physio’s will have seen the characteristic spinal motion of the sweep rower on forward flexion – a straight line movement that usually elicits a side-bending and rotation to the side the athlete rows on. In many cases, it is even clear on the ergo. These body adaptations are often marked in adolescent rowers as they lack full muscular development and their bodies are very susceptible to change. What is not so clear however is asymmetry in the lower extremities – hinting that the ‘base’ may not be developing as much in this transverse, rotational plane of work. Of course, the spine is a keystone of rotation, but the body works as a unit for all motion. These asymmetrical findings are often linked to injury, such as overuse type shoulder, spinal strains and rib stress fractures. Asymmetrical foot force, especially at the drive phase, is further maligned by data showing a negative effect on overall rowing performance and a clear link to injury.

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About Row360

Welcome to Row360, the world’s only global, independent rowing magazine. Row360 brings you features from around the world, profiling the best athletes, coaches, and others from the whole rowing community – Olympic, Paralympic, college, club, ocean, and more.