Masters rowing: Injury report

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September 17, 2015 by 8junebugs

Listen, for the most part, rowing’s really, really good for you. It’s a full-body, high-intensity, low-impact workout. You can row without pain or injury.

If you want to be competitive, though, you’re going to push hard. You will experience pain as part of the package, and there’s a chance you’re going to fuck your body up from time to time. Every proper injury I’ve had so far — and they have been blessedly minor — has been a result of poor form or my own sheer ignorance about athletics.


Jesus, these are just routine. You get them when you switch sides. You get them when you up your workouts to prep for the season. You get them when you have a bad day and try to wrangle the oar instead of just controlling it. If you row without any blisters or calluses, I don’t trust you.

I’ve had them on every finger and thumb. I’m pretty sure the ones on my palms have altered the trajectory of my future, but I don’t know which is my life line and which is my love line, so I guess we’ll just wait and see.

The worst one I’ve had wasn’t the fault of the blister. After my first head race, I went to pick up a bag and there was a yellow jacket under the handle. It stung me right in the blister while I was surrounded by toddlers. I managed to distract them from my obvious distress with a science lesson about removing the stinger. Good times! That one throbbed all the way home, though, and kept refilling all week.

Solution: Waterproof tape on the water, soap and water on land. Yes, you can row through this! Leave them uncovered whenever you can, but slap a bandage on anything that’s oozing if there’s a chance it’ll come into contact with anything but soap and water.

Pro tip: If you tape a hot spot tight enough, you can sometimes prevent it from filling into a blister.

Inner Butt Abrasions (IBAs)

It turns out this is common and no one talks about it because it’s déclassé to talk about butt chafing in polite company or something. I emailed my novice coach about this after I screamed through a hot shower. “I WAS NOT TOLD THERE WOULD BE BUTT CHAFING,” I caps-locked at her. She said if they told novices about it, we’d all quit.

I don’t think this is true. I knew having a baby involved a whole spectrum of pain I’d never experienced, and I went through with that, so whatever.

IBAs happen to skinny rowers and less skinny rowers. Friction + moisture = chafing, and rowing is a water sport done sitting on your ass. Mine got started on the water and then went ballistic after a 5k erg piece in the sun.

FYI — this one is completely due to being a sports n00b. Bodies chafe! I know this about sports! But it’s not like I was running marathons before this, so it didn’t occur to me to be proactive about it.

Solution: Air and Desitin, plus cotton underwear. If you can, leave the area dry and uncovered for a while each day. Slather it in Desitin overnight and keep it covered with something cotton. I’ve heard that some people use Neosporin, but there’s no bacteria to treat in a chafe, and I can’t use any of the -sporins without rashing out, so…counterproductive.

That said, I have a 2-year-old. No one even notices if my hands smell like Desitin. YMMV. Nothing will work better, though.

Pro tip: Get some Sport Shield and apply to trouble spots before every practice, even while the IBA is still healing. Yes, you can row through this! Butt Shield and BodyGlide are also acceptable, but Sport Shield is better and waterproofier.

NOTE: I am literally writing this post because googling rowing and butt chafing was a pain in the ass. So to speak. The most useful info was in a comment on another blog. Here, therefore, is the information on rowing and butt chafing that I did not find.

Pulled Latissimus Dorsi


I had a very visible spring season. I figured my head coach would have feedback, so I asked him where I should focus my training this summer. “Length and flexibility,” he said, telling me that both come with time, but it’d be a good focus between seasons.

I overreached. It’s the most logical explanation. It was my left lat and I typically row port unless I ask for a switch, which means my not insignificant body weight gets suspended from my oar through my left arm roughly 500 times per piece. Reach out too far, and…yeah. Ow.

I noticed it on a Tuesday, used massage, ice, and ibuprofen on Tuesday and Wednesday, and tried again Thursday. It wasn’t better, but it also wasn’t worse. On Saturday, I asked for starboard to take the pressure off, but it didn’t help. I was missing water by the end of practice.

Graham would like it noted that if I’d taken a couple of practices off when I first felt hurty, as he suggested, my recovery would’ve been shorter. I would like it noted that I don’t know shit about athletic injury and come from a long line of suck-it-up Yankees who don’t go to the doctor for every twinge. But our first head race is October 4, so off to the doctor I went, because racing is an addiction, probably.

Thus began a week and a half of physical therapy and coxing duty, with a launch ride thrown in for variation. My lat “healed beautifully,” according to my new Kiwi PT, who coxed at University, and I was back in stroke seat for a speedy novice 4 last weekend. I was a bit of a princess about it, but I’m back in the boat after an almost inconsequential period of recovery time, so…

Solution: My PT taped me six ways from Sunday and set me on Scap squeezes, Scap protractions, Upper trap stretches, and some lacrosse-ball massage. (You should probably not row through this.) It confused me at first, but the idea was to take the pressure off the lat while also training up the rhomboids to do more of the work. The benefit of a PT, besides the e-stim, heat, and the exercises, is having a professional tell you when you’re okay to get back to practice; god knows I can’t be trusted with that decision.

This has also altered how I check my form, which is at least 40% responsible for my PR on this week’s erg test. Yay, PT!

Pro tip: Extend, don’t reach. Also, if you’re a masters rower without dedicated coxing, show up to practice and do what needs doing. Coxing is a muscle, too. (I dock better now.)

Now let’s just hope this doesn’t become a series…

Injury has its privileges.

Injury has its privileges.


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