Rowing is by far the most fun you can have while sitting down (well, in my opinion anyway) and even though it is a low-impact exercise, is rowing hard on your hips?
Rowing, by itself and when done correctly, is not bad for your hips. In cases when you feel hip pain while rowing, you are wise to stop and refer to your fitness coach or doctor immediately.
I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone who stopped rowing entirely because of hip pain, but I have heard some people talk about nagging hip pain when they use their rowing machine.
Does this mean rowing isn’t good for your hip joints? Not necessarily. There’s a bit of a complicated twist to this issue that prevents it from being an easy yes or no answer. In today’s article, I want to talk about rowing, hips, low back pain, and other problems associated with rowing.
Can Rowing Cause Hip Pain?
The answer here is yes and no. No, rowing itself doesn’t cause pain; yes, neglecting to address tight hip flexors and inadequate stretching can cause pain while rowing. Let’s get into more detail here.
One of the problems with rowing is that you spend most of your time playing this sport while sitting. Other sports, let’s say baseball, will require you to stand, run, walk, and jump. You get a break, so to speak, from playing baseball when you sit in the car or watch TV.
When it comes to rowing, however, this only means you do even more sitting than most. If rowers do not make an effort to loosen their tight hip flexors, then they will experience hip pain when rowing.
Is it rowing that causes the pain?
Rowing in itself doesn’t really cause hip pain; the results of rowing without taking care of tight hip flexors can lead to hip pain while rowing.
If rowers do not do something about hip flexor tightness, then this can lead to a common problem called Snapping Hip Syndrome, or SHS. The most noticeable characteristic of this problem is that you can feel or hear (or both) a snapping sound or sensation when you row. There is internal SHS and external SHS. SHS doesn’t always hurt, but it is a super annoying problem in the hip joint.
The most common injury is to the tendon at the top of the rectus femoris, which is one of the quad muscles in the front of the thigh. This muscle is what helps you bring your knees towards your chest, so there is no doubt that overuse of this tendon or a lack of stretching exercises can cause hip pain.
How does hip flexor tightness affect rowing?
Your hip flexors refer to the muscles of the rectus femoris in the quadriceps and the tensor fasciae latae (TFL), as well as the psoas and iliopsoas tendon. Rather than go through this list, it’s just much easier to say hip flexors.
The rectus femoris is the main muscle of the quadriceps and it does most of the work when rowing. This is a two-joint muscle, connecting both the knee joint and the hip joint.
As I mentioned above, a few reasons why many rowers have chronically tight hip flexors is that they spend most of their time sitting, either at home or in the boat! When you sit on the rowing machine without proper stretching, the muscles and connective tissue become tight, causing pain when you row.
Is hip flexor tightness the same as bursitis?
Don’t confuse hip flexor tightness with bursitis. Bursitis is caused when the bursa sac becomes inflamed. One way to tell the difference is that bursitis will hurt with nearly any movement of the hip, including bending over to tie your shoes. Hip flexor issues often cause an ache or a burning near the top of the hip after rowing for more than 10 or 15 minutes.
If you aren’t sure which might be the cause of your pain, speak to your physician.
Can I loosen hip flexors by foam rolling the quadriceps muscles?
You absolutely can!
Foam rolling is perhaps one of the best ways to loosen up those hip flexors and restore your complete range of hip motion.
Foam rolling is a type of self-massage, if you will, that keeps muscles and connective tissues, such as the tendons, loose and flexible.
This type of stretching and massage works on the quads on the front leg, the hip flexors, the glute muscles, and, to be honest, nearly every part of the body.
If you haven’t done foam rolling, you will be addicted once you start. I always recommend foam rolling to rowers who experience pain or are interested in injury prevention.
Is a Rowing Machine Good for Bad Hips?
Exercise is vital for the joints, including the hips, when it comes to pain management. Weakened hip muscles will no longer be capable of supporting the lower body and the joints, and thus cause pain.
Strengthening exercises, such as the low-impact type you get from rowing, is a great injury prevention tool. When the muscles supporting the hips, such as the rectus femoris and the glute muscles, are strong, the joint works better.
If rowing does not cause you hip pain, it can be a terrific way to strengthen the legs, core muscles, as well as the glute muscles to avoid painful hip flexors.
What Exercises Are Bad for Your Hips?
When speaking about hip flexor tightness, there are certain things that will only make tight hip flexors worse and cause you hip pain.
Some things to avoid would include:
- Sitting all day every day
- Deep squats (especially if it hurts to do them)
- Leg press
- Kettlebell swing
- Mountain climbers
- Lat pull-downs
- Downhill skiing
- Singles tennis
Of course, many people today have desk jobs, sitting in front of a computer all day. While you can’t avoid your job (unless you hit the lottery, then you should call me) but you can counteract the effects of sitting by getting in regular exercise, such as rowing.
What about Back Pain When Rowing?
Most low back pain when rowing comes from the lack of proper form. If you’re new to rowing, you should take a few basic classes on how to do the strokes properly. You can also find free instructional classes online. Set up a mirror and watch your form as you do the strokes. Don’t concentrate on your speed right now, that will come with time.
If you’ve been rowing for some time, don’t lean back so far on the Finish phase. Try keeping your body at about a 1 o’clock or 2 o’clock position. This should help stop your back pain. Another option is to try some of the inversion boards, such as this one. These have helped my back and neck pain tremendously. I love my Teeter FitSpine Inversion Table so much, if room permits I take it with me wherever I go!
If you are experiencing intense back pain, you should consult with your doctor or a chiropractor.
The Bottom Line
Rowing isn’t bad for your hips, although sitting for long periods of time can lead to some pretty tight hip flexors, as any physical therapist will tell you.
Be sure to work on proper form when you do the strokes, and don’t forget that stretching, foam rolling, and strength training are as important to your overall workout plan as the rowing part.