Just so you know, I am not talking about rowing a boat, or even working the rowing machine in the gym. That kind of rowing is great in a lot of ways too. But, for today’s purpose, I am talking about picking up a weight, and pulling it towards your back.
Check out the visual here for clarification (you can put your hand on a bench or chair instead of the ball). Notice that the line of pull is straight up (against gravity).
Why is this simple move so good for you?
Let me count the ways:
- Strength. When it comes to every day activities or even strength training in the gym, many people tend to be very front-oriented. After all, it’s natural for us humans to work in front of us so we can see what we are doing. And, since we are so used to doing that, our muscles in the front tend to be stronger. It all feeds on itself. The muscles are stronger so we chose those activities over the ones where our muscles may be weaker. Rowing is a way to balance out the equation and give the potentially strong muscles in our backside a chance to contribute more to the way we do things.
- Posture. Rowing is a way to counteract forward-oriented posture. This is the rounded shoulder, forward head posture that is so easy to default to at a computer, or if you are a TV watcher. Why is it important to try to correct this? There is a whole laundry list of things that can run amok with your body if this posture becomes chronic. Without going into a lot of detail, here’s a few of them: shoulder pain and impingement, shoulder instability, biceps tendonitis, thoracic outlet syndrome (from compression of the space between the collarbone and the first rib), the tendency to let the shoulders creep upwards, headaches, and stiff necks.
- Breathing. When our fronts are stronger than our backs, it can affect our breathing. This is not an insignificant thing. In a perfect scenario, when we take a good, deep breath, our diaphragms are joined by the muscles between our ribs and some in the front of our necks to help expansion of the rib cage. When we exhale, those muscles relax, and air expulsion is helped along by some other rib muscles, and most of our abdominal muscles. When our backs are not holding us upright, our chests cannot expand properly, and the diaphragm does not move down as much to make room for the air coming in. If you take this further down the road, it means that you are not getting as much oxygen or blood flow to the lungs and elsewhere to support getting active and feeling good about it. This can mean getting out of breath more easily, making you feel like you are out of shape or that exercise is just too much of a chore.
There are lots of ways to row, but for now let’s talk about the basics. Since you want the back of your shoulder area to be doing the work, it’s important lift the weight using that area. You should try not to use the back of your neck or top of your shoulders to help out. You want to strengthen the muscles at the back of your shoulder, on top of your shoulder blades, between your shoulder blades, and the middle of your back. These are the ones that tend to get underused as we go about our front-oriented lives.
You can also use a cable machine or tubing to the same effect by pulling back using the same muscles mentioned above. Make sure the line of pull is such that you are, again, not using the back of your neck or the top of your shoulder. When using a cables or tubing, I often like to start with the attachment a bit higher than shoulder level. Then you use a line of pull that heads slightly down from there. This encourages the shoulders to stay down and pull down instead of potentially creeping upwards (see graphic below). Once you get the feel of keeping the pull away from the top of the shoulders, you can go on to a straight pull back.
So, this simple exercise, done correctly and with the right focus, can give you a myriad of benefits. Once you start to feel the right muscles working and can strengthen them appropriately, the pay-off is huge.
What is your favorite way to row? Contact me here.
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