The Teenage Rower – Injury Prevention Tips for Coaches

Written by Megan Fraumano

I have written a previous article on overuse injuries in paediatric and adolescent athletes here, as well as common rowing injuries here. These includes some great tips for coaches and parents in regards to overtraining.

There are many different formulas that we can use when it comes to training load and injury prevention. Commonly it has been advised to never increase your training load by more than 10% each week, and for any decrease in load to be followed be a gradual period of rebuilding.

Monitoring training load and improving technique are the two single things that will help reduce injuries.

Risk Factors:

  • Changing sides
  • New rowers
  • Growth spurts
  • Female

Things to be careful of:

  • LIFTING: Putting the boat on/off the water – especially in junior rowers, where our weakest kids have the heaviest boats.
  • LEGS: Are they using their legs during the drive phase? Compensating with the back and arms is a sure way to injury.
  • LENGTHY ROWS: Long steady state rowing, or rowing in boat or on ergo that is over geared or high load/low rate

It is well accepted these days that chronological age and biological development are two separate things. If we lined up 100 14-year-old rowers, we would have large variances in physical development. Crew training needs to be adapted to the level of the most physically immature rowers, whereas land training may be individualised. Many governing bodies recommend scull rowing until the age of 15 or 16, when reasonable physical maturity has been achieved. Weight training before this stage is also of little benefit for muscle mass, but rather may be used at low levels to educate on skill and technique.

Coach Checklist:

> Land Based Warm-Up (check out this one from Rowing Australia)

> On Water Warm-Up

> Cool Down & Stretch post row (a great time to check how everyone is feeling)

Different types of pain

A big part of my job is educating patients – this includes explaining a diagnosis and prognosis clearly, advising what activities to avoid, how to manage pain, and instructions on strength, stretching and rehabilitation. When it comes to kids and teenagers, often a rowing injury may be the first injury they have experienced. As a coach, the safest bet is to always encourage them to get it checked out by a professional, and to report back to you with the findings. Finding someone who understands rowing and can speak the language is also a big help for both rowers and coaches! I will often ask a rower “what technique faults does you coach normally point out?”. Matching the response to this question with the presenting injury can be extremely helpful.

When a rower complains of pain, I often ask them what kind of pain it is, and get a blank look in return. While it doesn’t cover the whole spectrum, we can often simplify pain into three types:

  • DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – This pain often comes on 24-48hours after exercise. It is common after a hard session or unaccustomed exercise (eg after a regatta or a new circuit class). Depending on the exercise that caused it, it is often symmetrical, stiff but not sharp, and warms up or improves with movement.
  • Lactic Acid Pain – The burning felt in the legs with 250M to go is a given for most experienced rowers. For many of our younger athletes however, this is the first time they have had to push themselves through pain. This may be quite unnatural or unexpected. This pain generally resolves as soon as the activity stops (Ie you cross the finish line or get off the ergo!)
  • Injury Pain – This is the kind of pain we are most concerned about. If it is sharp, specific in site, and doesn’t improve within a day or two, I recommend getting it checked out. The challenge with rowers is often the training volume – a small niggle in a basketball player who trains once a week may have time to recover without any intervention, whereas a small niggle in a rower can become aggravated relatively quickly if not addressed.

As coaches, we need to encourage rowers to get to know their bodies and limits. Maintaining good communication lines and encouraging your rowers to speak up if they don’t feel right is highly recommended.