Rowing your back to health

Performing rowing movements bestows numerous benefits to back health and spinal stability. Our forward facing world facilitates neglecting the ability of the back musculatures to counteract gravity. Rowing movements allow the shoulders to be pulled back (scapular retraction) and the scapulae to be firmly engaged onto the rib cage (scapular depression). In addition, the core and the spinal stabilizers are brought into play when rowing movement are performed.

The row is a general movement. There are many variations: some are more involved and challenging  whereas others are easier and more accessible. The various levels of back musculature are stimulated by rowing movements, i. e. –

  • Superficial – associated with movements of the shoulder.
  • Intermediate – associated with movements of the thoracic cage.
  • Deep – associated with movements of the vertebral column.

Many people are fixated on muscular size and strength acquired through targeting the superficial level musculature. Rowing movements are excellent for increasing back musculature mass. The Bent Barb-bell Row is especially good for muscle mass production. The weight, heavier weights can be easily loaded for this movement, to be used for the exercise must be monitored and the movement, particularly with heavier weights, must be controlled.  

The forward facing orientation has drawbacks for posture and health. Most of what humans do involves facing forward and gravity exerts relentless forward and downward forces on the upright body. The back musculature is not reinforced through exercise or through maintaining good posture. The forward orientation that most people indulge allows people to neglect what is occurring in the back body. It brings about a condition called Upper Cross Syndrome (UCS)  People with UCS display stooped, rounded shoulders and a bent-forward neck. The deformed muscles put strain on the surrounding joints, bones, muscles and tendons. Some pathologies that result from UCS are:

  • pain in the neck
  • headache
  • anterior neck weakness
  • posterior neck strain
  • upper back and shoulder pain
  • chest tightness and pain
  • pain in the jaw
  • fatigue
  • low back pain
  • trouble with reading or watching TV while sitting
  • trouble driving for extended periods
  • movement restrictions in the neck and shoulders
  • pain and reduced movement in the ribs
  • pain, tingling, and numbness, in the upper arms

Performing a row (there are several variations from which to choose) facilitates good postures and works at even deeper levels of musculature. The basic Single Arm Bent-Dumb-bell Row allow the torso to go through a slight rotation into spinal stabilization and scapular depression / shoulder retraction. This variation is accessible but can be challenging, depending on the weight that is used. All single arm rows allow for rotation into spinal stabilization. Double arm rows call for spinal stabilization / core engagement. Inverted rows are beneficial in that the back musculatures must overcome bodyweight and gravity. These variations can be made (to be) either accessible or challenging as well.  

Rowing is a general body movement in that human are always pulling things toward themselves, lifting things toward themselves, etc. Rowing movement in exercise is necessary in society today as there is a a development of inadequate posture due to everyday habits and lack of attention to engaging the back musculatures. This can lead to UCS, inadequate posture and a host of other challenges. Good posture and integrity of shoulder movement can be established and maintained by engaging the back musculature through rowing movements. Just by doing general movements for the back, during the day, the health and functionality of the back will be reinforced.

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