Should we...NOT row our boat?
August 15, 2022 4:14 PM   Subscribe

Thanks to a work bonus, we've been considering getting a nice water rower for our home office/workout room. Today one of our primary care docs said that was a bad idea because "it's bad for your elbows" if you don't maintain the right posture.

I know rowing posture is a bit more complicated than say, bike posture or treadmill posture, but we've both used rowers in the past at the gym without doing ourselves any damage. We've both just cracked 50, so we're definitely at that age where things get harder and heal slower, and our fitness level is below average, but not really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Healthwise... I had a cervical disk fusion about 16 years ago and have been fine ever since. My housemate may or may not have some wonky disk stuff happening right now, we don't know, but obviously she would NOT use the rower until she gets a "go" from her doctors on any spinal issues.

Does the potential harm really outweigh the potential good here? Couldn't we just... learn to do it right? Trust me when I say none of us are going to be aiming to break any rowing records; we just want a full body resistance workout that will close our Apple Fitness rings on the regular. Right now we do that mainly through walking, swimming, and biking. We want to add in something we can do in the house during winter.

Healthwise... I had a cervical disk fusion about 16 years ago and have been fine ever since. My rowing experience came long after the fusion, at a local OrangeTheory. My housemate may or may not have some wonky disk stuff happening right now, we don't know, but obviously she would NOT use the rower until she gets a "go" from her doctors. We're both exercising to stay healthy and maybe lose a little weight.

We REALLY want to row! Is this doc just a weird outlying rower-hater? Why would a doctor be so against something that could help a relatively mobile middle-aged woman get regular exercise? What exactly does one do to row safely?
posted by invincible summer to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add that neither of us has anything wrong with our elbows, or any history of elbow problems! (I used to get some mouse elbow from time to time before I learned about ergonomics, but that's about it.
posted by invincible summer at 4:18 PM on August 15, 2022

I’m in a rowing town proud of its Masters rowers, some of whom only start in middle age. Could you find a PT with rowing experience to check your form? I’d recommend that anyway as it’s an unusual motion but it feels so good to counteract the shrimp-curl of modern life.

Googling, I see that you can get tennis elbow by rowing with poor form and/or increasing your time too fast. Well, okay, but I gave myself tennis elbow pruning this summer and I’m not giving up gardening, I’m just, you know, backing off and letting it heal and doing the recommended PT. And next time I’ll notice the warning signs sooner.
posted by clew at 4:28 PM on August 15, 2022 [6 favorites]

Had a water rower (First Degree from Costco) that I used daily for several years until I moved. Good workouts, no elbow or other probs. I suppose using any workout tool could potentially have problems. I mean drinking too much water can potentially kill ya.
posted by artdrectr at 4:31 PM on August 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

A Google search for "rowing machines bad for elbows" does turn up some hits saying the repetitive nature of rowing exercises could cause tennis elbow, but as a layman it seems to me that any repetitive exercise could cause it. The suggestion to talk to a physical therapist sounds like a good one to me.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:32 PM on August 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Rower here. Get some coaching or watch videos online. If there is a club near you go on a novice day, after being in a real boat a lot of things about the form make much more sense. It's not a complicated motion and once you get it right it's just a matter of doing that, every stroke, forever.
posted by Ardnamurchan at 4:37 PM on August 15, 2022 [14 favorites]

Best answer: "You can hurt yourself if you do it wrong" is a pretty meaningless and obvious statement, and applies to everything.

I would just chalk this up to your primary care doc making an offhand remark, possibly based on the experience of one of their patients, especially since you've never mentioned any elbow problems.
posted by meowzilla at 4:41 PM on August 15, 2022 [11 favorites]

Walking, swimming and biking (and pretty much everything else) can harm you if you do them wrong. Just make sure you're using the correct technique and ramp up the duration slowly and you'll be fine.
posted by dg at 5:08 PM on August 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

i have an elbow injury and get elbow pain from a number of kinds of exercise but rowing is not one of them. instead it relieves my elbow (and back pain)
posted by dis_integration at 5:24 PM on August 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your doctor probably had one (1) friend or patient who hurt themselves using a rower and has since soured dozens of people on this excellent cardio workout. Please ignore this dumb advice.
posted by potrzebie at 8:30 PM on August 15, 2022 [7 favorites]

I have elbow issues from hypermobility and a rower at the gym was one of the few machines approved by my doctor. (In case it helps someone else, I also have back and neck issues and can use the running machine to walk, cross trainer, and low bike for short bursts).
posted by ellieBOA at 1:59 AM on August 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Ask a physical therapist. If there is a big problem with rowers and elbows, they will have treated the injured.

If a PCP tells you something out of his proper domain, take it as a warning and go see a specialist.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:54 AM on August 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I rowed and coached rowing for 8+ years, and have never heard of erging causing anyone elbow problems. Get a good rower (I always recommend a Concept2 but get whatever you will use), watch some youtube videos to make sure you have good form (hands out before you break your knees, particularly), and enjoy! It's a great workout.
posted by hepta at 6:19 AM on August 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I feel much more at ease. We're very big on listening to our doctors' advice around here, but this just felt weird and arbitrary. Definitely going ahead with the rower - we'd mostly settled on the digital WaterRower but will look at the Concept2 before we decide!
posted by invincible summer at 7:14 AM on August 16, 2022

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