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Old 02-09-2009, 08:28 AM   #1
Jeff Bixby
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Rowers & lower back

Just getting ready to start in Crossfit. Cleaning out my garage to build a small, modest home Crossfit set up. I see that the Concept II rower is part of the equation and I might invest in one in the future. My biggest question is, how much strain does it put on the lower back when using the rower?

I'm a 50 year-young male, way out of shape and overweight (). I will be starting with (way) scaled-back WODs until I lose the weight and get more into shape to handle the full scale WODs. My concern with the rower is that I had major back surgery 7 years ago and have a handful of titanium in the L4/L5 area. My back aches easily. Will I be able to do the rower? Are there any alternatives?

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Old 02-09-2009, 09:04 AM   #2
Patrick Haskell
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Re: Rowers & lower back

There is definitely something called rower's back, caused by lumbar rounding at the catch of the stroke and subsequent loading on the pull. However, this can be avoided in the same way that lumbar rounding is avoided doing DLs or cleans at high reps, by vigilant focus on form. That being said, I'm far from having mastered this form (as evidenced by the recently posted rowing vid in my log [linked in my signature]). There are many long-term rowers who don't try to row with a completely neutral spine, but that doesn't mean you can't be one of the ones who does.

As for whether you should get one, the C2 is an expensive piece of equipment to purchase, if you're not sure you'll use it. I'd suggest finding a way to test-drive one a few times and see if you can get used to it and whether you develop the appropriate love/hate relationship necessary to get the most of it.
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Old 02-09-2009, 10:25 AM   #3
Chris Lampe
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Re: Rowers & lower back

I would second the recommendation to try a C2 before you buy one. I purchased one and found that I was to overweight (365 lbs) to use it effectively. My belly prevented me from bending completely forward and at the same time it pushed my knees out which caused some severe tendinitis of the knees. I used several video demonstrations to work on my technique but nothing really helped. I ended up selling it to a Crossfit affiliate but once I lose a significant amount of belly fat I'll consider purchasing another one. It's a great piece of equipment and a fantastic workout!
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Old 02-09-2009, 10:27 AM   #4
Jacob Cloud
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Re: Rowers & lower back

Preface: I have never had back surgery. Back problems/issues, yes. But nothing to the degree that you have, I'm sure. So my advice might not be worth anything, but here it is anyway.

That being said, I still find the C2 to be MUCH lower impact on every joint than any other sorta-equivalent-intense exercise. I can get my HR to 180+ in no time on a rower with little soreness from my knees, back, shoulders, hips, etc. Can't say that about running/treadmill or even swimming, personally. Biking, maybe, but it's certainly not close to as good of a full body exercise.

I would imagine that if you progress slowly you will find the C2 to be an excellent tool. I love it, and wish I had one at home!
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Old 02-09-2009, 10:32 AM   #5
Patrick Haskell
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Re: Rowers & lower back

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jacob Cloud View Post
That being said, I still find the C2 to be MUCH lower impact on every joint than any other sorta-equivalent-intense exercise. I can get my HR to 180+ in no time on a rower with little soreness from my knees, back, shoulders, hips, etc. Can't say that about running/treadmill or even swimming, personally. Biking, maybe, but it's certainly not close to as good of a full body exercise.

This is a good observation, and I would add that rower's back is something that AFAIK afflicts specialists. Rowing at a frequency comparable to that called on the CF main page and even by including it in your warmup regularly, you'll come nowhere near the level of stress accrued by somebody who rows thousands of meters a day. My point is simply that rowing can put stress on the lower back, but it can be managed with attention to form, much like we manage back stress for other exercises requiring powerful hip flexion.
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Old 02-09-2009, 11:18 AM   #6
David Croushore
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Re: Rowers & lower back

As others have said, the volume of rowing in CF isn't high enough for too much damage.

That said, I'd practice rowing with your feet out of the straps. I've been doing this lately and it makes your form much tighter and more upright.
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Old 02-15-2009, 12:34 PM   #7
Josh Wright
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Re: Rowers & lower back

As a former collegiate rower the biggest issue I see in the use of the rowing machine during a Crossfit workout is the fan/damper setting on the right side of the wheel. It DOES NOT need to be set on 10, a setting of 3-6 is what competitive rowers use when training/racing on the machine. This will make for much less weight at "the catch" (the point during the stroke when you begin to feel resistance) which is the point at which your lower back is in it's most vulnerable position.
I see a lot of guys put the damper on a 10 setting, probably a macho thing. Fact is, it doesn't matter where the damper setting is, you have to output the same amount of work for a given split time. With a higher damper setting your legs will go down slower but with more force, with a lower damper setting you'll have to be more explosive and put your legs down more quickly to generate the same power. Just a question of how you want to get there.

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