"Rower's spines experience enough load from the sport alone, adding excessive load to their supplementary training is never a great idea".
The Value of Strength
Strength is important for our health, longevity, and rowing performance. If you have a limitation in strength it can set you up for injuries or it can decrease your performance. Although there are several buckets that I attempt to fill with each training program that I write, squats, are one of the most valuable. Lower-body strength has been identified by researchers as a 2K predictor (among other variables). Since we have control over our strength we may be able to improve our rowing performance by developing our strength. The squat is one of the best ways to do just that.
No matter what squat you choose, the technical focus always stays the same:
1) Maintain a neutral spine (avoid an excessive arch or bending of the spine)
2) Prevent the knees & arches of your feet from caving inward
3) The entire underside of the foot should remain in contact with the floor (including toes)
4) Stay as tall as possible (avoid collapsing into the catch)
5) Finish all the way tall (butt and belly are ready for a punch)
6) Stay tight throughout the entire movement
Here are some tips, thoughts, and cues on how to perform a quality squat without thinking about the errors above.
Note: Never attempt to load a squat beyond your technical abilities.
Imagine the bottom of your rib cage, and the top of your hip bones form a vice.
Now imagine you're holding onto a stack of coins with that vice.
While you perform the squat think about holding onto the coins.
Don't drop the coins!
Imagine your feet are the roots of a tree.
Root yourself into the floor.
While staying rooted, squat down and attempt to
Pull your roots out of the floor.
Avoid the Wall
Imagine you're standing in front of a wall.
Don't fall into the wall.
Split the Earth
Imagine you're straddling a fault line.
Grip the earth, and split the earth apart.
Leave an Imprint
Imagine you're standing in the snow.
Drive the earth away, leaving a deep imprint in the snow.
3 Essential Squat Variations
Here are 3 of my favorite go-to squat variations for rowers.
All of these squats encourage better technique and lower the amount of stress placed on the spine. They prioritize an upright posture (which will help with a collapse into the catch), and they help to develop core strength, and hip mobility. By using these variations the core will fatigue/give out before the legs. The core is also a limiting factor in the boat. Rowers who don't possess a strong core will lose power in the rowing stroke. These squats develop leg strength and the ability to transfer that strength to the oar handle.
The goblet squat is a great way to teach a loaded squat. Holding the weight in front of us prioritizes core engagement, an upright posture, and good knee position. Sometimes using this squat in place of a body weight squat will help rowers improve their squat technique (by just adding load).
Double Kettlebell Squat
The double kettlebell squat is a great way to continue to add load while still prioritizing core engagement, and an upright posture. When done correctly you'll really feel your core working. This squat requires less weight and encourages a higher quality of movement than back squats.
Barbell Front Squat
Once you've mastered the two squats above (or ran out of a challenging weight) the barbell front squat is a great option to continue to add load. This squat still prioritizes core engagement and an upright posture and it also helps with depth and hip mobility.
Note: I intentionally left out back squats because I don't recommend back squats for rowers. They tend to be done poorly and they add too much load to a rower's spine. Rower's spines experience enough load from the sport alone, adding excessive load to their supplementary training is never a great idea.
The 3 Essential Squats for Rowers Video
Blake Gourley holds a Masters of Science in Sports Performance Training and has over 12+ years of experience working with rowers. Read more