One of the things that I never understood until I actually was the victim of a vicious cramp was the importance of stretching before and after any workout. I remember so clearly the first time I ever went out for a 20-mile bike ride as additional training while I was rowing and forgetting to stretch before. It was about halfway through that I got an awful cramp in my right calf. I decided that it was nothing and carried on cycling. About 5 minutes later my left calf cramped up. I decided to get off my bike and stretch them both out. As I got off my bike, my right thigh cramped up and that was it! I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t do anything!
What should have been an hour and a bit of cycling quickly turned into 4 hours of cycling and I was walking on completely straight legs from the cramps. I was stuck in an area that was unfamiliar to me with a dead phone and there was no way I was going to make it home. I found a landmark that I knew and I just walked my bike towards it, hoping that I would find somewhere that looked familiar. Luckily I eventually knew where I was and I managed to make it home and straight into a bath.
The whole reason for that story was to demonstrate the importance of stretching. I swore to myself that day that I wouldn’t do any form of exercise without stretching for the appropriate amount of time beforehand. As humans, we need to be fully warmed up before a workout to properly prepare our muscles to be stretched and torn to build that muscle and to build your base cardio rate.
For your Pre-Workout Stretching, you should be looking to warm up your entire body and get your heartbeat raised. More blood flow through the body makes you warmer and increases your core temperature.
The key areas you want to focus on stretching, especially for rowing are Legs, lower back, glutes, hamstring/glutes, triceps, calf/Achilles tendon, and quads (quadriceps). Whilst it’s important to stretch these areas you also need to try and focus on warming up too. You can do these simultaneously or you can do these as an addition afterward, but I always find it handy to do them at the same time. You will be looking to hold all of the stretches for at least 10 seconds unless specifically told otherwise.
1. DOWNWARD DOG First off you want to start by stretching your legs, you can do this by putting both hands and feet on the floor and pushing up into a bridge position with your bum in the air. Keep your legs and arms straight and stretch one leg behind at a time.
2. CROUCH STRETCH Next you want to move to a standing position and slowly squat down as low as possible with both of your heels on the floor. This will stretch your lower back, glutes, and legs.
3. PLANK From here I would recommend getting into a plank position and planking for 30 seconds, this will build your core, but also is a great way to stretch out your body. Whilst this isn’t classed as stretching it is a core exercise and will aid in warming you up
4. LYING HAMSTRING STRETCH We want to have a little lay down now so lay on your back and bring one knee up to your chest and hug it leaving the opposite leg straight on the floor. Then, extend your leg towards the ceiling leaving the opposite leg as straight as possible. Hold and repeat with the other leg. This will be stretching your Hamstrings and your Glutes.
5. TRICEP STRETCH Now we’re going to stand up and stretch out our Triceps. To do this you want to put one arm behind your head and bend the elbow down behind your back. You grab your elbow with your other hand and pull down slightly until you feel stretching in your triceps which is like a stretch on the back of your upper arm. Once you’ve held this, repeat the same with the other arm.
6. LUNGES As we’re standing we might as well do some lunges. Lunges are a great example of dynamic stretching which I will cover in a different article. While standing, take a big step forward with your right leg, dip your left knee into the floor and hold. Do the same with your other side, and then move on to the next stretch.
7. STANDING HAMSTRING STRETCH While standing put your left leg onto a chair or a bench or something higher up than the floor and with your right foot planted on the floor lean forwards to touch your toes or until you can feel a stretch. Repeat with your other leg. This is great for stretching out your hamstrings.
8. QUADRICEPS STRETCH Move over to a wall or stand somewhere where you have something that you can stare at to keep balance. If facing a wall, lift your right leg up so you can grab your ankle with one hand, and with the other hand place that against the wall to keep balance. If you don’t have a wall to lean against, keep your eyes on a fixed point and continue to stretch out your quads. This is a fantastic stretch as you’re going to be using your quads a lot during your workout.
For your post-workout stretch, you’re going to want to focus on many of the same muscle group areas. A lot of the stretches that we’ve covered in the pre-workout stretching will work but instead of holding them for 10 seconds, you’re going to want to hold them for 30 seconds.
A lot of the time you’re going to find that holding these stretches for longer will actually improve the way you feel the next day or the day after. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) will absolutely make you feel like you don’t want to exercise, but that’s exactly why you should be doing it! Feel the burn! DOMS occurs a day or two after a workout and will make your muscles feel heavy and sore. One thing to note is that with a proper stretch before you start a session you shouldn’t feel too much soreness throughout.
Let’s go through what you should be doing for your post-workout stretch. Again, it’s going to be very similar to the pre-workout stretching, but remember you’re holding for 30 seconds instead of 10 seconds.
1. Crouch Stretch
2. Lying Hamstring Stretch
3. Tricep Stretch
4. Standing Hamstring Stretch
5. Quad stretch
So there you have it. Our guide to the stretches that you should be doing before and after a heavy workout or on water session. Again, I can’t stress enough the importance of doing these stretches. They’ll help you to avoid injury and cramps, but most importantly they’ll help you to become more flexible, which is a massive bonus when you’re in a boat.
For some workout ideas, check out some of our articles on workouts for strength and speed, or endurance and stamina.