In just about any sport you'll be told by a coach, instruction book or website to 'keep your back straight'. Perhaps the most obvious is weightlifting - if you bend your back when trying to shift twice your body weight off the floor, it's going to hurt! This is because a back bent in the wrong place will compromise your muscles and disks and place undue stress on parts of your spine that really shouldn't be taking that load.
The same is true for good rowing technique. Excessive bending (and twisting) of your lower back during the rowing action will place stress on your muscles, joints and disks many, many times over during a single session. And you won't be surprised to hear that it doesn't take long before the aching back after a workout may start to persist until it becomes a problem then an injury that will stop you rowing all together before long.
But... when we're told to 'keep a straight back', how do we do it? In my role as an Alexander Technique teacher and athletics coach I often see people tighten their lower back when they straighten. But this can place more stress on your lower back than by bending in the wrong place.
Try the quick exercise below and it will help you appreciate how it's possible to keep a straight back without using tension to do it.
Now sit on the chair and see if you can tilt forward without tension. Notice the pelvis, spine and head all moving as one piece without the need to tighten to hold it straight.
When you get back onto your rowing machine, row gently for a few minutes while being aware of the hips joints and ensure you are hinging from those points while keeping your pelvis and back working together.
Not only will this movement prevent placing stress on your back, it is also a more efficient way to row and give you more 'bang for your buck' so will notice an improvement in performance.
Roy Palmer is an athletics coach, teacher of The Alexander Technique and a rowing fanatic.