How To Use The Rowing Machine With One Leg
Rowing is an amazing sport that can be adapted for ANY body. Personally, I've spent over a year of my life on crutches, so when you are injured and can't use one of your legs, it stinks! I get it. However, sometimes we really want to be active and do something, even if we can't do it like we normally would. Rowing is no different.
Why row with one leg?
There are quite a few reasons someone might want to or need to row with one leg.
Maybe you severely sprained your ankle and want to do something low impact where you won't accidentally fall. If your ankle is hurting bad enough, it might need to not be used for a little bit, depending on your situation. Grade III ankle sprains can sometimes seem worse than a break (fracture), and having been through that experiences, honestly I think a break was easier to deal with and recover from. Anyways, there are definitely some ways to row even if you sprained your ankle.
-Fractured (Broken) Ankle or Foot
This is probably the most common reason someone tries to row with one leg. If you broke
your ankle or foot, you will likely be in a cast or a boot. This often means that you can't put weight through your foot for a certain amount of time. Checkout this video to see my explanation on when to start rowing and why it might not be the best option while you can't put weight through your foot.
- Amputation or Disability
As a Doctor of Physical Therapy I see quite a few people who only have one leg or are really only able to control one leg, among other presentations.
How to row with one leg explained.
First, if you are a visual person, I recommend you checkout the link above to the video on rowing with one leg. If not, feel free to keep reading!
Second, I highly recommend getting some sliders, like the ones pictured to the right. I believe these are the one's I have.
If you don't have sliders, no worries, if you are on carpet, you can use a paper plate or a ceramic plate works sometimes too. Really anything that will slide. You can even use a skateboard. A skateboard isn't ideal, which I will get to a little later, but it's an option that totally works if you don't want to go buy something and you have one lying around. Or maybe you're a skateboarder and this will give you your skateboarding fix while you might not be able to use it otherwise.
When it comes to the actual rowing part, I recommend putting the slider (or skateboard or
whatever you are using) on the floor to the side of the foot plate. Then, with your knee straight, put your heel on the slider. I only recommend doing this method if you are able to put some weight (about 25% of your body weight) through your leg. If you aren't able to or wonder why, please check out this video where I go into the reasoning more in depth.
I recommend starting in this position instead of this position with your knee bent because when your knee is bent, you will likely be putting more weight through your foot then you realize and it commonly creates more friction, making the sliding more difficult during the rowing movement.
Once your foot is on the slider, keep your knee straight, and put your other foot on the foot plate. Then start rowing like normal and your leg will move forward and backward on the floor. You can see in this video how the usual more comfortable position is for someone to have their foot go outwards so as to not hit the foot plate when at the catch, and at the finish, the leg is commonly closer to the rail.
This is why I recommend a slider over a skateboard. The skateboard forces you to stay linear going forward and backward and makes it so your leg has to stay farther away from your body, which can sometimes cause aggravation. But again, if a skateboard is what you have, use it!
In these videos you can see from the front what I mean with the coming in towards your body at the finish with the slider. The slider lets your body do what it naturally wants to do. You can also see the forward and backwards movement with the skateboard.
What do you do when you can put a bit more weight through your leg?
Once you are out of a boot or cast and you are able to put more weight through your foot, I recommend putting your foot on the foot plate, but don't strap your foot in. This is because you may not have full range of motion yet and when you are at the catch, your ankle needs full dorsiflexion, and when you are at the finish, it's pretty close to full plantarflexion. Usually when you are recovering from an ankle or foot injury, it takes some time to get your full range of motion back. If you strap in, you are more likely to end up aggravating your foot that night or the next day and not knowing what you did. This is often the culprit. Additionally, if you strap in, you are more likely to use the foot straps to help you row, which will also aggravate the ankle muscles more than you realize.
So instead of strapping in, just place your foot on top, and allow your ankle to move in it's pain free range of motion. At the finish, if your toes come up, that's okay as long as the heel is still on the foot plate to help keep you connected to the machine. At the catch, I recommend only going as far forward as is comfortable and within your pain free range of motion. If your ankle comes up, it's okay as long as you don't push through your toes for the whole stroke. I chat about pushing with different parts of your foot here. So your stroke might be a little shorter, but you are rowing! YAY!
Happy rowing and wishing you a speedy recovery!
If you found this helpful, you can grab a copy here of my book, Beginner's Guide to Indoor Rowing for more info on how to adapt the rowing technique for you and common things to look for that might cue you into adaptations you might want to make to avoid getting hurt.
You can also join our community of rowers!
Please remember, this is NOT medical advice, and is a forum. If you would like medical advice, please follow up with a healthcare provider or feel free to reach out to me and we can chat on how I might be able to help or help you find someone who can.