Tight Hip Flexors from the Rowing Machine
Updated: Nov 20
Are you experiencing hip discomfort or pain while using a rowing machine? If leaning back in the back finish position triggers a stretching sensations or discomfort in the front of your hip, this blog post is for you. A lot of people automatically assume this is from tight hip flexors, but it might not be.
Checkout the most recent YouTube video I made about this topic if you'd like to listen/watch instead of read.
Is Rowing Good For Tight Hip Flexors?
First, we need to figure out if it actually is a tightness in the hip flexors, or if it's something else. If you take a look at the pictures below, you will see what happens if I take myself from the back finish position on the rowing machine to a standing position. It looks like I am
leaning forward, right? Well if you stand up and this is what your standing position is like, then yes, it is very possible that your hip flexors are really tight, or you might have a hip or low back flexibility/mobility issue.
If when you stand up, you are more upright and not leaning forward, then it might be something else going on. It could still be that you have a flexibility/mobility issue at the hip, however it's more likely something that we will talk about later in this post that could be contributing to your hip flexor discomfort.
But to answer the question, "is rowing good for tight hip flexors?", if it's more from weakness or an endurance issue, than yes, rowing can help and be beneficial. Rowing works the quads and other hip flexor muscles, so this activity strengthens these muscles, which can relieve some of that "tightness" feeling you might be having.
Identifying the Source of Your Hip Flexor Tightness:
First, we want to look at when are you having hip tightness when rowing? Is it something that is happening when you immediately get on the rowing machine, straighten your legs, and are in the finish position? If so, try out the stretch that's coming below.
If the tightness is coming after rowing a bit, it's more likely a weakness issue. I know, that sounds counterintuitive, tightness means tight, not weak. As much as that concept is going around, more often it's actually how our body is interpreting the weakness. Our muscle might be weaker and our body in an attempt to get some stability and strength from the muscles, it ends up feeling like it's tightening on us. This is super common with back pain actually, but can happen anywhere. This chapter in the book, Rehabilitation of the Spine: A Practitioner's Manual, goes a little more in depth on this concept.
So if you are getting tightness after rowing some time, it's more likely a weakness or endurance issue with the muscles. So strengthening it can be really helpful, but not just regular strengthening, although that would be helpful as well. You can do things like banded hip flexor marches where you lie down, put a small circular band around your feet and bring one knee up toward your chest while the other leg stays straight. Then swap.
Another possibility is that you need not just work the strength, but also the endurance aspect of the muscles strength. This means how long the muscle can work before it gets too fatigued. Doing the above exercise is great, but I would also recommend doing deadlifts. Deadlifts really work the hip hinge movement that is required in rowing, so it works on the neuromuscular training for that movement, but also strengthens the muscles in the range and positioning you will be using them when rowing. This will also work your hamstrings, gluts, and back, but for the hip flexors, it's about that specific positioning and going in and out the movement repetitively. If you are curious how the hip hinge relates to rowing or what it is, check out this video.
How to Stretch the Hip Flexors
Stretching the hip flexor if it's tight or weak can help make it feel better and looser sometimes. So here is a solid hip flexor stretch you can try. Get down on one knee and have your other leg in front of you with foot on the ground. Try not to arch your back, gently push your butt forwards and see if you feel a stretch in the front of your hip or in the front of your leg. You can also raise the arm of the leg that is down with your knee on the ground if you want to feel a little more of an intense stretch.
Another option is to do this lying down like in this video. Have one leg over the edge of the bed, and bring the other leg with your knee bent up towards your chest. Grab the leg near your body and let the other leg hang off the edge.
Try holding these for 30-60 seconds, repeat twice, on both sides. These are static stretches that are good to do AFTER rowing.
If you want a stretch to do before rowing, something more dynamic like leg swings, can be helpful. Leg swings are standing on one leg, and you can hold onto something to balance, swing your leg forwards and backwards to get the hip flexor in and out of positions quickly, like in rowing. You can also do this with your leg swinging sideways. This video has the leg swings in it.
Keep your eye open for a post coming a little more in depth on general hip pain, what might be causing it, and what to do for it. I hope this was helpful and happy rowing!
If you'd like to follow along to a steady state beginner workout, checkout this youtube video and follow along.
If you need more help with your rowing form, here is a blog post with more information.
Happy rowing and wishing you a pain free rowing experience!
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.