Why Your Shins Hurt On The Rowing Machine
Updated: Nov 18
Do you ever wonder why your shins hurt during or after using the rowing machine? Well, you aren't alone! This is really common, but it's not normal!
Usually, it's because of something that is happening during the rowing stroke where you are overusing those front leg, shin, muscles. So let's dive into what could be going on.
What muscles do we use on the rowing machine?
When we row, our feet are strapped into the footplate, we push really hard with our legs, our body propels backwards, and then we finish the stroke. Then we move forward back to the front, catch position, to begin it all over again.
Here is an image from my book, Beginner's Guide to Indoor Rowing, that shows the steps in the rowing stroke.
When we push with our legs, we use mainly the big muscles in the front of our upper thighs, the quads. Then we have our core and our back muscles. On the way back, we use similar muscles that are BIG muscles like the hamstrings.
On the rowing machine, we really don't need to use our small muscles, like the ones in the front of the leg on our shin. A common culprit of shin pain from the rowing machine is the tibias anterior, which is a small muscle in the front of the lower leg. It's responsible for when you bring your ankle up towards your leg, but if you look at the rowing stroke, that movement shouldn't really be happening. However, it does happen and can cause some serious aches and pains in the shin if you don't notice or pay attention to it.
So "why do my shins hurt on the rowing machine"?
As we just mentioned, the rowing stroke is designed to use our big muscles. The small muscles in our shin aren't supposed to do too much work on the rowing machine. So...why does the shin pain happen?
It's because often, we overuse our feet muscles because we aren't fully connecting to the rowing machine. You can see a visual of what I am talking about in this video on shin pain on the rowing machine.
The first reason you might be getting shin pain with rowing is because during the drive phase of the rowing stroke, when you push with your legs, you end up bringing your toes up and rely on the foot strap to keep you from flying off the rowing machine. If you get more connected with the machine, it makes your core work more and your core can help slow you down so you don't fly off the back of the rower.
The second reason that you might be getting shin pain on the rowing machine is because during the recovery on the way back, you might be pulling yourself forward by having your toes up and using the strap to pull your body forward instead of using the bigger muscles to help bring you forward.
Both of these are the most common reasons that people get shin pain with rowing.
So how do you stop your shins from hurting?
Since this is normally caused from overusing those small muscles and using the strap more than is "ideal", I recommend trying to take your feet out of the straps and rowing strapless for a bit. This will force you to stop using those tiny muscles and force you to have a lot more connection with the rowing machine. Here is a video showing the strapless rowing technique.
If you are rowing in a class, doing a strapless row as your warmup can be helpful, or taking a class to work on your form will only help you improve in the long run. So work it into your rowing somehow and you will have less shin pain and likely even better rowing numbers.
I hope that this helps you have less shin pain with rowing and if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out.
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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.
Not sure if your foot placement might also be contributing, here is a video on that!