Question about Valsalva and protecting the spine during the drive.

January 23, 2017

Questions from a rowing coach.

Good evening Coach Kaehler,

I would like to ask you as question and would appreciate your feedback. Question is related to your specialty and is about Valsalva movement in rowing and it’s impact on the spine. From my current reading I see that Valsalva movement in Rowing particularly protects spine form putting high loads on the drive, but would like learn more about it. Looking forward to hearing your feedback. Thank you. Rowing coach in US

Coach Kaehler’s Response

Valsalva stiffens the spine when humans lift heavy objects and is one of several mechanisms that help stiffen the spine. Non-traumatic injuries occur in all sports at change of direction, especially as speed increases. In rowing the body is moving the fastest at the finish of the stroke where the largest momentum shift happens at change of direction, catch is the slowest point of the stroke and change of direction (least momentum change) is smaller.  So if you are going to implement this strategy you would need to hold your breath at the finish to minimize greatest horizontal shear during the entire rowing stroke.



Valsalva is a natural automatic spine stabilizing mechanism that rowers use at the catch to try and improve spine stiffness. In my experience stabilizing a poorly positioned spine with valsalva will not reduce the low back injuries. I have helped hundreds of rowers to completely eliminate chronic low back pain, in one training session, and I can tell you that low back injuries manifest because other muscle systems are weak and/or inflexible. These imbalances create poor spinal posture that places excessive stress (horizontal shearing) on the passive tissue at the finish of the stroke.

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