MUSCULAR ACTION IN ROWING

F.C. Skey
1869 The Lancet  
Mortlake, which resulted in favour of the Oxford graduates, has brought the subject of rowing prominently before the public. Although I did not witness the contest, I can bear testimony, from personal observation, to the skill and endurance that marked the training exertions of both the American and English gentlemen. It may be interesting to some of your readers, whether professional or aquatic, and given to rowing exercise, to trace the various muscular actions of the body by which the act is
more » ... by which the act is accomplished. I propose to analyse these actions, and to refer each movement to the especial agents that effect them. I am the more inclined to this, inasmuch as some errors prevail among rowing men as to the order, and even to the locality, of the muscles really engaged in the operation. It would perhaps be somewhat surprising were it otherwise, for even among professional men no branch of physiological knowledge is so little cultivated as that which relates to the action of muscles. Presuming the rower to occupy his seat, and sitting upright, the handle of the oar being held or grasped by both hands, the first action is a compound one, and consists of two movements-first, of the trunk or body, and, secondly, of the entire upper extremity on the trunk: i.e., the body is drawn forwards to an angle of about 45°, allowing for the slight curvature of the spine, at the same instant that the arms are extended forwards to their fullest range in the same direction. The second action may be said to be simple or compound, in accordance with different systems or styles adopted by different authorities. It consists in the recovery of the trunk to the vertical position synchronously with, or to be immediately followed by, the retraction of the shoulder and the flexion of the arm at the elbow-joint. A supplementary action, consisting of rapid extension of the wrist, by the three extensors, for the purpose of feathering the oar, completes the movements engaged in the act of rowing so far as regards the trunk and upper extremities. At the moment which commences these movements, the muscles of the abdomen are brought into action, but for no other purpose than to steady the contents of the cavity-a function they perform on every occasion of shock to the trunk, whether present or immediately prospective. They cannot influence the position of the trunk itself in its relation to the lower extremities. The body is drawn forwards by the psoas and iliacus muscles, at least two-thirds of the exerted power being seated in the psoas magnus. When we consider that the full action of these two muscles is sufficient to raise the trunk from the horizontal, or lying, to the upright, or sitting posture, the power required to draw the trunk forward from the vertical or upright position is very slight. To this movement, in a secondary degree, the sartorius and tensor fasciae muscles of the thigh contribute some slight power. Synchronously with this action is the extension of the arms to their fullest length, by the combined action of the serratus magnus, by which the scapula is drawn forwards from its position at rest on the back to the side of the trunk, with the pectoralis minor; the forearm is extended by the well-known action of the triceps and its small coadjutoi the anconeus. The hands are slightly elevated, and the blade of the oar is lowered into the water. All the above movements are made preparatory to thos( by which the boat is propelled, the major action of th( whole circle. This is either simple or compound, or rathej it consists of two movements that may be either simulta. neous or consecutive. It is effected by the drawing back oi the trunk, by the retraction of the scapulae or shoulders and by the flexion of the arms. The first of these movements is generally referred to the muscles of the back. But this is an error. The muscles of the back, under the general name of erector spinse, act upon a nearly inflexible pillar, and nothing more. The sum of their action cannot exceed in its range a greater length than from one to two inches, while the trunk has to move through a space equal to 45°, or the one-eighth of a circle. We must look, therefore, to other agency, to the influence of some enormous muscular power, that can directly influence the relations between the trunk and the lower extremities, and operate in drawing backwards the entire trunk from an angle of 450 to an angle of 90°, of restoring the body to its upright position, and something beyond it. This can only be effected by the great muscles of the buttock, attached between the trunk and the thigh, which sweep round between the back of the os innominatum of the pelvis and the thigh-bone, thus involving the hip-joint, or centre of motion, upon which the trunk glides. The great muscle of the rower is the gluteus maximus, by the agency of which the trunk is drawn backwards in the act of rowing, or is thrust vertically upwards, as in the act of rising from a chair. The Oxford principle or practice in rowing, whichever it may be termed, involves the primary actions of these two muscles as the great and prominent feature of the art. When they aifirm that they row with the back, they in reality row with the buttock, or great glutei muscles, as indeed do all persons engaged in the art of rowing,-if it be an art. The second, and with some authorities the simultaneous, movement consists in the whole arm being drawn backwards with the shoulder. The scapulse are replaced on the dorsal aspect of the trunk by the following muscles: the trapezius, latissimus dorsi, rhomboidei, aided in some degree bv the nectoralis maior. When the glutei have restored the trunk to the vertical position, and a, little beyond it, the work is taken up by the flexors of the arm at the elbow-joints. These muscles are the biceps and brzchialis anticus, which bend the elbow-joint to somewhat less than a right angle. As regards the relation of the elbowjoint to the side, I consider that greater freedom of action. of the arm is obtained by the elbow being drawn slightly outwards from the body, than by being retained in close proximity to it. The handle of the oar is held in pronation of the forearm, and both pronation and rapid and powerful I flexion of the forearm are facilitated by a slight elevation of the elbow-joint from the body. The prominent and distinctive feature of the Oxford system consists, I believe, in this, that the action of the glutei, in drawing the trunk backwards to something beyond the vertical line, is nearly exhausted before the agents of flexion of the forearm commence their work. The Oxford authorities consider that they row with their trunk, while others more prominently row with their arms. In truth, the muscular systems of both trunk and arms are indispensable in all cases, the only distinction being that in the case of Oxford oarsmen the greater part of the retraction of the trunk, by the action of the glutei, is accomplished with rigid unbent arms, while in other cases the retractors of the shoulder and the flexors of the forearm act somewhat more in unison, or rather, they share the time occupied in the former action. Without expressing a very positive opinion on the relative excellence of the two styles of rowing, I am inclined to think that some advantage is obtainable from the two actions being rendered consecutive, inasmuch as the superior power of the retractors of the trunk, on which the great effort in rowing depends, should be exerted singly without the physical strength of the system being hampered by two actions at the same moment of time; for although it may appear obvious that time would be saved by their concurrent or synchronous ecntraction, yet I do not think ! the glutei would contract with that force and freedom of ' action which they would command if they acted singly and ' alone.-How far this practice of the Oxford school is the ! product of instinct, or how far of education, I do not presume to decide. An important adjuvant of good rowing is seated in the lower extremities, the muscles of which are brought into strong action. But to suppose that the muscles of the thigh and leg play a very prominent part in the act of rowing, as f taught by the Oxford authorities, is a physiological error. , A few words of explanation will, I think, render this statement clear. It will be observed from the description given
doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(02)50805-9 fatcat:jsbug4phkzbcxho2wiswkl46nm