Why Does Rowing Hurt So Much?

Any strenuous sport is painful, and there are different reasons why you get different pains depending on the sport you participate in. However, there is one constant that delivers pain no matter what sport you enjoy and that is due to the formation of lactic acid.

Lactic acid can be produced by chemical synthesis or bacterial fermentation, but during exercise when the demand for energy is high then the body brakes down glucose and lactate is produced quicker than the body can get rid of it. So, in effect lactate is both a fuel and a waste product and the body has different ways of mobilizing its source of fuel and how to deliver it.

What is VO2 Max?

The maximum aerobic capacity of your body is measured using a formula called the VO2 Max. In lay-man’s terms it is a numerical calculation of how your body consumes oxygen and it differs in every person. Normally you test for it in a lab on a treadmill. It is important to you while you are rowing as it draws on the body’s anaerobic metabolism to provide power which in turn produces the painful lactate. An average two thousand yard rowing race will take place at 98 to 110 VO2, which will return a high volume of lactate as a by-product.

If you compare this VO2 rate with that of a marathon runner at a much lower 85 VO2 then you can understand why rowers have to endure so much pain. The amount of lactate is measure in millimoles (mmol) and the difference between a marathon runner at 4 mmol, and a rower at 18 mmol is vastly different.

Feeling the Burn

The term feeling the burn is often used in marathon running, but it is even more true about rowing. The actual sensation you get feeling the burn comes about by a drop of pH that is a signal to the body to stop producing energy. The pain brought about by acidification in the body brought about by a drop in the pH can have other effects on performance whilst rowing. It is known to affect the central nervous system also, and this can bring strange and rather surprising pains to areas of the body that may be quite surprising.

For instance, if you are using one arm very hard, then this can then affect the other arm just as much as in terms of pain. The non-local form of fatigue to other parts of the body is dictated by the central nervous system of the body and proves a point that it is not just the muscles of the body that dictate pain and fatigue.

Under medical conditions it has been proven that lactate does not actually produce the burn, but it is a way to measure the pain in the body. But measuring just lactate levels to try and find the fitness levels of rowers is not always reliable as there are so many variables.

Rowing hurts so much for a variety of reasons that include the production of lactate, but you must remember that it is not the only factor.