Let’s talk the importance of the pelvis in rowing and its functional movement in general. The pelvis hosts the muscles that connect the lower back with the legs, as well as abdominal muscles. We can call the pelvis “the meeting place.” The pelvis supports the legs, the spine, the abdomen and the lower back. This “meeting place” provides the foundation for good posture. If the pelvis is tight, the legs cannot move as they should.
Rowers with greater pelvic mobility will not fatigue as fast as rowers who have less pelvic movement. With less pelvic movement, the athlete has to work harder through their knees and spine. A lack of pelvic movement will mean your spine has to move more from the catch through the drive and then the release and back through the recovery. This will increase fatigue and in more serious cases, the risk of spinal injury.
A good way to detect this pelvic rock is to video the athlete from the side while on the erg. To enhance this further, watching in slow motion will highlight the movement or lack thereof. The athletes with less pelvic motion will have a large range of knee movement, sometimes into hyperextension. You can notice that they often overreach the catch and open the trunk early through the drive. In these athletes, there is little to no pelvis roll.
Another factor to observe is the transfer of force from the legs to the arms will not look smooth. Rather, a hinged type movement with the legs first, then a switch to arms. You want an effective transfer of force from the legs through the body and up to the arms. This creates a better chain of movement from catch to the release and through the recovery.
21st-century living habits cause tightening of the abdomen. Think of the postures we often have when hunched over a computer and or a steering wheel. The abdominal muscles end in the pelvis. If tight, they pull on the entire pelvic floor, thus causing the body to “bend over” and give it that hunched look. The iliopsoas handles bend the hip when we sit, drive, run, etc. In short, it gets overused in our daily lives. When it’s tight, it pulls on the lower spine. This “tightness” is a problem that can either be exacerbated by poor rowing technique, or, fixed when addressed by a trained rowing coach.
Good exercises to work on pelvic tilt include squats and deadlifts. Structural balance, as well as stability drills, will help. For example, leg curls with an exercise ball and lateral side steps with a band. And as always, remember to control your breathing with these movements.