Rowing exercise increases cardiorespiratory fitness and brachial artery diameter but not traditional cardiometabolic risk factors in spinal cord-injured humans

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2023 Jun;123(6):1241-1255. doi: 10.1007/s00421-023-05146-y. Epub 2023 Feb 13.


Purpose: This study assessed the effects of upper-body rowing exercise on cardiorespiratory fitness, traditional cardiometabolic risk factors, and vascular health in individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI).

Methods: Seventeen male and female adults with chronic (> 1 yr) motor-complete and incomplete SCI (level of injury: C4-L3) were randomized to control (CON, n = 9) or exercise (UBROW, n = 8). Participants in UBROW performed 12-week, 3 weekly sessions of 30-min upper-body ergometer rowing exercise, complying with current exercise guidelines for SCI. Cardiorespiratory fitness ([Formula: see text]O2peak), traditional risk factors (lipid profile, glycemic control) as well as inflammatory and vascular endothelium-derived biomarkers (derived from fasting blood samples) were measured before and after 6 (6W) and 12 weeks (12W). Brachial artery resting diameter and flow-mediated dilation (FMD) were determined by ultrasound as exploratory outcomes.

Results: UBROW increased [Formula: see text]O2peak from baseline (15.1 ± 5.1 mL/kg/min; mean ± SD) to 6W (16.5 ± 5.3; P < 0.01) and 12W (17.5 ± 6.1; P < 0.01). UBROW increased resting brachial artery diameter from baseline (4.80 ± 0.72 mm) to 12W (5.08 ± 0.91; P < 0.01), with no changes at 6W (4.96 ± 0.91), and no changes in CON. There were no significant time-by-group interactions in traditional cardiometabolic blood biomarkers, or in unadjusted or baseline diameter corrected FMD. Explorative analyses revealed inverse correlations between changes (∆12W-baseline) in endothelin-1 and changes in resting diameter (r = - 0.56) and FMD% (r = - 0.60), both P < 0.05.

Conclusion: These results demonstrate that 12 weeks of upper-body rowing complying with current exercise guidelines for SCI improves cardiorespiratory fitness and increases resting brachial artery diameter. In contrast, the exercise intervention had no or only modest effects on traditional cardiometabolic risk factors. The study was registered at (N-20190053, May 15, 2020).

Keywords: Cardiorespiratory fitness; Exercise training; Flow-mediated dilation; Metabolic health; Spinal cord injury; Vascular function.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers
  • Brachial Artery
  • Cardiometabolic Risk Factors
  • Cardiorespiratory Fitness*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Spinal Cord Injuries*


  • Biomarkers