Frequently Asked Questions

An interview with Karen Calara,


Karen, how did you start working in the rowing community?

My first start in the rowing world began while attending Boston University for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I was a physical therapy student and a student athletic trainer, working with the varsity and club sports starting my freshman year. My work study boss (and mentor), Liz, was an accomplished collegiate rower from Stanford. Her husband, Dr. Rodney Pratt, was the BU Men’s Crew Head Coach, at the time. Occasionally, if one of his athletes was injured, I would take a look at them at the boathouse. Not knowing much about the sport, I spent time watching practices and videos, and asking LOTS of questions. Being a kinesthetic learner, I knew I needed to learn how to row.  Actually, I don’t think I had a choice! One summer, Liz put me into a double and/or a pair to teach me how to row.  She was basically my training wheels.  I like to say, “Yes, I have rowed the Charles!,” but I don’t mention how many bridges I almost hit.

I started working with the elite rowers in Seattle over 10 years ago. One of the coaches for the Pocock Rowing Center’s Elite Team, found my name in a Seattle magazine and noticed I was located on Lake Union. She called me up asking if I knew anything about rowing. When I said yes, a nice partnership started with that team, but quickly expanded to the greater Puget Sound rowing community.

Are you a coach?

Not in the traditional sense. I focus on athletes’ form, and how they move and function in relation to their bodies, and partly, their fitness. In this sense, I work with the athletes, and coaches, on what is contributing to injury or inefficiency in the stroke.  If I am riding in the launch with the coach and I see something that can improve the stroke form, I do mention helpful tips to the team and the coaches regarding the form directly. It is very important to me, athletes and coaches understand where faults in the stroke may be coming from and how to fix it.

In terms of training, my focus is more in the cross training (functional exercise and sport specific training) on land, complimenting the goals for the team depending where in the cycle of competition the athlete/team is in. Because of my background in sports biomechanics and training, I incorporate very specific exercises that can translate directly to the stroke form.

I listen to how the athlete’s coach teaches the form/stroke, and work to get the athlete’s body to that point. There are occasions, usually due to injury, where we make a significant change in stroke form or in rigging. However, this is an on-going conversation between the athlete, coach, and myself, so we can get the athlete to optimal function.

Are you a rower?

I have never done a 2K, and am really scared to do so!  It has been a several years since I have been in a boat consistently. I know it is time to return, and I am sure I have many master and junior rowers who would love to be there when that happens. Being a kayaker for many years, I believe I have a good feel for the water.  I am a keen observer of how athletes move, and I work closely with the coaches to understand how THAT coach wants his athletes to move. I usually practice that style on the erg to get a feel for it, so I can be more effective, especially in retraining movement.

Is it important for you to see an athlete row?

Absolutely! The land assessments give me a foundation of how your body is, but seeing form on an erg or in the boat, tells me what you are doing with the flexibility, strength, mobility (or lack thereof). If I see an athlete row first, I have clues as to what to assess in the evaluation. If I do the evaluation first, I can see how the findings play out functionally in the stroke.

I love going out in the launches with the coaches. It gives me first hand observation of what the athlete is doing, gives me an opportunity to hear the coach’s opinion on the situation, and gives me an invaluable opportunity to learn from the coach. Coaches and I look at the stroke differently. They pick up on things I may not see and vice versa. The conversation is invaluable.

How can your integrated approach benefit me?

Good question. Many physical therapists talk about having an integrated approach, but don’t really explain what they mean.

With over 20 years experience and over 1500 hours in continuing education in sports medicine, sports training, and physical therapy, I am able to draw upon several techniques and approaches to help my clients get stronger, play harder, and live healthier. I use a biomechanical approach, manual techniques, functional training, and movement retraining to figure out the cause of the problem and prescribe a course of treatment to meet my clients’ goals.

With an integrated approach, we hit all the areas contributing to the problem at the same time, which means you get better faster. An example specific to rowing would be integrating a core exercise using resistance bands. The band is pulled overhead to get core muscle engagement and trunk stabilization, as well as kicking in the scapular stabilizers (important for rib injury prevention). One foot is in the other end of the loop. Lifting the leg in the band, creates an active stretch of the hamstring, and lowering the leg against resistance, works the core and eccentric hip flexors necessary for proper (supported) back swing into layback and recovery. The exercise also focuses on early primal motion control and the hip hinge which most rowers lack. Complex and effective, this ONE exercise hits many components at once.

It is a win-win situation for you.

Karen, I see your credentials, but am unsure what CSCS means. Can you explain?

As well as a physical therapist, I am a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Coming from a sports background, I became very interested in how to prevent sports injuries through proper training for strength, flexibility, and sports specific training. I apply these principles to all my clients. We are all athletes at some level. Being a CSCS, gives me a wealth of resources and knowledge to draw upon to make exercise programs concise, progress timely, and most of all, fun.

What makes you different?

Because I have focused specialties in rehabilitation and sports training I am able to draw upon a depth of knowledge and resources to get the best results. I treat only one person per hour so you get my full attention from start to finish. You never feel like you are in a factory line. I consistently assess and reassess based on what you are telling me– how you feel overall, how you feel that day and feel that moment, and where you want to go. The hour also gives us time to work on tissue tightness, flexibility, strengthening, and movement retraining in the same appointment under guidance. This gives us better results because it is so individual and thorough, but within the big picture to meet your goals.

Who do you typically work with?

I work with rowers of all ages and abilities:  junior rowers looking to improve their form and get stronger; recreational rowers who want to continue to enjoy the sport; competitive masters and senior masters rowers for prevention or injury rehabilitation; collegiate rowers in their off season; elite rowers at the national level for injury prevention or sport performance.

I also work with coaches – both on specific athletes and/or their program as a whole. We collaborate on topics such as on-land training programs, injury prevention, and stroke analysis.

How does this work for athletes who are out of state?

Through our in-person sessions, I will give you a plan to work on, which may include seeing other practitioners for the hands on work I may normally do. The plan will support the hands on work done by other practitioners. If you are out of the area where I am based (Seattle and Philadelphia), I can help connect you with local practitioners who would fit the best. Minimally, I will instruct you on what types of practitioners to look for. These practitioners are welcome to contact me with any questions they may have.

On this website, I keep an updated page with the dates and places I will be. You can contact me to set up a session. My goal is to not go longer than 2 months between sessions, if you are not in area.

If out of the Seattle and Philadelphia area, the best solution would be to hold a workshop at your boat club, or be able to work with several rowers over the days I would be in town. Contact me to find out more, 206.235.8950 or 

How can I get the best results when working with you?

Show up to your appointments on time, do the homework, think positively, and focus on the result you want and how your life will be different when you are stronger and move better. It is important to be consistent with the plan. It takes time for muscles and fascia to stretch. It takes time for muscles to strengthen, It takes time to learn a new movement pattern. It takes practice and consistency to see lasting results.

Contact me if you have questions or concerns in between sessions.

How much do your services cost?

The initial 90 minute evaluation is $270. Each hour session is $180 or $45/15 min increments. 

I accept cash, check, and Mastercard and Visa credit cards for your convenience.

Can these services be covered by medical insurance?

Please contact me, 206.235.8950 or, if you have questions regarding medical coverage.

Karen, this sounds great. How do I get started?

Check the website page, “Where in the World is ABR?” It will list places and dates I will be outside of my main home base, Seattle, WA. 

Contact me, 206.235.8950 or, to schedule. For the quickest response, please use our handy contact form or send an email.

We look forward to working with you!