Paddlers are a unique group of athletes. We have to be strong, fast and flexible, but paddling is not all about power or endurance. Balance and control are also factors that influence results on the water. As kayakers, we must balance in a kayak whether it’s cruising around on flat water or when surfing whitewater waves, and we certainly need good balance for kayak rolling.
It is no surprise that kayakers are looking for any possible way to improve their balance and overall kayaking skills. Stretching exercises are a great addition to your kayaker’s repertoire of training tools that can help increase flexibility. Now I’m not talking about stretching before you start kayaking during the day, but rather exercises that can be done at home or in between sessions. All it takes is a short time commitment after workouts or on off days to reap benefits like more control while bracing and rolling in whitewater, greater range of motion when climbing out after a swim, better paddling mechanics and easier recovery from fatiguing activities such as exercise or practice runs on a slalom course.
Stretching Exercises for Paddlers
There are many stretching exercises kayakers can do to improve flexibility. I’m not going to go into the “how-to” details of basic stretching, but rather focus on some kayaking specific stretches that can be done by kayakers at home or in between workouts. Some of these stretches may seem familiar and others might look different from what you have seen elsewhere. That’s okay because we kayakers have a unique realm of motion that is needed to paddle efficiently and effectively. By targeting those areas, as opposed to just doing the typical static sitting or standing stretches often found elsewhere, kayak paddlers will find they increase range of motion and overall performance levels more quickly than through other types of stretching.
1. Neck Rolls
Neck rolls warm up the kayak paddler in several ways. First, it warms up your kayaking muscles and stretches them out a bit. Second, (and more importantly), this kayaking specific exercise increases range of motion in both directions so that you are able to turn your head farther left and right than normal. This is important to prevent kayakers from getting a sore neck or injured back which can happen when we have collisions with other kayaks while surfing whitewater waves. To perform a neck roll simply sit on the ground with your legs extended straight out in front of you like you were doing crunches. Now place an object such as a ball about 10-15 inches away from where your nose is pointed. Keep your head up and don’t move it at all as you slowly turn it to one side. Go only as far as you can, but like the stretching exercises in kayaking, try to go farther each time until you are turning 90 degrees left and right with ease.
2. Shoulder Shrugs (with upper body movement)
Another kayak specific exercise for improving flexibility is shoulder shrugs which also work out your kayaker’s back muscles and shoulders. You can do this by pulling yourself into a sitting position on the ground first, then place an object like a pool noodle underneath your chin just like during neck rolls described above. Now keep your arms straight out in front of you while raising them as high as you can on each side. Keep your arms straight out in front of you while raising them as high as you can up over your head and then back down to the original position. Your kayaking muscles will feel this stretch especially during the last five repetitions when pulling yourself higher than before. As with all kayaking stretching exercises, just go a bit farther each time until you are feeling this exercise in your shoulders and lats (the muscle under your armpits).
3. Forearm Stretch
While kayakers do have an expanded range of motion compared to other people, we still need to pay close attention to forearm flexibility because it’s a vital part of paddling efficiently for kayak slalom racing or performing difficult kayaking maneuvers such as kayak surfing. A kayaker will find that a short forearm stretch is a great way to warm up and improve kayaker’s forearms range of motion. To perform this kayak stretching exercise, simply lay your right arm out straight on the ground with your palm facing upwards. Now place your left hand on top, but don’t rest it or weigh down too much just let it hover over gently as you move only your right arm around in every possible direction without letting the left hand touch the ground. After about 15 seconds switch arms and do another 15 second set with the other arm for a total of two sets each side.
4. Ankle Stretch
Because kayaking has us sitting so low in our kayaks, kayakers can easily get sore ankles and feet when paddling for a long periods of time. This kayak stretching exercise helps prevent kayakers from getting lower limb injuries by increasing the kayaker’s range of motion in his or her ankles which decreases the chance we’ll have problems further up our legs. To perform this kayak stretching exercise lay on your back with one leg straight out on top of the other so that they create an “x” shape. Now place your hands on either side of your ankle and try to bring it towards you body without touching it too much – just let it hover above as you gently apply pressure towards yourself until you feel a comfortable stretch. Do this with both ankles (a total of four sets) for warming up and preventing kayaker’s ankle soreness.
5. Back Muscle Stretches for Kayakers
It may sound weird to kayak stretching exercises back muscles because kayakers are usually very strong in these areas, but kayaking can actually cause problems if you don’t take care of them so stretching is a vital part of kayaking preparation that should not be overlooked. To improve kayaker’s flexibility in his or her back – which also benefits your paddling performance – try performing some back muscle stretches which require you to simply lay on the ground with your hands out behind your head and gently arch your body backwards until you feel the stretch. You should hold this position for about 30 seconds and once again increase the amount of time each time you do this kayak exercise.
6. Chest/Arm Stretch for Paddlers
Because kayakers often have large chests and strong arms, it’s easy to forget kayaker’s upper body flexibility. This kayaking stretching exercise is designed to help kayakers improve their range of motion in the chest area by performing a kayaker stretch similar to the one used when attempting to gain back flexibility – but we can also use them during dry land kayaking practice. To perform this kayak stretching exercise simply sit on your heels with your hands resting above either shoulder while making sure that both elbows are lined up straight with your body (not outward or inward). Now lean backwards as far as you can without straining yourself until you feel a comfortable stretch.
7. Neck Stretch for Kayakers
While kayaking does not have kayakers straining their necks too much, kayakers can still benefit from kayak stretching exercises such as this one because we kayakers tend to forget about the importance of our necks no matter how strong they are. Performing regular kayak stretching exercises (such as these neck stretches) will help keep a kayaker flexible and prevent soreness or pain in the neck area. To perform this kayak exercise, simply sit on your heels with your hands resting above either shoulder while making sure that both elbows are lined up straight with your body (not outward or inward). Now lean backwards as far as you can without straining yourself until you feel a comfortable stretch around the back of your neck.
8. Rotator Cuff Stretch for Kayakers
Another kayak stretching exercise kayakers need to perform is a kayak stretch which works on kayaker’s upper body flexibility as well as preventing kayaker’s shoulder problems – in this case, the rotator cuff. To perform kayak rotator cuff stretches simply kneel with one knee directly underneath your hips while keeping the other leg straight out in front of you while making sure that both legs are evenly aligned (no inward or outward tilting). Now rest your arms behind you with one hand resting on each shoulder blade and gently press down until you feel a comfortable kayaking stretching exercise. Hold this position for about 30 seconds before switching sides after which you should repeat the kayak stretching exercise for each kayaking pose with 30 seconds between each kayak stretch.
9. Elbow Stretch/Hamstring Stretch for Paddlers
While kayakers usually have strong arms and shoulders, kayakers should still perform kayak stretching exercises in order to make sure that they are always ready to paddle without any of the common kayaker injuries – in this case, kayak paddling elbow pain and kayaking hamstring pain. As you can see from the pictures above, these kayak stretches are very easy to do (and it does not matter if you are a right-or left-handed person). To perform kayaking elbow stretches all you need to do is simply lean on your elbows so that both elbows bend until they are at a 90-degree angle while making sure that both elbows are angled the same way (not outward or inward). Hold kayaking elbow stretches for about 30 seconds before switching sides after which you should repeat kayaking stretching exercises on each kayak pose with 30 seconds between kayak stretching exercises.
10. Hip Stretch for Paddlers
While kayakers do not have to worry too much about kayaker’s hip pain, kayakers can still suffer from kayaker’s sore hips if they don’t perform proper kayak stretching exercises – and this is especially important if you spend many hours sitting in one position on your kayak. One of the best ways to stretch out your hips is by doing this simple bent over kayaking stretch and anyone can do it (no kayaking experience needed). To perform kayak hip stretches, simply bend over with your hands resting on your kayak paddle while keeping both knees bent at a 90-degree angle so that you can rest your kayaking kayak paddle behind the back of your head. Hold this kayaking pose for about 30 seconds before switching sides after which you should repeat kayaking stretching exercises on each kayak pose with 30 seconds between kayak stretches.
Arthur G. Moore is a veteran paddler. He has over 10 years of whitewater kayaking experience in his kitty. When he was young, he used to love kayaking in rapid III and rapid IV but as time went on, he decided to concentrate mainly on covering long distances on a standard touring kayak. He is currently working as a senior editor for Kayak Manual.