Monday, August 27, 2007


Dynamic and static stretching methods for whitewater paddle-boaters

Kayakers, canoers and rafters will benefit from better warm up and cool down methods.

For many kayakers the only warm up is to get dressed and get going down the river. Then at the end of the day their only cool down is to get into street clothes and get a beer. This may be enough to get by, but better kayaking performance and more fun may be possible with better warm up and cool down methods. As we get older our bodies tend to stiffen up somewhat, so proper warm ups and stretching for flexibility become increasingly critical to keep us going in kayaking.

For years I have done "static stretching" as part of my warm up for kayaking and other sports. Static stretching involves moving to the outer limit of mobility for some muscle group and then applying firm continuous pressure to extend the range of mobility. After doing some more reading about stretching this no longer seems to be the best approach for optimum performance in a sporting event. Static stretching of a cold muscle is not recommended because it risks causing a muscle pull, although I have done this for many years without any such problems. Static stretching also causes a temporary reduction in muscle strength, so this is clearly not the right thing to do just before kayaking or any other sporting event where your best strength may be needed.

Dynamic muscle stretching as part of your warm up routine for kayaking.

"Dynamic stretching is good for “waking muscles up” to get them ready to work hard. This involves moving your limbs through the full range of motion that they will be used in during the game or training." (1)

"Dynamic stretching uses speed of movement, momentum and active muscular effort to bring about a stretch. Unlike static stretching the end position is not held. ...Arms circles, exaggerating a kicking action and walking lunges ... are examples of dynamic stretches. ... Dynamic stretching is useful before competition and has been shown to reduce muscle tightness." (2)

"... dynamic stretching is likely the more effective pre-workout routine by helping to increase blood flow to muscles and lubricating joints." (3)

Kayakers are doing dynamic stretching and warm ups while paddling their boats on easy water at put-in. This may be sufficient for some kayakers. Sitting in our boats and wearing bulky boating gear tends to restrict our motions somewhat, so more effective dynamic stretching might be achieved just prior to changing into our boating gear. I can remember being stiff and clumsy all morning on some winter boating trips when I didn't do any stretching before launching my boat. And don't forget to warm up again after a long lunch break on the river.

Static muscle stretching after kayaking improves your flexibility and relieves delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

"Contrary to old beliefs, the best time to work on flexibility is at the end of your workout, and not in the beginning." (4)

"... this is the best time to relax and develop maximum flexibility with muscles that are pre-exhausted and thoroughly warmed-up." (5)

"A static stretching program effectively increases range of motion over time. This chronic adaptation may reduce the risk of injury as it increase the safe range through which a joint can be taken without injury occurring to surrounding muscles and ligaments." (6)

"Overexertion and/or intense muscular activity will fatigue the muscles and cause them to accumulate lactic acid and other waste products. ... static stretching ... will help alleviate some of the soreness." (7)

Stretching to increase flexibility is a critical component of maintaining my active lifestyle. Flexibility is needed to make the moves and to reduce injuries during kayaking and my other favorite sports. Static stretching also has amazing effects in relieving the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that sometimes occurs the day after an especially hard boating trip.

Revolutionizing all of my sports and training activities.

These new concepts are forcing me to rethink all of my sports and training activities. Clearly, my old habit of doing static stretches before sporting events needs to change. I'll be testing out various dynamic stretches to learn which ones are most useful in my warm ups for kayaking and my other favorite sports. Remembering to do static stretches at the end of kayaking trips and mid-week workouts will be tough, but knowing why it is important should help. Static stretching after a hot shower may be a useful addition to my daily routine, both to increase flexibility and to relieve DOMS from the workout of the previous day.

More about: Fitness for Kayaking on Whitewater Rivers.

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