Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Stretching for Kayaking, Rafting and Canoeing

Warming up and stretching are critical, but often neglected parts of paddle boating. Upper body flexibility and range-of-motion are important for good paddle technique. It is possible to just jump into our boats and work out the kinks as we head down the river or onto the ocean, but I find that stretching before I dress for boating is the most effective stretching routine to set me up for a great day. On kayaking trips when I haven't done a good job of warming up and stretching before getting on the water I often waste much of the morning feeling stiff and clumsy until my body warms up and loosens up from boating.

Stretching has been a big part of my active lifestyle. This includes kayaking, soccer and the mid-week fitness program that has enabled me to keep playing my favorite sports at an age where many others have retired to the couch. As we get older we all lose much of the flexibility that we had as kids, but a little time invested in stretching can help us all to maintain greater flexibility. Stretching is helpful in the morning before boating, after lunch, and at the end of the boating day. Stretching can also greatly relieve the stiffness the next morning after the big boating trip. Strength training shortens our muscles, so stretching is important to maintain flexibility and range-of-motion. Stretching and strengthening are also important parts of recovering after an injury and getting back into your favorite activities.

Stretching Guidelines

Warm up a little before stretching.
Use continuous pressure to stretch in the resistance zone.
Don't push or pull so hard that the stretch becomes painful.
Hold the stretch for 20 sec. for small muscles in hands and arms
Hold the stretch for 30-40 sec for large muscles in legs and torso.
Breathe and relax other body parts while stretching.

Stretch Before Dressing for Boating

The most important stretches for paddlers are in the arm/shoulder and torso areas of our bodies. Arm/shoulder muscles move our paddles into position and then torso rotation is the powerful motor that powers our boats when we paddle with proper technique. Stretching my hamstrings (muscles on the back side of the thigh) is also critical for good comfort and performance when I go kayaking. Here are some of my favorite stretches for boating.

Shoulders 1. Put your elbow under your chin, use the other hand to push the elbow around towards the opposite shoulder. To intensify the stretch rotate your shoulders in the same direction that you are pushing. Repeat with the opposite elbow.

Shoulders 2. Lift your arm up and put your wrist behind your head, use the other hand to pull the wrist towards the opposite shoulder. To intensify the stretch bend your torso to the side in the direction that you are pulling. Repeat with the opposite wrist.

Torso rotation. Sit down with one leg straight out in front. Bend the other leg, cross over the straight leg and put foot down outside the knee. Use the elbow to push on the bent knee and rotate away from the straight leg. Repeat on the opposite side. Stretches lower back, side of hip, and neck.

Hamstrings/lower back. Sit down with both legs straight out in front. Grab your feet and pull your nose towards your toes. To intensify the stretch do each leg separately.

Stretching in the Boat

Sometimes I'm already in my boat when I realize that I forgot to stretch. Its never quite as good to stretch after the pfd and drysuit are on but this is better than nothing.

Hamstrings/lower back. Kayakers can lean forward and pull steadily on their front grab loop. Canoers can lean forward and pull on a thwart or gunwales. Rafters can reach down and touch their toes while seated in the boat.

Shoulders 1 & 2. These stretches can be done at any time (see above).

Torso rotation. Rotate to place a paddle blade outside the boat in front of you, then push on the top hand to use the paddle as leverage to get a strong steady stretch of torso rotation.

Books on Stretching

See my book reports on stretching. Every body is different, so check out the books to find the stretches that will help out on your body's tension spots.


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What is Your Pre-Boating Routine ??

Please click on the comments link and lets discuss your warm-up and stretching methods.


I have found that the best stretching routine when I am going kayaking is yoga! I swear by it. I've been doing yoga for about 15 years and it is the perfect way to warm up when you are going out on the water. My knees tend to get a bit stiff when I've been on a long paddle so now I just make sure I do a few postures such as One-Legged Deep Knee Stretch (Tiriang Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana. Yoga is brilliant at helping to prevent injuries, lubricate the joints and increase oxygen supply to the muscles. And although she was referring to the link between T'ai Chi (rather than yoga), Karen Knight says it better than I ever could: 'Paddling a canoe or kayak is like a dance. It is a union of the person, boat, paddle, and water to create graceful, precise, and flowing movements - like T'ai Chi'. Well said Karen! http://paddling.about.com/od/kayakfitness/a/tichi.htm
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