Over all my 19 years of kayaking, one thing I have tried to do all along is stretch, both before paddling and after getting off the water. I am sure most people have heard about how important stretching is as a way to prevent injury but it’s amazing how many people don’t do it! One thing to think about is as we age, everything gets tighter, shorter and more contracted – we get stiffer overall. Stretching can really help the reverse this process and keep you loose, fit and doing what you want much longer than if you don’t stretch. Sounds like a win-win, doesn’t it?
I know young fit bodies can get away with not stretching for a long time and have no problem, but sooner or later it catches up with you.
So when is the best time to stretch? You definitely want to be warm. Stretching, in particular deep stretching, when you are not warmed up can cause pulled or even torn muscles. Do a good warm up before you stretch. I am very partial to EJ’s stroke drill warm up that is about 11 -12 minutes and you will be sweating if you do the warm properly when you are done. I do it every time I get in my boat! After you finish your warm up, you can do some great stretches in your boat.
Start by sitting upright with your weight over your seat. Take your right paddle blade and reach across your boat and plant your paddle by your left foot. Placing the paddle across the boat by your foot gives you leverage to make the stretch deeper or milder depending on how flexible you are to start with. You can raise or lower your left hand to change the stretch. Look over your left shoulder to get a stretch in your neck and shoulders too. You should hold the stretch for 6 long, slow breaths. As you hold the stretch and breath, you will feel those tight muscles start to release. Breathing is essential for the stretch to be effective so don’t forget to breath. Repeat the same thing on the opposite side and look over your right shoulder. This is a great way to get a deep twist and stretch in your torso, great for stomach and back muscles including those hard to reach abdominal obliques and upper gluteal muscles. Once you have completed stretching both sides of your body, sit up tall and fold forward over your cockpit as far as you can. If you can grab the security bar on the front of your boat, do so and hold for 6 breaths here. This will give your hamstrings a good stretch. Now you are ready to go tackle any river run or playboating feature you find.
Likewise, when you finish paddling, it’s really important to stretch out all those muscles you just used so you aren’t stiff later. Really good stretches to do when you get out of your boat are hip flexor stretches and hamstring stretches. (See the photos below) You can add a twist to your hip flexor stretches to reach those hard to reach abdominal obliques and as well as trapezius, lats, and rhomboids. Since you are warm from paddling, these stretches should feel good. You want to hold each of these stretches for 6 slow breath’s too. As with all stretching you do, if you feel sharp pain, stop! You want to feel tension in your stretch but not pain, and you want to move into and out of these stretches slowly. These stretches are also good for working on your balance but if you feel unsteady, you can always hold yourself up against an inanimate object. Enjoy!