Editor’s note: Thanks again so much to Barbara Kossy, our indefatigable model! You rock!!!
Actually, these stretches are for the entire torso. As we know, torso rotation is super important for kayakers. Also, if you’re rolling or getting worked in white water, it’s very helpful to be strong and flexible in and around the spine and ribs. The spine needs to be able to move easily in all directions. The following stretches can help you significantly in limbering up the appropriate muscles: the intercostals between the ribs, the erector spinae along the spinal column, the quadratus lumborum on the side, and the lumbar muscles in the low back.
With the paddle behind your shoulders, bend sideways as far as you can. Repeat on the opposite side. Go back and forth slowly. Just go as far as you can to feel a good stretch in your sides. If you aren’t able to get the paddle behind your shoulders, you can hold it in front of you at the collarbones. Or you can put your paddle down, take your arms out shoulder level, bend your elbows to a right angle “cactus” style, and use that position instead.
After you do the sideways bend, twist from side to side. You can try keeping your feet planted or try rising on the toes of the opposite foot. Both ways give you a good stretch. Keep your shoulders level! About six times on each side is a good number of reps.
Now take your paddle in both hands and reach high overhead. Feel the stretch all along the front of your body, from your pelvis to your shoulders and all along your arms to your wrists. Continue to reach high to the sky and repeat the bend from side to side. See if you can get your paddle blade all the way to the ground.
After you do the side bend, repeat the twist, continuing to hold the paddle overhead. Keep reaching out to elongate the muscles in the sides all the way to the armpits. Allow your head to turn as well and look over your shoulder in the same direction to that in which you’re turning.
Lastly, keeping your arms long, reach behind you with the paddle and hinge forward from the hips. Keep your knees soft and your weight centered on your feet as you bend forward. Raise the paddle as far away from your body as you can. Then press into your feet and engage your abdominal muscles to rise to standing.
These are just a few very basic stretches to help keep your back limber. They also enhance shoulder flexibility. A healthy back requires a strong core and strong, flexible hips and legs are needed too because tension in the hips and legs can affect the back. We’ll cover these important topics in future posts. As Tsunami Ranger Don Kiesling pointed out in his comment on our last fitness post, it’s a good idea to do these types of stretches after paddling to release muscles after exertion. A good approach would be to warm up dynamically beforehand with these or similar movements without holding them for any length of time and then when you get off the water go deeper into the stretches, holding each one statically for a count of 10 to 20 seconds. Remember to breathe deeply and rhythmically. Your breath is a good indicator of how well you’re doing the stretch – if the breath is jerky or shallow you’re probably going too fast, too far, or too hard. Now is the time to be mindful of each movement and respectful of the body.
We hope you find these stretches useful. If you have any questions or would like to offer any additional stretches or advice for back health, please let us know by clicking below!