Warm up before hitting the water!
Spending time on the water kayaking can be a leisurely paddle or a full-blown sprint that leaves you gasping for air. The overall effort and the intensity of a paddle may vary, but the impact it has on your body - yup, the whole body - does not. That is why it is super important to stretch well before hopping onto the water.
In order to consider an appropriate warm-up for the body it is best to know what muscles are dominant and repetitively working when paddling.
The three primary muscles in your back that kayaking puts to work, and the uses behind every kayak paddle stroke: The Latissimus dorsi, rhomboid, and trapezius muscles.
The Latissimus Dorsi is the largest muscle in your back, also known as lats. Good lat strength is important to transfer the energy from your lower body and into the paddling movement. It is the lats that do the work of one arm rowing while the other extends, only to contract inward, toward the body. The Rhomboid muscles pull the shoulder blades toward the spine’s midline. This muscular movement occurs at the end of each stroke and is called scapular retraction. The Trapezius muscles dictate neck and shoulder blade movements. Kayakers are known to overuse their upper traps.
The Shoulder Muscles When kayaking, the shoulder muscles work equally as hard as the back and arm muscles. This is especially true for the deltoids, while the four rotator cuff muscles take care of rotation and stabilize the shoulders and arms. Having said this, the actual load distribution isn’t necessarily equal. When it comes to parts of the shoulder muscles used in kayaking, the Posterior deltoids take on most of the work in a forward paddling motion, which could ultimately lead to the overuse of the deltoid muscle’s rear head. This can lead to shoulder injuries, shoulder joint wear, and rotator cuff tears.
The Arm Muscles
Paddling consists of a catch-and-pull action. As one arm pulls in, targeting the biceps on that side of the body, the other will respond with a countering forward extension that involves the triceps. As the biceps and triceps are working, the power generated by your back, arms, and core muscles is ultimately transferred to the paddle through your forearms and grip. Regardless of the paddling intensity, the forearm muscles are engaged continuously in handling and maneuvering the paddle. This includes rotating, flexing, and extending.
The Chest Muscles
The pectorals are the group of muscles connecting the front of your chest to the bones in your shoulders and upper arms. This makes up a fair amount of your torso’s top half. The back muscles are working with the arms and shoulders as well as the chest muscles.
Often there is an assumption that the power of a kayaker comes from the arms. However, it’s the rotational force generated by the core muscles (abdominals and obliques) through torso rotation that propels the paddling motion forward. Rotation and counter-rotation of the upper body, maintain balance, proper posture, and stabilize the kayaker and the kayak.
The Legs and Gluteal Muscles
A good kayak stroke starts with your legs lodged firmly on the foot braces. The legs also help with turning, rolling, and bracing. The gluteal muscles act as a point of contact between the core and the boat. The legs initiate the stroke, and your core strength and torso rotation see it through, but the glutes and hips are the connection point between the two. The leg muscles are where the power transfers to drive the kayak forward.
Dynamic stretching is best used before paddling as it is a form of active stretching, engaging the desired muscle’s antagonist through the joint’s range of motion. The stretch is only held briefly so that the muscle is able to increase in length without a reduction in muscle tension. By preventing the reduction in muscle tension, an improved range of motion will occur without a loss in force production. The same set of exercises can be done after a paddle by holding each position in a static stretch as the body is already warm.
At first glance, the kayaking motion may seem simple but with a proper kayaking technique, it can be highly demanding on the whole body. The back muscles, shoulders, chest, arms, core, legs, and glutes work really hard to stabilize and move the kayak forward. Even the heart can get a good workout! So next time you hop onto your kayak make sure to do a quick little warm-up to fire up the whole body.