Tips and Techniques - Stretching
There have been volumes written on the subject of stretching. The bottom line is that stretching will help improve your strength and endurance, and prevent injuries. I’m going to get right to the basic principles as they apply to paddling.
Does it really matter if you get out a stopwatch and time each stretch exactly? Not really, hold each stretch for 15, 20 or 30 seconds—just use whatever time works best for you. If you stretch each group twice and still feel tight, there’s no rule that says you can’t stretch a third or even fourth time. You can also stretch more than just once at the beginning of the day. Feeling tight after a lunch break or a couple of miles into the run? Do some more stretches and get loosened back up.
Here’s the stretching routine I use once I’m in (don’t forget to do some leg stretches before you get in) the boat. Remember to paddle around for a couple of minutes and get warmed up.
Torso & Arm Stretch:
Holding the paddle in a normal grip (starting from your on-side), reach across the canoe and hook the tip of the blade on the opposite gunnel. Gently pull in on the shaft hand while pushing out on the top hand. Let your torso rotate at the waist. Slowly add pressure until you are fully rotated. The goal is to try and get your shoulders parallel with the keel line. If you come up short, don’t force it. Stretch to the limit of your comfort and then work on increasing your range of motion at the end of the day. Hold for about 15-20 seconds.
Next, while still in this position, relax the muscles and slide the tip of the paddle along the gunnel until it is even with your hips. The paddle should be vertical and your grip hand is extended over your head. Pull in on the shaft hand, push out with the grip hand (paddle stays vertical) and then rotate your shoulders so that they are facing forward. You should feel this stretch along the entire side of your body from your upper hand down to the knee. Hold for 15-20 seconds. Switch your hand positions on the paddle and repeat these stretches on the opposite side. Perform two repetitions on each side of your body.
Put your paddle down and tighten the thigh straps. Holding on to the gunnels, gently lower yourself backwards until you feel a stretch from your knees to your chin. Some people will feel this stretch as soon as they begin to lean back. Others can go all the way back until their head touches the air bag. Don’t let go of the gunnels while doing this! Your arms must control the pressure of the stretch by lessening the weight on your lower back. Once again, if there is any pain, back off immediately. After holding the stretch for 15-20 seconds, sit up and relax for a few seconds and then re-stretch the muscle group.
The combination of these stretches will cover a wide range of muscle groups and should contribute to your enjoyment of the sport.