I don’t have empirical data to prove it, but I would place a bet, that shoulder injuries are one of the top 5 injuries for kayak paddlers. Probably the primary cause of shoulder injuries is the obvious problem with incorrect arm position during a brace. This places the shoulder in a vulnerable position. Using poor technique during rolling becomes the next obvious challenge. And then there is my least favorite, the often over looked danger of lifting the kayak onto the car roof.
Clearly good technique can help decrease the probability of injury. So too can the appropriate shoulder exercises for kayaking, by developing the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint. Whilst by no means an exhaustive list, the following exercises if performed routinely, can help protect the shoulder, a vulnerable and essential joint for all paddlers.
Shoulder Exercises for Kayaking and Canoeing
Stand up straight with your arms by your sides, with your feet shoulder width apart. Position your hands flat with your palms resting against your sides. Raise your arms straight out sideways until they are shoulder height with palms facing downwards. Hold for fifteen seconds. Lower your arms to your sides. Repeat 12 times.
Stand up straight with your feet shoulder width apart. Raise your arms so they are horizontal at shoulder height, with palms facing downwards. With straight arms move your hands in small circles about one foot in diameter. Complete 10 circles. Then repeat in opposite direction. Lower arms and rest. Raise arms to horizontal again and complete 10 large circles about two feet in diameter. Repeat in opposite direction.
Stand up straight with your feet shoulder width apart. Raise your arms so they are horizontal at shoulder height, with palms facing upwards. Swing your arms together keeping them horizontal and rotate your hands so the palms end facing downwards. Hold this position for fifteen seconds, then reverse to movement back to the original position and hold for fifteen seconds. Repeat this process 12 times
Place two chairs facing each other about 3 feet apart. Sit on one chair and place your feet on the other. Grip the edges of the seat you are sitting on on either side by your hips. Slide forward until your arms and feet are supporting you on the opposite chairs. Slowly lower yourself until your elbow is close to but less than ninety degrees. Hold this position for 5 seconds then raise yourself back up to the chair seat. Repeat this process 12 times.
Find a pull up bar capable of supporting your body mass. It should be at a height to allow you to grasp it with slightly bent arms. Do not use one that causes you to have straight arms to begin with. Grip the bar with your palms facing forwards. Lift your knees towards your chest. Raise yourself up until your chin is level with the bar. Hold this position for five seconds. Slowly lower until you have straight arms, keep your knees tucked throughout. Repeat this process twelve times.
These exercises are written for someone who is already reasonably strong. If you find you are unable to complete the repetitions do not worry, simply build up to them over time. Similarly if you are unable to complete one repetition then look to decrease the load. In the case of pull-ups use a lower bar and keep your feet on the ground and reduce the load on your arms. Over time you will develop sufficient strength to complete full pull-ups and eventually pull-ups with knees tucked. For the dips you can start by using just one chair and keep your feet on the ground. This will help reduce the load on your arms.
Remember with all anaerobic exercise that your body needs time to develop muscle mass after exercising. I would recommend at least a day of rest between each set. If you can still feel your last workout it is probably too soon to exercise the same muscles again. Now the obligatory disclaimer: Like all exercise it is prudent to consult a physician prior to beginning any exercise program.
Hopefully you can use these shoulder exercises for kayaking to establish a program to help strengthen your critical paddling muscles and help prevent unnecessary injuries.
Christopher Crowhurst’s Bio
Christopher Crowhurst is a self confessed Greenland rolling addict, hailing from Minnesota. Recently he published an innovative waterproof guidebook to kayak rolling designed to be used afloat, available at Rolling with Sticks.