The author, pictured below, has a B.S. in Human Physiology and is both a full-time Exercise Specialist and Professional whitewater Paddler of over seven years. She is the winner of the 2010-2013 Western Whitewater Championship Series, 4-time undefeated winner of the Wind River Festival from 2010-2013 and 5-time undefeated winner of Northwest Creeking Competition from 2009-2013 (Tie: 2009).
By Kim Russell
Does anyone remember the time you could barely get in your playboat because your hamstrings were too tight, or the time you were able to cram yourself in, but your hips and lower back were sore for days on end afterward? Chances are you’ve got an unhappy pelvis!
Tight hamstrings limit the mobility of the pelvis during bending and lifting activities, while tight hip flexors torque your pelvis, which can lead to pain as well as all sorts of alignment, postural, and functional problems.
Don’t worry though, these hidden pelvis issues can be fixed with a few simple stretches for paddlers.
My personal favorite hamstring stretch is done lying down. Place a belt or strap around the ball of your foot. Lift your leg straight into the air, and pull on the strap until you feel a stretch at the back of your upper leg. Be sure to flex your foot (toes toward the ground), and keep your leg as straight as possible while you’re holding the stretch. Hold for 20-30 seconds, and repeat 2-3 times per leg.
To stretch the hip flexors, assume a lunge position and allow the knee of the “back” leg to drop to the ground. Your feet should be far enough apart to prevent the knee of your forward leg from moving too far past the ankle. Ideally, the knee should be kept directly over your ankle on your forward knee to reduce knee strain. From this position, keeping your torso upright, and allow your hips to shift forward, being sure they are “square” to the front. Keep your forward foot flat on the floor, and hold this position for 20-30 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times per leg.
Tip: To increase the stretch, engage your glutes, and lean back slightly at the hips. Be sure to keep your torso straight and avoid arching your back.
To stretch the piriformis, lie on your back and bend your knees so your feet rest flat on the floor. Bring your right ankle to your left knee/upper thigh, and press your right knee away from you. You should feel a stretch at your right hip/bottom. If this is too easy, bring your left foot off the ground, and your left leg toward you. Be mindful of keeping your feet flexed (pull your toes upward slightly) to protect your knees. This prevents overstretching at the outside of the knee, and provides dynamic bracing to the inside of the knee. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds, and repeat 2-3 times per leg.
While standing, cross your left leg in front of your right leg. Then, bend to the left at the waist. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds, and repeat 2-3 times per side.
5. Massage Balls: Massage Balls are great for myofascial release! Lie on the ground with the ball between your body and the floor. Place it near the painful area, and roll your body side to side over the ball. Try using it above, below and to the sides of the painful area as well to address referred pain. If you’d rather stand, try putting the ball between yourself and a wall. Massage balls come in a variety of shapes, sizes and textures- a tennis ball is a great substitute!
6. My personal favorite, the rolling pin. That’s right folks, it’s time to raid the kitchen! Run the rolling pin over your quads, calves, hamstrings, and sides of your legs. Try it immediately after activity for best results. A foam roller does the trick as well.
All of these stretches can be performed in the comfort of your home, and take little to no time to complete. With a regular stretching regimen, your pelvis will be happy in no time, and you will find yourself performing better on the water before you know it!
**These techniques may not be suitable for some individuals, particularly those with a history of hip or knee replacements. Consult your physician before trying any of these movements.**