By Kim Russell
As paddlers, we are often in a forward flexed position, straining the back and torso as well as hips and SI joints. Shoulders are can be overloaded when they find themselves in vulnerable positions “out of the paddler’s box“, such as in a high brace. Wrists and elbows may become sore as the shoulders are stressed, thereby taxing other joints.
To address one weakness, you must address the others as the body is one large integrated system. For example, if your hamstrings are tight, this can cause pain in your pelvis. If your lower back is weak, this can affect your pelvis and in turn your hips, knees and even ankles. A weak lower back can even lead to postural malalignment and result in shoulder pain or discomfort. A strict yoga regimen can address these issues, offering increased strength and muscular endurance while reducing the risk of injury and restoring balance.
The following poses have been chosen specifically for paddlers to target spinal flexibility, stretch the shoulders and open up the chest.
1. Cat-Camel: This pose serves to mobilize spinal stabilizers as well as increase flexibility within the spine, both of which are vital to paddlers.
To perform the exercise, start on your hands and knees, shoulder and hip-width apart respectively. Your right hand should be placed directly under your right shoulder and in line with your right knee. Same with the left. Inhale and slowly tighten your abdominals, allowing your stomach to fall toward the floor in a swayback position, holding for three breaths. While in this position, you should be looking upward toward the ceiling. Exhale and slowly arch your spine toward the ceiling, head downward toward the ground. Repeat for five whole breaths.
Tip: Each movement should originate at your lower back.
2. Seated Spinal Twist: This pose serves to improve flexibility of the spine, as well as open up the chest and shoulders.
From cat-camel, simply take a seat on the ground with legs extended out in front of you. Bend your right knee and bring your right heel back as close as you can toward your left hip. Bend your left knee and place your left foot next to your right knee. Twisting to the left, reach your left arm behind you, placing your hand on the floor, while crossing your right elbow over the outside of your left knee. In this position, try to keep your right elbow bent. To increase the stretch in your chest and shoulders, bring your left arm toward your lower back, grasping your shirt or left thigh. Head should be turned to look behind you. Hold this position for five breaths, pressing your right arm into your left knee, rotating further to the let upon each exhale. Repeat for five breaths on each side.
3. Side-Lunge to Warrior I: These poses serve to stretch the hip adductors and hip flexors, as well as strengthen the glutes and quadriceps.
To perform this exercise, begin standing with feet shoulder-width apart. Step laterally to the right, toes pointed forward, and lower your hips into a side lunge, keeping your right knee over your right ankle. Do your best to keep your torso upright, and both heels flat on the floor. Hold this position for five breaths, then rotate your hips to the right into a forward lunge position. At this point, lift your left heel off the ground and reach your arms above your head, extending your chest towards the ceiling. Repeat for five breaths on each side.
Progression: Half-Moon – This pose serves to strengthen the core muscles, ankles, thighs, and buttocks while improving balance.
From Warrior I, inhale and step up on your right leg, arms extended overhead. Exhale, and bend forward at the hips, standing on your right leg. Inhale, place your right hand on the floor (or block as needed), while extending your left leg until it is parallel to the floor. Bear most of the body’s weight on the standing leg and gain your balance. Exhale and rotate your torso to the left, while extending your left arm toward the ceiling. Being careful not to hyperextend your standing leg, hold this position for five breaths and repeat on the opposite side.
4. Upward-Dog: This pose serves to improve posture, as well as open the chest and shoulders while strengthening wrists and arms.
From the half-moon, rotate your body back to standing. Bend forward at the hips, place your hands on the ground and move into a plank position. Lower yourself to the floor with hands shoulder-width apart and stretch your legs back, tops of your feet touching the floor. With your hands on the floor beside your waist, keeping your elbows close to your sides, inhale, and straighten your arms, lifting your chest, torso, and legs a few inches off the floor. Once positioned, turn out your arms slightly, and imagine pressing your tailbone toward your pubis, and pubis toward your navel. Look straight ahead or slightly up, being sure not to compress the back of your neck. Hold this position for five breaths and release to a prone position.
5. Downward Dog: This pose stretches the hamstrings and calves, as well as opens up and strengthens the shoulders.
From upward dog, press up onto your toes, and lift your hips into a full plank. From plank, maintain your hands shoulder width apart, and upon exhaling, press down through your hands while shifting your hips backward. As you press down with your hands, imagine lifting your forearms away from the ground while externally rotating your shoulders with your torso, thereby stabilizing your shoulders. Maintain your head between your arms, with a straight spine, keeping your heels placed firmly on the ground. Hold this position for five breaths, keeping legs and arms in full extension.
Tip: If you are unable to hold in full extension, consider placing a block under your hands, or moving your feet slightly forward
6. Child’s Pose: This pose serves to gently stretch your lower extremity, as well as relaxing your upper body while calming the mind.
Finish downward dog on your hands and knees. Point your toes, so the tops of your feet now lay flat on the floor, and move your hips backward toward your heels, while extending your arms out in front of you. Allow your torso to lay upon your thighs, hold for five breaths and relax.
Variation: From child’s pose, move your hands to the right, then left, maintaining shoulder-width spacing. This will stretch your quadratus lumborum, responsible for back extension and unilateral flexion of the spine.
Be mindful of your posture throughout the day, keeping ears over shoulders, over hips, over toes. Stay tuned for the second installment of yoga for paddlers.
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**These exercises may not be suitable for some individuals. Consult your physician before trying any of these movements.**
About the Author: Kim Russell has a B.S. in Human Physiology and is both a full-time Exercise Specialist and Professional Whitewater Paddler of over seven years. She has won the Western Whitewater Championship Series from 2010-2013, the Wind River Festival from 2010-2013, and the Northwest Creeking Competition from 2009-2013. She has raced the Little White Salmon, participated in various FLUX women’s clinics, and is an active member of the Northwest paddling community. You may also find Kim on the local bike trails racing Enduro Professionally, with a notable win of the 2014 Oregon Enduro Series Women’s Pro Category.
For more information on Russell and for similar articles visit her website: www.kimrussell.weebly.com