By Kim Russell
The torso is the paddler's powerhouse. It's where we get our "oomph" to boof, sweep, and forward paddle our way through the biggest of rapids. It protects our spine and gives us the support to paddle long distances.
If we neglect our torso, what were little aches and pains throughout our body will become more prominent, and eventually they could even keep you off the water and on the couch.
Your "core" encompasses your abdominal and back muscles, specifically the rectus abdominus, obliques and lower back. These muscles provide stability to both the upper and lower body in all activities: walking, sitting, paddling, skipping, etc. Not only is a strong core vital to preventing injury, when it is conditioned and well trained, your performance, strength, coordination and balance will also improve.
Here are some paddling-specific core exercises to keep your powerhouse strong:
1. Bridge: The bridge engages the innermost abdominals and pelvic floor muscles.
Lie in a supine position, making sure your lower back is flat on the ground. Perform a kegel, and lift your hips toward the ceiling. Hold your hips in this position for 2-3 seconds, then slowly lower back to the ground, releasing the kegel. Repeat until you fatigue or lose proper form. Don’t forget to breathe.
Tip: The kegel is performed as though you were to stop urine flow midstream. It causes the contraction of your deep lower abdominal muscles, muscles commonly ignored in most exercise programs.
Tip: When first learning the bridge, place your hands on the top of your hips. When lifting your hips toward the ceiling, both left and right hips should be level. If one side is higher than the other, make corrections so they are even and proceed with your bridge. Repeat until fatigue three times, or until you lose proper form.
Progression: Single-leg bridge
Perform the bridge normally, however do so holding your right leg up in the air for 15 reps, and the left leg up in the air for 15 reps. Be sure to hold the kegel throughout the exercise, and maintain proper form. Repeat on opposite side.
Common error: If your right leg is being held in the air, for example, it is common when getting tired for the right hip to drop toward the ground, leaving the body unsupported and hips uneven. As suggested with the standard bridge, if one hip is higher than the other, make corrections so they are even and proceed with your bridge. If you are unable to keep level hips throughout the movement, return to the standard bridge.
2. Reverse Crunch: The reverse crunch engages the lower abdominals, key players when carving edge to edge in your kayak and lifting your knees for a boof-stomp.
Lie on the floor with your legs straight in the air above your body and your arms at your sides. Contract your abdominals to lift your hips off the floor toward the ceiling. Try to press your heels upward toward the ceiling rather than out behind you. Lower, and repeat to fatigue. Complete 3 sets of however many reps it takes you to fatigue. The straighter you keep your legs, the harder it will be.
Tip: This is a very small movement, so try to avoid using momentum between reps.
3. Bird-Dog on the Exercise Ball: Bird-dog engages back extensors, further aiding in core stabilization.
Begin sitting in front of a swiss ball. Roll yourself onto the ball in a prone position, so the ball is under your hips and your shoulders and feet are about shoulder width apart. Perform a kegel, and simultaneously raise your left arm and right leg while keeping a neutral spine (head and neck neutral). Return left arm and right leg to original position, and repeat with right arm and left leg. Complete 3 sets of 10 reps on both sides.
Tip for choosing an exercise ball for this exercise: The exercise ball should be large enough to require you to stabilize your body, but not so large that you have trouble touching your hands and feet down at the same time.
All of these exercises can be performed in the comfort of your home and take little time to complete. With a regular core regimen, you will find yourself performing better on the water before you know it!
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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