Paddling is hard on the arms and shoulders. The repetitive nature of the sport can lead to strain on joints and tendons, while bracing and rolling can cause more serious shoulder injuries or dislocation. Those risks can be mitigated, however, with a shoulder conditioning program like the one exercise specialist Kim Russell lays out below.
The rotator cuff is comprised of four muscles that surround the glenohumoral joint and provide stability to the shoulder girdle. If one or more muscles are compromised, so is joint stability. This means greater disposition for shoulder injury and dislocation. As paddlers we need to listen to our bodies and be particularly aware of the condition of our shoulders. We all need rest days here and there, especially after a long day on the river. These rest days are very important in order to let our muscles recover from the stress and strain we put on them when paddling.
It's also important to consider a shoulder conditioning program to prevent injury, as well as to improve strength and endurance.
For the following two exercises (internal and external rotation), tie a knot in the end of a theraband, and close one end in a door at about elbow height. Hold your arm as pictured, with your forearm parallel to the floor, and at a 90-degree angle to your upper arm.
Internal Rotation: Place a thin bolster between your elbow and torso, and stand with the door to your right. Holding the theraband in your right hand, and your elbow tight at your right side, move your hand inward toward your stomach, pivoting at the elbow. Slowly return to the original position, and continue for 3 sets of 10.
External Rotation: Place a thin pillow between your elbow and torso, acting as a bolster. Stand with the door to your right, and hold the theraband in your left hand. Keep your elbow in tight to your torso, and move your hand outward away from your torso, pivoting at the elbow. Slowly return to the original position, and continue for 3 sets of 10.
*Start with a low resistance theraband. Internal and External Rotator Muscles tend to be neglected and are often a lot weaker than you think. Once you can do 3 sets of 15 easily, move up in resistance *
Serratus Press/Push-up Plus: The push-up plus functions to strengthen the serratus anterior, a muscle that helps stabilize the scapula, and by default, the glenohumeral joint.
Start in a standard plank position, with hips level, and back flat. Keeping your arms straight, push up away from the ground through your upper back, rounding your back slightly at the shoulder blades; the movement is very discreet. Modify as needed using the edge of a table. Complete 3 sets of 10.
Low Row: Close a theraband in a door just below chest level. Holding the band in both hands, arms extended, pinch your shoulder blades together as though you are squeezing an orange between them. Over-emphasize this moment by keeping your elbows tight your torso and pulling backward. Slowly return to the original position, and continue for 3 sets of 10.
In addition to these rotator-cuff specific exercises, consider adding in pull-ups and push-ups for further functional strengthening.
When performing strengthening exercises, the emphasis is on the SLOW return of weights to their original position. This eccentric strengthening of the muscle has been found to be associated with greater muscle strengthening than concentric exercises (simply lifting the weight). If you want to focus on muscle endurance, choose a weight that will allow you to do a greater the number of reps, 10+. If you want to focus on strength, choose a weight that will allow you to perform 6-8 reps.
These exercises can be combined with various other upper body exercises, and they may be performed every other day in order to give your body a rest day between exercises. Be sure to replenish your body with a nutritional meal post workout.
**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 a ACE certified Personal Trainer. She is 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 won the 2015 Little White Salmon Race, was nominated for 2015 C&K Female Paddler of the Year, and has participated in various FLUX women's clinics. You may also find Kim racing mountain bikes professionally for Yeti Cycles.
For more information on Russell and for similar articles visit her website: www.kimrussell.weebly.com
More from C&K