Kim Becker paddling the Wave Sport Recon 70 (Photo Heather Herbeck)
As whitewater paddlers, our torso’s are our powerhouses. It’s where we get our “oomph” to boof, sweep, and forward paddle our way through the biggest and even smallest of rapids. If we neglect our torso, eventually what were little aches and pains throughout our body will become more prominent and potentially keep you off the water and on the couch. Here’s a few tricks to avoid torso “burnout”:
1. Stretch: Before and after paddling!
When stretching think Hip Openers! Hip openers are exercises loosen up your hips and pelvis. These stretches can be done before or after paddling as a way to re-align the pelvis, and lengthen muscles. When reading these exercises, think of the human body as one large chain. If the chain has a kink midway through, the rest of the chain will be off. In other words, if your hamstrings are tight, this can cause pain in your pelvis. If your low back is weak, this can affect your pelvis and in turn your hips, knees and even ankles. To address one weakness, you must address the others, all with the goal of improved lumbar health.
Torso Rotation Stretch:
Start by lying on your right side, knees bent, arms extended in front of you. Keeping your right shoulder touching the ground, open up your chest toward the ceiling as you bring your other shoulder toward the floor. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds, and repeat 3 times on each side.
Knee to Chest:
While a simple exercise, the single knee to chest stretch effectively stretches the muscles of the low back as well as hips and glutes. Simply lie on your back on the floor. Inhale, bringing one knee to your chest. Hold this position for 30 seconds, inhale again and return your leg to its original position. Continue on to the other leg, completing the stretch 3 times on each leg. Finish this stretch by inhaling, and bringing both knees to your chest. Hold this position for 30 seconds, focuses on pushing your sacrum down into the ground. Allow your body to relax and "melt" into the ground.
** For further stretches suggested for both before and after paddling, visit my previous post: A Paddler's Pelvis**: http://wavesport.ning.com/profiles/blogs/a-paddler-s-pelvis
To take it a step further, consider incorporating yoga into your weekly exercise routine. You’ll begin to feel the benefits even after only 1 day a week! Added benefits include gains in low back, hip and shoulder mobility/flexibility as well as strength.
2. Kegels: If the word alone makes you uncomfortable, you should probably be doing them! The kegel is the smallest of movements, but can make a lasting impact on low back stability and strength- vital to us paddlers! It addresses the pelvic floor and innermost abdominal muscles, ones that are typically ignored as folks rally through a set of standard sit-ups. These muscles are the foundation of your core, and very important when considering a stable core and healthy Torso.
How to Kegel:
Men: Think of walking into very COLD water. Everything feels like it gets pulled “up and in” – try to do it deliberately.
Women: You know how to stop the flow mid-stream? That’s a kegel. Don’t practice on the pot, but get to know the feeling.
Give them a try during commercial breaks-no one will even see you doing them. Start by doing 3 x 10, holding each for 4 seconds, building up to 10-15 second holds. Don’t forget to breathe. Once you’re comfortable with this, start using your kegel in basic movements, such as lifting your kayak into your car or boofing. Kegel, lift kayak, release kegel. Kegel, boof, release kegel. While corny, the kegel will protect your back during various movements, and give you that much more power, not to mention help build a strong foundation at your core.
For other exercises to strengthen your corso and tighten your torso, see my previous post: Bridges and planks! http://wavesport.ning.com/profiles/blogs/how-to-strengthen-your-core-and-improve-your-paddling
3. Pokey Ball: One of my favorites!
Lay on the ground on the nearest tennis-ball and start rolling! It’s the best way to get a quick myofascial release, and your body will thank you.
You’ll know when you are in the right place, because you will likely feel some pain and tension. Once you feel this, simply roll around on the ball for ten minutes or so, on, above and below the area of tension. If the pain is too great, lift some of your body weight off the ball, or find a larger ball to roll around on. This is a quick and easy way to self-massage.
This can also be done standing upright, back to a wall, with the tennis ball between your back and the wall. Start moving your body against the tennis ball and slowly work down your back. Consider taping two balls together into a "peanut"- place the balls on either side of the spine, and roll forward and backward. This can be used on your neck as well.
Be careful how much self-mobilization you do in one day. You may be VERY sore the next day. However, overtime, you should notice a decrease in lower back pain.
**Can be used on any and all body parts- get creative**
4. Foam Roll: Yet another way to release tight muscles (and watch a movie at the same time!)
Head on down to Walmart, or your local Dick's Sporting Goods, and buy yourself a foam roll. They are generally between $20-40 but will be well worth the money. I recommend the 3 ft foam roller vs the 1 ft. The 1ft does the trick for travel, however, the 3ft allows you to actually lay on it and hit the tender spots in your back.
Start by laying on it longways (parallel to your body). Take a seat on the very end and lay back on the roller. Your spine from your head all the way to your tailbone should be supported by the foam roller. Pressing your low back down into the roller, open your arms up as though you are about to do a chest fly. Try doing a snow angel, moving your arms up toward your head, and down toward your feet along the floor. Try small movements sideways sideways on the roller while you do this, rolling from one side of your spine to the other.
Inhale, sit up, and lay back onto the foam roller, now perpendicular to your body. Clasp your hands behind your back, and roll away along your upper back. Do be advised not to roll to low on your back- your lower ribs are "floating", and with too much pressure can actually fracture. I generally do not roll in this fashion below 4-5" below my armpit.
The foam roller has many uses. Legs, arms, back, you name it-get creative and learn to love the foam!
At the end of the day, when you’ve unloaded all your gear, and you’re grabbing a beer, get on the floor and follow these 4 Top Notch Torso Tricks. Your body will thank you!
See you on the water,
**Kim Becker (Russell) has a B.S. in Human Physiology from the University of Oregon. She is currently working as an Exercise Specialist working to provide stretches, strengthening exercises and mobilization techniques to paddlers. These techniques are ones that she has found to work for herself in maintaining a healthy torso, and may not be suitable for some individuals. Consult your physician before trying any of these tricks.**http://wavesport.ning.com/profiles/blogs/how-to-kim-becker-s-top-notch-torso-tricks