Dr. Wasserman catching an Atlantic Sailfish

Bulletproof Your Body for Paddling

Those of you who know me and have been to our office probably know that one of my favorite hobbies is kayaking. I specifically enjoy offshore kayak fishing. This involves paddling my kayak out into the ocean approximately 3 miles off the beach. Total paddling distance can be up to 18 miles in a day and last 6-8 hours. While this is an extreme version of paddle sports not suitable for everyone, endurance and proper form are critical aspects to all modes of paddle sports. In our part of South Florida, paddle sports are a very popular outdoor activity. Whether you're canoeing down the Loxahatchee river to Trapper Nelson's, or paddle boarding in the intracoastal after getting cocktails at Guanabanas, form and technique are critical to avoiding injuries, particularly in the low back, shoulders, and neck.

What is Proper Paddling Technique?

Proper technique depends on which of the paddle sports you are doing. Proper form is crucial not only for performance but also for injury prevention. Kayaking, paddle boarding, and canoeing technique only requires paddling on one side of your body at a time. Rowing has two oars and you use both at the same time. Let's first review kayaking:

Proper Kayaking Technique

  1. Posture: Sit upright in the kayak with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Avoid slouching forward or leaning back excessively.
  2. Foot Placement: Keep your feet positioned comfortably on the footrests or pegs inside the kayak. Your knees should be slightly bent, providing stability with each stroke.
  3. Grip: Hold the paddle with a relaxed grip, ensuring your hands are shoulder-width apart, maybe slightly wider. Your knuckles should be facing upward, and your elbows slightly bent throughout the stroke.
  4. Paddle Entry: When entering the paddle into the water, aim for a smooth, vertical motion. Avoid slapping the water or digging too deeply, as this can strain your shoulders and arms.
  5. Stroke Technique: Use arm movement to pull the paddle through the water, bringing your elbow back and to your sides. Keep the paddle close to the kayak and maintain a steady rhythm to maximize efficiency. Minimize torso rotation.

Proper Paddleboarding Technique

  1. Posture: Stand tall with your feet parallel and hip-width apart on the board. Keep your knees slightly bent to absorb shock and maintain stability. Engage your core muscles to support your posture and balance.
  2. Foot Placement: Position your feet securely on the board, keeping them centered and evenly distributed. Avoid standing too far forward or too far back, as this can affect stability and maneuverability.
  3. Grip: Hold the paddle with a relaxed grip, placing one hand on the top of the paddle shaft and the other hand on the handle. Your arms should be extended and slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  4. Paddle Entry: When paddling, aim to submerge the paddle blade fully into the water, reaching as far forward as comfortably possible. Avoid bending your elbows too much or overreaching, as this can strain your shoulders and arms.
  5. Stroke Technique: Use a combination of torso rotation and arm movement to propel yourself through the water. Engage your core muscles and twist your torso with each stroke, rather than relying solely on your arms. Keep the paddle close to the board and maintain a steady rhythm.
  6. Balance: Shift your weight and adjust your stance as needed to maintain balance on the board. Distribute your weight evenly between your feet and use your paddle as a stabilizer when necessary. Practice shifting your weight from side to side to improve your balance and control.

Proper Rowing Technique

  1. Posture: Sit tall with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Avoid slouching or rounding your back, as this can lead to strain on your spine and shoulders.
  2. Foot Placement: Secure your feet in the foot stretcher or footrests with the straps tightened snugly around your feet. Position your feet so that the balls of your feet are in contact with the footboard, with your heels raised slightly.
  3. Grip: Hold the oar or handle with a relaxed grip, keeping your wrists straight. Avoid gripping too tightly, as this can lead to hand and wrist fatigue.
  4. Leg Drive: Initiate the rowing stroke by pushing with your legs, driving through the balls of your feet. This engages the powerful muscles of your legs and glutes while minimizing strain on your back and arms.
  5. Torso Position: As your legs extend, lean your torso slightly back, maintaining a slight angle at the hips. Avoid leaning back too far or hunching forward excessively, as this can strain your lower back and shoulders.
  6. Arm Pull: Once your legs are fully extended, engage your arms to pull the oar or handle towards your body, keeping your elbows close to your sides. Focus on pulling with your back muscles rather than just your arms, to distribute the workload more evenly.
  7. Finish Position: At the end of the stroke, your hands should be pulled in towards your lower chest, with your elbows bent and pointing outward. Your wrists should remain flat, not bent.
  8. Recovery Phase: Reverse the sequence of movements to return to the starting position. Extend your arms forward, then hinge at the hips to lean forward while bending your knees to slide the seat toward the front of the rowing machine or boat.
  9. Breathing: Coordinate your breathing with your rowing strokes, exhaling as you drive with your legs and pull with your arms, and inhaling as you return to the starting position.
  10. Smoothness and Rhythm: Focus on maintaining a smooth, fluid motion throughout the rowing stroke, with a consistent rhythm and pace. Avoid jerky movements or rushing through the stroke, as this can increase the risk of injury.

These tips will allow you to enjoy your time on the water without injury. And if you ever want me to regale you with a fish tale about my time on the water, just ask at your next appointment. I'd be delighted to tell you all about it, including the time I set a world record! I recorded a video below for you to understand proper paddle technique for kayaking, my favorite sport. Check it out below!