After a long day of paddling or hiking to your favorite canoe or kayaking destination, your legs can sometimes feel like they’re anchors holding you in place. Of course, your shoulders, hips, and the rest of your body can feel bogged down too, even when you’re not kayaking in a nearby swamp or playing in the mud. Warm-up exercises for canoeing and kayaking, such as stretching, can be beneficial.
Many people may think stretching just helps loosen up your muscles after a long workout and improves your overall flexibility. While this is undoubtedly a benefit, there are a few more benefits that are just as important. Stretching improves your body’s alignment awareness, neuromuscular coordination, and your joint’s range of motion. Without proper stretching, you increase your risk of injury while limiting your overall range of motion.
Have you ever felt stiff and unable to walk comfortably in the morning when you first get out of bed? How about after a long day of kayaking or hiking? A brief warm-up and stretching routine can significantly help improve the way you feel.
The following stretches can be done anywhere and anytime, though some may be easier lying down, holding a chair, or having a friend give you a helping hand or shoulder.
This exercise helps stretch the muscles in the upper front part of your leg, commonly referred to as the quadriceps muscles which extend the leg. These muscles can become quite tight, especially after a long uphill climb.
To perform this stretch, stand up straight and flex your knee, bending your leg behind you. Hold your ankle with the opposite hand. Using your opposite hand makes it easier to keep your leg and knee straight without putting unnecessary strain on your MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament) and knee joint. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. Do three repetitions on each leg.
This exercise helps stretch your back, which can feel strained and tight after kayaking in a seated position for an extended period. This stretch is best on a long, comfortable mat, such as a yoga mat. The mat should be on a flat surface either at home or at the park.
First, place your hands and knees on the ground as if you were going to perform a pushup. Your arms and legs should be at about 90 degrees from your torso, perpendicular to the floor mat. Now arch your back like a cat stretching and hold for 20 seconds. This stretch is called the cat pose in yoga. Similarly, drop your back down and raise your head and chest, allowing your back to sink slightly below you. This stretch is called the cow pose.
Repeat each pose three times, exhaling as you stretch and inhaling as you come back to your starting/neutral position. Breathing is an integral part of each stretch, so concentrate not only on feeling a good, comfortable stretch, but focus on breathing to get an even deeper and more relaxed stretch.
The chest stretch is an excellent exercise for your chest after a long day of canoeing and kayaking. Stand an arm’s length away from a corner wall and place your right hand on the wall at about shoulder height. Bend your torso away from your arm until you feel a nice stretch in your chest. Breathe through the stretch and hold for 15 seconds. Repeat with the left arm.
You can also perform this stretch by standing closer to the wall and placing your forearm against the wall. Then bend your torso away from your arm. Your wall arm should form the letter “L” as your upper arm should be shoulder height and parallel with the floor. You can perform this stretch outdoors against a tree or other vertical flat surface.
To shift the emphasis of the stretch onto the upper chest, place your elbow lower on the wall, forming a “V” shape. To emphasize the lower chest, place your elbow higher on the wall.
Stand in front of a wall or a sturdy chair with one foot in front of the other. Make sure your feet are about a foot’s distance apart. Place your hands on the wall or chair and lean forward, bending your front knee while keeping your back knee straight. As you bend forward, keeping both of your heels on the floor, you should begin to feel a stretch in your calf in your back leg. Remember to exhale as you bend forward and hold the stretch for 15 seconds. Repeat the stretch with the opposite leg. Aim for 3-5 repetitions.
Try these warm-up stretching exercises whenever you feel tightness in your muscles and especially after a long day of and canoeing and kayaking. Your muscles will thank you for it!