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Top 3 Stretches for Kayaking and Canoeing

Everyone knows the importance of stretching, you'll likely have seen athletes, footballers and basketball players warming up before training and performing a range of stretches. For some reason, however, there are some sports - such as kayaking and canoeing- where stretching is something of an afterthought, in some cases ignored completely. There are no videos, posters or health and fitness books specifically for stretching for kayakers/canoeists, but pulling, straining and damaging arm, back and even abdominal and chest muscles is just as likely to happen in kayaking as in any other sport, so stretching is essential; especially for those undertaking long distance or strenuous bouts of rowing. You should make time for stretching (at least ten minutes) both before and after kayaking/canoeing.

Stretching can improve performance by warming the muscles and decreasing muscle stiffness, it also helps prevent injury through pulling/straining muscles. In addition to this stretching promotes circulation (increasing blood supply to the muscles and joints) and prepares the body for the stress/impact of exercise. For some people stretching gives them the time to mentally prepare for the sport/exercise, especially before tournaments/competitions etc.

Key muscles used in kayaking include:

- Muscles of the forearm and lower arm, including: brachioradialis, supinator, extensor pollicis brevis, extensor pollicis longus, extensor carpi ulnaris and extensor digitorum.
- Abdominal muscles, including: external obliques, rectus abdominis, transersus abdominis, quadratus lumborum, internal obliques, external obliques, and psoas major and minor.
- Chest muscles, including: pectoralis major and minor
- Back muscles, including: semispinalis cervicis, longissimus thoracis, iliocostalis lumborum, spinalis thoracis and iliocostalis thoracis

Three key stretches to help loosen these muscles before kayaking:

Back/chest stretch
This stretch is good for both the obliques (abdominal muscles) and muscles of the back.
Kneel on the floor and raise one arm in the air, slowly rotate your shoulders and back, and look outwards/slightly up. You should feel the stretch through your chest and abdominal muscles. Hold.
This stretch is great if you tend to suffer from any type of back muscle strain, or abdominal muscle strain.

Stomach stretch
Another good stretch for the obliques.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, placing your left hand on your left buttock. Looking upwards slowly lean backwards from the waist, reach over with your opposite hand and rotate at the waist. Hold. Repeat on the opposite side.

Arm stretch
Great for stretching numerous muscles of the lower and upper arm.
Extend your arm straight out in front, let your hand point to the ground, then using young other hand, rotate hand/fingers upwards. Hold.
You'll discover your arm has more muscles than you ever imagined with this one!

Other stretches you might want to include in your routine include the shoulder warm up (rotating one arm one way and the other the opposite direction), tricep stretch (using paddle), grasp the paddle behind your back with one arm reaching over your shoulder and the other reaching up from below, and the shoulder stretch pulling the arm horizontally across the body, supporting with the free arm.

Ellie Garwood is a freelance writer interested in a diverse range of topics, for more information on stretching she recommends The Anatomy of Stretching from Lotus Publishing.