Row, Row, Row Your Boat – But Don’t Forget to Stretch!

Kayaking Warner Hall



By Chrystal Caudill
Freelance Writer

Kayakers and canoe enthusiasts can delight as spring dawns and the last of the winter chill disappears from the air. It’s time to hit the water!

Whether you row down the James River or the countless tidal creeks our coastal region has to offer, one thing is certain: you must prepare and condition your body for the task. Nothing sidelines a fun-filled canoeing or kayaking season like an injury, which is why the skilled staff at Tidewater Physical Therapy wants to provide you with the knowledge and moves to help prevent strains, tears and pain.

Canoeing and kayaking are activities that require the participant to sit up straight for long periods.

“Paddling requires a strong core (abdominals, back, hips, and pelvic floor muscles) to provide a stable base to generate enough force to move the boat through the water,” said Karen Kovacs, PT, MPT, OCS, an avid kayaker and Clinical Director of the Tidewater Physical Therapy Gloucester Point location.

“For people who have tight hamstrings, sitting on a small cushion will help alleviate some of the stretch that can cause low back pain where those muscles attach at the pelvis.”

Kayaking in particular surrounds the paddler in a snug cockpit, constricting movement. The repetitive movement of paddling can also shrink and bind the muscle fibers in the arms, shoulders, neck and chest, causing soreness, stiffness and extreme discomfort.

Try these simple stretches to maintain a limber, loose musculature.

Shoulders and Back

Shoulder stretches will keep you limber and loose for extended paddling and even when you carry your kayak or canoe over your head. In a standing position, slide your left hand down the left side of your body. Lift your right shoulder as you lower the left. Hold this position for 10-15 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Alternate a few times, achieving a deeper stretch with each repetition. This is just the beginning to get your shoulders warm.  To loosen up your back muscles, cross your arms in front of your chest, place your hands around your shoulders. Think of this move as if you were giving yourself a hug. Carefully, slowly, reach your hands toward one another and drop your chin toward your chest. Hold for 10-15 seconds.


Raise your right hand over your head and bend your elbow so your right hand is resting on your left shoulder. Press gently on your right elbow with your hand. Hold this pose for about 15-20 seconds. Relax the arms briefly. Now raise your left hand above your head, bend the elbow and rest your left hand behind your right shoulder. Again, press gently and concentrate on the stretch you feel up the back of your arm, or the tricep area.


You can stretch both biceps at once by using a wall as your support. Face away from the wall, but place your hands against it, palms down. Slide your hands together and up the wall as much as you can without straining. Your fingers should be positioned upwards and fanned out. If you feel stable, squat down, ensuring your behind is toward the wall and your torso is leaning away. Hold for 15-20 seconds. This stretch is also great for your chest and neck muscles.


Raise your right arm above your head and bend so your hand is behind your head. Bend your left arm around and up the back so your hands are reaching for each other. If you are flexible enough to grasp your hands together, do so and hold for 10 seconds. If you are not yet limber enough to touch your fingertips, don’t force it. Gently reach, feeling the stretch in your arms and pectoral muscles, but if there is any discomfort or pain, stop. Try another effective chest stretch by sitting down, clasping your hands together behind your back and extending the arms. Slowly and gently pull the arms upward and hold for 10 seconds.

Legs stretches and strength area also crucial to muscular health and flexibility when kayaking and canoeing.

Consult one of our therapists to ensure you are performing these arm, shoulder, back and chest stretches properly, and discuss what your unique needs might be for your lower body.

Performing these moves regularly and correctly should help keep you pain-free and on the water all spring and summer long.

Just don’t forget the sunscreen!