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How To: Strengthen your Core and Improve your Paddling

Your "core" encompasses your abdominal and back muscles, specifically the rectus abdominus, obliques, lower back, and the glutes. 


It is important to strengthen the core muscles, because these muscles provide stability to both the upper and lower body in all activities: walking, sitting, paddling, etc.... In other words, a strong core is also vital in preventing injury, as it is a cylindrical support system that gives stability to your center. When your core is strong and well-trained, your performance, strength, coordination, and balance are improved.

When choosing your core exercises, specifically those involving the abdominals, it is important to keep your low back in mind in regards to preventing injury. 


1. Medicine Ball Crunches: (Straight crunch and oblique crunches)

Sit on a standard exercise ball, then roll down slightly so the ball is at the mid/low back, giving support to your hips and back. With arms across your chest, or behind your head, contract your abs, and lift your chest upward off the ball. As you lift, keep your chin OFF your chest, coming up as high as you can, then slowly return to the start position to finish 1 rep. Repeat until fatigue. 3 set of however many reps your need to fatigue.

2. Planks: Planks are a great way to build muscle endurance, and address those small core stabilizer muscles.

Lying face down on a mat, resting on forearms, with palms flat on the floor. Push up off the floor, raising up onto toes and forearms. Hold this position, as you maintain a flat back (avoid sagging at the abdominals, or sticking your butt up in the air) by contracting your glutes, and abdominals. Hold until you cannot hold any longer or until proper form is lost, and repeat for 3-5 reps. If you feel this exercise in your shoulders, push back into your toes, and it will take some pressure off the shoulders. If you are having lower back pain, chances are you are sagging at your abdominals and need to rest. 

Variation: Side Planks

Start laying on your side, supported by your elbow. Upon inhaling, lift your hips toward the ceiling. Hold this position, maintaining a straight line from shoulders to feet. Upon fatigue or loss of proper form, rest. Repeat 2-3 times.  

3) V-Up/Roll Up: Lie down with the legs straight. Do a sit-up, keeping your chin off your chest, and touch your toes. As you pull away from your toes, roll up your legs; in other words as you lay back down raise your legs in the air. When you are about halfway lying down (your arms always remain in the air) touch your toes again. Leave your hands in the air and bring your legs back down. Repeat. Each time you touch your toes counts as one rep. Sit up, and then sit up with legs in the air.  3 set of however many reps your need to fatigue.

4) Bridges: You'll feel this one in your low back and glutes.

Laying on the ground on your back, making sure your lower back is flat on the ground, perform a "kegel". The kegel is performed as though you were to stop the urine flow midstream. It causes the contraction of your deep lower abdominal muscles, muscles commonly ignored in most exercise programs. Holding the kegel, lift your hips toward the ceiling, hold for 2-3 seconds, slowly lower back to the ground, and release the kegel. Repeat until you fatigue or lose proper form. Don't forget to breathe. 

When first learning the bridge, place your hands on the top of your hips. When lifting them toward the ceiling, both left and right sides should be level. If one side is higher than the other, make corrections so they are even, and proceed with your bridge. 3 set of however many reps your need to fatigue or lose proper form.

Variation: If you have excellent form and have to do 100 normal bridges to fatigue, it's time to move on to the next progression.

Perform the bridge normally, however do so holding the Right leg up in the air for 30 reps, and the Left leg up in the air for 30 reps. Be sure to hold the kegel throughout the exercise, and MAINTAIN PROPER FORM. If the right leg is being held in the air, It is common when getting tired for the right hip to "drop" toward the ground, leaving the body unsupported, and hips uneven. Same with the left leg. As suggested with the standard bridge, when first learning this variation of the bridge, place your hands on the top of your hips. When lifting them toward the ceiling, both left and right sides should be level. If one side is higher than the other, make corrections so they are even, and proceed with your bridge. If you are unable to keep level hips throughout the movement return to the standard bridge.

5. Reverse Crunch:

Lie on the floor, legs in the air, above your body, and arms at your sides. Contract your abs to curl hips off the floor, reaching your feet toward the ceiling. Lower, and repeat until fatigue. 3 sets of however many reps it takes you to fatigue. The straighter you keep you legs, the harder it will be. 
Tip: Focus on pushing your heels toward the ceiling, rather than bringing your feet over your head. Also, this is a very small movement, so try to avoid using momentum between reps.

6. Bird-Dog on the Exercise Ball:

Begin sitting in front of an exercise ball. Roll yourself onto the ball, so the ball is under your hips and your shoulders/feet are about shoulder width apart. Contract your abdominals, and raise your left arm/right leg simultaneously while keeping a neutral spine (head and neck neutral). Return left arm/right leg to original position, and repeat with right arm/left leg.

Tip: When choosing an exercise ball for this exercise: The exercise ball should be large enough to make you need to stabilize your body, but not so large that you have trouble touching your hands and feet down at the same time.

All of these exercises can be performed in the comfort of your home, and take little time to complete. With a regular core regimen, you will find yourself performing better on the water before you know it!

See you on the water,

Kim Russell

**Kim Russell has a B.S. in Human Physiology from the University of Oregon. She is currently working as a Physical Therapist Aide, earning glances into stretches, strengthening exercises and mobilization techniques for paddlers. These techniques are ones that she has found to work for herself in strengthening her core muscles, and may not be suitable for some individuals. Consult your physician before trying any of these exercises.**

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Comment by Kim Russell (previously Becker) on May 19, 2012 at 1:34pm

Sweet! Let me know if you or anyone on your site would like to see a specific post or anything specific fitness wise. Cheers!

Comment by Rob Mousley on May 19, 2012 at 12:44pm

Great!  Thanks so much - I'm going to post at least two of your other pieces as well - on preventing sholder injury and your rotator cuff article as well...  We've a number of questions/posts on our forum on those topics...



Comment by Kim Russell (previously Becker) on May 19, 2012 at 11:44am


Feel free to re-publish any of my articles. I like to share my articles with whoever like to read them :) Great website! Happy paddling!

Comment by Rob Mousley on May 18, 2012 at 9:14am

Hi Kim, I love this article; it's entirely applicable to our paddling discipline too (long distance ocean surfski paddling).  Can I re-publish it on www.surfski.info?

Thanks, Rob

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