CP Fitness - Exercises for a More Powerful and Pain Free Paddling Stroke

Cali Paddler is thrilled to share some great exercise tips from a paddling friend we have shared the water with. Sporting a great background in fitness training, and a resume  every paddler will be stoked to get tips from, we welcome Shannon Harnett of Shanimal Fitness on board in this new series of tips to help enhance your paddle fitness training.

Paddle Exercise TipsIn the short amount of time I have been paddling, I have noticed many paddlers especially OC1 paddlers having pain in their lower back, knees and hips. This can be attributed to doing a sport that tends to be dominate on one side. Paddlers many times will pull different on the Ama side with more twist, more hip involvement and explosion. When your spine is subjected to asymmetrical forces or torsion (twisting) applied by torque, such as paddling on one side of the boat, the discs of your lumbar spine get loaded and lock up. This increases the rigidity along the spine and cause muscles to go into spasm and even turn off.

Paddle Fitness Tips

The quadratus lumborum (QL) gets over stretched causing it to become weaker, followed by the gluteus medius muscle tightening up, which leads the adductor muscles to lose strength as well.

The QL attaches to T12 vertebrae and the iliac crest, when the QL tightens it pulls up one side of the hip up causing an anterior tilt. The illiospoas which attaches to the ilium and the spine locks up and causes a further anterior tilt. When this happens the sacroiliac joints stop acting as one and begin to act independently. Your abdominals that support the back become exhausted and causes the hip to further tilt. A pelvic tilt can cause swelling and pain on the knees i.e. MCL, ACL, PCL, patella pain and plantar fasciitis as well as many other back injuries.

Paddle Fitness Tips

Here are some exercises to prevent this and some rehab drills that will help reverse the pelvic tilt.

  1. One legged squat. This can be done on the TRX or on a step with opposite leg over the edge. Always push your bottom back, knees stay above the foot, not over and chest up.

  2. One Legged Bridges. First tighten your glutes and lower back before starting. Push bent knee forward when lifting and drive hips to ceiling using the heel of the bent leg. Hold at the top and continue squeezing.


  1. Lay on your back with legs up and bent knees. Take your fists and put them between your knees and squeeze. Repeat with the hands on the outside of the knees.
  2. In the same position place a bar behind one knee and in front of the other or your hands. Place your hand on the front of one leg and the back of the other and push and pull against the hands or bar in the opposite direction of one another.
  3. Roller. Sit on a roller or a PVC pipe. Cross your legs and roll to the side that the leg that is over the other leg, then roll on the piriformis and the tensor fascia lata (TFL).
    Paddle Fitness Tips
  4. Place a medicine ball (MB) at the bottom of spine and arch backwards slowly. Try to touch your head to the ground, then continue to move it up 2 inches at a time. Continue till you are between your scapulas.
  5. Lay your stomach and put the MB between you and the ground. Place it very low on stomach and next to your hip bone. Relax onto the MB and allow your abdominals to relax into the ball (which maybe painful) after relaxing, push your abdominals as hard as you can into the ball, then relax again. Do all 4 sections of your abdominals, left, right, upper and lower.
  6. Lay on the floor on your side. Use a lacrosse ball or tennis ball and place it on the side of the hip. This will give you a myofascial release ( facilitates in releasing the facia which surrounds the muscle) by applying pressure on the connective tissue.

These exercises will restore proper body mechanics and movement. It will enhance strength, improve blood flow, relax contracting muscles, stimulates the stretch reflex and increase flexibility for a more powerful and pain free paddling stroke.

Team Writer Shannon HartnettTeam Writer Shannon Hartnett - Shannon Hartnett has been a fitness trainer for over 20 years. She graduated from college in the fitness industry at Cal Poly SLO and at Sonoma State. Shannon also competed in basketball and track and field in college. Shannon was a professional athlete for 22 years and has spent a lot of time at the different Olympic Training Centers. Shannon has many specialized training certificates such as rehabilitation certification, kettle bells, TRX, MOR Bar and a Yoga instructor

In the last several years, Shannon began paddling, including Outrigger Canoe, and has raced throughout California and in Hawaii. Visit her website http://www.shanimalfitness.com for a chance to learn more about her fitness and nutrition business and talk paddling!

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  • Priscilla McKenney - March 13, 2017

    Thank you Shannon! Great information.

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