The Water is Frozen...Now What?

What are you doing to stay in paddling shape this Winter?

When was the last time you were on the water?  For me now it's unfortunately...I hate to admit it...2 1/2 months.  It's been a crazy Fall that has made it difficult to get on the water.  The difference though, is that I am still "water ready". I have been cross training, lifting weights, running, and doing paddle specific exercises that, although not as perfect as paddling, simulates paddling and makes that transition back to the water easier.   Matter of fact, this is the way it's been for me the last several years, especially trying to maintain my race fitness, and even after not having been in a boat for several months,  I am ready to hit the water paddling in the Spring.  So what specifically am I doing to stay in shape all Winter long?  Here is a sample of what I do.

1) Strength training: 2-3 times per week
2) Cardio: 3-4 times per week. This may be running 2x/wk with biking on the trainer 1-2x/wk.   I have also been doing repeated sets of stairs.   I have my own "bleachers" to run.  I have 42 stairs on a hillside that I do for a workout itself, sometimes wearing a backpack, sometimes running the stairs,  sometimes doing 2-3 steps at a time.   This helps carrying a boat up a steep takeout.   I also love to get out in the snow and will go do a trail run or long hike in the snow 
3) Paddle specific workouts:  2-3 times per week.  The most important aspect of paddling is rotation through the torso, so I try to simulate this several ways.  The easiest way is to do theraband rotations.  Basically you place a theraband in a door and rotate away for however long you choose.   you can actually do both cardio and strength together.  A lighter band will allow you to do a cardio based workout of 20 minutes or more while a heavier band will allow you to do more of the traditional strength workout.  We need both strength and endurance with rotation.  We need the endurance for those long days on the water, while we also need the strength, for example, to punch out of a hole or to "paddle like hell" to avoid a strainer.  

I also try to get in the pool once a week and do rotations against water, using my hands as paddles rotating left and right and engaging the rotators of the spine. 

4) Miscellaneous:  As mentioned in my previous article, I try to get some exercise done while doing other things.  I wore a backpack the other day while vacuuming the house.  Throughout the day at home on Saturday, each time I stood up I did so on one leg.  I also do a lot of snowboard specific drills this time of year like plyometrics and squat holds where you get in a squatted position and stay there for as long as you can.

So what have you been doing?  What's your plan for the Winter?  Remember,  it's a lot easier to maintain fitness than it is to get it back.  So go ahead and post a comment and let me know what you've been doing. 

Living a Fitness Lifestyle: When Life Gets in the Way

The human body was never meant to be as inactive as we are today.  In this day and age we have every convenience that allows us to use less and less of our bodies.  Now of course we have great inventions that have saved us from injury-causing, backbreaking work, but its all the little things that have cumulatively added up to cause us to use our bodies less and less.  Everything from drive-ups, escalators, elevators, the list is endless.  
So how does this relate to you, my fellow paddler?  Well it creates a situation where a lot of us just are not in the shape we need to be to do the things we want to do. So let’s look at ways to incorporate fitness into our daily routine.   I here so often," I don’t have time to work out.”   Sure, I agree. Life can be hectic, chaotic, and there are many things that can get in the way of working out and staying in shape.   I am sure all of us can come up with many examples.  But it still comes down to priorities.  Do I have to give up some things to stay in the shape I am in?  Sure.  But one thing that we can do is to add exercise into our daily routine.  It starts by looking at just about everything you do and asking yourself if there is a way you can make it more intense or challenging.  Lets look at some examples of what I do:
1) Mowing the lawn.   Its takes me about 45 minutes to mow my lawn by hand and I GPS’ed it at 1.75 miles. This is something that has to be done on regular basis, and yes it already is being physically active, but can we make it more?   My house sits on a slope.   To make mowing the grass harder, I mow up and down instead of across.  I also push the mower up the hill walking fast or even sprinting sometimes.  I have even been seen wearing a backpack with weight while mowing the grass.  Again, it has to be done, so why not get the most out of it?  This keeps the legs strong and keeps me in overall shape for backpacking and hauling a heavy boat up a steep hill at the takeout.
2) Taking the stairs instead of the elevator.   At home I even sprint up the stairs.  
3) Working out while watching TV.  It’s taking up more of our time.   We are all addicted, so might as well do some exercising during it.  You can do whatever.   Change it up.  You can do a weight routine, squats, time on a treadmill, etc.  
4) Playing at the park:  When I take the kid to the park, I do bodyweight exercises on the gym equipment while they are playing.  I’ll do pull-ups,  body rows, push ups, step-ups, calf raises, etc.  Now the other parents sitting there look at me weird, but who cares.
5) Playing in the pool.   I talked about doing paddling specific torso rotations in the pool, so just figure on doing these every time you get in the pool.   Yes these can be done subtlety.   For example, lets say you're at the public pool with the kids.  You can wedge yourself into the corner of the pool, arms up on the edge holding yourself and you can rotate your legs left and right, activating the core, specifically the oblique muscles, thus simulating the rotation you would do while paddling.
6) Cleaning the house.  Throw the backpack on again.   It has to be done, like cutting the grass, so might as well make the most out of it.  
7)Misc:  incorporate little things into the routine of daily living.   Going to the fridge to grab a drink?  Do a set of walking lunges there and back.  Need to stretch and cant find the time?   Do your needed stretches while checking your emails in the morning.  
So you see, there really is no excuse for not being in shape.   It really comes down to priorities.  Sure we are all busy and that’s why I do things like these.  I don’t have time to get in the gym and honestly nor do I really like going to the gym.  I would much rather be outside exercising, even if its in the winter, but what keeps me motivated to exercise is the activities that I enjoy.  I have said this in previous posts, but I will say it here again:  I never want to not be able to do the things I want to do.  I never want to find myself in a situation where I have to limit my activity because I am not in shape for it.  Its as simple as that.  
The examples I have above don’t fit for everyone all the time.  I completely understand just sitting down and watching TV, trying to relax from a busy day.  Don’t think I do these every time, all the time.  But it is about staying consistent.   Remember, to stay in shape you have to consistently do an exercise to maintain the benefits of it.  So if you can’t make the gym, try to figure out a few things you can do to incorporate fitness into your daily routine.  It might just be that difference that gets you to your goals.  It might be that difference that make that hike a little easier or that 16 mile river trip more enjoyable.  

The Unfit Paddler

Outdoor adventure sports continue to increase in popularity. Mountain biking, trail running, climbing, snow sports, and paddling continue to see increasing numbers. As a physical therapist I evaluate physical abilities. I do this not only formally in the office, but also out in the field informally. I notice when people have bad posture or they have a running stride limited by tight hamstrings, or they walk with a leg length discrepancy. This is what I was trained in and this is how I see things. Its no different than looking at a abnormally worn car tire and thinking that car wasn’t maintained well. When looking at the active crowd, I see a lot of fit individuals across the board, but I also see a lot of unfit individuals. However, I see more unfit individuals in the paddling crowd when compared to other outdoor pursuits. This observation is supported by the almost complete lack of any good information about the demands of paddling and how to get into shape for it. There is a rise in fitness paddling information, specifically using paddling to get in shape, but not much specific to actually getting in shape for it. Go to the sports section the next time you’re at your favorite book store. There you will find books on running, biking and everything in between and how to get in shape for those, and as you guessed…. nothing on paddling. You might find bits and pieces on the web: “do this stretch, do this exercise”, but nothing comprehensive. Why is this? Lets take a look at a few things.

First let me describe what I mean by fit and unfit, but let me start by making the point that as a physical therapist trained in anatomy and physiology, I look at the body as a machine. As with any machine, the body has a certain capacity for work, a certain ability to handle stress. If those capacities are exceeded, then things start breaking down. It’s that simple. So the fit person generally looks like a fit person. When we look at what determines fitness we think of strength, flexibility, endurance, posture, and sport specific skills. Paddling requires all of these to do safely. So quite often I see people on the water that really don’t fit the definition of being fit. I see people with bad posture, poor muscle tone, and poor skills. Couple that with being in a static posture of long sitting, which is already hard on the back and sets the shoulder up for bad mechanics, and we have a recipe for injury. I point all this out as a wake up call to paddlers to take that self-ownership and really think about their abilities. It’s not just whether they can hit a roll or execute a proper eddy turn, but truly whether their bodies are up for the task.

There are several reasons why the paddling crowd is less fit. First, but in no particular order, is the fact that paddling is more recreational than other outdoor pursuits. Most people paddle because they like to be on the water, not because they are using it to get in shape. That’s fine, that’s why I do it. Second, paddling is not as physically tasking as other outdoor sports. You can pretty much float down a lazy river. Remember, I am making a general statement about the physical demands of paddling. Yes, there are many physically demanding aspects of it, such as playboating. Third, there are several hurdles that have to be overcome to get on the water, so people don’t get on the water as much as they’d like. (If you live on a lake or river, lucky you). This happens to me quite often. I’d love to be on the water more, but don’t always have the time, due to my schedule, time to load equipment, drive time to accessible water, etc. Compare that to just being able to hop on the bike from the house and be on country roads in a few minutes or strapping on a pair of running shoes and off you go. Expand on this thought: just before, I said that paddling generally is not as physically demanding as other sports, but that there are aspects of it such a playboating that are more demanding. But I doubt that the average playboater spends enough time in the boat to get in shape for it. Again, comparing it to running, you get in shape and stay in shape for running by doing it on a consistent, regular basis. Practically speaking, one can get in shape for running by running alone. Also one could get in shape for paddling by paddling if done on a consistent regular basis. Most paddlers I know, even die hard whitewater boaters here in the midwest, might only get on the water every few weeks. That’s a lot of time in-between of deconditioning. And fourth, paddling up here in the northern climes is a seasonal thing. That’s a huge amount of time to fall out of shape if paddling is the only real physical activity you do. It’s similar to snowsports. I stay in shape all year and start gearing my training toward snowboarding in the fall, but nothing I do can perfectly get me in shape for a full day on the slopes. I wish I could board all year long.

So what’s the point of this post? I want it to serve as a wakeup call to all paddlers no matter what kind of paddling you do. We all need to ask ourselves that most basic question: “Can I handle…am I fit for what I am about to do?” Believe me - the answer to this is so often, “no.” I treat these injuries all the time. But its not only fitness now, but will you be able to paddle that river 5yrs down the road, or 15, or 30?
So some things you can do:
1) Do a personal fitness assessment. This isn’t so much fitness testing, but a real world understanding of your abilities versus what you want to be able to do. (Hint: If you haven’t been doing that activity lately, you’re probably not in shape for it). As a therapist treating orthopedic injuries, I find that many people have a very unrealistic understanding of their abilities and/or the task at hand.
2) Learn more about fitness in general and how that relates to paddling.
3) Learn about the demands of the sport.
4) Form a fitness plan and a yearlong plan. Being fit for an activity requires doing it or something similar on a regular basis. It’s a lot easier to get in shape for paddling and stay there than to do it so infrequently that you get out of shape in-between. Lets say you are a 2-3 times per week paddler. That may be fine to stay in shape during the summer, but what about the winter? It may be time to hit the gym a few times a week and do some paddling specific exercise.