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When I think about whitewater kayakers having good mobility I kind of laugh a little to myself. Unless you consistently work on it, chances are shoving yourself into your boat has taken a toll on your mobility. In order to have the best control in your boat- whether its creeking, river running, or play boating- you have to be in there snug. There’s no way around it. And because there are so many points on your body that need to be snug in your boat (think of the three main points of contact) a lot of pressure can be put on your joints. This isn’t the boats fault, nor the outfitting. It’s just the name of the game. Once again, it’s all about what you do OUT of your boat to maintain your body that will protect it from injury and enhance your optimal performance on the river.

First, let’s talk a little about flexibility vs. mobility vs. stability

Flexibility is the range of motion a joint has altogether. It has to do with the amount you can move at a particular joint based only on the muscles that are involved with that joint. Think about your shoulder. For me personally, I cal take it in pretty much any direction. It has nothing at all to do with strength, stability, balance, or coordination.

Mobility is basically the amount a joint can move before it’s limited by surrounding tissue such as ligaments, tendons, and muscle. Mobility the amount your joints can move while performing functional movement or movement under stress.
For example: Personally, I have good shoulder flexibility. As I said, I can move my arms in any direction at the shoulder joint without much issue. However, when I go to do front squats I find it quite tough, especially after a weekend of kayaking. I can’t always get my elbows in line with my shoulders. Take the barbell away and I can move them in the same motion just fine.

Stability is the control that you have through your movement. This can be limited by mobility, but is not at all affected by flexibility. Another example: I actually have several clients that used to be ballerinas. I can always spot a classical dancer because they have great flexibility but they can’t stand on one foot. They just don’t have the stability for it when they start with me.

When you spend a lot of time in your boat you’re going to notice some compression in certain joints: mainly your ankles and hips. Then you have your shoulders and mid-back that begin to lose mobility if you’re not working on it in between river sessions. When you lose mobility, your joints stiffen up and then performance on and off the river suffers. You can’t move as easily and efficiently and that is a contributor of injuries on the river.

Certain joints are meant for stability and certain joints are meant for mobility. They pretty much alternate:

Neck: Stability
Shoulders: Mobility
Shoulder Blades: Stability
Mid Back: Mobility
Low Back: Stability
Hips: Mobility
Knees: Stability
Ankles: Mobility

In this post I wanted to target the joints that need better mobility. These are simple exercises that you can do daily or a few times a week. You’ll notice that within a matter of weeks your spinal rotation will begin to improve making your strokes more effective, your hips will move more easily giving you more reach over your boat, the follow through on your stroke can even improve, and even hiking may become a little easier. Not to mention getting blood flow to these areas more can make you more comfortable in your kayak for longer periods of time. Let’s get to it!

As always, if you ever have any questions, feel free to reach out via Facebook or through email.