The Seven Deadly Sins of Paddling and How You Can Avoid Them

When it comes to paddling, we all have our shortcomings. Some are within our control, while others are not. And some transgressions have more detrimental effects than others. Here is a list of seven deadly sins that can really cause you harm in the long run:

1. Not Warming Up Properly

Too many paddlers jump into a boat for a training session or even a race without a sufficient warmup. Dynamic stretching at least 15- 45 minutes before hitting the water is crucial to get your muscles well-lubricated and ready to fire. A light run is beneficial to raise your total body temperature and get your body ready for vigorous activity, but you also need to be doing active stretches. Shoulder circles, hip circles, leg swings, squats, lunges, jumping jacks, etc. all help get your body loosened up and prepared for paddling. According to Mark Dickey, NASM Elite Trainer, “A total body warm up can increase your body elasticity by 20% and get your synovial fluid going in the joints. A good indication to know when you’re properly warmed up is when you notice sweat/moisture appearing on your forehead, back of hands, or under the nose.” There is a reason it’s called a “warm up” – make sure your body gets warm.

Ideally, your team will warm up together before beginning a training session or going into battle on the racecourse. A coordinated warmup serves to unify the team before getting in the boat. When everyone on the crew knows that his or her teammates are also readying themselves adequately, there is a shared sense of camaraderie and support for each other. The mental aspect of a collective warmup is an important component, but if your team doesn’t do a group warmup, it is still crucial for your own performance as an athlete. So make the time for it.

2. Not Fueling Yourself Well

Think about how you fuel your car. You wouldn’t pour dish soap into your gas tank and still expect your car to run, would you? You know that you need to put the right thing into your car’s gas tank in order to keep it running well. Your body is the same. Consider what you put into your body as its fuel. It should be fairly obvious that your body will run better on wholesome food rather than high-sodium, processed foods. But what type of “good food” should you be eating and when?

Before a training session, make sure that you have eaten healthy carbohydrates such as whole grain bread, cereal, or pasta, or even fresh fruits or veggies. Stay away from saturated fats and even healthy proteins because they take too much energy to digest. If your energy is going towards digesting your food, you are “borrowing” from the energy you should be using for training or racing. While you don’t want to eat an entire meal, not eating anything before paddling is like running your car on empty, so make sure to give yourself enough fuel to keep your body going.

After a training session, it is equally important to fuel yourself well. Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for your muscles, so don’t skip the carbs, despite what some fad diets have claimed. Instead, choose healthy carbs such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Protein is crucial for muscle repair and growth, therefore make sure to fuel yourself with something appropriate. According to nutrition specialist and author Nate Miyaki, “The primary goal post-workout should be to provide your body with an immediate fuel source to prevent it from breaking down muscle tissue for energy.” To make the most of your training, consume a meal, either whole-food or liquid form, within an hour after your workout containing both fast-digesting carbs and protein. Some suggestions: a protein shake, grilled chicken with roasted veggies, eggs scrambled with spinach and a side of whole grain toast (my favorite post-workout meal!), tuna and whole grain crackers…you get the idea.


3. Not Stretching Afterwards

I am certainly guilty of this one. How many times are we in a rush to leave training and get to our next task of the day? In that rush we try to convince ourselves that we’ll stretch “later.” The issue is that “later” never comes. It is always later.

According to Anne Baker, Canadian National Team paddler, Certified Personal Trainer & Group Fitness Instructor, and Yoga and Stretch Instructor for Bow Wave Dragon Boat Camp, “Stretching is important after a paddle workout because of the repetitive nature of paddling, which is often limited to one side of the body. That leads to strength, but ONLY in that specific movement pattern. Stretch out and stabilize yourself so you can keep moving well and so you can stay strong in your sport.”

Yoga sessions with Anne Baker at Bow Wave Dragon Boat Camp. Photo: Didi Fisher Weinreb

4. Not Handling Injuries Properly, Not Taking Time Off

Injuries are a paddler’s worst enemy. Small injuries can easily become big injuries when not dealt with or not given time to heal. The tough thing is knowing when it’s something to work through or when it’s something bigger that needs rest and time to recover.

As a teammate, we don’t want to let our team down by having to take time off, nor do we want to lose our seat on the boat. We often push through the pain or ignore the warning signs of an early injury with the hope that it will get better. Recognizing when an injury isn’t getting better and needs rest is one thing. Acknowledging it by listening to your body is a whole other thing. Take the time needed to heal the injury so that it doesn’t become a recurring nightmare. Returning to the boat too soon can cause further injury, resulting in more time off.

While you are resting your injury, get the necessary help for it, whether with a chiropractor, physiotherapist, acupuncturist, massage therapist or other professional who can identify the issue and work to alleviate the pain.

Back pain. Athletic woman in pink sportswear standing at the seaside rubbing the muscles of her lower back, cropped torso portrait.


5. Not Dressing Properly

As athletes training and competing outdoors, we are exposed to a variety of climates. Depending on where you live, spring and fall can be uncomfortably cold, while summer can be brutally hot. Having the right gear for cold weather will make your training sessions much more enjoyable. Neoprene pants, booties and gloves can help make the cold more tolerable until Mother Nature decides to treat us with warmer weather. And in the summer, good sunscreen combined with an SPF 50 rashguard will help keep you cool and protected.

And let’s not forget our rear ends. I devoted an entire blog post to those awful blisters we get on our posterior from paddling. The clothing you choose can contribute to your backside issues. Loose shorts that bunch up can quickly create blisters if you are rotating and using your hips properly. Compression shorts, and double-layering are great ways to help. Read the blog post and comments for more suggestions on how to care for your rear.

6. Not Hydrating Enough

I have struggled with hydration and low electrolyte levels my entire life. I love to drink water and I drink it throughout the day, but while living in South Florida and paddling frequently in the heat and humidity, I quickly realized that water alone was not enough.

A common, basic rule of thumb when it comes to hydration is that if your urine is light yellow or clear, you are hydrated, and if your urine is dark yellow or amber-colored, you are most likely not properly hydrated. That is a good start, but from my own experience I have been hydrated but low on electrolytes. So, it is important to balance the two.

An attempt at proper hydration shouldn’t start when you first feel thirsty. By then it is already too late. Before a race or training session, it is important to hydrate well. This doesn’t mean gulping down a bottle of water 5 minutes before you get in the boat. Begin hydrating the day before and avoid alcohol and excess caffeine.

When you are not sufficiently hydrated, your performance will suffer. According to cycling coach Simon Kidd, “A reduction of just 2% of fluid can result in degraded performance by as much as 10-20%. Consider for a moment the amount of effort that goes into training to improve by just 5%. All that, and more, can be lost by inadequate hydration.”

Personally, I use Vega Hydrator on a day-to-day basis, and I love Nuun tablets for fast, on-the-go replenishment of electrolytes.

7. Not Listening to or Trusting Your Coach

Whether it’s not following the off-season training program or disagreeing with the coach’s decisions on race day, it all demonstrates a lack of trust in your coach. He or she was selected by the team for a reason. You have chosen to be on your team for a reason. It would stand to reason that you should listen to and trust your coach. Yet all too often I see paddlers who do not. Once a team member starts to tune out a coach, his or her effectiveness and dedication to the team fails to measure up to his or her ability, which results in lower overall performance. The motivation to be your best must come not only from within physically but also mentally, from believing and trusting in the team and the coach’s race plan or decisions for the team’s optimum performance.

If you cannot have confidence in your coach, for whatever reason, perhaps it is time to explore your options and consider joining another team. Otherwise, it can create a negative vibe throughout the team which can lead to a spiraling downward effect throughout the entire team. It is likely that both you and the team will be better off in the long run.

We all have our imperfections. We all have room to grow. As paddlers, we train hard to perfect our technique. Being aware of the deadliest sins will help you personally to avoid them and will help your team from allowing these sins to undermine the performance of the club. Warm up. Fuel yourself well. Stretch after training. Treat injuries. Dress properly. Hydrate. Trust your coach. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

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