Pre-Paddle Stretching Exercises with Hayley Nixon

Wednesday, 07 August 2019 11:50 | Written by  Hayley Nixon
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Hayley Nixon, Mauritius Surfski Week 2019. Hayley Nixon, Mauritius Surfski Week 2019.

World Ocean Racing Champion (and biokineticist) Hayley Nixon just released a video showing some excellent stretching techniques for paddlers.  As a Master-age paddler I've been more and more aware that I should be taking more care to do these pre-paddle preparations, so this comes at a great time for me - but everyone, even younger paddlers can use these techniques to avoid injury and to improve their strength and suppleness.


These Surfski Paddling Dynamic Warm Up Exercises are so easy to do on the beach, just before you jump onto the water for a paddle!

The drills are simple and very user-friendly but if you are trying them for the first time please be gentle with yourself and take it slow without forcing your body to do something it may not be used to.

Remember that you only need to do these drills to the best of your ability and improve against yourself, this is not a competition, it’s a personal process to help you be more limber and looser before you start doing what you love: paddling!

Shoulder warm-ups

…and improving range of motion through your shoulders.


We want to encourage blood flow around the shoulder joint and through the surrounding muscles.


Hold your paddle with a wide grip, straight out in front of you and parallel to the floor.

Gently raise the paddle from your legs all the way up above your head to your comfortable end of range, continue to lower the paddle down and back up in a slow and controlled motion.

This movement will assist to generate blood flow through the shoulders, arms and upper back; activate the involved muscle groups; and allow you to feel out any tension in those upper body areas before you start paddling.

10 – 15 repetitions


…to activate your lower body:


Here we want to get your hips and legs warmed up and activated in the correct firing pattern before you get on the water.

Paddling may look like an arm sport but there is a lot of assistance from our torso, hips and legs!


There are three different options for holding your paddle: across the back of your shoulders, extended above your head (if you have good mobility in your shoulders) or straight out in front of you.

Feet position: it’s easier to have good squat technique if you start with your feet nice and wide (at least as wide as your hips, under your armpits, or even wider), and pointing your feet slightly outwards helps too.

This wide-feet position helps to give you space to move more freely and comfortably.

Hip position: as you begin to squat down you need to focus on pushing your hips back behind you as if you were trying to sit on a low bench which is quite far behind you. By pushing your hips back and hanging your weight though your heels (and not through your toes / knees) you will be able to use your big posterior-chain muscles to do the work: your hamstrings, glutes (bum muscles) and calves.

Please do not let your knees jut out in front past your toes, you need to keep your knees above your toes or just behind your toes. Once again, this keeps the weight of your body on your heels, and the recruitment of muscles to the very important and very strong posterior chain muscles.

As you stand up, press down into your heels and squeeze your glutes to generate power and drive through your legs (think about pressing into your footplate in your boat, very similar concept as that leg drive).

10 repetitions.


it’s so important in paddling for our chest / upper body to follow and stay parallel to our paddle shaft… this means we have to rotate from our hips!


We need the hips, the lower back, the upper back and the chest muscles to all be mobile and loose before we start paddling.


Start with some easy, loosen-up rotations: place your paddle over your shoulders (or do this without a paddle) and slowly twist from side to side, letting your hips turn and your body rotate from one side to the other with no force, allowing your head and neck to follow, trying to look behind you.

The second step is to try and generate more stretch in your pectoral muscles (the chest muscles) by using your paddle as a lever to encourage more stretch on those pec muscles. With your paddle over your shoulders, extend your arms out over the paddle and place your palms against the paddle blade, rotate around so that your head is looking forward but your one arm is extended out in front of you and the other is directly extended out behind you, hold this position and gently press your front hand against the paddle blade and feel how that causes more stretch in the chest muscles of the back hand, hold this for a few counts and then gently move to change sides and do the same on the other side.

You can do 5 – 10 of these press and hold stretches on each side

Hamstring Stretch

Most of us have tight hamstrings. When we paddle our knees are in flexion and our hamstrings are under load so that makes them shorten even more.


This is a very simple standing hamstring floor stretch and can be done by gently reaching down towards the floor until your feel a stretch at the back of your legs.

Hold this position for a few counts and then gently roll back up nice and slowly, rounding your back as you do so.

You can repeat this 5-10 times

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