Standup paddle boarding and Pilates
Athletes of many different sports practise Pilates & Movement with me in order to improve their performance. Golfers, tennis players, skiers, runners, swimmers, and baseball and volleyball players have found value and improvement in their given sports after a short time of cross training with Pilates.
An integrative system of exercises, Pilates provides a head to toe work out that simultaneously lengthens and strengthens the muscles while releasing the joints to create balance and stability. A well-integrated Pilates class will help participants stay focused on proper form, breathing and execution allowing for the mind-body connection that is so important in all sports.
The how-to of finding your balance
After a newfound love of stand-up paddle boarding, I quickly experienced how Pilates enabled me to access my core to remain standing on the board. As one would expect, balance is key, but finding that balance involves thinking about which muscles are working to maintain correct posture and how quickly the transference from side to side needs to take place.
Starting from the bottom:
- Your feet should be planted, with open toes and relaxed insteps, so that your ankles are able to absorb the constant shifting of weight as the board naturally sways. From your calves to your inner thighs, all your leg muscles are working to keep you standing and remaining upright. The use of your quadriceps and hamstrings helps keep your knees and lower back stable as you paddle while being mindful of using your obliques to keep your opposite side from twisting too far to the paddle side which can cause instability.
- When your pelvis is stable and aiming to the front of the board, strong gluteus medius, piriformis and oblique muscles not only help you maintain the correct position, but also help to alleviate “gripping” in the low back, hamstrings and even the feet which can later lead to discomfort in those areas.
Once you have your balance
Once balance is obtained and your core is holding you stable, understanding that your core and back are actually doing most of the work in the paddling portion of the sport is key to preventing fatigue of your shoulders too quickly. The most important paddling concept to remember is to pull toward your paddle and not rely solely on your arms or shoulders for a powerful stroke. Here’s how and why:
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- Use a slight upper body twist to the stroke side as you dip that shoulder slightly to recruit your obliques and abdominal muscles—to pull your body forward to the paddle planted toward the front of the board. Paddling with your core in mind also gives your arms the freedom to transfer the oar side to side while maintaining balance.
- When you pull toward the paddle, rather than pulling the paddle back through the water, you access your back muscles including your trapezius. This allows your shoulders to act as a pivot in order to swing the paddle side to side without using your shoulder muscles as the foundation for a powerful stroke. Your shoulders will definitely get a good workout with the constant lifting, pivoting and dipping that happens as you paddle board, but you’ll be less likely to over work or strain them.
As in any sport, the use of correct muscles leads to accuracy and aids in injury prevention. In a practice such as Pilates where you are being asked not only to move but to stabilize as you think about what and how you’re moving, you can quickly improve not only your performance in other sports, but also your focus.
Getting the most out of paddle boarding with Pilates
I’ve had several clients come to a paddle board session with me and told me how much they enjoyed their first experience because of my ability as a Pilates & Movement teacher to guide them while helping them to access the muscles they need. Others have enjoyed a refreshing day out on the lake doing an actual Pilates session on the board. Either way, the sessions are fun, rewarding and can be made as challenging or relaxing as you are up for.
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