I’ve learned a lot about shoulder pain related to paddling. My own personal experience with shoulder injury began in 2009 when I started stand up paddling. I didn’t know a thing about paddles, paddling, or injury prevention; I was just a weekend warrior who took up the sport with no education or help. I bought the cheapest paddle available, and started paddling for hours at a time. I never warmed up prior to going out, and I never thought about stretching. On top of all that, I didn’t even start putting on miles paddling on flat water- I jumped right into SUP surfing! It wasn’t too long before I had extreme pain in my shoulder joint. Eventually, I could no longer paddle. So, I started reading up on shoulder injuries related to paddling. I was very happy to learn that my injury wasn’t necessarily permanent or chronic.
After a few months of rest and healing, I was ready to try paddling again. Before hitting the water again, I tossed my horribly heavy paddle and purchased a light full carbon paddle. I learned that paddle blade sizes varied, which I wasn’t aware of when I purchased my first paddle. I chose a smaller blade size which felt much softer on the shoulder at the catch phase. I also never knew how tall my paddle should be. I had been using a paddle that was about four inches too long! When I sized my new paddle, I followed the Quickblade Paddles guideline. It felt great! The new paddle was no comparison to my old paddle in terms of comfort and efficiency. In fact, I hadn’t noticed how much work it was simply moving the old paddle through the air!
I later found out that my old paddle weighed 32 ounces compared to the 14 oz. of my new paddle. The weight difference alone made the paddling experience far more enjoyable. Better yet, I paddled faster! I soon realized that with a lighter paddle and one that was properly sized, my shoulders hurt far less often! I was beginning to get into SUP racing by then, and I wanted to maintain my healthy shoulder joints. I was worried about the once-in-a-while pain after really driving the paddle hard during a race. That’s when I learned about April Zilg, an elite SUP racer who used regular weight training to build paddling muscles. I decided to hit the gym!
Having been a former bodybuilder, I was accustomed to weight training. I knew the importance of starting off slow and easy. Pretty soon, I was on a full routine of push ups, bench press, shoulder press, dumbbell flies, pull ups, and regular stretching. I raced two seasons and paddle surfed about four days a week with zero pain! I was also able to lift boards up and down the beach and onto the rental trailer with ease. Over the busy Summer, my ability to keep up a weight training regimen decreased. Eventually, I wasn’t even doing push ups at home anymore. By end of Summer, guess what? Shoulder pain! Paddling for any length of time causes soreness. So, back to the gym for me. And, back to watching April Zilg’s fantastic videos on increasing strength and flexibility!
Here’s a great video by PaddleFit’s Brody Welte to help you with some pre-paddling warm up exercise. Warming up will definitely help you prevent injury! By the way- we’ll soon be hosting April Zilg right here in Morro Bay for a SUP fitness clinic! She’ll share her knowledge and success-based experiences with us so we can start the SUP race season out right and avoid paddle related shoulder injury! Stay tuned, and keep checking in for the clinic date!