Nowadays you may be thinking about participating in recreational activities. Kayaking, golf, swimming, horseback riding, walking, running, backyard badminton, and volleyball each has a wide following of enthusiasts. And each sport offers different pros and cons, which means you should prepare properly to play so that you will receive the most and best physical enjoyment.
One of the more common questions asked of physical therapists is “what is a good recreational activity to do?” I always consider this question carefully—taking into account that the activity should be fun, not require extensive training and, depending on the individual, can be done in either a group or individually. The sport should minimize compression of joints while giving the whole body a muscular and cardiovascular workout.
This article is the first in a summer series looking at a variety of recreational activities from the perspective of physical exercise benefits, conditioning and precautions.
From a physical standpoint, kayaking is a well-balanced workout. Arms and legs get involved in a reciprocal motion. As the left paddle dips into the water, you twist your body to the left and put pressure around the left foot peg. At the same time as your left hand pulls the paddle toward the body, your right hand pushes the paddle away from your body, and you twist your body to the right, putting pressure around the right foot peg.
The smooth execution of this back and forth movement quickly propels you through the water in a seemingly effortless way. This motion uses a coordinated effort of biceps and triceps (front and back of arms), rectus and oblique abdominals (front and side stomach muscles), latisimus dorsi (large back muscle) and quadriceps (front thigh muscles), just to name a few. But kayaking isn’t recommended for someone with a back disc problem, because of the amount of trunk twisting involved.
Even before you step into the kayak, stretch your arms, legs and trunk carefully and slowly. Get that limber feeling. Then, take your time when you begin to paddle. You want to be nice and loose before you call on your muscles to do a lot of work. At the end of your trip when you’re back on land, repeat your stretching routine while your muscles are still warm. The investment of the few minutes that stretching requires can prevent or at least significantly reduce your chances of injury.
Making sure that your body is mobile enough to reach and twist is a good way to prepare for the sport. Your hamstring (back of the thigh) muscles should be loose and you should be able to rotate you upper body easily, and reach across your body to the left with your right arm, and visa versa. If this isn’t the case, or any of these motions causes pain, a visit to a physical therapist after seeing your doctor may help.
There are a few advantages of kayaking as an exercise compared to canoeing. When canoeing, you typically don’t switch sides equally, but kayaking gives you more of a symmetrical workout. On a lake or coastal area, a kayak will cover a greater distance than most other self- propelled boats.
Lastly, kayaking is quick to learn. Most kayaks are light enough for one person to manage both in and out of water. For greater ease in handling, many sporting goods stores carry kayak tote wheels, which enable you to roll your kayak easily to the water.
Safety issues are always an important consideration. Always wear a floatation device appropriate to the water you will be kayaking in. Although kayaks and other non-motorized craft have the right of way, be sure to stay clear of busy boating channels. Wear appropriate clothing, sunglasses and sunscreen. Drinking plenty of water, before you become thirsty, is always important. It is always recommended that you either get some initial instruction from a local club or sports store or go with a more knowledgeable person to “learn the ropes.”
Plan a route with the help of many trail books that are written for local kayaking trails. These will give you information on estimated trip time, what you may see along the way in terms of birds and other wildlife, and any cautions or dangers. Work your way up to more challenging routes and remember, sudden weather changes, wind, and water conditions are all variables to consider.
The benefits of kayaking are many. It offers a great cardiovascular workout, a well-balanced workout for your muscles, low stress on your joints, and it is fun. It is an excellent way to explore your natural environment from a different perspective, while keeping you healthy and fit. Paddle on!