Warming up is an essential preparation for any physical activity. If your muscles and your mind are cold it is difficult to move or react quickly. It is this difficulty that may lead to aches and pains, torn muscles and other injuries. The amount of warm up will reflect the intensity of activity being planned. A gentle warm up will suffice for any easy paddle on a local canal, whilst a white water river with a difficult rapid at the start will need more intense preparation.

The warm up should include four elements:

  • gentle aerobic activity to increase the heart rate and warm the muscles
  • gentle stretching of muscles
  • skill rehearsal and
  • mental preparation

The aerobic activity can take many forms but should include a gradual built up in intensity to increase the heart rate and circulation. Possible activities might include specific exercises such as the “penguin walk” sometimes practised on white water trips, gentle paddling or even just walking around briskly before starting. If it raises your pulse without making you out of breathe then it is working. Typically this phase of the warm up will last between five and ten minutes.

Gentle stretching means taking muscles to the limit of their extension and holding the stretch for ten to twenty seconds. Your stretching should aim to stretch all the main muscle groups that you are going to use. For kayaking this would include the arms, shoulders, neck, back, abdomen, hips and legs. My preference is to work methodically around the body. It is possible to stretch in the dry before launching or once your are in your boat. If you want some specific ideas on stretching then speak to me at the pool or on a Club trip.

Skill rehearsal is simple practice before the main activity to warm up the specific muscles to be used and to improve co-ordination between the brain and the body. On a simple trip this might be rehearsing skills like sweep stokes and draw strokes. On white water then the rehearsal might include practising simple skills like turning strokes and support strokes in an eddy followed by repeated breaking in and out on simple eddies. In each case the aim is to "groove" the basic techniques which will be used on that paddle.

Mental preparation is not necessary on simple paddles. However, it is appropriate on more demanding water. The simplest technique of mental preparation is visualisation. For example consider paddling a difficult rapid: you have inspected it and chosen your line; then you visualise yourself paddling the rapid what stokes are your going to use and where; then shut your eyes and imagine paddling through the rapid; then again making all the arm and body movements and finally add the feelings of the water pressing on your paddle and kayak. Once you can hear, smell and feel the water in your visualisation you have mastered the technique.

Remember that a properly warmed up paddler is much less likely to suffer injuries. Really canny paddlers can even warm down by gradually reducing the intensity of activity and finishing with more stretching and finally a warm bath to reduce the aches, pains and stiffness after the paddle.

Date first published: January 2000 by Peter Mansell