Children and young adults can paddle all day without much negative impact on their muscles and joints. Simply put, they can stress their bodies and not feel sore the next day. On the other hand, those of us who are a little bit older, must find ways to prevent pain and injury.
Beneficial stretching should be part of a regimen of good fitness, which also includes a healthy diet and aerobic (running, bicycling, yoga, etc.) as well as anaerobic (weight training, push-ups, etc.) exercise. You should stretch daily, at least before and after exercising, including paddling days. Stretching is essential for preventing muscle strain as well as healing injuries. There are a variety of approaches to stretching; the list below is intended as a convenient summary.
Jog in place for a few minutes, jump rope, do some jumping jacks, ride a bicycle - anything that heats your muscles up and elevates your heart rate.
Rolling a kayak can really do a number on your neck, and keeping neck muscles loose is vital. Start by nodding your head gently forward and backward. Next, slowly turn your head to each side, looking behind your shoulders. (A variation on this is to tilt your head toward each shoulder.) You may also want to rotate your head clockwise and counter-clockwise. It’s important to do each of these exercises slowly, hold each position (besides the rotating) for a few seconds, and repeat each a few times.
Perform the same types of movements as for the neck, but add one or more paddle-specific movement: while seated on the ground in a normal paddling position, hold your hands out in front of you with arms extended as though you’re holding a paddle. Twist your torso back and forth, holding each twisted position for 10 to 20 seconds. Repeat a few times.
While seated, reach forward and hold your toes, keeping your legs straight. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds. Repeat a few times. While standing, spread your legs apart greater than shoulder width, and reach for your toes or the ground. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds, and then come back up slowly. (Don’t bounce.) Repeat, moving your feet closer to each other each time (three or four reps) until they’re touching, and reaching as far as you can, holding for 10 to 20 seconds.
Make sure to roll your wrists and ankles clockwise and counter-clockwise a few times. Also, take hold of your fingers on one hand with the other, and alternately bend your hand back (toward the top of your forearm) and forward (toward the bottom of your forearm), holding it in each position for 10 to 20 seconds. Do this for each hand.
Stretching your torso and legs will also help loosen your lower back. All stretches should be performed both before and after you paddle. A good stretching program will keep you on the water longer, more often, and with greater enjoyment. And - as a bonus - you’ll find you feel better in all your daily activities.