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Published on June 04, 2020

Workout on the Water

Two kayaks in the water

A cardio and muscle workout

There’s still time to hit the water for a good cardio workout this fall.

Not in the water but on it — by way of canoeing, kayaking, and paddle boarding.

“All three of those activities provide a great cardiovascular fitness component,” says Brad Younggren, MD, an emergency medicine physician with EvergreenHealth and a water sports fan himself.

Dr. Younggren — who has done all three of the water activities above — says that in addition to getting your heart rate up, water sports are also good for strengthening the upper body and back as well as your core muscles.

Additionally, paddle boarding is good for balance as you work to maintain steady movement on the water while balancing on the board.

Stretching before sporting

Before you head out on the water, Dr. Younggren recommends stretching before engaging your body full on in any of these activities.

“It’s a good idea to do some gentle back and shoulder stretching to loosen up and relax muscles,” he advises. “These water activities can be very intense so it’s important not to go into them without first preparing your body.”

Dr. Younggren says stretching also helps increase circulation, decrease muscle stiffness and cramping, and enhance flexibility.

Some stretching activities you may do include:

Shoulder Rolls: Roll the shoulders down and back, starting with small circles and working up to larger circles.

Back Stretch: Sit on a chair and lean forward from the hips, bringing the hands down to the floor. Relax the head down and reach with your fingertips to stretch the back.

Upper Back Stretch: Stand or sit with your feet about shoulder-width apart with arms at your sides. Raise arms to the front, clasp your hands, and rotate them until the palms face out. Gently round the shoulders and push your palms out from your body.

Being properly prepared

Any activity on the water comes with extra risk simply because of the location. In fact, because these activities are on the water instead of directly in it, some people forget to consider the importance of being a good swimmer.

“We’ve seen drownings and near drownings in our ER involving these activities,” Dr. Younggren says. “Basic swimming skills are a must.”

He points out that people can find themselves unprepared when their canoe or kayak capsizes, for example, and they don’t know how to get back in or get to safety.

Dr. Younggren advises that anyone participating in these activities, in addition to being a good swimmer, should always wear a life jacket and also consider a safety course.

“A safety course can help you understand and know how to navigate tides and currents, which can be dangerous if you don’t know what to do,” he says. “These courses also teach proper technique and how to self-rescue.”

From dehydration to hypothermia

The temperature is another important consideration when doing an outside activity such as canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding.

In warmer weather, you need to be aware of dehydration and heat exhaustion.

Dr. Younggren says water bottles, lots of sunscreen, and proper cover-up, such as hats and sunglasses, are a must for your packing list.

During cooler temperatures in the fall months, you need to be cognizant of hypothermia, which occurs when outside temperatures get too cold or the body's ability to produce heat lessens. Being exposed to the colder water can put you at risk.

“Your core body temperature can change rapidly,” explains Dr. Younggren. He advises wearing wetsuits or other water-resistant clothing to keep you dry and insulated.

Injuries from overuse or improper technique

Injuries from overuse or improper technique are also fairly common with canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding.

“We see a lot of injuries in the back, shoulder or elbow because of overuse, or someone is using equipment that doesn’t fit, or they aren’t using it correctly,” Dr. Younggren says.

That’s why, he advises, it’s important to take the time to be properly fitted with the appropriate size paddle and learn the right posture and stance.

“When you learn the right technique, you’ll avoid strain or worse,” he says. “And if you’re new to one of these sports, it’s important to work up in length and intensity so you don’t overdue it the first few times out.”

Canoe, kayak and paddle board in Seattle



Brad Younggren Meet the Expert

Brad Younggren, MD

Dr. Brad Younggren is an emergency medicine physician at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland and serves as the medical director of the EvergreenHealth Emergency Preparedness program.

View Dr. Younggren's profile

Learn more about ER services

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