Paddle Healthy: Saving Shoulders with Jenny Kalmbach

Welcome back to the newest addition to SUPthemag.com, Paddle Healthy. In this installment, elite paddler Jenny Kalmbach gives us the inside scoop on shoulders and how to save them from injury so you can keep on paddling. “Early on in my paddling career I struggled with a recurring shoulder injury. I thought this had to do with overuse, but apparently, it’s not that simple,” Kalmbach said. “I recently had the opportunity to sit down with movement specialist, David Darbyshire and trainer Mary Mullahey, who explained to me that shoulder injuries are commonly seen in standup paddlers due to the body’s physical limitations. These limitations can be a result of a number of factors including habitual posture, repetitive movement patterns and muscle imbalances.” —SC

To start, Darbyshire and Mullahey explained that most shoulder injuries occur in the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff consists of the supraspinatus, subscapular, teres minor and infraspinatus. These muscles hold the head of the humerus into the socket of the shoulder and aid in stabilizing the shoulder girdle. The shoulder girdle needs to have both mobility and stability, and when this happens, it will allow for a more efficient and effective paddling stroke.

By understanding habitual posture and how it affects the paddling stroke, a paddler may decrease their risk of shoulder injury. Darbyshire states that “due to the repetitive technique of paddling, paddlers could display what is commonly known as an ‘Upper Cross Syndrome.’” This syndrome consists of certain muscle imbalances at the front and back of the shoulder. (Tight upper traps, pec minor and major. Weak serratus anterior, lower trap and deep neck flexors.) If these muscle imbalances present themselves there is a greater risk of shoulder injury. These injuries can include:
- Tendinitis: Inflammation of the muscle tendons
- Bursitis: Inflammation of the bursa
- Impingement: Due to the position of the shoulder girdle
- Muscle tears

According to Darbyshire, the key to maintaining a healthy shoulder is to identify any muscle imbalances and postural issues through a physical screening to assess shoulder mobility and stability. This screening should also include a full body postural assessment, as there are many other muscle imbalances that may occur.

Using the information from the screening, specific exercises are then designed to combat the repetitive nature of paddling, strengthen the position of the shoulder girdle and also allow the shoulder to maintain its full range of movement.

Below are five basic exercises that Mullahey recommends adding to any paddle-training regimen to aid in strengthening the shoulder, resulting in a decreased risk of injury and a more efficient and effective paddling stroke.

Dead Bug Squeeze with Swiss Ball
-Lying supine with arms and legs in air (as seen in photo below)
-Place swiss ball between arms and legs
-Make sure your shoulders are away from your ears
-Maintaining a long spine, squeeze the ball between your arms and legs
-Hold this position for 15 breaths

Quadriped
-Start on hands and knees
-Hands should be directly under shoulders while knees are under hips (as seen in photo below)
-Maintain a long spine and lift your knees off the ground
-Make sure your shoulders are away from your ears
-Push away through the floor with your hands
-Hold this position for 15 breaths

Side Plank
-Start by lying on your side
-Elbow is directly under shoulder
-Form a straight line from head to toe by lifting hips off the ground (as seen in photo below)
-Make sure your shoulders are away from your ears
-Push away through the floor with the elbow
-Hold this position for 15 breaths

Lower Trapezius Cable Pull
-Facing away from the cable machine, assume a shortened lunge position (as seen in photo below left)
-Maintain a straight line from rear of back foot to top of head (with a feeling of being tall)
-Start position is with the arm by the side, from here raise the arm out in front stopping just below shoulder high (as seen in photo below right)
-Make sure your shoulders are away from your ears
-Slowly lower back down to start position
-Repeat this movement with moderate weight 10-12 times per side

Banana Stretch
-Standing next to a pole or door frame, place outside leg behind the body with the outside arm above the head (as seen in photo below)
-Let the body fall away from the pole, allowing for a stretch the open side of the body
-Hold this position for 15 breathes
-Perform this stretch on both sides 2-3 times

TRX Pulls
-Facing the TRX, with your hands on the handles, lean back and walk your feet away from you
-Form a straight line from head to toe, allowing the arms to hang straight out in front of you (as seen in photo below left)
-Make sure your shoulders are away from your ears
-From this position pull your elbows beside your rib cage, bringing the handles closer to your chest (as seen in photo below right)
-Slowly lower while controlling the shoulder blade position
-Repeat this movement 10-12 times

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