Posts tagged “health

In the pursuit of gains

As I woke up this morning, I felt like my legs were made of lead and my back like an iron rod.  I get cleaned up and then get ready for my day.  I drag down my giant 4lb sack of MuscleMilk Gainer protein powder down from the shelf and begin to mix it up in a patented plastic bottle that I got roped into buying off Amazon out of sheer convenience of “nutrition.”

“Everyday gains” is what the protein powder sack reads.  But really?  What is it I would be gaining?  Strength?  Power?  Better beach body looks?  Weight?  When I was working in outpatient orthopedic-focused PT clinics, I’d see three basic types of people: sedentary, weekend warriors, and committed athletes.  The sedentary folks may have chronic pain issues that prevented them from being active at all.  Whether the chicken or the egg came first, it no longer really mattered because they were where they were and needed to pull through chronic pain to be healthier.  Their basic fitness could be so low that everyday function was a struggle.  Weekend warriors might’ve been passionate about their hobbies and athletic pursuits but were always struggling with the compromises of real life.  Put in a few miles per day of running after working a desk job and then limping across the marathon finish line to discover aching, swollen knees for weeks afterwards.  They might’ve been fit enough to sprint for the bus to avoid being late to work but the tough compromises in time from a sedentary job and an “active” lifestyle outside of work created a hard balance for their bodies to cope with.  Lastly, the committed athletes occupied another realm of issues that sometimes arose from their efforts to always push the upper extremes of performance.  Stress fractures, early onset of arthritis, torn or degenerated tendons from high-repetition / high-load activities for years and years comes to mind.  Sure, not everybody in the clinic fit into these generic boxes nor did their medical diagnoses always follow these patterns, but they certainly did so frequently.

When I think of athletes trying to progress in their sport, I think of the difficulties that people have in general with keeping a balanced lifestyle and balanced body.  Let’s say you go to the gym and lift weights with a steady pattern over several months.  If you are following a good program, you should be gaining strength and maybe power depending on the workouts you are doing.  At the end of those several months, you have gained strength and power but have you improved performance?  Say you have noticed better performance in the sport of your choosing because your program was well-tailored to be translatable.  Are you then less likely to be injured pushing the upper limits of performance in that sport?  If you can’t say yes to that question confidently, I’d venture to say your training made you gain in certain areas of fitness but did not make you become more balanced.  By gaining in one/several areas of fitness (e.g. strength or power) you may have declined in flexibility, speed, or coordination.

A well-known, local orthopedist named Scott Dye has a phrase he calls the “envelope of function.”  Basically, every organ in your body has an upper limit in its operation where it can function normally without being injured.  Exceed the envelope and you overload the organ, causing reactive problems.  I like to expand that concept into a whole-person perspective: gradually expand your limits through smart and comprehensive training to create a buffer between the minimum required fitness needed to avoid injury and operate in optimal performance.

It’s my personal opinion that athletes who experience nagging pains during and after their pursuits while calling it “all part of the game/sport” are in a degree of denial or possibly simple ignorance.  From working with hundreds of people over the years, I can safely say that there is typically a way to help resolve or address pain arising from sport, often with rather simple concepts and changes.  Often times athletes with that singular-drive mentality and obsession with one element of the sport have a hard time expanding their minds to accept the possibility and value of being a well-rounded individual while also being highly specialized.

The bottom line is that when you think about “bettering” yourself through training and sport, I encourage you to work towards gains in multiple areas of fitness so that as your fitness improves, you remain a well-balanced individual.  Focusing upon one area of fitness and foregoing other elements of good health will end up biting you later on down the road.  Our bodies are good at compromising in the face of unbalanced change.  Don’t let the illusion of gains fool you into thinking you are actually a healthier athlete.


Finding Your Torque: The Way of the Leopard

Most folks know and understand what torque is.  Just in case you don’t remember high school physics, torque is defined as “the cross product of the lever-arm distance and force, which tends to produce rotation” (good ‘ole wikipedia).  When paddling, there are many aspects of basic stroke technique that involve torque.  You exert torque through the paddle to the water, your body exerts some torsion force on the paddle and the boat itself, etc this much is intuitive.  What may not be as intuitive is how an innate metric like torque may actually be missing from key aspects of your stroke technique, leading to diminished performance and even increased risk of injury.

To quote Dr. Kelly Starrett in his book Becoming a Supple Leopard, “A stable, well-organized spine is the key to moving safely and effectively and maximizing power output and force production…midline stabilization and torque are two parts of a unifying system that work in conjunction with each other.”  What does this mean?  In basic terms, he is saying coordination and stability are key to producing and transferring max force.  You may think that this boils down further to say, “if you’re buff and experienced, you’re golden” right?  Not entirely.  Raw strength does not equate to stability and experience does not always equate to better technique.  For example, you may be able to deadlift 1.5x your body weight but do it in a sloppy way.  You may also be highly experienced at performing an exercise but do so with poor technique.  Both situations increase your risk for injury and prove to be limiting factors to improved performance.

Now think of paddling.  Say you compared 3 paddlers of equal experience: Paddler 1 is strong but muscle-bound to the point where they can only take a short stroke, Paddler 2 is very flexible and can reach way out for a super long stroke but resembles a wet noodle when paddling, Paddler 3 has the most picture-perfect technique you can imagine and uses it with a seemingly effortless appearance.  From my choice in descriptors, you can probably assume that Paddler 3 would be the best in a time trial situation and if you had a full crew of paddlers just like this person, it would be a more powerful, efficient, and faster boat than the others.  What makes this paddler so effective compared to the others, given the fact that they all have equal experience?  This is where finding good torque steps in.

If you search Youtube for paddling clinics, just about every speaker and coach talks about setting the blade firmly in the water on the catch.  Some liken the feeling of planting the blade to having it “stuck” in the water as if in instant-dry concrete.  Once a solid catch is obtained, then power is applied to the paddle to pull yourself (and your craft) up to the anchored blade.  While this perspective takes into account the paddle in relation to the water, it tends to overlook what the paddler is doing once a firm anchor is set.  If you get the paddle in the water perfectly but fail to find good torque through your body either because of joint instability, impaired motor control, or lacking of range of motion, you will NOT be able to exert good torque on that paddle.

So how do you know you are giving good torque?  As a coach, what can you look for to know if good torque is being applied by your paddlers?  From the first-person perspective, applying good torque requires you to be stable in neutral (or as close to neutral) spinal posture and have your extremities set and stabilized prior to actually applying power.  The first stroke of a race start is probably the easiest and most intuitive way to find optimal torque because slow movement is generally easier to coordinate.  Anchoring your blade 100% and setting yourself up to have your back straight, shoulder blades set down/together, feet braced against the foot stops, thigh pressing into the gunnel, and hands “pre-loading” the paddle, gives you stability before the GO.  In setting up this position and using your muscles to make yourself as rigid as possible, you are using muscular torque to compress and stabilize your joints while taking up slack along your body frame, in turn making them great conductors of force.  You will have a stronger, quicker and more precise drive on that first stroke just by having that setup.  After you start to pull, practice keeping a firm and rigid frame through the pull to ensure you are not losing torque along the way.

As a coach, you can watch for paddlers holding good posture throughout the stroke cycle.  Assuming the paddler is coordinating their paddle to your ideal, look for signs that they may be losing torque along the way and try to troubleshoot why this is happening (is it from lack of stability, lack of coordination, or lack of flexibility?).  Dr. Starrett refers to movement patterns that diminish torque to be “faults” and gives them clever and funny names such as the Stripper Fault (having your booty pop up before the bar lifts when doing a good morning squat).  Here are some common “faults,” complete with funny names, that I see in paddlers losing torque:

Neck Crane Fault

Neck Crane Fault

1.  Neck Crane Fault: cranking your head up to look forward (say at the timing box) while you flex your trunk forward on the reach diminishes the stability of your shoulder blades before the catch.

Head Banger Fault

2.  Head Banger Fault: after entry and anchoring the blade, some paddlers will throw their head down violently in attempt to get better drive.  Instead you are committing your neck muscles and scapular stabilizers to decelerating your bowling ball-weighted head instead of applying force to the paddle.

Drawbridge Fault

3.  Drawbridge Fault: during recovery and reaching forward, the paddler rounds their back either as if slumping in a chair or sidebending (due to rotation) resembling a curved bridge.  This unlocks the connection between your hips, pelvis and spine while destabilizing your upper body to take a good pull.

Roll Up Fault

4.  Roll Up Fault: after initiating the pull, the paddler’s pelvis rocks backwards, rounding the low back, and this rounding curve rolls up the spine to the head like a sinus wave.  This is a dynamic fault that destabilizes your whole system and can actually start as a result of the Drawbridge Fault.

Knock Knee Fault

5.  Knock Knee Fault: the paddler draws their knees together during the pull phase instead of pressing the outside leg into the gunnel and foot against foot stop.  This fault diminishes the connection between paddler and boat, decreases leg drive power, and destabilizes the pelvis leading to more instability up the chain.

Chicken Wing Fault

6.  Chicken Wing Fault: when anchoring the blade, the paddler’s elbows go from tipped up towards the sky to down to the water, giving the appearance like they are doing the funky chicken dance.  The apparent movement at the elbow is actually from the paddler not being able to stabilize their shoulders against the increasing load at the paddle while anchoring.  This diminishes how quickly they can anchor the paddle and delays the point where they can produce force during the drive.

Choo Choo Fault

7.  Choo Choo Fault: when pulling, the paddler breaks at the outside elbow, bending it and drawing it back making them appear like the crank of a locomotive as the wheels spin.  Bending the bottom elbow during the pull prior to initiating recovery diminishes torque because there is movement occurring along what should be a solid frame.

(I’m sure I can think up many more faults, but I’m all out of zany nicknames right now)

When practicing finding torque, I wrote earlier that going slow is key.  In the basic sense it’s easier to coordinate your body.  When the rate increases, most paddlers’ mental focus goes from ensuring good pulls and form to just staying in time.  I recommend drills that focus on strokes from dead stop or pause-type drills at a low rate to learn how to find torque.

Master torque application and you may yet become a supple water leopard!  Rawr!

Sidenote: I am in no way affiliated with Dr. Starrett except in being a fellow physical therapist.  I believe his book is a terrific guide to what physical therapists try to get their patients to understand everyday.  If you get a chance to read the book, you’ll be miles ahead of the average athlete in terms of knowing how to minimize your risk for injury and improve your potential for improved performance.


Avoiding Overuse Injuries

Reading through an edition of PTinMotion Magazine, I stumbled upon a quick article citing the findings and recommendations of a Dr. Neeru Jayanthi, MD of Loyola University Medical Center and his efforts to study risk factors of overuse injuries in young athletes ages 8-18.  I haven’t read his actual study, but I’m assuming most of the subjects of the study were not participants of dragon boat paddling.  Even if this were true, the repetitive and strenuous nature of paddling does present a risk for developing overuse injuries in youth and adult paddlers alike.

Dr. Jayanthi’s recommendations were as follows:
(Keep in mind these are angled towards athletes age 8-18)

–  Athletes should not spend more hours per week than their age playing sports

–  Athletes should not spend more than twice as much time playing organized sports as they spend in gym and unorganized play

–  Athletes should not specialize in 1 sport before late adolescence

–  Athletes should not play sports competitively year-round

–  Athletes should take at least 1 day off per week from sports training

For more information click here

Take Home Message for Paddlers

Youth paddling in the Bay Area and many other places around the world is fast becoming a popular practice.  The teamwork, leadership, and athletic benefits of dragon boat as a sport are undeniable in promoting the present and future well being of young people.  What generally concerns me is how far behind dragon boat coaching and training are to more established sports such as basketball, running, or crew just to name a few.  Many coaches are qualified only by their passion and first-hand experience in the sport but not by their education in physical or sport training.  There is also a lack of specific studies regarding the impact of long-term dragon boat paddling on developing and mature athletes.  As a result, dragon boat paddlers and coaches will need to rely on the generalization of information found in studies like Dr. Jayanthi’s to help promote the longevity of their athletes in the sport.

Point by point, here are my recommendations based upon those from the study:

–  Athletes should avoid paddling more than 18 hours per week.  

Yeah, I know extrapolating the study recommendations would mean if you’re 40 years old you should be able to paddle up to 40 hours per week, but that’s literally like a full-time job!  Paddling is not your job.  18 hours of paddling would be 2.5 hours per day, longer if you take a rest day (see below).  I am not aware of any top team on the west coast that practices anywhere close to this amount and not still perform well on an international level.  I believe teams can do more good for performance in far less amount of water time than this number.

–  On-water training should not exceed twice the amount of time spent cross-training

This would often prove to be the strongest cap to on-water paddling time.  For example, if you work out in the gym 1 hour daily, that’s 7 hours per week and your on-water time should not exceed 14 hours per week.  What this allows paddlers to do is stay well-rounded.  Varying activities helps to balance your strengths/weaknesses, rest your affected paddling anatomy, and give you a mental break as well to minimize overuse injuries and mental burnout.

–  For young paddlers, stay active in at least one other sport or athletic endeavor

Again, varying activities not only reduces the risk of overuse injuries in the primary sport, but in growing athletes, helps to develop better kinesthetic skill and diverse interests for future health.  I’m sure you’ve all known at least one person who was injured playing a sport growing up and has become a generally sedentary person  ever since.  Having other interests can help avoid this.  There is also such a push to get kids “serious” about sports earlier and earlier that it’s really quite ridiculous.  The promise of college scholarships, parent bragging rights, and shiny trophies are only part of the hysteria.  This mentality has also lead to progressive rates in sport injuries among young athletes.  With ZERO scholarships available for dragon boat paddlers, the danger of getting too serious, too fast still exists and is preventable.

–  Paddlers, take some time off after the big race

Coaches, set your season goals and training plan around your chosen event and make sure the team gradually progresses towards peaking at that point.  After the main event is completed, give yourself and your paddlers a break.  Organizing long term training into progressive peaks and valleys helps reduce injury and allows for long term improvements to be made.

–  Paddlers should avoid paddling more than 6 days per week

What more can I say about the importance of taking a break?

Use these tips to be a more well-rounded, healthier, and happier athlete!


Foot Numbness

If you experience numbness or tingling in your outside/extended foot, you may be experiencing the effects of neural tension.

Background

Your nerves act as your body’s wiring system, carrying electrical impulses between your brain and parts of your body.  They extend from your spinal cord and progressively branch like tree roots as they extend to your fingers and toes.  The nervous system is also like a spider’s web in the sense that pulling/tugging in one area results in tension spread across the whole system.  In other words, there’s only so much “slack” the nervous system has.

When the nervous system is at rest, it functions normally.  When under tension or direct mechanical compression, the tiny blood vessels that sustain the nerve are choked off, resulting in feelings of numbness, tingling, or worse, weakness.

Common Neural Tension with Dragon Boat

In the common dragon boat stroke technique, the position of greatest neural tension to the sciatic nerve running down your leg is during initial entry after terminal recovery.  It is at this point that the paddler is maximally flexed at the hip and the thigh/knee is close to the paddler’s chest.  Some paddlers will have their ankles in dorsiflexion (toes pulled up) and outside knee near full extension (straight) which applies additional tension to the sciatic nerve.  Paddlers with poor technique will also flex their neck, bringing chin to chest or lose core stability and flex their spine (rounded back posture), which adds additional tension to the nervous system.

Slump Test: a common orthopedic assessment for neural tension as the cause for low back pain and leg numbness/tingling. Is this similar to your posture when you paddle?

Other causes for neural tension/compression in Dragon Boat

Other potential causes for neural tension during dragon boat paddling may involve (but is not limited to) ankle position, gunnel pressure against the outside leg, or bench pressure under the thigh/buttocks.  Positioning your outside leg forward with the bottom of your foot turned in to face the midline of the boat is ankle inversion and this may add tension to the peroneal nerve.  Direct pressure of the lower leg and outer knee to the gunnel may also compress the peroneal nerves running into your foot and lower leg.  Pressure of the forward lip of the bench against the bottom of the thigh may contribute to compression of the sciatic nerve.  This last cause may be more common with shorter paddlers due to having shorter legs.  I still intend to take metrics of the BuK boats we have and correlate this to paddler positioning/posture (stay tuned).

Seeking Help/Solutions

If numbness/tingling occurs during paddling but resolves as soon as you stop paddling, double check your technique or ask your coach to ensure you are not falling into the common pitfalls of neural tension described.  You may try a butt pad, reducing pressure/slamming of your outside knee against the gunnel, or keeping your ankle neutral against the footstop.

Certainly, if your symptoms do not resolve after cessation of paddling or you notice a sense of weakness or foot drop(!)  (the phenomenon where you cannot actively lift your toes or dorsiflex your ankle), you should seek medical attention asap as it could represent a variety of serious issues that your physician will assess.


Once you go black…

…you never go back (to a wood paddle, that is).

At least that’s been a common trend for paddlers following the rise in popularity of carbon fiber paddles hitting the market.  Paddlers will often find themselves in the dilemma of choosing an “advanced” paddle as soon as they feel they are getting “advanced” but what are the pros and cons of different paddle materials?

A dragon boat team using mixed paddles

Getting Woody

IMO, you can’t beat the look of a brand-new Grey Owl “high-performance” wood paddle is a thing of beauty.  Shiny lacquer over carefully joined pieces of ash and basswood give a great look that holds up to years of use.

Despite a claimed weight of 570g (at 51″), many top dragon boat teams and excellent athletes utilize this type of paddle with good results.  It’s also a steal at less than $60.

Wood paddles are generally the first type of paddle that dragon boaters utilize when learning the sport, because it’s so economical for clubs to stock them and they are VERY resilient to clacks/dings.

Essentially, a high performance wood paddle can be tough, cheap, and perform great.  If you’ve never tried a carbon paddle, you’ll never know how the wood paddle compares, so stop reading, buy a high performance paddle and be done with it.

Oh but whataboutacarbonpaddle?

The future is here!  No jet packs, but laminate paddles made of carbon fiber and occasionally Kevlar weave.  The IDBF regs allowing paddles “made from any materials” fitting the controlled dimensions and design restrictions is a real game-changer.

Despite the lack of objective 3rd party comparisons, all carbon paddle designs generally aim to cut weight and increase rigidity compared to the traditional wood design.  The “cutting edge” nature of composites (despite being around for almost 100 years) keeps prices significantly higher than wood paddles.

For a carbon paddle that can be 55% lighter, supposedly stiffer, and almost 5x more expensive than a wood paddle, is it worth it?  It’s all subjective, really.  Here are my thoughts.

Carbon paddles are often touted as being for the most hardcore of paddlers, but let’s compare this to the carbon bicycle market.  Sure, pro’s use carbon and other high-tech material bikes, but it’s the average Joe (who has $1-20k) that makes the market go round.  Same goes for dragon boat paddles.  Pro’s choose ’em, Joe’s use ’em.

I’ve heard folks mention a possible disadvantage to using a carbon paddle is that it is “too stiff” for a novice paddler and can result in increased risk of injury.  I personally don’t think this makes sense.  First, stiffness is the resistance of a material to deformation in response to an applied force.  It is the paddler that applies the force.  That force a paddler exerts doesn’t change based on what the paddle is made of.

Most injuries that are atraumatic (in large scale) occur from repetition of faulty mechanics.  A paddler that is not fit enough to paddle with good mechanics is likely to develop injuries regardless of their equipment.  Heck, it would probably happen if they air-paddled for hours on end without a paddle.

The advantages of a paddle that is stiffer is that there should be higher efficiency of force transmission to the water, meaning less energy is wasted flexing the paddle and more is put towards shoving the boat forward.  There should be a net energy savings for the paddler here.

A lighter paddle also means less energy spent through recovery and may reduce the strain associated with using a heavier paddle at the same given stroke rate for any length of time.

All together, I’d say using a carbon paddle is less likely to cause an injury than some may think.

Stiffness can most definitely affect “feel” and carbon paddles are also notorious for having wildly different weight distributions between blade, shaft, and handle brand to brand as compared to wood paddles.  Each of these aspects will affect how the paddle feels on recovery and through the pull.

For those who are on the fence about wood vs carbon, Kialoa makes a hybrid wood and carbon paddle so you can supposedly get the best of both ebony and ivory worlds.

The choice is yours!  Best of luck to making the change to carbon OR changing back.


Power Slings

If you read this well-written article,  you can start to wrap your brain around how these structures relate to paddling specifically.  If you read it and are confused, don’t worry.  In a nutshell, we have groups of muscles that run along the front and back of our bodies that run in a diagonal direction.  Visualizing them on either side of midline, we can see an “X” pattern that forms across our front and back.  Contracting different arms of the X’s allows us to flex, rotate, sidebend, and extend as well as resist external forces that would otherwise move us in those planes.  This X-pattern has been referred to as an anatomical “sling” or sometimes as a power-sling.

Power slings run across our front and back to provide strength and stability

Power slings run across our front and back to provide both strength and stability.  Adamantium provides the rest.

Paddling, like all sports, is 3-dimensional.  Taking a stroke involves muscle action and movement that is tri-planar.  It can be reasoned that by contracting in various patterns, these slings work to stabilize and move our body in 3 dimensions.  What this means is that training in a cross-pattern or diagonal/asymmetric fashion may be more functional and directly applicable to developing strength, performance, and stability in a 3-dimensional sport.

During the recovery phase of the dragon boat stroke, a paddler will flex forward at the trunk as they rotate to face inside the boat.  The act of reaching during the recovery phase (in a left sided paddler) can be thought of as contracting the front sling running from left shoulder to right hip.  Acting alone, this sling would cause the trunk to curl forward, drawing the left shoulder towards the right knee.  To maximize reach by keeping the spine more neutral, the posterior (rear) sling running from right shoulder to left hip must contract to draw the right shoulder blade and top arm up and back (coincidentally establishing positive paddle angle on the reach) keeping the spine straight and long.  The opposite set of slings work for a right-sided paddler.

During the pull phase, the slings quickly and powerfully switch actions.  The front sling running from right shoulder to left hip contract to drive the blade down into the water, initiating the pull.  The rear running from upper right to lower left contract to pull the trunk upright, preserving the rigid A-frame.  Different stroke styles involve different coordination of these slings, but still rely on these slings for movement and stability.

If a paddler is deficient in strength of one or more of these slings, it’s simple to see how this can contribute to visibly faulty paddling technique or simply less power delivered into the water.  Likewise, faulty technique as well as muscular imbalance and lack of stability can lead to an increased risk of injury.

In the future, I’ll be aiming to make some educational media about stretches and exercises to condition these slings.


Circuit Training

High-intensity Interval Training (awesomely abbreviated HIT) has been shown to be an effective way to improve strength and endurance when combined with other, perhaps more traditional, training methods.  Plus, it’s a fun and entirely self-paced activity good for groups of people.  Here is just an intro of what the team has been working on over the past several weeks.


Stretch before paddling?

It’s a very common belief that stretching to reduce muscle tightness is positively linked to performance, however evidence shows that some forms of stretching may actually be bad for performance.

When it comes to dragon boat, is it a good thing to stretch?

Will it help or hurt your paddling performance?

Let’s look at key features of different types of stretching.

Static Stretching

This is a slow and constant stretch performed either actively (under your own power) or passively (with some help from another person or object), held at an end position typically for 30 seconds or longer.

Dragon boaters performing static stretches.

The Good

Static stretching is a simple method to increase range of motion (aka flexibility) with potentially decreased risk of injury  during the stretch.  If you’re a paddler who can’t paddle with good form despite having good water experience because of muscle tightness, then this method may be of benefit to you to improve flexibility between practices.

The Bad

Studies show that static stretching has a negative impact on a muscle’s ability to produce peak force and power.  In terms of sprinters and weight lifters, sprint times and one-rep max values were made worse immediately following a prolonged, static stretch to the muscles being used.  Why does this happen?  Our muscles have different sensory receptors within them that help us produce force quickly (creating power) and static stretching is thought to reduce the activity of these receptors.

Static stretching also causes muscles to decrease in temperature due to not actively contracting them.  This means you may lose the benefits of doing a warm-up if you statically stretch muscles for several minutes.

Doing static stretching prior to races or at the start line?  Evidence may suggest you’ll have a lower ability to exert power during your paddling.

Ballistic Stretching

This is an active effort using bouncing-type movements where the end position of the stretch is occupied only briefly.

The Good

Unfortunately, there is not very much evidence at all that says ballistic stretching has any clear benefit to athletic performance (so far).  This means that ballistic stretching is not a dependable way to improve performance.

The Bad

There is evidence (1) that says ballistic stretching may actually increase risk of injury to affected muscle groups, especially if these muscles have been injured in the past.  Remember those stretch receptors mentioned earlier?  Their job is to contract a muscle in the event that extra force is suddenly detected (eg you are holding an empty catcher’s mitt in front of you with your eyes closed and somebody drops a softball into it.  Your hand doesn’t fall because your muscles contract to keep the mitt in place).  Ballistic stretching exerts tension on a muscle in a quick manner that activates these same receptors, causing muscles to tense up at the end of the ballistic movement, defeating the purpose of the stretch.

Dynamic Stretching

This form of stretching can be defined as a “functionally based stretching exercise that uses sport-specific movements to prepare the body for activity” (2).  They are active movements made within the range of motion required for a sport, ideally in directions that mimic the sport itself.

A dynamic paddler warming up dynamically

The Good

Dynamic stretching is a more controlled, gentle method for stretching and in this regard, minimizes the risks present with ballistic methods.  Dynamic stretching can gradually increase tissue temperature, which improves the ability for tissue to accept loads safely.

The Bad

There aren’t very many “bad” aspects of dynamic stretching, but this method of stretching has not been found as effective at increasing static range of motion (3).

HOW do you put it all together?

A good series of dynamic stretches as a warm up for dragon boat involves closely mimicking the movements performed in the actual sport.  These movements should be kept non-ballistic without bouncing in/out of the end range of your joints and tissues.  For example, you could perform “air” paddling on land with your hands and no paddle, working on gradually progressive reach, rotation, and leg drive an even number of times per side.  As you continue, try to gradually increase the speed of movement (rate it up!) to increase your body temperature by getting your blood pumping!  “Air” paddling is just one idea for a dynamic warm-up.  You could gradually move your arms, legs, and trunk in sport-similar movements to similar results.

After the race is over, feel free to statically stretch as a cool down by holding your stretches for ~30 seconds within a comfortable amount of tension to maintain range of motion and reduce post-exercise tightness.

In any stretching routine, you should never push into feeling pain as this may mean you are exceeding the capacity of your tissues and possibly causing injury.

Keep it dynamic everyone!

1.  Clarkson, P., and I. Tremblay.  “Exercise-induced muscle damage, repair, and adaptation in humans.”  J Appl Physiol. Jul;65(1):1-6.1988

2.  Mann, D.P., and M.T. Jones.  Guidelines to the implementation of a dynamic stretching program.  Strength Cond J. 21(6):53-55. 1999

3.  Bandy, W.D., J.M. Irion, and M. Briggler.  The effect of time on static stretch on the flexibility of the hamstring muscles.  J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 27(4): 295-300. 1998

4.  Baechle, T.R., and R.W.  Earle.  Essentials of strength training and conditioning; 3rd edition.  National strength and conditioning association. 2008