Back to Boof – Paddler’s Not-so-Happy Hips Part 1
by Sal Montgomery
Do you ever get on the river feeling like a bouncy 18 year old, but when it’s time to get out your boat your 90 and ready to sign up for that hip replacement op? Entertaining your buddies as you hobble your way around the car park hunting down a pack of Ibuprofen?
For anyone but paddlers, the way we sit in our boats is a pretty unnatural position. With our legs turned outwards (externally rotated) and flexed, we’re putting a good amount of pressure through the front of our hip joints and the surrounding soft tissues. Unsurprisingly this can make our hips pretty sore after a while.
It’s a common complaint in most disciplines, but especially true for those of us that cram their legs in to tiny freestyle kayaks, or sea kayakers and expedition paddlers who tend to spend several hours at a time in their boats.
The Break Up
As well as the position our hips are in, it’s also the way that we use them that makes them grumpy. The grumpiest of them all are the flexors- the muscles on the front of your hip, who have to work crazy hard and pretty much continuously whilst we are out enjoying the water. Then when we get off the water and should be treating them to some lovely stretches, we leave them hanging with empty promises. Eventually they get so annoyed with us taking advantage, that they really show us what for. Tight, painful and weak- they’re angry now! So angry in fact that they are going to try and make you stop paddling, as well as running or doing anything else that’s fun!
We need to talk…
If we want to go paddling without the drama, then we’ve got some making up to do. I’m talking the full package.
So there’s two main parts of this package, both of which are pretty essential for a long term fix. These are stretching the overworked, tight muscles and reconditioning the slack, under-active ones. We’re gonna discuss part one of the package here- part two’s coming next week!
The Make Up
Time to get loose…
Let’s start with those irritated, exhausted and likely inflamed structures. For most people this will be their flexors (front of hip). Depending on how much making up you’ve got to – i.e. how pee’ed off your hips are, it might be worth putting extra mobilisation and stretching sessions in to your weekly training plan.
A mobilisation routine is easy-going movement, in all directions to help warm-up, loosen and get those muscles feeling good. It’s beneficial to do this before your stretching regime, but it’s great as a warm-up for your hips before you go paddling -or even jumping out your boat mid session if you can feel them tightening up.
There’s loads to choose from, but try and include an exercise for each plane of movement or each major part of the hip. Nice and simple- front of your hip, back of your hip, inside thigh/ groin, outside thigh/ butt.
Here’s a few examples to get you going-
- Leg swings- forwards, backwards, right and left
- Knee lifts
- Bum kicks
- Lunges – forwards, backwards, right and left
- Frog walk
5-10 mins (or more if it feels good!)
We all know what stretches are and why we should do them, but we still take some persuading to actually get them done. Possibly because they remind us how inflexible we are, or maybe because they’re just not that exciting compared to going boating. Either way, we need to suck it on and crack on. We want to predominantly work on the flexors (front of hip), but ideally we should be doing regular stretching of all the major muscles around the joint.
It’s also worth reminding ourselves that our bodies are made of lots of overlapping segments and compartments. If one of these segments is struggling in some way, whether it’s weakness, tightness or just anything that affects it’s function or positioning, then it will eventually have affects on other structures around it.
If structures in the hip tighten and shorten, they will start to pull on the pelvis, causing issues in the lower back. Likewise, a stiff, tight lower back can also refer problems to the hip joint. Hence why as well as attending to the imbalance in the hip itself, our rehab (or pre-hab) routine also needs to include mobilisation and stretching of the lower back.
Time to commit
- Incorporate regular maintenance work (including mobilisation, stretching and conditioning) in to your weekly training schedule
- Consider exercise options such as yoga or pilates to help your progress
- Use the mobilisation routine (or a shortened version) before paddling, stretching or as and when needed
- If it hurts- stop! Take a step back and work out what you’re feeling
- Remember everything is connected, keeping all structures supple and well balanced will keep you on the water for longer!
- Consider your core! Remember last week’s Back to Boof… (link below if you need a reminder!)
This is a relationship worth working for!
*Tune in next week for Paddler’s Part 2- Conditioning and strengthening exercises for Happy Hips!
Part-time Physiotherapist, full-time kayak bum. When not in a remote, sketchy canyon in Asia or dropping off a big waterfall in Chile, Sal can be found at her home in the UK probably running silly distances, swimming in extremely cold seas, or editing the ridiculous amount of GoPro footage from her last expedition.
Follow her @