Stretch Out: 7 Yoga Poses for Paddlers

Waters have thawed, temperatures are rising, and the days keep getting longer. So, it’s time to dust off your paddling gear and head to your favorite aquatic playground, if you haven’t already. While you have plenty of things to think about as you prepare for the start of paddling season, be sure to give your body the attention it deserves, too. To help you out, here are seven yoga poses to practice before your first (or next) paddling sesh—or after. Or, if you’re on a stand-up paddleboard, you can even practice these poses while you’re still on the water.

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Thread the Needle

Strong shoulders are key for paddling, whether you’re in a kayak or on a paddleboard. This pose is a great way to both wake them up before getting onto the water and stretch them out when you get back to shore.

Begin on all fours in tabletop pose, with your knees directly under the hips and wrists in line with the shoulders. Use an inhale to lift your right arm out to the side, and then, send it underneath the left arm as you exhale. In the process, bring the right shoulder and the right side of your head to the ground, as the left arm reaches out in front of you. Rest here for about 10 breaths before returning to tabletop and repeating on the other side.

  • Variation: To make the pose a little more “active,” you can reach the non-threaded arm up toward the sky, or rest the back of that hand on your lower back.
  • Variation: To make it a little more “restful,” either begin in child’s pose instead of tabletop, or ease the hips down toward the heels once you’ve settled into the twist.
Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Side Plank

As with most sports, core strength is also vital for paddling. Standard planks are an efficient way to strengthen both the core and your arms, but since paddling’s mechanics mean that one side of the body works at a time, side planks are particularly beneficial for kayakers and SUPers.

From tabletop, step back into high plank, with your feet together, and press through the heels to create a strong, straight line from the heels to your head. Shift your weight into your right arm as you rotate onto the outside edge of the right foot, and lift your left arm toward the sky. Keep your feet stacked if you can, or take one of the variations offered below. Hold for as long as you comfortably can, and then, repeat on the left side.

  • Variation: Take things down a notch by bringing the right knee down to the floor, so that your lower leg and foot point behind you.
  • Variation: Challenge yourself (and work your core a little more) by lifting up your left leg.
cobra
Credit: Ashley Peck

Cobra

Sitting in your boat for hours at a time can lead to a stiff lower back. As well, keeping your arms raised in paddling position may leave your shoulders, chest, and arms feeling fatigued. Fortunately, cobra pose may help with all of that.

Lower yourself all the way to your belly from plank, with your legs together and stretched out long behind you. If you’re extra motivated, go ahead and throw in some push-ups here. Keeping your hands under the shoulders and elbows close to the body, press the tops of your feet, your thighs, and your pelvis into the floor, and push through the palms to begin lifting your upper body.

Lift yourself as far as is comfortable. You may be able to fully straighten your arms, or you may need to keep a bend in the elbows—either way is fine. Focus on opening up the front of your body by gently lifting your sternum while simultaneously “squeezing” your shoulder blades together. Hold for five breaths, and then, release back down to the floor on an exhale. Repeat two or three times. 

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Down Dog Twist

Even though it may feel like your upper body does most of the work, your legs also play an important role in paddling. They help steer and stabilize your boat while you’re kayaking, and they’re kind of important when it comes to the “SU” part of SUPing. The beauty of down dog twist is that it stretches the leg muscles just like traditional downward-facing dog while also stretching out the shoulders a little more and helping build rotational core strength, which is where your paddling power comes from.

When you’re finished with cobra, press back up to tabletop. Then, begin working your way into downward-facing dog, but with your feet a little bit wider apart than the usual hip distance. On an exhale, reach your right hand back toward the left leg, taking hold of your calf or ankle—whichever feels best—and let your gaze come under the left armpit. Hold for a few breaths, return to down dog on an inhale, and then, repeat on the opposite side.

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Chair Twist

Similar to the way down dog twist addresses the shoulders and core while stretching the legs, chair twist does the same while strengthening the legs. In addition, both of these twisting poses can help strengthen the lower back, which in turn helps you avoid paddler’s back pain.

Start in a regular chair pose (feet together or hip-distance apart, lowering the hips toward the floor, and keeping your weight in the heels) with hands at heart center. Use an inhale to lengthen through the spine, and then, bring your right elbow toward the left outer thigh on an exhale. Peek down at your knees to make sure they stay facing forward and are even with each other. Keep pressing your palms into one another to stretch out your shoulders, or spread your wings (right hand toward the floor, and left arm reaching high) to open up through the chest. Stay here for about 30 seconds, and then, switch sides.

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Boat Twist

Even if it weren’t so appropriately named, boat twist would still be an important pose for paddlers to practice. Just as traditional boat pose improves core strength and balance, so, too, does boat twist—with the added benefit of working the obliques to continue building rotational core strength.

Bring yourself to a seated position with your feet flat on the floor. Inhale to lengthen through the spine, and then, exhale to lean back into boat pose with the knees bent and lower legs parallel to the floor. Keep your core engaged, and twist toward the right on your next exhale, reaching your right arm back and sending the left hand toward your feet. Hold for five breaths before returning to center, and then, repeat on the other side.

  • Variation: If you can extend your legs in boat pose, try crossing your right leg over the left, and holding onto the inside of your left foot with the left hand as you twist to the right. When you switch sides, do the opposite.
Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Half Lord of the Fishes

We’ll wrap things up with one more twist, since having a strong, fully mobile torso is so vital to both kayaking and paddleboarding. Again, even if half lord of the fishes didn’t have such a perfect name, it would be a pose every paddler should practice regularly. In addition to the benefits of the other twisting poses we’ve done, this one also provides a gentle stretch through the hips, which will feel particularly amazing after you spend the day sitting in a kayak.

Start seated with your legs extended in front of you. Hug your right knee in toward the chest, and then, cross the right leg over the left, so that your right foot is on the floor next to your left thigh. Bend your left leg to bring the left foot toward your right hip. On an inhale, sit up nice and tall. As you exhale, twist toward the right, pressing your right hand into the floor just behind you for support and bringing the left upper arm to the outside of your right thigh. Hold the twist for up to one minute, and then, repeat on the opposite side.

  • Variation: If bringing the left arm to the outside of the right leg is too intense, simply use the arm to hug your leg instead.

Loosen Up: 8 Yoga Stretches for Runners

Short, tight muscles don’t feel great, and when it comes to running (or hiking or biking or any sport, really), they can lead to imbalances and inefficiency. Foam rolling and massage are effective ways to relieve muscle soreness and boost recovery, but a good stretch session after each run will help lengthen your muscles, putting them in prime condition to crush your next one.

DSC_0536

1. Upward Salute

Most of our post-run poses will address the core and lower body, but your shoulders and upper back deserve a good stretch, too! Spend a few breaths in Upward Salute to stretch the shoulders, back, and armpits. You’ll be surprised by how nice it feels. Begin by standing tall with either your big toes touching or your feet hip-distance apart. Relax your shoulders and rotate the arms, so that your palms face forward. On an inhale, sweep your arms out to the sides and overhead, bringing the palms to touch. However, if that makes your shoulders feel too hunched, keep the arms parallel with the palms facing each other instead. Hold here for a few deep breaths. When you’re ready to move on, use an exhale to hinge forward into a standing-forward fold.

  • Variation: Add in some side bends to stretch your obliques. On an exhale, bend your upper body toward the right, keeping your pelvis facing forward. Inhale back to upward salute, and then, exhale into a left side bend. Repeat three to five times on each side.

DSC_0569

2. Cross-Leg Forward Fold

After spending a few breaths in a regular forward fold, return to standing just long enough to cross your right leg in front of the left. Fold forward again on your next exhale, reaching your fingers to the floor. Spend a few breaths like this, and then, repeat with the left leg in front. Adding the leg cross is a great way to stretch the outer hamstrings and address tight hips and cranky IT bands.

  • Variation: If your legs are too tight to bring your hands to the floor, use a stack of books or a couple of Nalgene bottles to rest them on.

DSC_0576

3. Figure Four Chair

The glutes are a key muscle used in running, and without good balance, runners would just fall all over the place all the time. The best part of this stretch is that it helps with both! Start by standing with your feet somewhere between hip- and shoulder-distance apart and with your hands on the hips. Keeping your weight in the heels, lower your butt toward the floor. Peek down at your toes here; if your knees aren’t blocking them from sight, you’re good to go! Once you’re as low as you can comfortably go, shift your weight onto the right leg, and pick the left leg up, bringing the left ankle to rest on the right thigh. Keep your hands on your hips if you like, or reach the arms overhead. Hold for five to 10 breaths, and then, switch sides.

  • Variation: Use a wall or chair to help keep your balance if you need a little extra stability.

DSC_0556

4. Squat

Hitting the road, trail, or track for miles at a time is a lot easier when your legs function with a full range of motion. And, an easy way to stretch and increase (or maintain) your legs’ range of motion—front, back, inner, outer, and from ankle to hip—is by spending some time in a “yogi’s squat.” Begin by standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart, and lower into as deep of a squat as you can while keeping your heels on the floor. If the heels won’t stay down, try placing a rolled-up towel under them. Bring your palms together in front of your chest, and use your elbows to gently press the knees away. Hold for at least 10 breaths, and then, bring your hands to the floor and step your feet back to come into a plank.

  • Variation: If your hips could use a little bit deeper stretch, spend a few breaths slowly rocking side to side before moving onto your plank.

DSC_0547

5. Plank

There’s a fun little saying in the yoga world that “the pose you don’t like is the pose you need,” and the proof is in the pudding—er, plank. I’ve never met anyone, runner or otherwise, who enjoys holding plank pose, but the benefits of this simple-looking exercise are so vast that it’s one we should all probably be doing every day. Runners can use plank to build strength in their core, glutes, and legs all at once—not to mention mental strength, which some runners may argue is just as important as physical strength.

On the off-chance you’ve never done a plank before, here’s the deal: The goal is to create a long line from your heels to your head. Keep the wrists directly under the shoulders, gaze down-but-slightly-forward to maintain neutrality in your neck, press back through your heels, and don’t let your butt sag or stick up too high. Keep your core engaged by “pulling” your belly button toward the spine. Hold for as long as you can, and then, use Downward-Facing Dog or Child’s Pose to rest.

  • Variation: There are so many! If a traditional plank is too intense, lower your knees to the floor, or try a forearm plank instead. If you want to spice things up a bit, play around with leg lifts, “running planks,” or side planks. Want to stretch the obliques some more? Lower to forearm plank, and do a few rounds of hip dips.

DSC_0543

6. Lizard Pose

Everyone wants a “tight butt,” but for runners, tight glutes are no bueno—especially when you’re trying to nail your hill repeats and speed workouts. Use lizard pose to give your glutes some post-run love, as well as to stretch the hip flexors, hamstrings, and quads. From your plank, step the right foot up to the outside of your right hand. Lower the left knee to the floor for a little less intensity, or keep it lifted for a deeper stretch. If it’s comfortable, lower down to your forearms; if not, continue pressing into the floor through your hands. Stay here for about 10 breaths, and then, switch sides.

  • Variation: If it feels okay, gently roll onto the outer edge of the front foot to open up the hips and stretch the groin and hamstrings a little more.
  • Variation: Add in a deep quad stretch by lowering the back knee to the floor and bending the leg, reaching back to hold onto your foot or ankle with the same side hand.

DSC_0559

7. Toes Pose

Whether your dogs are barking because you suffer from plantar fasciitis or simply ran a little too hard today, it’s important to stretch out the soles of your feet. Begin on all fours with your toes tucked so that the balls of your feet are on the floor. Keep it here if you can already feel the stretch through the bottoms of your feet; otherwise, start to walk yourself back toward a kneeling position. If you can bear it, sit all the way back on your heels with a nice, tall spine and hold for up to a minute.

DSC_0578

8. Legs Up the Wall

If you only have time for one yoga pose after a run, make sure it’s this one. Legs up the wall not only feels amazing, but it also gently stretches the hamstrings and lower back, helps reduce swelling and cramping in the feet and legs, slows down your heart rate, and can boost circulation. Start by sitting with one hip as close to a wall as possible. In one semi-fluid motion, roll your upper body down and swing your legs up, so that you’re lying flat on your back with your legs, well…up the wall. You can control the intensity of the stretch in the backs of your legs by shimmying closer to or farther from the wall. When you find the sweet spot, close your eyes and rest for as long as you want—you’ve earned it!

  • Variation: If your hips and inner thighs could still use more stretching, move the legs into a “V” shape for a wide-legged legs up the wall, OR bring the soles of the feet together and use your hands to gently push the knees toward the wall.

Stretch it Out: 7 Yoga Stretches To Do After a Day on the Slopes

I love a proper après just as much as the next person. But, after a long day on the slopes, a good stretch can be just as satisfying as a good brew. Throwing in a few yoga poses before getting hydrated not only helps the body recover from the runs taken that day, but it will also help build strength in all the right places, so you’ll be as ready as ever for your next ski day.

DSC_0648

1. Reclined Child’s Pose

Skiing and snowboarding both ask a lot of your feet and ankles. So, let’s give them a break for a few minutes by lying down. Then, hug the knees in toward the chest, and slowly roll your feet around a few times in each direction to give the ankles some love. Your hips have also done a lot of work, so go ahead and “draw” circles in the air with your knees (one at a time or both together) to relieve some of the tension there, as well. If you’re still not quite ready to come up yet, take some time to gently roll back and forth for a nice little back massage first.

  • Variation: If hugging the knees toward your chest is uncomfortable, try guiding them toward the armpits instead.

DSC_0657

2. Downward-Facing Dog

There’s a reason yoga classes typically involve so many down dogs. Well, actually, there are a lot of reasons. For skiers and boarders, some of the more relevant benefits of this “basic” pose include stretching and toning hamstrings and calves, working the small stabilizer muscles in the feet and ankles, and strengthening the muscles in your back and core.

To come into your Downward-Facing Dog, start on your hands and knees, with your toes tucked under. On an exhale, press through your hands, and start to lift the knees off the floor while keeping them slightly bent. As your spine begins to lengthen, start to straighten the legs, pressing your heels toward the floor and being careful not to lock out your knees. Keep in mind that they don’t have to touch all the way down! Then, take a few moments to “walk your dog” by pedaling through the feet, before you settle into stillness. As you do this, still actively press through the hands, working the heels toward the floor and lifting the hips high. Hold the pose for as long as you are comfortable, ideally up to two minutes.

  • Variation 1: With extra-tight calves or hammies, straightening the legs can feel not-so-great. Instead, try keeping a gentle bend in the knees to take some of the pressure off the backs of your legs.
  • Variation 2: If your wrists get cranky in this pose, practice Dolphin Pose instead by lowering onto your forearms while keeping the rest of your alignment the same.

DSC_0671

3. Standing Forward Fold

From Downward-Facing Dog, walk the feet up toward the hands on an inhale, keeping your feet about hip-distance apart and your knees as bent as they can stay comfortable. If possible, allow your palms or fingertips to rest on the floor. Otherwise, let your arms simply dangle, use the hands to clasp opposite elbows, or give yourself a hug by wrapping your arms around your legs. Spend anywhere from five to 10 breaths here to give your calves, hamstrings, and hips a well-earned stretch. This also makes it easier to buckle your boots or strap into your bindings without sitting down the next time you hit the slopes.

  • Variation: If your shoulders and upper back are asking for some attention, try my favorite variation. Wrap your arms around your legs, cross the wrists behind your calves, and hold the shins with opposite hands: right hand to left shin, and left hand to right shin.

DSC_0803

4. Chair Pose

I know, I know. You’ve basically been in this position all day, and now that you’re off the mountain, it’s the last thing you want to do. But, trust me. This is definitely a “hurts so good” kind of thing. By holding this variation of a squat, the entire leg, from ankle to thigh, gets stronger. Many sports injuries—and not just from snow sports—happen when muscles get fatigued and your form gets sloppy. The way I see it, if holding Chair Pose for 30 to 60 seconds now makes it easier to maintain proper form for an extra run or two on your next ski day, it’s worth the burn!

Come into Chair Pose from Standing Forward Fold by bending your knees and lifting the upper body, keeping your spine long and strong. Keep your hips as low as you comfortably can without letting your knees move past your toes. Ideally, your knees should be more or less in line with the ankles. So, try shifting your weight into the heels and lifting your toes to ensure all of the leg muscles are getting in on the action, rather than making your quads do all the work. You can reach your arms overhead, and bring the palms together at heart center. Or, if you haven’t already put them away, hold onto your ski poles for extra “authenticity.”

  • Variation: If you shredded the gnar a little too hard today and can’t possibly hold yourself up in this pose, do a wall sit instead. You’ll still reap the benefits of Chair Pose, but the wall will take out some of the work for you.

DSC_0702 DSC_0711

5. Warrior I & II

The first two Warrior Poses are just about as common as downward-facing dog in a typical yoga class, and for just as many reasons. These poses have a sneaky way of working almost every part of the body—just like skiing and snowboarding. Not only do Warrior I and II stretch and tone your thighs, calves, and ankles, but they also strengthen your shoulders, chest, and back, work the psoas (deep-core muscles responsible for, among other things, maintaining good posture and stabilizing your spine), and help increase stamina.

To come into Warrior I, first settle into a high lunge by stepping your right leg back about three to four feet and bending into the left leg, so that the knee is over the ankle and your thigh is almost parallel to the floor. Once you’ve adjusted your stance and are comfortable, spin your right heel down, so that the foot is somewhere between 45 and 90 degrees, while keeping your hips and upper body facing forward.

  • Variation: Stay in high lunge with the back heel lifted, if taking it to the floor puts too much strain on the back leg.

Reach your arms overhead, and gaze up at your fingertips— only if it’s comfortable for your neck.

Hold Warrior I for five to 10 breaths, and then, transition into Warrior II on an exhale by rotating your torso to the right, opening your arms out to the sides and parallel to the floor, and resting your gaze wherever is most comfortable. Traditionally, this is over the left fingertips. Stay in Warrior II for five to 10 breaths, and then, repeat both poses on the opposite side.

DSC_0715

6. One-Legged King Pigeon Pose

You may not notice it at the time, but while you’re busy having the best day ever sliding downhill, your hips are working overtime—especially if you’re skinning or booting up the mountain to earn those turns. Now that you’re done for the day, it’s time to reward those hips for their hard work with Pigeon Pose. Start in Downward-Facing Dog, lift your right leg, and shift your weight forward while hugging the right knee into the chest. Then, set the right leg down, resting the right knee behind the right wrist and the right ankle near the left wrist. Press your palms or fingertips into the floor to keep the spine long, and rest here for 30 to 60 seconds to help lengthen your hip flexors, increase your hips’ range of motion, and stretch the hamstrings. Repeat on the left side.

  • Variation 1: If it feels okay, walk the hands away from you. Then, fold the upper body down to also work into the lower back.
  • Variation 2: If your quads could use a deeper stretch, bend the back knee, and reach for the foot, ankle, or shin with your hand.
  • Variation 3: If this expression of Pigeon Pose causes too much stress, strain, or pain anywhere in your body, try performing a Figure 4 stretch while sitting in a chair or lying on your back instead.

DSC_0730

7. Boat Pose

To wrap up your post-ski or snowboard yoga session, spend some time in Half Boat Pose to strengthen your core, including the psoas, spine, and hip flexors, and to stretch out the hamstrings a little bit more. Start by coming into a seated position with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Engage the core, and lift your arms out in front of you. Then, without rounding the spine, slowly start to lean back and lift the legs, until they’re in line with the arms and your calves are parallel to the floor. Hold for three to five breaths, release, and repeat one or two more times.

  • Variation 1: Hold onto the backs of the thighs, instead of keeping the arms outstretched, for additional support.
  • Variation 2: If you’re up for more of a challenge, begin to straighten the legs into “full” Boat Pose.