Your shoulders must have been killing you

I completed a 117-mile solo paddle of Michigan’s Keewenaw Peninsula in August 2019. While my four-day paddle pales in comparison to some of the epic journeys completed by other paddlers this summer, it was a fantastic experience and my longest solo to date.

Going in, I was wondering how I would do on a multi-day solo. I never had a reason to doubt my fitness, but rather my ability to stand being alone inside my head with no other distractions for several days. I was pleasantly relieved at how well it went and I look forward to the next trip. In fact, I think the world needs a few more solos to find out what we’re capable of doing.

Now, from a fitness standpoint, I paddled some big distance each day with a loaded boat. My shortest mileage day clocked in at a lazy 21 miles. The longest was a whopping 11 hours with 9-1/2 hours on the move, putting 37 miles on the board.

After the trip, people kept asking if my arms and shoulders ached. The answer? Actually, not at all.

Where did I feel it?

My abs and obliques. And that’s how I knew I was doing it right. Endurance paddling requires proper technique and efficiency to last and for a distance paddler, that means torso rotation. For many paddlers, identifying that you’re rotating can be a challenge. It’s more than getting the shoulders moving. Here are a few ways either I’ve used or heard other instructors cue students:

  • Watch the zipper line on your PFD. If you see the middle of the zipper rotating from side to side, your torso is rotating as well.
  • Imagine that you have a baby or a large bag of potato chips, whichever you value more, strapped to your chest. Make sure you keep your arms extended enough so that you don’t bring your hands close enough to your body that you crush the precious cargo.
  • Imagine that the cockpit of your boat is a large clock face, with 12 at the top, 9 at your left hip, and 3 at your right hip. As you’re paddling and rotating your torso, be sure your right hand crosses over to reach the 11 position and your left had crosses over to reach the 1 position. 

How do you gauge torso rotation?

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