7 tips for paddling pain free

Paddling can lead to shoulder, elbow, back and leg pain if you’re not using efficient paddling techniques. Read on to learn how to SUP pain free.

Just in the last week, I heard from 3 paddlers who mentioned pain in their shoulder, elbow and feet.  This is not uncommon!

Here’s 7 tips for paddling pain free. The tips will also work for those that have pre-existing injuries.

  • Always use a loose grip on your paddle.  This means fingers only for lower hand during the power phase of your forward stroke. Upper hand on handle – fingers should be able to lift and wave at any time, while the the thumb connects the hand to the handle.  Even on waves and rough water, stay loose!
  • Overall, your should feel relaxed and able to smile for any type of water you’re on. This will relieve tension in your shoulders, arms, core and legs. If you’re feeling tense, you’ll be using up energy quicker and this may lead to pain in those areas over time.
  • Look into specific stretches and warm-up for your current injury to do pre and post paddle. If you don’t have an injury, I do a light yoga stretch session prior for my legs, back and shoulders, about 10 min max.  In between paddling days or at the gym, I do a 1min plank which helps strengthen my shoulders thus reducing future injuries. The Tea Cup Stretch is a great one to open your side, arms and hands before a paddle. See a video of this stretch on my online video course.
  • Make sure you’re using your torso for most of your power in your forward stroke and turns.  This means keeping your lower arm straight which forces your torso to rotate for forward paddling and turns. As you paddle forward, you should feel your back rotating for each stroke. All your arms and hands are doing is holding and feathering the paddle. When done correctly, you’ll see significantly more power in each stroke.
  • Get low to turn. Whether a buoy turn in a race or just to go the other direction, I see so many paddlers standing straight up and trying to turn. It takes them 2x as long and 4x too many strokes to turn – and this puts more strain on your body.  Instead, squat low, use an extended straight lower arm on the paddle and turn quicker with less effort and time completed. Stepping back behind the handle a bit will also release the nose thus spin the board faster.
  • Get a faster board. 14′ and longer touring and race boards will allow you to paddle faster, easier. And not all are less stable than your current board. Test out boards if you can prior to purchase. A friend was getting back pain on a surf style board. A former sea kayaker, he was used to 18′ kayaks thus moving quick. His new 11′ board was slow. He tried to make it go faster but ended up injuring himself.  I recommended a longer board so he purchased a 12-6 touring board and is loving it and no back pain!
  • Purchase lighter gear. Got a heavy aluminum paddle?  Replace it with a light one piece carbon paddle like the 1.5lb 3 oz Werner Trance carbon paddle. Board heavy to carry, lift and feels slow on-water? Get a lighter hard board or inflatable such as the 27 lb NRS Escape (12′-6″ x 30″) which you’ll use more often as it’ll be easier to transport and paddle.

There’s several more options to paddle injury free, but these are a start!

Related Reading

Paddler’s Tips for how to prevent blisters and arm/wrist pain

4 Stand up paddling myths

SUP Guide to Racing Smarter

How to Paddle your SUP Straight

Watch instructional videos with these and more tips on my SUP 101 online course.


About Rob Casey – Named a pioneer in the SUP industry by Stand Up Journal, Rob is the author of “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers” and “Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips.” Rob owns SUP school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races throughout the year.
Disclosure: This post may include affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.  

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