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In this month’s “SUP Stoke, Strength and Stand Up Fitness” article, by coach Jeff Morrison, we take a look at the importance of grip strength for better paddling, post-session (or workout) recovery techniques and another delicious recipe for healthy living while living a life on the water.  Let’s take a look…

Laura Glantz Crystal Pier Wilmington Beach Surf SUP North Carolina
Paddling in choppy waters makes the need for a powerful grip abundantly clear. To stay balanced and focused, a paddler needs to be in control of their paddle at all times. Photo by: Laura Glantz

Get a Grip & Let it Rip!

Our last two fitness articles have focused primarily upon large muscle groups for improved stand up paddle performance: the lower back and the core. Today, we will focus on a smaller – but no less important – component of optimal stand up paddling performance, your grip strength.

ALL stand up paddle athletes and recreational paddlers have one thing in common when it comes to paddling. Everyone has to maintain a good grip on the paddle or your session is done. At one time or another, we’ve all experienced hand cramping or forearm fatigue.  I experienced both during my first open ocean SUP race, a long 3-miler in heavy chop. What I’ve learned is, the best way to combat hand cramping and forearm fatigue is to  develop both grip strength and endurance.

SUP Fitness article: “Strong Core = Paddle More!” HERE

One doesn’t need to build Popeye-like forearms (seriously though, he’d have been a hell of a long distance SUP racer), but adding additional strength and stamina to your grip will keep you on the water longer and make for more efficient and better paddling. A strong paddle grip comes from a combination of both strength and endurance. Your hands and forearms work together to provide these and a few simple exercises can work wonders towards increasing both these components of “getting a grip”.

In terms of practicality, function and efficacy, today, I am introducing two exercises: Tennis Ball Squeeze and Dumbbell Wrist Extensions. 

Arthur Arutkin APP World Tour Sprints
While punching out through the surf, world champion paddler Arthur Arutkin knows he’d better have a good grip on that handle! Photo by: APP World Tour

Grip Strength 101:  Tennis Ball Squeeze

Tennis Ball Squeeze is exactly what it sounds like. Simple to perform, it is a great way to increase both your grip strength and endurance.

Grasp a tennis ball in your hand, squeeze it, and hold for 2 seconds. Then, relax your grip. Do this 5 -15 times, with rest in between each set for approximately 1 minute. Repeat doing 2 more sets in the same hand. You’ll be surprised at how quickly this simple exercise will fatigue you (and it may impact your knitting dexterity for a while). When you reach a point where 3 sets of 15 becomes easy – this may take a few weeks or even a few months – increase the hold time to 3 seconds when performing the exercise.

Grip Strength 102:  Dumbbell Wrist Extensions

Dumbbell Wrist Extensions: These should be done with a light dumbbell or hand weight so you can do a relatively high number of repetitions and prevent injury.  Remember, it is always better to start with a light weight and work your way up.

Dumbell wrist extensions

You can either perform this exercise while sitting in a chair and using your legs as support or use a table or a bench as a support. Hang your wrists and hands over the edge of the table, bench or legs while holding the hand weights with your palms facing down. Keep your forearms resting on whatever is supporting them, and slowly flex your wrists backwards to lift your hands up so the back of the hands move towards the ceiling. Think, knuckles point towards the sky. Then, relax your wrists and lower the palms back to the starting position.

Quick YouTube Video HERE

This is similar to the motion of using the throttle on a motorcycle or ATV, but try to resist the urge to say, “Vroom Vroom!” while performing the exercise. Perform the exercise slowly, taking 2 seconds to go from resting position to wrists fully flexed back, and 2 seconds to go from knuckles-to-the-sky back to resting position.

As with Tennis Ball Squeeze, try to do 5-15 repetitions for 3 sets. You may only be able to do a few reps before fatigue sets in, but persevere! Once you’ve reached the point where 3 sets of 15 reps is easy, either increase the weight by a small increment or increase the number of repetitions by 1 or 2.

Candice Appleby ISA sup surf Hainan China
Whether on flat water or in surf, a good grip is a good thing to have.  Photo by: Pablo Jimenez / ISA World Championships

Recovery Strategy: Contrast Water Therapy

Many people –  myself included – swear by contrast water therapy. This is the act of alternating between hot and cold water when you shower to recover quickly and reduce post-session muscle soreness. The concept of this method is that by repeatedly alternating between hot water, which dilates your blood vessels, and cold water, which constricts your blood vessels, you remove or flush out waste products from your muscles. There is also the belief that this practice temporarily raises your endorphin levels, causing a general feeling of overall well-being.

Adrian Johnson Nico Corbo dares for a fresh-waterfall shower under Nepali's 6 million year-old cliffs during what was said to be the opening SUP run of the Nepali Coast for the 2014 summer season.

How to do it: While taking your post-exercise shower, alternate 2 minutes of hot water with 30 seconds of cold water. Repeat 3X with 30 seconds of moderate temperatures between each hot-cold spray. If you aren’t able to adhere to these time increments, simply use shorter time increments to build your way up. Most of you will find it more difficult to hit your times with the cold water, but once you do I can attest to the fact that it feels amazing!

Contrast Water Therapy after an intense session on the water will help you recover faster and feel better quickly. Give it a try to see if it works for you. At the very least, you’ll be squeaky clean!  Ice baths and saunas are alternative ways to practice this, but are not always available to many people.

Summertime and the Grilling is Easy

It doesn’t get much better than a post session cook-out with your extended paddle/surf family. Enjoying good food and great company is one of the best joys one can experience, especially when the food is both delicious and healthy! Grilling presents us with many delicious and healthy options. Here is one that will satisfy both your food and fitness appetite!

Marinated Chicken and Veggie Skewers*

SUP fitness nutrition
* Tofu can be substituted for Chicken if you follow a plant based diet


First, the all-important marinade :
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup chopped basil
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1 lemon (juiced)
1 teaspoon salt

Layer Up those Skewers:
1 lb chicken ( cut into 1 inch cubes)
1 lb. Tofu drained and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 large green peppers (cut into 1 inch pieces)
8 oz cherry tomatoes
2-3 green onions (cut into 1 inch pieces)

Cooking Instructions:
1. Combine ingredients for the marinade in a large bowl or Ziplock bag. Add chicken pieces and thoroughly coat. Cover bowl or seal bag and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

2. Thread the chicken and vegetables onto your skewers.
Get creative with your pattern!

3. Fire up the grill: You’ll be cooking the kebabs over medium-high to high heat.

4: Grill kabobs over medium-high to high heat. Turn occasionally so they cook evenly until chicken or tofu is cooked through. Appox. 10 minutes.

5. Remove from the grill and enjoy!

Stay Strong, Stay Safe, And Stay Stoked!

Any fitness questions you need answered? Feel free to email me

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