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Shoulder strength is a key element for every serious paddler. How do we use them? How do we protect our shoulders from the rigors of paddling? In this month’s SUP Fitness and Nutrition article, Coach Jeff offers us an overview of the anatomy of the shoulder and three exercises to strengthen each of the shoulder’s ‘heads’. Plus, more great tips on recovery strategy and nutrition for another great month of winter paddling ahead! Thanks, Coach Jeff!

SUP Fitness Nutrition Shoulders
Shoulders are a critical component for all levels of paddlers and an important part of our overall physiology to protect, preserve and strengthen. Let’s get those shoulders pumping! Photo by: Standup Journal

SUP Fitness:  Using our Shoulders … Properly

In this month’s stand up paddle fitness article, we will focus on shoulder strength, an oft forgotten and critical element for paddling. Strong and balanced shoulders act as the stabilizing and driving force between your upper back and your arms. Strong shoulders  increase the amount of power you put into each paddle stroke or carved bottom turn (when using your SUP paddle) when surfing. They also reduce your risk of injury. It goes without saying that strong shoulders will fill out your rash guard or wetsuit to give it the appearance of a padded jacket in an 80’s MTV video. (Duran Duran, anyone?)

SUP Fitness Campbell Carter shoulders
Shoulder strength can help you punch out through the surf or paddle faster (and longer) depending upon your goals. Here, athlete Campbell Carter, uses his flex and stance to create tension and pop the board out over the white water. Photo by: E. Carter

Coach Jeff’s Quick Tips on Shoulder Anatomy for Paddle Fitness

Your shoulders, or deltoids, are made up of three heads: The Anterior head in front, the Medial head on the side and the Posterior head in the rear. Stand up paddle athletes should strive for a balance of all three because imbalances can lead to injuries including impingement and rotator cuff strains or tears. In this article, we will discuss three different shoulder exercises to address all three heads of the shoulder.  As always, proper form is critical as the shoulders, being a smaller muscle group are susceptible to overuse injuries.

Rear delt Raises Jeff Morrison SUP Fitn

Power the Shoulders: Rear Deltoid Raises

You can use two dumbbells, kettlebells or weight plates to perform this exercise. It is important that you begin using light weights so as to keep proper form and prevent injury. Even 2.5 lb. dumbbells will fatigue you if the exercise is done properly. Grasp the weights, hinge at the waist slightly, and keep a slight arch in your lower back.

Bend your elbows, and move the weights away from each other simultaneously while you exhale. Keep the motion smooth throughout. Elevate the arms until they are parallel to the floor and  try to squeeze your shoulder blades together on your back. While it can be difficult to hold this position, try to feel the  contraction before you gradually lower the weights. Start by doing 3 sets of 8 repetitions, and gradually  increase the number of repetitions as you get stronger.

Watch this video on Rear Delt Raises

Shoulder Press Jeff Morrison SUP Fitness and STrength

Power the Shoulders: Dumbbell/ Kettlebell Shoulder Press 

This exercise can be done standing or seated. Novice lifters may want to opt for the seated version as it provides more stability. This exercise can be executed using either 2 dumbbells or kettlebells

Hold the dumbbells/kettlebells by your shoulders with your palms facing forwards with your elbows out  to the sides and bent at a 90° angle. Without leaning back, extend through your elbows to press the weights overhead. Then, slowly return to the starting position. Start with 3 sets of 8 and gradually increase to 12 repetitions. Once you are comfortable doing 3 sets of 12 repetitions, increase the  weight(s) you are using and cycle back to 3 sets of 8 repetitions. This may take several weeks.

Side Laterals Jeff Morrison SUP Fitness and Strength

Power the Shoulders: Side Lateral Raises 

This exercise is probably the most improperly done exercise in every gym or workout studio, but if you follow these directions you’ll do it well! Like the rear deltoid raises, it is critical to start with light weights so as not to compromise your form.

Start by standing tall with your core tight and shoulder blades pulled back and down. Keep your back straight, and your upper body still (that means no swinging of the arms!) lift the dumbbells out to your sides with a slight  bend at the elbows while keeping the weights higher than your forearms. Next, lift until your arms are parallel to the floor and slowly lower to the starting position. Begin with 3 sets of 8 and gradually increase to 12  repetitions. This may take several weeks.

SUP Fitness Kim Barnes shoulders
The power of Kim Barnes is unmistakable as she grit and grinds her way to another Chattajack finish.

Paddle Recovery: Rolling Revisited 

As discussed in the May 2021 SUP Fitness & Stoke article, foam rolling is one of the most effective ways to cool down and jump start the recovery process. Although I prefer larger floor models, hand held rollers are beneficial and possess a few advantages over the larger floor models. Hand held rollers are portable. They can fit into any backpack or wet bag, plus they make it easy to target specific parts of the body. A 45-second to 2-minute roller session can increase blood flow to an area and roll out any knots you may have incurred during your session.

Rolling out shoulder fatigueRolling out muscle fatigue 1

To  warm down your muscles properly, spend at least 45 seconds on an area you’ve worked out with 20 or more rollouts. If you feel pain, this may mean you have located a trigger point which may be an indicator of a weak muscle. These muscles are where you can spend a more time by varying your moves between harder and softer rollouts. Even a short 45-second to 2-minute rollout can increase blood flow help your body recover for your next SUP session!

SUP Fitness and Nutrition Jeffrey Morrison

Nutrition for Cooler Temps & Workouts

Let’s face it, dawn patrols, especially in cold weather climates, require some healthy caloric density (both pre and post session), but getting up to paddle or catch waves with the sunrise doesn’t leave lots of time for meal prep. By taking a bit of time the night before though, you can have a great and delicious meal to fuel you up for your session. And, it will keep you from going through the line at a fast food place post session! (I can attest, it also keeps you from eating cold pancakes wrapped in foil and semi frozen Protein Shakes as a certain fitness writer may have resorted to in the past).

Below is a simple and delicious recipe that can be used as a meal any time of day, but especially on a morning where time can be of the essence. I know how the parking lot at the local break or paddle spot fills up quickly!

SUP Nutrition:  Simple Breakfast Casserole

1 pound ground turkey breakfast sausage
1 (8 ounce) can refrigerated reduced-fat crescent roll dough
5 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
⅔ cup milk
⅔ red bell pepper, chopped
½ cup chopped fresh spinach
1 scallion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced parsley
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Cooking Directions:  

Step 1:  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
Step 2:  Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking dish.
Step 3:  Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook and stir turkey sausages in hot skillet until browned and crumbly. Tops 5 to 7 minutes. Drain and discard grease.
Step 4:  Unroll crescent roll dough and spread evenly over the bottom of the prepared baking dish.
Step 5:  Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.
Step 6: Mix sausage and eggs together in a bowl. Add Monterrey Jack cheese, Mozzarella cheese, milk, red bell  pepper, spinach, scallion, parsley, salt, and pepper, stirring well after each addition. Pour mixture over the baked crescent rolls.
Step 7: Bake in the oven until eggs are set. 25 to 30 minutes. Enjoy and paddle hard!

Jeff Morrison SUP Fitness and Nutrition

Until next time, Stay strong, stay safe, and stay stoked!

If you have questions or comments please feel free to contact me at

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