What better way to launch into summer than to elevate your paddle fitness routine with Coach Jeff and become a S-PEC-TACULAR paddler! This month’s SUP Fitness & Nutrition article is about developing those pectoral muscles of the chest to strengthen your catch phase and power for every stroke on the water. Let’s get pumping!
Pectorals for Power in Paddling
It’s time to address your pecs! Pecs are not just a showcase muscle, but also play an important role in paddling performance. Yes, both men and women have pectoral muscles. They may be more obvious in men, but in women they underlie the breast tissue and everyone can benefit from exercising them!
Strong and well developed pectoral muscles aren’t just aesthetic in nature, they play a key role in paddling. The pectorals (a.k.a. ‘pecs’) are predominantly used to control the movement of the arms, with contractions of the pecs pulling on the humerus (upper arm bone) to create lateral, vertical, or rotational motion. It may not be evident, but each paddle stroke involves your pecs.
Efficient Back & Arms = Strong Pecs
Your back muscles work in unison with your arms and shoulders. Your pecs are included in the action too as they are the antagonist or opposite muscle group. Remember, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction! Without strong pectoral muscles, your back and arms won’t work nearly as efficiently as they should. Strong and well developed pecs serve another important function as well. Paddling tends to be a back dominant activity and having strong pecs will help balance out your muscle groups to prevent kinesthetic imbalances as well as muscular imbalance injuries.
Breath: Your pecs also play a part in the deep inhalation of every athlete. They pull the rib cage up to create room for the lungs to expand. Breathing deeply and properly is another key to optimal performance. I will be focusing on two exercises that target the pecs. Choose one or both to help you become a sPECtacular paddler!
Strong Pecs Exercise 1: Incline Dumbbell Press
I recommend the Incline Dumbbell Press for a few reasons. The angle of the incline dumbbell presses offers a greater range of motion, therefore involving more of your pecs. Using dumbbells allows for a better range of motion and allows you to work unilaterally if you have to address imbalances due strength dominance in one of your arms.
Generally speaking, 30- 45 degrees is the ideal angle for the Incline Dumbbell Press.
Select dumbbells that are lighter than you’d use for a flat dumbbell bench press or when performing a barbell incline press. If you’re unsure of the right weight, start light and work your way up until you feel challenged but can still do an entire set using proper form.
- Sit on the bench and lean back. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, with hands positioned at your shoulders. Elbows are bent and angled down below your ribs. Relax your neck against the bench and keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Brace your core and press both dumbbells straight up over your chest as you exhale. Keep your wrists straight. Don’t let them “cock” backward! At the top of the movement, the dumbbells should almost touch each other and your arms should be perpendicular to the floor.
- Reverse the movement and slowly lower the dumbbells back to the top of your chest as you inhale. As you lower the dumbbells, your elbows come down to roughly a 45-degree angle to your torso. Don’t let them splay out to the sides, pointing toward the side of the room. Instead, keep your elbows pointing to the floor.
Start with 3 sets of 10-12 reps, using weight that allows you to complete 10-12 reps for all 3 sets. As you progress, increase your weight (slowly) but only if you are able to maintain good form!
Strong Pecs Exercise Two: Pushups (Yes, really!)
Yes, the old P.E. class standard is a great way to strengthen your pecs, especially if you don’t have access to weights. There are many variations to this classic. If you’re unable to do a full body weight pushup, you can do a kneeling version until you’ve built the necessary strength to do a standard pushup. Here is (if you needed reminding) the way to perform a standard pushup.
Get on the floor on all fours, positioning your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Don’t lock out the elbows; keep them slightly bent. Extend your legs back so you are balanced on your hands and toes, feet hip-width apart.
- Contract your abs and tighten your core by pulling your belly button in toward your spine.
- Inhale as you slowly bend your elbows and lower yourself to the floor, until your elbows are at a roughly 90-degree angle.
- Exhale while contracting your chest muscles and pushing back up through your hands, returning to the start position.
Keep a tight core throughout the entire pushup. Also, keep your body in a straight line from head to toe without sagging in the middle or arching your back. Even a single standard pushup can be demanding so start with a modified version if necessary. Work your way up to 3 sets of 6-10.
Elevated Pushup with Added Resistance
For those advanced athletes, elevating your feet can make the standard pushup more difficult. Adding weight via a weighted vest or by other means can take it to a whole different level! Keep developing your skill level, safely!
No. 1 Recovery Tool: H2O!
In past articles, we have focused our recovery discussion to physical actions like stretching, foam rolling and hot/cold water therapy. However, the physical act of picking up a glass or bottle of water is, aside from breathing, the most necessary thing to do! Athletes especially need to really focus on hydration for both performance and recovery.
Water is essential in literally all of our cellular functions. It maintains organs and cells, regulates body temperature and aids in digestion and many other critical bodily functions. Water helps move nutrients and oxygen through the body. That’s why it’s crucial to drink a lot of water after a workout so that cell-repairing nutrients can be easily brought to the recovering area. This results in increased performance of the muscles and joints. Water is also what moves waste products from your body and what helps to lubricate your joints. On average, the body loses two quarts of water simply by carrying out sedentary metabolic functions. This number increases greatly if you exercise and this water loss must be replaced.
Proper Hydration + Sleep = Better Performance
Last month’s article discussed the importance of good sleep as a recovery tool. According to the National Sleep Foundation, hydration is crucial for better sleep. Water is lost during sleep, so it’s important to hydrate before going to bed at a time when we sweat and lose water — even if we don’t notice it. Being dehydrated during the night may also lead to nocturnal leg cramps.
Hydration keeps blood volume at a healthy level. As a result, the heart can easily pump blood throughout the body and won’t have to work as hard while recovering from a strenuous session.
Full disclosure: The amount of water needed to stay hydrated will vary from person to person. The old rule of thumb of drinking eight glasses of water a day is just that: old. Some experts say that you need an ounce of water per pound of body weight. A great indicator that you are well hydrated is clear urine. If your urine is bright yellow or cloudy, you are not properly hydrated.
For hydration, water is best, but fruits and vegetables that have a high percentage of water are also good for the body. Drink up!
Nutrition: Pack a Powerful Paddling Picnic!
Normally our focus here in Nutrition is one particular dish. But now, with longer Spring and Summer sessions on the horizon, packing food(s) that can act as a pre, mid or post session meal is definitely in order! Packing a cooler with a variety of healthy foods can get you through a long day on the water keeping you fueled and happy. No one wants a “hangry cranky pants” in the water! It’s easy to assemble a variety of healthy, nutrient dense foods with just a little bit of preparation and planning. Here are a few things that can be found in my cooler (or as my students call it my “lunchbox”) in preparation for a long day on or near the water.
In the Lunchbox (On the Daily!)
- Water – Water is the most important thing you can put in your body. Don’t neglect hydration!
- Fresh Fruit- Grapes, strawberries and sliced kiwi not only taste delicious, but provide natural sugars for energy as well as help with hydration.
- Raw Vegetables- Baby carrots, sliced peppers, and broccoli not only provide key vitamins and minerals, but also add necessary fiber.
- Raw Nuts- Cashews and almonds and pistachios provide a bit of protein as well as healthy fats for sustained energy and key nutrients zinc and magnesium.
- Cheese- Sharp cheddar, Smoked Gouda provide some calcium and protein and are calorically dense to keep you from getting too hungry.
- Yogurt- Yogurt (as long as it isn’t too processed) can provide both protein and important probiotics (good bacteria) for digestive health.
- Seeds- Sunflower, hemp and chia seeds, like nuts, provide protein as well as healthy fats, zinc and magnesium.
- Protein Bars- Good protein bars (check your ingredients to see if protein, whey or vegan Pea protein are the primary ingredients) can provide you with protein which is essential for muscle recovery.
Keep in mind these are suggestions- the possibilities and combinations are endless! Just be sure to avoid packing sugar laden treats that while taste great going down, wreak havoc with your blood sugar levels and contain lots of non-nutritive calories! Remember people, Pack Powerful Paddling Picnics for Premium Performance!
As always, stay strong, stay safe and stay stoked!
Coach Jeff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org