5 Paddling Mistakes That Lead to Injuries and How to Avoid Them

people kayaking and paddling on a lake
people kayaking and paddling on a lake

Paddling and kayaking in Washington during summer is a fantastic way to enjoy the great outdoors, but did you know that improper paddling techniques can lead to serious injuries? As a physical therapist, I’ve seen firsthand how common paddling mistakes can turn an enjoyable activity into a painful experience.

In this blog, we’re going to dive into the five most common paddling mistakes we see at Intecore Physical Therapy and how you can avoid them to ensure a safe and effective workout on the water.

By the end of this post, you’ll be equipped with practical tips to correct your form, choose the right equipment, and recognize the importance of proper preparation. Let’s get started and make sure your paddling adventures in Washington State are as safe and enjoyable as possible!

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1. Incorrect Form

Improper form can lead to significant strain and injuries. Common mistakes include overreaching with the paddle, which puts undue stress on your shoulders and back, and maintaining poor posture, such as slouching or leaning too far forward.

This can cause muscle strain and joint pain, potentially leading to more serious injuries over time. To maintain proper form, keep your back straight and engage your core muscles throughout the paddling motion. Position your hands correctly on the paddle, with a comfortable grip and elbows slightly bent. Focus on using your torso to drive the paddle through the water, rather than relying solely on your arms, to distribute the effort more evenly and reduce the risk of injury.

2. Overexertion and Lack of Rest

Overexertion is a common issue for paddlers, especially those eager to maximize their time on the water. Paddling for extended periods without adequate breaks can lead to muscle fatigue, dehydration, and even heat exhaustion, especially on sunny days. It’s important to listen to your body and recognize the signs of overexertion, such as dizziness, excessive sweating, or muscle cramps.

To avoid these, take regular breaks to rest and rehydrate. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after to stay hydrated.

Pacing yourself is also key; start with shorter sessions and gradually increase your duration and intensity as your fitness level improves. This approach will help you build endurance safely and enjoy your time on the water without the risk of overexertion.

3. Ignoring Warm-Up and Stretching Routines

Warming up and stretching are essential steps in preventing injuries.

A proper warm-up increases blood flow to your muscles, enhances flexibility, and prepares your body for the physical demands of paddling on a kayak. Despite this, many paddlers skip warming.

To avoid these issues, start your session with dynamic warm-up exercises such as arm circles, torso twists, and leg swings to activate the muscles you’ll be using. After paddling, focus on stretching your shoulders, back, and legs with static stretches like shoulder stretches, spinal twists, and hamstring stretches. This routine will help you stay flexible and reduce the risk of injury.

4. Using the Wrong Equipment

Using inappropriate or ill-fitted equipment can significantly increase the risk of injuries while paddling. For example, a paddle that is too long or too short can cause stress on your shoulders and wrists, while a kayak that doesn’t fit properly can lead to poor posture and back pain. To avoid these issues, it’s crucial to choose the right equipment. Select a paddle that suits your height and paddling style; generally, a paddle should be around the height of your extended arm for flatwater kayaking.

Your kayak should fit your body comfortably, allowing for proper posture and freedom of movement. Adjustable footrests, seats, and back supports can make a big difference in comfort and performance. Additionally, ensure that your gear is properly adjusted before heading out to optimize your paddling experience and minimize injury risks.

5. Paddling in Unsafe Conditions

Ignoring weather forecasts, venturing into rough waters, or neglecting to wear appropriate safety gear can lead to accidents and injuries.

Common mistakes include paddling during storms, underestimating strong currents, and not wearing a life jacket.

To paddle safely, always check the weather conditions before you set out and be aware of any changes that might occur during your trip. Understand the water currents and potential hazards in your paddling area. Wearing a life jacket at all times is non-negotiable; it can be a lifesaver in case of capsizing or unexpected incidents.

Need Some Help With Physical Therapy?

If you’re struggling with an injury that’s stopping you from enjoying your favorite activities, we’re here to help!

Call us at 360-474-3274, or, click here to download our FREE sports injury guide.

Andrew Vertson