SUP Fitness & Nutrition: The Power of Pecs in Paddling!

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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!

Michael Booth LauraGlantzPhoto-2019CarolinaCup-Graveyard-38
Michael Booth powering his way to a Graveyard win at the 2022 Carolina Cup. Photo by: Laura Glantz

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.

Read Coach Jeff’s article on 
ARM STRENGTH for stand up paddling HERE.

Dave Boehne Infinity SUP surf
Pecs are not just for flat water paddling!  In the surf, the use of your pectoral muscles to paddle, pivot and drive is unmistakable. Dave Boehne – as per usual – shows how it’s done.

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!

SUP Fitness Incline Dumbbell Press
Incline Dumbbell Press: 45 degree angle on the bench, feet flat on the floor & core strong. Lower weights by bending elbows out to the side and press up.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

SUP Fitness standard push up form
Push ups are still the key indicator of upper body strength, including your pecs. Knees down, standard or elevated push ups all increase overall body strength and hammer the pecs for stand up paddlers!

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.

  1. Contract your abs and tighten your core by pulling your belly button in toward your spine.
  2. Inhale as you slowly bend your elbows and lower yourself to the floor, until your elbows are at a roughly 90-degree angle.
  3. 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!

SUP Fitness elevated push up
Coach Jeff demonstrates the elevated push up with added weight. Keep your back straight and NEVER sag in the middle to do this.

No. 1 Recovery Tool: H2O! 

In past articles, we have focused our recovery discussion to physical actions like stretchingfoam 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.

Red Paddle Co accessories insulated travel mug
The importance of water for athletes cannot be underestimated. Hydration includes drinking plenty of water, eating fruits and vegetables high in water content and replenishing both after workout and after you sleep. Drink up!

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!

SUP Fitness power picnic basket
What’s in your picnic basket?

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!)

  1. Water – Water is the most important thing you can put in your body. Don’t neglect hydration!
  2. Fresh Fruit- Grapes, strawberries and sliced kiwi not only taste delicious, but provide natural  sugars for energy as well as help with hydration.
  3. Raw Vegetables- Baby carrots, sliced peppers, and broccoli not only provide key vitamins and  minerals, but also add necessary fiber.
  4. 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.
  5. Cheese- Sharp cheddar, Smoked Gouda provide some calcium and protein and are calorically  dense to keep you from getting too hungry.
  6. Yogurt- Yogurt (as long as it isn’t too processed) can provide both protein and important probiotics (good bacteria) for digestive health.
  7. Seeds- Sunflower, hemp and chia seeds, like nuts, provide protein as well as healthy fats, zinc  and magnesium.
  8. 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 runfat728@yahoo.com

Jeff Morrison SUP Fitness Nutrition
Stay stoked, folks! Coach Jeff fires down the line into another epic session at his home break in Hampton, New Hampshire.
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Jeff Morrison MS-Ed, CSCS Jeff is an avid outdoorsman and waterman, with a love for SUP surfing, flatwater paddling, kayaking,and windsurfing. Jeff works as a high school science instructor and during summer break, is on the water full-time as a surf and SUP instructor for Cinnamon Rainbows Surf Company in North Hampton, NH. Jeff is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who has worked with individuals as well as groups in providing sports specific conditioning and exercise programming for over 20 years. He has a penchant for puns and Dad jokes. Nothing gets Jeff stoked more than blending his love of teaching and exercise programming with watersports! Jeff can be found year- round on the waters and surf breaks in the great state of New Hampshire.