Yoga for Paddling: Shoulder Care - TheYogaBoarder

Yoga for Paddling: Shoulder Care

by yoga board January 06, 2016

Yoga for Paddleboarding

On a beautiful December day we drove two hours to paddle the Point Nepean National Park.-the eastern pincer of Port Phillip Bay. On my way I noticed that my left shoulder was bothering me down in my shoulder blade. It wasn’t the first time that I felt this pain, so I focused on sitting up and drawing my shoulder blades back thinking that the discomfort would go away with a little stretching and posture.  At a pitstop, when I lifted both arms to over my head for a stretch, something gave way in my shoulder blade and that was the end of my paddling day. It was the first time in my so many of paddling that my shoulder felt so debilitated and so sore that I decided not to paddle.

Luckily I had already had an appointment scheduled with my PT/Yoga Therapist who does amazing work with acupuncture needles into the strained muscles to release the tension. Diagnosis is a strain in my infraspinatus and rhomboid muscles. I’ve been doing the exercises, the yoga poses and the ball rolling that she recommended and it’s already feeling a lot better. Still sore, but it’s healing.

I practice yoga daily and this injury is reminding me that, even with a regular yoga practice, repetitive motions like paddling can take a toll on the body. I had been focusing on strengthening my glutes in my practice and neglected my shoulders. This past month I’ve been kayaking and SUP surfing a lot and it appears that I should have adjusted my yoga practice accordingly.  As a result, I’m inspired to give you some poses and props that will help you maintain shoulder health.

Scapula pushups

For a time I practiced this everyday and now I’m back at it!

  • In forearm or full plank position on your elbows slowly squeeze your shoulder blades together on your back to strengthen your upper back.  
  • Next, press your forearms into the floor and stretch your shoulder blades apart pressing your upper back toward the ceiling.
  • Repeat these motions x10 reps.
  • Be sure that you’re only moving your shoulder blades and not lowering your body toward or away from the floor – these are shoulder blade push-ups, not push-ups.
  • Also make sure that you’re getting the full range of motion – really squeeze your shoulder blades together and then stretch them fully apart.

This exercises helps to get the shoulders moving and also helps to strengthen the upper back and the muscles in the shoulder blades that keep the shoulders in alignment.


Performing a scapula pushup targets the muscles that control your shoulder blades and help pull your arms backward. Strengthening these muscles helps to improve your posture as you pull your shoulders back and sit up straight. This exercise specifically trains a muscle known as the serratus anterior, which is a scapula muscle that is difficult to target via traditional training moves like a bent-over row. Stronger scapula muscles can help prevent injuries.


When performing scapular pushups, don’t start with shrugged shoulders. Lifting your shoulders too high can cause pain in your scapula and does not target your muscles as effectively. If you are having trouble getting a feel for the motion, slow it down by counting to five as you pull your shoulder blades together and then counting to five to pull them apart. In the beginning, you may only be able to perform three repetitions. As you gain strength, work your way up to 15 per set.

Spider Cobra

One of my favorites for strengthening the upper back and giving a nice gentle stretch across the pecs and in the neck.

  • Lie on your stomach with your hands way off your mat, up on your fingertips, elbows bent to toward the ceiling and forehead on the floor.
  • Press your finger tips, especially your thumbs into the floor to squeeze your shoulder blades back on your back.
  • Keep your forehead on the floor and practice deep and steady breathing through the nose.
  • Keep the fronts of your shoulders back, lifting away from the floor.
  • You can then use your fingertips on the floor to draw your chest slightly forward and slightly up to get a little lift, but don’t lose the squeeze and strength in your upper back.

Some days I never lift off the floor because doing spider cobra with my forehead on the floor is all of the stretch I need. Remember, this exercise isn’t about how high you can lift, but how strong you can make your upper back.

Supported Chest Opener with Yoga Blocks

Supported chest openers are great for your shoulders and really good for your mind because they’re relaxing. Props are key and I like to use yoga blocks.

  • Place the yoga blocks in line with each other (see photo).
  • Lay down on them with the edge of the lower block in line with the lower edge of your shoulder blades or a little lower.
  • Your head should rest on the second block.
  • Keep your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, take your arms out in cactus arms and allow your elbows to be heavy. Pause here and breathe deeply.
  • Slowly start moving your arms up over head and then back down squeezing your elbows toward your sides.
  • If you find a spot that feels really good then hang out there and breathe.
  • Next move your elbows and forearms toward one another in front of your chest and then take them back to cactus arms again.
  • You’ll find that the blocks give your shoulder blades a nice little massage. Repeat as many times as feels good.
  • Next, allow yourself to spend a few minutes just lying on the blocks with your arms out relaxing and breathing. It’s wonderfully rejuvenating, calming and good for the shoulders.

There are many more stretches and poses that help to maintain shoulder health, but these are my favorites and the ones I find most effective. I’ve been doing them a lot lately so I know they work! Consistency is key so if you feel that you only have time to do one of these then focus on the one that feels best for you and try to do it every day. You’ll feel the benefits and so will your shoulders.



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