Injury Prevention

by Steve Dullack

I am currently on the shelf until late June with no racing until late July at the earliest because I had double shoulder surgery last week. Injury prevention is a GREAT topic.  The good news is my surgery was all arthroscopic to repair micro tears to both labrums and nothing had to be rebuilt or reconstructed and the surgery went great.  But I learned a lot over the last year plus about injury, training while hurt, and recovery from injury.

We talk a lot about the muscles we use in paddling.  Any paddle based water sport focuses on training your body to use the big muscle groups over the small ones.  We have all started some sort of new fitness regime in our lives and once you get through the first few weeks of muscle soreness you adapt to the training and start making progress.  What we don’t talk enough about (in my post-surgical opinion) is the impact all this has on our connective tissue/ligaments/tendons/joints/etc.

Often, when we are either starting a new training regime or ramping up our current program, our muscles will adapt after a few weeks and it is easy to think we are good to keep pushing pushing pushing.  But it important to remember that ligaments and tendons do not strengthen at the same rate muscles do and they do not RECOVER at the same rate either. That is but one of the many reasons periodized training is so important.  It gives your connective tissue a chance to catch up and rest because it is during REST that your body parts recover and become stronger.  

Most of the tissue in your body is made up of two basic proteins, Collagen and Elastin. The ratio’s of these differs between each: muscle (more elastin), tendon (more collagen than bone, not as much elastin as muscle), ligament (more collagen than tendons, not as much as bones) or bone.  Tendons attach muscles to bone. Ligaments connect bone to bone to form joints — such as knees, elbows, hips and ankles.

Tendon development doesn’t happen as quickly as muscle development but is quicker than ligament or bone development. Ligament and bone components are typically estimated to take about 6 months to adapt to constant or repeated strain on the system.  Tendons closer to 3-6 months.  Muscle closer to 1-3 months.  Of course this depends on your training, age, nutritional intake, and a bunch of other factors.  Part of the problem is that connective tissue is avascular – they have very little blood flow. Blood brings the nutrients and supporting cells that help perform repairs to traumatized tissue. Muscle is well supplied with blood and so can recover quite quickly. Connective tissue … not so much. 

So now what…You just started this awesome new program.  You may be a little sore from the increased workload but that will go away eventually.  How do you protect your connective tissues while they catch up to your muscles?  Think of tendons as a pulley system between your muscle and bone.   MORE IMPORTANT than “strengthening” them is proper alignment and ergonomics.  If there is a flaw in your technique such as torque, twist, position, rotation, gravity . . . you can tear or inflame connective tissue or worse…have tears over time.  One of the reasons I am such a big fan of video analysis is because injury-inducing flaws can be identified before they cause injury. 

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  • Anthony Galang

    Steve, this is an outstanding post. I learned more than my junior year biology course. So what could you have done to prevent the injuries that led to your surgery? What can we fellow racers do to prevent these kinds of injuries? Should we definitely get a video analysis to make sure we are not putting undue stress on connective tissue through flaws in technique?

  • Sdullack

    Thanks Anthony, all great questions!

    I believe I injured my shoulders during an aggressive weight training program I did in Jan-Feb 2015. It involved a lot of overhead lifting. I think that paddling further inflamed the injury. Since then I have done very little heavy weight training. I think you can build strength and doing heavy weight exercises. The strength training Larry has us doing, I feel, is better served for paddling and the average age of this initial Paddle Monster class.

    I think that I could have prevented it by being less aggressive on the weights. I really don’t need that extreme level of heavy weight training to be a good paddler. I have definitely learned over the years that strength is important, but it is ONE data point on the graph of successful paddling. So is aerobic capacity, technique, nutrition, hydration, recovery, periodized training, consistency, rest etc…

    I HIGHLY recommend getting a video analysis especially if you have never had one done before. I had one done by Larry at the Carolina Cup Clinic in 2014 and it was extremely valuable. We don’t paddle like we think we do and having a professional paddle coach break down your technique will give you a laundry list of things to work on for years. I took notes during Larry’s clinic and I still refer back to those notes when I am training.

  • Anthony Galang

    Steve, thanks for your wisdom. I will get a video analysis soon. I’m headed to Atlantic City next week. Looking forward to seeing you back on the race circuit – SeaPaddle for sure. Tony

  • Anthony Galang

    Steve, I’ve been giving your post more thought. Since we are supposed to pick three push and three pull upper body weight exercises for our Paddle Monster program, what exercises will you be doing? Right now I’m doing a lat pulldown, bench press, upright row, tricep extension, bicep curl, and overhead press. Tony

  • Sdullack

    Great question for Larry, but here is my answer. I will not do overhead press. That’s a personal feeling due to the fact that I believe I injured myself doing that exercise. Plus, I am not convinced that overhead press translates to paddling power. I think we put enough stress on our shoulder joints and heavy weighted overhead press is asking for injury. I think you can get stronger doing overhead press, but if I am going to pick three push exercises, that is not one.

    So to answer your question:
    Push: push ups, bicep curls, tricep extensions
    Pull: Lat pulldown, bench pull, seated row

  • KirstenMarina

    Great post. I find that the harder I train the more time I have to take for stability & mobility exercises to make sure my alignment is correct so I don’t strengthen any compensations. It’s not easy because who has time for that with an already busy training plan?

    A few years ago I stumbled upon the Egoscue Method and went through their certification program. They are really easy posture alignment exercises that I am still incorporating into my strength training warm-up and cool-down and throughout the day when I have time. It makes a huge difference.

    Lately I have also used the TRX Suspension Trainer a lot not just for strength training, but also for stretching. Examples are: TRX Lower Back Stretch with Rotation, Chest Stretch, Neck Stretch, Long Torso Twist, Kneeling Hip-Flexor Stretch and wide stance Hip-Hinge. You can find all these by google search.

    This is just what works for me. There are a lot of different methods you can use but I think the importance of alignment exercises in general cannot be understated.
    I think it all comes down to really being in tune with your body and listen to early warning signs rather than just pushing through no matter what. It is not easy, especially if you train with your friends and they don’t take time for a proper warm-up.

  • n.jimenez0101

    I know I am late to comment on this post, but this issue is on my mind recently due to some pain I’ve developed recently. I guess the crux of my question is if there is a certain amount of shoulder pain that is normal, and what warning signs to be on the lookout for? I am a long time weight lifter, and am new to paddling. I think I may have strained/ aggravated my right shoulder in the gym about a month to six-weeks ago, but I get some twinges, or what I consider “bad pains” as opposed to sore muscles which I consider “good pains”, when I paddle. I don’t have much experience with an endurance sport like this, so my idea of “good pain” really stems from the sort of soreness that hangs around in muscles for a day or two after a solid gym session. I would rate the “bad pain” i’m getting as a 2-4 on a 10-point pain scale (10 being unbearable) so it isn’t real bad. I’m just trying to avoid things getting worse.

    Recently I also went to a longer paddle with a wider blade, which I like because I enjoy the feeling on pulling a “bigger gear” but I wonder if this may be aggravating my shoulder. It’s an 80′ paddle and I’m 6’0″ so I didn’t think that it’s too long, at least on paper. Sorry for the long post there just seem to be so many variables. If there is some occasional shoulder pain that’s normal, I have no problem with it, but I don’t want to ignore it since I have historically had no shoulder pain prior to this. Thanks in advance for any advice. -Nick

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