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Spring training: maintenance for your most important gear, your body!.

Fishing is relaxing, but it's also physically demanding. Moving around the boat, handling pushpoles, castnets, heavy fish You'd be surprised at how much strain and stress your body takes.

Then again, maybe you feel it already.

As a physical therapist, I've had the opportunity to work closely with the lead orthopedic surgeon in the Upper Florida Keys, Dr. Paul Ellison, Jr. We often discuss an injury-prevention plan with fishermen, addressing three main areas: strength and conditioning, equipment and technique.

"Advising fishermen to make some small modifications and initiating a regular exercise routine of stretching and strengthening makes a big difference in their safe and pain-free return to the sport," emphasized Ellison.


Rather than fishing through an injury, it's wise to use a recommended treatment program as a stepping stone for a whole-body conditioning and prevention regime. Let's look at some key areas, for anglers.

Rotator Cuff

Stretching and strengthening exercises for the shoulder, particularly the rotator cuff, are important for a fishing-specific training program.

The rotator cuff is comprised of four muscles and is considered "the glue" that mechanically holds the shoulder together. It is a stabilizing muscle group, primarily contracting with overhead, rotational and quick, speed movements of the shoulder.

A strong contraction of the rotator cuff occurs when fighting a fish. Excessive, repetitive stress to the shoulder can cause the rotator cuff to fail. Keeping your arms and elbows in close to the body can help prevent this failure. A fighting belt helps stabilize the rod and lower the fulcrum, allowing your legs to generate the force required to land a fish, instead of the shoulders and arms.

Fly casting for long periods? Here, too, keep your elbow below shoulder height and tucked in close to your side. This allows the rotator cuff to maximally contract and control the cast, and prevents excessive shoulder elevation which causes the rotator cuff to pinch the top bone of the shoulder.

I often discuss strategies to prevent shoulder injuries with my husband, Capt. Mark Hlis, a flats and backcountry guide out of Bud 'n' Mary's Marina in Islamorada. He finds that using a pushpole incorrectly, for instance, can cause shoulder pain. Staking out in high wind and current can result in a traumatic shoulder injury if you can't "tie off" fast enough to the pole. Once staked, using the tower to stabilize the body while reaching with the arms to tie off to the pushpole can forcefully stretch the shoulders head. Mark recommends effective body positioning to tie off quickly and a longer line from tower to pole to prevent a sudden, harmful injury to the shoulders.

Another type of poling injury can occur to the shoulder if you remove the stake from an overhead position using only your arms. The shoulders elevate and the rotator cuff can pinch the top bone of the shoulder, leading to shoulder pain. Instead, when removing a staked pole, Mark suggests first twisting the pole with the arms below shoulder height and elbows close to the body. Then, with the hands at hip or thigh level and elbows still close to the body, pull out the stake using the legs, instead of the shoulders, to generate an upward force.

When developing a rotator cuff exercise program specific for fishing, high repetitions and low weight should be emphasized, to complement long fights and repetitive fly casts. In addition, quick, speed exercises for those sudden, unexpected fish fights, hooksets and push-po movements finish off a sports specific rotator cuff routine.

Lower Back

Boating in choppy water is very taxing to the low back, especially while seated. Better to stand, if safe to do so, and rhythmically shift with the waves so your legs and entire body absorb the shock.

What about a skiff where sitting is unavoidable? A well-cushioned, supportive seat is imperative. Since 80 percent of the population has some kind of back pain or injury in their lifetime, and sitting creates the most compressive forces to the lower spine, proper seating can be an effective tool in reducing stress and strain to the low back.

Footwear is often another subject I bring up when discussing low back pain prevention. Extra cushions increase support in standing and ease the pounding on the knees and back when running in rough water. Also, the correct tread helps prevent slip and fall injuries, as might happen when climbing down from the tower or stepping off a dock.

Body mechanics and abdominal strength are key components to avoiding back injuries. A perfect example is throwing a castnet for bait. Coiling and uncoiling the whole body (similar to a golf swing or tennis stroke) from the legs, trunk and arms sequentially to gain maximum speed often results in a successful throw. However, that sudden twisting motion of the spine, combined with the weight of the net, can cause injury if not controlled by strong abdominal muscles. Resisted, controlled trunk rotations with the arms holding medicine balls, dumbbells or resistance bands, simulate the throwing motion of the castnet and are some exercises which strengthen core muscles used in this movement pattern.

In addition, a strong, stable, yet flexible low back is vital for effectively landing a fish, especially using light tackle. Fighting a fish with your legs and using correct body mechanics will help prevent lumbar strains. As mentioned earlier, a fighting belt helps lower the fulcrum to the legs. Remember, lift from the legs and don't arch the back. If positioned correctly, the low back and abdominal muscles contract simultaneously to keep the trunk in a stable position, allowing your legs to gradually lift the fish.



Training the deep abdominal and low back muscles assists in stabilizing the spine and supporting the low back. These are muscles of endurance, constantly contracting to balance the body while fighting a fish or even just standing on the boat. Higher repetitions and light weight are recommended when exercising the low back and deep abdominal muscles. Leg lifts, abdominal curls and low back extensions are some common trunk strength exercises. Use correct technique to perform these exercises safely and effectively. Consult a trained professional for best results.

Dynamic Balance Work

On the water, you're constantly moving and instinctually seeking a center of balance. Muscles contract in all different directions and strengths to find that center point, in particular, strong core muscles allow you to move more efficiently and effectively on the boat, preventing fatigue and injury. Beams, boards, discs and foam rolls are just a few of the inexpensive tools you may use to tune your balance system. Flats and backcountry guide Capt. Chris Jones of Islamorada affirms, "I work out regularly just to stay in shape and I never realized how my balance affected the stress and strain on my body when chartering. Being on the water, I'm constantly adjusting and balancing my body and so I use the balance equipment at the gym to keep me on the water pain free."



Proper boat seating cushioned and supportive--can help reduce stress and strain to the low back.
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Author:Hlis, Jane
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2012
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