Rolling, Bracing, and Shoulder Pain

I’ve been rolling and bracing at the pool on Wednesday evenings. On Thursdays my shoulders really hurt. Now it’s Sunday and they still hurt a little. Am I doing something wrong? Too much muscle and not enough hip snap? Maybe it’s part of building up strength?

Shift Your Focus
To your legs/knees. Actually when I do alot of rolling/bracing, my legs and sometimes by obliques get really fatiqued/sore. My shoulders/arms are okay.


You are using your arms too much.
Let your arms (and hence the paddle) be more passive. Initiate and control everything with your head and body. And, as Sing says, change your focus. Feel your legs and body through the entire roll.

Good Morning Rex
I am far from being experienced enough to offer rolling advice, so take mine with a grain of salt. You and I have differant rolls, (ha, my sloppy roll is likely differant than everyones). I went out yesterday in between the drizzle to try a couple of rolls as I had one son available as a spotter. A bit cold for me but I was able to play for about thirty minutes.

I have learned that in my case my roll can only work if I concentrate on several things at once. I learned that depending on my sweep to help get up was actually killing my roll. Two of the things that I focus on involve not letting my sweep play to big a part in my roll. I think of my paddle shaft as an egg shell, holding it very loosly. I also concentrate on accomplishing my sweep with my torso only, no arm or shoulder movement to generate the sweep, only torso twist.

For me, when I focus on my hips and lower body moving the boat, the boat pulling me up, and keeping my torso bent so that my head comes up last, and the above sweep points I come up. Each time of forget one of the ingredients I dont get up.

Happy Paddling,


This is a sign from your body
that your technigue neegs a tweak.Be honest is your elbow behind your trunk as yo come up? If so then you are in trouble. Turn your torro (not just your neck)towards the paddle with every brace and every roll. BTW I only do fraily standard rolls maybe this torso truning idea does not work for really fancy stuff.

Same thing happened to me
I spent about 3 hrs. one day just roll practicing. My shoulders were killing me the next day and kept hurting for a week. I also experienced this same pain from doing bench presses with poor form. Lo and behold, a few weeks later I popped a rotator cuff. I believe that my shoulders were suffering from “rotator cuff impingement.” The rotator cuff can be “pinched”, become inflamed, and suffer long-term damage with regular overhead work. I had to change the way I was using my arms in the roll by not extending them so far above my head. Any time you are reaching to the extreme of your overhead range, you’re pinching that cuff. If you do it for a few hours, it becomes inflamed for days/weeks.

IF that is the problem with your shoulders, take some ibuprofen to reduce that inflammation and pay greater attention to keeping your elbows in the “safe zone” (in front of shoulder and below top of head) when doing repetetive work.

(I post this as I know you’ve had previous rotator cuff problems.)

Rotator Cuff Impingement
I can sympathize with that; have two spurs on both shoulders from years of heavy overhead military presses, lat pulldowns, etc. in the gym. Posted on another thread about this very thing-rolling in a pool sssion, and performing repeated remounts on my surf ski (launching up and out of the water places both shoulders at the extremes of their range of motion). I’d echo the Ibuprofen (Advil, Tylenol, etc.) but caution you to be aware if taking it before your session. While it will reduce inflammation, it will also mask pain, so you may be doing damage and not feeling it…until later. Warm up completely before hopping in the pool-if your sessions are like ours, everybody basically throws the boats in and rolls away. Usually the poolhouse is downright tropical, so this is a good thing in keeping things nice and loose. Don’t know how many total rolls you are doing, but if it’s excessive (like my 40-50 remounts), maybe cut that number in half and work specifically on the micro skills used. (Hang upside down underwater and work slowly and smoothly on positioning your blade for the setup, the sweep, etc., or on transferring your paddle underwater from one side to another, if you don’t have a reliable roll to both sides.) The Greenland guys and gals are always coaching me to roll slowly-I use a wing and it provides so much purchase it’s easy to ‘muscle it’ c to c style and pop right up-poor form for the sweep. The pool is a great spot to work on balance work also-after futzing around with the ski I was able to climb back in my QCC, stand up in the seat a la Nigel Foster and paddle around like a gondolier. Have to think that’s helping balance somehow. In any event, GO EASY on the shoulders. Two friends just recently went through reconstructive surgery, labrum, etc. One was back paddling, racing fairly quickly. The other, a former All American lacrosse player, is having a terrible time of it.

Same here
I had/have the same problem with my right shoulder (strong side) and it became very sore last summer during rolling practice.

Since then in pool sessions, it increased, so a couple of things occurred. First, my weak side (left) became my strong side roll and secondly, I started to baby my right shoulder (which wasn’t a bad thing) and I had to force myself to take as much pressure of the paddle and really rely on my hips.

Another thing I found, especially in bracing is I really had to pin my elbows to my torso. When I concentrated on this, I never placed my shoulder in that comprimising position that could lead to injury or dislocation. Keeping my elbows in tight and square with the body helped tremendously. Seems to take the leverage that could pop a shoulder out of the equation.


Once you develope a dependable roll you should be working on developing better technique. The less effort placed on the paddle, the better the technique is and the more dependable the roll is. I see many people at pool sessions just going through the motions and not really working on developing better technique. Every pool session you should pick out some part of your roll and really concentrate on getting it into better form. This is one good reason for working towards a hand roll. It will make your paddle rolls effortless. Every new roll I learn feels strenuous when I first try it but after repeated pool sessions and concentrating on specific parts of the roll it starts to become effortless and less stressful on my shoulders. I have had very good success learning rolls and developing new skills that can be transfered to other types of paddles by using a greenland paddle. They are a tremendous tool when you are upside down. Let your shoulders heel and try not to put them in a strenuous situation.

no pain more gain
These posts are great advice. I second all of them.

One additional idea. The biggest problem in rolling is that our brain upside down can usually only think of one thing at a time. That is get up, where there is O2. The problem is our brain, until trained knows we have this huge Euro paddle there and says OK pull on that sucker.

So, once again, kayak skills are counter-intuitive and doing them intuitively can result in unbalanced and even injury producing movements.

The shoulder joint is incredibly weak and perhaps the one joint that will cause career ending problems for us, so great you catch the early show here. Last season in our club some folks ignored this advice and could not paddle for months with shoulder injuries.

  1. Make sure you and instructor absolutely understand the paddler’s box.
  2. Have him or her show you how to roll totally within that box so it is impossible to hurt yourself. Adapt the style of roll to make sure of this.
  3. Have the instructor or friend assist the roll so your brain can relax and NOT focus on coming up, but rotating the boat and not lifting the head, body, and arms until the very last second.
  4. Eventually the reason your arms and shoulder will not hurt or even be tired is that the paddle is only used for the the very last small effort to come up over the front or back deck. The Abs will do most of the work, like Sing says, that is why he finds those muscles tired, as it should be!


Loose grip on the paddle
Would you find you had a real tight grip on the shaft if you checked before a roll? Open and close your hand around the shaft before you start, make sure it has a loose grip. It’ll loosen up a lot more than your hand.

That said, high braces tend to wear the shoulders. Don’t know how you are doing them, but the hardness with which I used to slap down on the water was not always easy on my shoulder. For that, your best shot may be to spend more time on low braces, and try to turn the high brace into more of a small sweep from a deep position in the water rather than the slap from above.

Did you crash before that session?
I don’t think rolling practice, even long sessions, is supposed to hurt. The only time my shoulder hurt was after doing a roll in too-shallow water and jabbing a blade in the bottom, getting thrown off balance, and muscling up. Maybe you are relying too much on your arms and shoulders and not enough on your hip snap, as you mentioned.

Or maybe there was a pre-existing slight tendon or ligament tear (did you biff while mtn biking?) that got aggravated during practice. If it’s really sore for more than 3 days and not just stiff, I’d have a doctor examine it.

Meanwhile, hit that ibuprofen.

Thanks Everyone
Hey Pikabike. Lots of bike crashes over the years. There might be some leftover damage. It hasn’t shown up until recently, though.

The more I think about it, the brace seems to put more stress on the shoulder than the roll. The arm (and elbow) reach way out from the torso.

Maybe at the next pool session I’ll skip the braces and concentrate only on rolls… and keep the ibuprofen going.

More abs and legs and a lighter grip. Gotcha.

Thanks again, everyone.

new thinking on the high brace
Right on. Newer thinking on the utility and safety of high braces is that it is NOT a skill with enough safety margin for many people and in some conditions likely to lead to injury.

Thus a number of instructors, including me have stopped teaching the high brace completely, and substituted the greenland brace, i.e., wait till torso hits the water, hold oneself up on surface and simply come back up the same way you would as the last componnent of a roll up.

Consider this as an alternative to and never do high braces, especially in conditions.


High brace, elbow position

– Last Updated: Feb-05-06 8:47 PM EST –

Don't reach out from the body with the high brace, if you are doing one. It should operate as much as possible with your elbows, particularly the wetter one, kept closer to the body and the hands no higher than shoulder height, to avoid putting undue strain on the joints.
Easier said than done - real common tendency which I know better than but still catch myself doing. So deeper body in a hi brace, or just lo bace for the time being is safer.

safest way I found is to hold the paddle shaft horizontally across the chest, elbows tucked and in the box. Lean over and as soon as the paddle blade hits the water, hip snap and head dink. Never reach out with the outboard hand, as see some do, which then over extends that shoulder. This is more practice for using the body and head than the paddle.

The way see it, if you got a roll, there is no reason to panic and go for some dangerous overextended high brace. Just go over and then roll back up. No big deal.


Everything I have read and watched concerning a safe high brace agrees with what Sing just said. I have read several accounts where people point out that high braces using extended arms can and do cause shoulder problems.

I use a Euro paddle and one of the modifications that I have added to my high brace and roll as well is moving my paddle position allowing the paddle to move further out from me and the boat. I use a sweep roll and I do extend my arms as I begin my unwind, but I pull both elbows back in as the boat begins to rotate.

The only times that I have felt any discomfort from a brace or a roll is when I screw up my form.

Happy Paddling

Happy Paddling,


Just Got Back
What a great pool session. I took all your suggestions to heart and had a lot of success. Much less strain on the shoulders. Focused on the knees and hips, loose grip and worked on a kinder, gentler roll/brace thing. Tell me if this has a name… instead of reaching way out to high brace, angle the blade forward somewhat. Plop on into the water and sweep the blade back and pop up. Hope I feel this good in the morning. Thanks again.

sweeping high brace
Just like there is a c-to-c roll and a sweep roll, there is a standard high brace (c-to-c style) and a sweeping high brace. I personally prefer the sweeping high brace as it is much easier on the shoulders and can be transitioned to a forward scull if you have a slow hipsnap.