I’ve always enjoyed fishing the surf on a nice summer day. Fishing is a hobby that I find myself spending just a few hours doing some days while other days I’ve spent nearly 10 hours reeling in catch after catch. By the end, I find myself thinking on my way home, “I did too much… my back is killing me.” Then, I began to apply my knowledge of Physical Therapy, exercise, and spinal health to minimize back pain with fishing.
I’ve used this system to help hundreds of fishermen and women limber up to catch more fish and not get hooked on the short term back fixes of injections and pain medications.
Here’s the reel deal on tips and tricks to try before fishing and on your off days!
Check Your Shoes
When it comes to fishing on a boat, what you wear on your feet has a great impact on the stress placed on your back. Your shoes are the first point of contact between you and the deck. These need to be comfortable with a rubber sole and enclosed around the toes. Flip flops and regular sneakers won’t cut it here because there is not enough traction to ground you to the unique environments on the boat deck. When you are properly grounded to a boat deck with shoes such as Sperry Flex Decks, your body is able to properly distribute forces of the ocean throughout your body.
3 tips to Pull in the fish, not your back
1. Use the motion of the ocean
Even if you don’t get the prize-winning catch, the ocean still fights your body. How can you fight back? First, wait for the boat to go up on a wave. Once you are at the top of the wave, wind as much as you can as your boat goes down the wave. This allows the ocean to bring up your rod and saves you energy for future catches.
2. Use your legs
Instead of reeling with your back and arms, keep a slight bend in your knees. As you wind up your reel, straighten your knees out. This will use some of the biggest muscles in your body to fight the catch, while giving some of the smaller muscles in your back some time to relax and heal.
3. Stagger your stance
Before you hook a catch, it’s best to have a stagger in your stance. This allows your body to react with your hips instead of your back. Another great benefit of a staggered stance is it allows your back to distribute force, thus reducing pressure on the nerves in your back. It is best to switch legs every 20 minutes.
Land-Based Exercises to keep the back pain at bay
The single best exercise for a fisherman to avoid back pain is to fish more often. I understand that sounds fishy for me to recommend you to do more of what is causing your back pain, but the issue is often caused by a sudden drastic change in activity level. If you work a desk job during the week, then standing on your feet for 8 hours every Saturday and Sunday is going to stress out your spine.
Simply put: you did too much too soon. To avoid this, you can either fish more often for shorter periods of time or you can develop more tolerance with regular exercises. Most of us are in the boat where we can’t afford the time commitment to fish more often for shorter times so here are the most important exercises.
Here are 2 quick exercises to perform on land during the week so you’re in tip-top shape for your fishing days:
When the calves get tight it prevents you from taking a full step with your leg and this can force you to reel with your back muscles instead of your legs. Try this calf stretch on a step!
Begin in a standing upright position with a step in front of you.
Step up onto the step so that your heels are hanging off of the edge, then slowly lower your heels toward the ground until you feel a stretch in the back of your lower legs and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat this movement 3 times.
Make sure to maintain an upright posture and maintain your balance, using a railing for support as needed during the stretch.
Tightness in the shoulders and the hips causes the back to take more of the work during activities such as fishing. Tightness in these areas also causes the back to round more increasing overall stress in the back for day to day tasks. This yoga pose stretch will eliminate tightness in multiple areas. Here’s how to perform the Warrior I Stretch!
Begin in a staggered stance position with the leg you are going to stretch positioned behind your body.
Keeping your back straight and upright, squeeze your buttock muscles and slowly shift your weight forward until you feel a gentle stretch in the front of your hip. Next, reach your arms above your head until your mid back begins to bend backwards.
Make sure to keep your hips and shoulders facing forward and do not over-arch your low back during the stretch.
Warm-Up Exercises Before Hitting The Deck
Warming your muscles up before fishing is so important to reduce strain. Warm muscles are able to withstand the demands of a fishing trip as they are more pliable and this prevents them from over and under contracting. Here are 2 exercises to add into a warm-up routine using your own fishing rod!
Trunk rotation with your rod allows the mid back to rotate well throughout the trip.
Begin in a standing upright position, holding a fishing rod horizontally across your back.
Bend forward at your hips, then slowly rotate your upper body to one side, and then the other.
Make sure to keep your back straight during the exercise. Your trunk and shoulders should move as one unit.
The shoulders are so important for casting and reeling during your trip. This shoulder internal and external rotation exercise helps loosen up the muscles in your shoulders allowing you to perform casts without stressing your lower back. An added benefit is the effect this stretch can have on preventing your shoulders from rounding excessively.
Begin in a standing position, holding a fishing rod by the handle and one hand higher up on the rod. Keep the rod pointing diagonally toward the sky.
Push your bottom hand upward toward your opposite shoulder, similar to a casting motion. You should feel a stretch in the back of your shoulder. Then, do this on the other side.
Try to keep your shoulders relaxed and avoid shrugging upward throughout the motion.
If you are a fisherman in the Riverton, Cinnaminson, Moorestown, Delran or the surrounding areas and you want to get back to fishing without nagging pains I would love to help you with a specific plan of care tailored to your needs.