Kayaking, Canoeing & Paddling Exercises

Functional Aging

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  1. Kayaking, Canoeing & Paddling Exercises

    You’re probably already familiar with the phrase, “The best training for X is doing X,” and that’s certainly the case for paddling sports including rowing, kayaking, and canoeing. However, there is certain strengthening and stretching exercises that you can include in your land-based training to help balance your body and increase your fitness and performance in the boat.


    Most rowing and paddling endeavors rely heavily on strength endurance and integrity of the muscles involved around the shoulder joint, including the pulling muscles of the lats, rhomboids, and biceps, as well as the core muscles (abdominals and obliques, the muscles that allow us to rotate and twist through the torso) and forearms (involved in gripping). The muscles that tend to be undertrained or somewhat neglected are the pushing muscles, including the pectorals and triceps, the lower back muscles, crucial to core health and integrity, and the forearm extensors.


    The sample exercises below are ones you can include for upper body power and strength to help you prepare for water sports. As you get closer to an event and you are spending more time in the boat, you will want to decrease the volume (number of sets and repetitions you do each workout) during your strength training and supplement with pushing exercises (triceps dips, pushups, and so forth).

    1.     UPPER BODY PULL

    – 2-Dumbbell Standing Rows

    The 2-dumbbell standing row is to stand with feet shoulder distance apart, lean forward with a flat back,
    slight bend in the knees, weight in the heels, and two dumbbells (palms facing thighs) or a barbell held
    in both hands, and then on an exhale, pull the weight in toward your belly button.

    You can find more pictures of the upper body pull here.

    2.     PADDLE DRIVE

    – Straight Arm Standing Lat Pull Downs
    To perform this exercise, stand with feet hip distance apart facing a cable stack loaded with light weight. Feel free to play around with attachments – pictured is a rope attachment, but you can also use a straight lat or “wiggle” triceps bar depending on the position your hands will be in for your sport. Keep your abdominals tight, arms nearly straight but not locked in place, and body straight from shoulders to feet. Exhale as you bring the bar down in an arc to your thighs, and inhale as the bar returns to starting position. Keep a light, open grip on the bar to prevent pulling; concentrate on pushing instead. Avoid leaning forward excessively so that you can more effectively recruit the abdominals. Bending the elbows turns this exercise into a triceps exercise – one of the “pushing” options. To prevent any discomfort in the lower back, hold the abdominals tightly throughout and you can try staggering one foot in front of the other for a wider, more stable platform.

    You can find more pictures of the paddle drive here.


    – Seated Ball Oblique Twists and Twisting Back Raises
    To strengthen the rotational muscles in the lower back and the oblique’s, you can use either a glute-ham bench or a 45-degree or 90-degree Roman Chair apparatus. Make sure you position yourself on the bench so that you can have as much range of motion through the hips as you can comfortably get. (Men may want to look for a bench with two hip pads and a narrow depression or cut-out in the middle, for obvious reasons!) Let the torso hang down toward the floor, and position your hands at your lower back, across the chest, behind the head, or hanging straight down below your shoulders with one weight clasped in both hands. Exhale as you lift the torso upward and twist arms and body to one side, just until your trunk is even with your legs, then return to the bottom and come up to the other side, alternating back and forth. It is a good idea to start with straight back raises (no twists) first to be sure you have an appropriate level of lower back strength and endurance, then include the twists unweighted, before adding resistance. Avoid hyper extending the back (coming up too high) and if you have had any history of serious back injury; be sure to check with your health care provider before adding this exercise.

    You can find more pictures of the torso rotation here.



    – Seated BB Shoulder Figure 8’s
    A creative option to strengthen the smaller muscles in the shoulders, as well as the trunk and forearms,is a dry-land paddling exercise perfect for kayaking and canoeing. Sit on a stability ball (to most simulate balancing in the boat) with legs together or extended out in front of you. Hold onto a body bar (5-10 pounds) or very light barbell, a dowel with a light ankle weight or “weight donut” firmly secured to each end, or you can simply hold onto two paddles for a little added resistance. Build up to being able to “air row” for 3-5 minutes per set. In order to provide resistance, attach your paddle or dowel to a light cable stack or theraband firmly affixed to a vertical pole not too far in front of you and work each side of the body at a time before setting up on the other side. Keep in mind that therabands will give you the most resistance at the back, instead of the front as in paddling, so cables (where the weight stays constant at start and finish) will be your best bet if you can figure out a setup that will work for you. With resistance, this exercise turns into more of a “Paddle Drive”.

    You can find more pictures of the shoulder endurance here.

    Take a look at some of the following web pages for ideas of exercises described elsewhere that you might want to include in your land program:

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Your Personal Best Training Studio
Doddridge Plaza
3765 S. Alameda, Ste 102
Corpus Christi, TX 78411
(361) 857-5087 info@ypbtrainingstudio.com