Canoe Fitness

Exercises to Get Ready for Paddling

Spring is nearly here, which means it’s time to get those paddling muscles back into shape.

Well, not just the paddling muscles of course, it’s important to get them all back into shape. I’ve stayed physically active all winter, but really want to paddle fast and long right out the gate.

The canoe paddling motion appears to be all in the arms, but of course the arms are connected to the rest of the body. You need to consider your entire upper body. So go ahead and chop off those legs, unless you need to portage. Then I suppose they’ll come in handy.

Here’s my pre-summer paddling workout plan.

As soon as my new Clipper Freedom is ready to pick up (end of March) replace most of this with on-water workouts and do just 2 days a week in the gym.

  • Monday and Tuesday: Endurance / light weight
  • Thurs, Fri and Sat: Power / heavy

Endurance and lightweight training

I want to talk specifically about Monday’s lightweight endurance training. I’ll soon find out if this mad plan and screaming pain is worth it, man I really hope so. I haven’t ever punished myself this much in the gym. This lightweight day is designed to get my muscle memory and hands back into the routine of paddling non-stop for hours. While I could sit down on a rowing machine and crank out endless pulls, I came up with a routine that feels much harder to me. It generally looks like this:

  • Warmup the hips, lower back, upper back, shoulders and arms.
  • Seated V-grip or widegrip lat pulldowns: 1×20, 1×15, 3×12, 3×15
  • Seated V-grip rows: 1×20, 1×15, 3×12, 3×15

Now the fun part:

  • Alternating 1-arm seated rows: 10 per arm, no rest, non-stop for 10 minutes. This is roughly 300-400 reps!
  • Repeat 2 more times.

This utterly destroys me. Good. Hopefully when I get on the water I can crank out the 4-km Buntzen Lake crossing in less than last summer’s 20 minutes (12 km/h). That was in the 17.5-foot Tripper with Erik relaxing in the front, I figure I can easily beat that in the new solo 16.7-foot Freedom.

My shrine:

Cable Rows

The video I watch on the phone propped up in front of me to keep me focused:


Written by Jens Petersen