Fitness for Paddling

As an instructor I find it's disturbing to see paddlers who are pushed into aspects of the sport that are beyond their interest. A classic example of that is people getting taken on more and more difficult, very difficult rivers with their friends, even though those rivers are beyond their skill level. It's important to get a good progression as you start, a good learning progression.

The following check list will help insure that you learn the sport at a good pace. If you're not accustomed to learning new sports, you might want to plan your first experience kayaking to be a easy day, maybe just an hour or two during the day. On the other hand, if you're an athletic person, quick to learn different sports, you can go out and really have a good full day of it on your first time.

Checklist on learning

Take a lesson. Even a two day lesson can give you a solid understanding of safety, and save you some unpleasant experiences.

Be thirsty for information. Ask lots of questions, and read books, watch videos.

Try before you buy! Trying equipment and talking to others in your area will help you narrow your range of paddling interests.

Pick your paddling partners carefully. Experts aren't always the best teachers, and rarely is a spouse or boyfriend/ girlfriend the best choice for lessons.

Be realistic in appraising your skill and experience level.

Getting Fit for Kayaking

Improved fitness will make your paddling more enjoyable, because you will feel more energetic, and be able to paddle greater distances without fatigue. You will feel stronger, and be able to do routine tasks like carrying boats and dealing with unexpected difficulties like tough moves on rivers or increasing winds on open water. You'll also feel more flexible, and you'll be able to use your entire body to execute your strokes strongly and efficiently.

The best fitness program for kayaking is paddling. "As much as possible, time in z boat" is the motto borrowed from the broken English of European elite level paddlers. This is because Specificity is the cardinal rule of sports training. The more specific your preparations, the better your performance.

The best plan is to take time for short paddle sessions dedicated to techniques and fitness. You can jump in a boat for a quick hour of exercise on a nearby lake, flatwater river, or quiet ocean bay. This can be a relaxing cruise, or sprints designed to improve your strength and cardiovascular fitness. Stroke drills (Available at will help you know what to practice.

In addition to using kayaking to improve your fitness, you can also condition your body beforehand to enhance your experience. One option is a general fitness program at the local sports club. Aerobics and strength training will give you more general endurance when you are in the boat. Ask one of the club's fitness consultants to teach you a routine for general fitness. With their help you might add a few upper body exercises specifically to aide your paddling. Torso twisting and abdominal exercises are among the best.

Whether you do some training on the water, or in a local sports club, these three stretches are recommended as very beneficial to your comfort and efficiency kayaking. These stretch the 3 directions your torso can move in a kayak. When you do these stretches, warm up for a few minutes with some light running or paddling motions. Then stretch gently, just to the point where you feel the stretch. Hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds. Repeat 3 times each direction. Stretching before each paddle helps prevent injuries like tendonitis, muscle soreness, strains, and dislocations. Stretching afterwards is most likely to improve your flexibility.

Begin with stretches in the three major ranges of motion.

  1. C Stretches Sitting on the floor or in a boat, work your lateral flexibility on each side. This helps rolling, bracing, and general edging of the boat.
  2. Torso twists Twist your chest and shoulders so you feel the twist low and deep in your torso. This twist is easy to do in a boat, with you hands assisting by grasping the deck, one hand in front of you, one behind.
  3. Hamstring stretches. The hamstring stretches that are safest for your back are done lying on your back, with your leg extended straight up. Prop your leg against a wall, use a short section of webbing, or better yet, a friend if you can't reach your hands up to help the stretch.

Many people include shoulder warmup and stretches and neck rolls in each direction as part of their stretching routine.


Tips for avoiding injuries

Warm-up and stretch before each paddle

Be systematic in the distance and difficulty

Cool-down, and stretch after each paddle