Imagine propelling yourself downstream, maneuvering around rocks, and exploring undiscovered nooks and crannies in the waterway, while utilizing the strength in your back and upper body. Paddling allows you to do all this, which is one reason it’s one of the fastest growing sport today.
Kent Ford, who has 20 years of teaching experience, finds that another reason paddling is so popular is that it’s conducive to beginners. “My top tip for beginners would be to get two or three days of instruction,” he says. You can find quality instruction by calling local paddling associations in your neighborhood. Don’t think that your best friend can teach you—chances are they don’t know important safety techniques.
“In whitewater, there are a lot of hazards that many not be obvious unless pointed out, so you will want to have that instruction given to you methodically,” Kent stresses. Also, make sure that you wear a personal flotation device (PFD) at all times.
Basic paddling moves rely on core and upper body strength. To learn to perform an Eskimo roll you have to use your pecs, triceps, biceps, shoulders and lats to push yourself upright in your kayak without exiting it. When it comes to paddling strokes, you’ll also utilize your upper body, twist into your spine and use your back as your powerhouse. By incorporating the following programs into your existing routine three days a week, you will develop the strength you need.
Build Upper Body Strength
With free weights do three sets of 10-15 reps of standing tricep extensions on each side, where you concentrate on making sure that your body is at a 45 degree angle, and that you are really squeezing your muscles at the extension point without hyper-extending.
Follow this by doing three sets of 10-16 reps alternating standing bicep curls with shoulder raises. Before you begin, slightly engage your abs and straighten your back. First, work slowly up into the curls, making sure that your elbows remain by your sides at the top of the exercise and that your really squeezing into your biceps. Then, do your shoulder raises and work into the shoulders by bringing your arms up straight in front of you, but don’t lock your elbows out or go above shoulder level during the lift.
After this, do three sets of 10-15 reps of bench presses for your pecs and pull-ups for your lats. During both of these exercises concentrate on straight wrists and remember a short choppy motion won’t build paddling strength, so it’s better to reduce your weight instead of compromising your range of motion.
Get more from your core
These two poses will work your core so that you can maneuver in the whitewater with ease. First, get on the floor face down with your mouth touching it, your legs together and toes pointed. Then bend your arms so that your hands are chest level, palms down. Now, without pushing with your hands, or moving your hips or legs, slowly move your head up while looking towards the ceiling. You should really feel your back and spine working, not your neck. Concentrate on lifting up high, extending your spine, engaging your abs and breathing throughout the exercise.
Assume the same position but put your arms out like wings on a plane. Now, this time bring your arms and legs off the floor and look up while pulling in your abs and lengthening your body. Your belly should be the only thing still touching the floor. Focus on lifting at high as you can while flexing your thighs to give you even more power in the lift and don’t hold your breath. Feel your entire back, glutes and thighs during the exercise. Perform each exercise twice, holding it for 30 seconds to a minute and one more time, digging deep into it and holding until failure.
You will notice that your added strength will aid your paddling experience. Not only will you be able to paddle with more power you will also be able to balance and brace yourself better so that you can direct your craft where you want to go—and the possibilities are endless.