Exercise program for canoeing


I plan on doing a 7 day canoe trip this July and would like to put together a stretching & weightlifting program to get in shape for it. Something specific to paddling…

Anyone know any good programs out there on web or have suggestions?


cross train

– Last Updated: Mar-28-07 7:10 AM EST –

If your local gym has a rower (like a Concept 2), use it for a half hour 4 or more times a week from now until your trip. It will build your paddling muscles, your endurance, and work on your joints and flexibility. It also works on leg strength if you will be portaging.

2 that help
There’s a weight lifting exercise I think is called a row. With free weights, it is done with a bench and dumbell. For the right side, your left hand and left knee go on the bench. The right foot is on the floor, and the dumbell is in your right hand, the right arm dangling toward the floor. Pull the dumbell up to your chest. Keep your back straight. There is a tendency to want to arch your back. This is a fairly basic free weight exercise you can find described in most any source on weight training.

The row involves a similar motion as the arm attached to the bottom hand on the paddle shaft and will help strengthen the paddle stroke.

The second exercise I notice being beneficial involves a specialized weight machine that I have only seen at the larger, more complete gyms. There are several variants on the machines, but the exercise involves torso rotation. The machines usually look like they were designed for torture. They strengthen back and torso muscles that you should be using as you turn your trunk during the paddle stroke. If there is a free weight substitute for the torso rotation machine, I don’t know it.

I have seen posts describing devices paddlers made to emulate the paddle stroke, usually involving a mock paddle attached by ropes and pulleys to some sort of weights. Try searching for them.

If you are a gym member, ask the staff to show you a routine for the areas you want to strengthen. It all helps, but the 2 I mention help specifically with paddle strokes.

Hope this helps.

~~Chip Walsh, Gambrills, MD

Winter cross training
Up here on the North Coast where White Water gets measured in inches as it falls from the sky for 6 months each year, we have some household cross training exercises that keep us fit for the summer paddle sessions.

By far the most effective is the 8# maul swing, and the spit wood stack. You put a big hardwood round on the chopping block, swing the maul till it’s split into usable firewood, then stack the splits onto the firewood pile and repeat the exercise. Keeps the upper body toned, gives lots of rotation and reach stretching, and helps to burn off lots of extra calories.

The old lumberjacks never had any problems on spring paddle outings except remembering to remove their spiked boots before getting into their birch bark canoes.

It seems funny that people buy all sorts of labor saving appliances and then spend good money to go to a sweaty gym and exercise.

Like buying a riding lawnmower to save the time to go to a gym and walk on a treadmill. Chasing the Gravely 2wheel tractor around the yard gets my yard mowed in the same time as the neighbor and i get several miles of walking at the same time.

There lots of things that will get the job done, throwing a ball with your kids for a couple hours will work your torso, hitting fly balls for them to catch will work your paddling muscles. Stroking a paint brush worked for the Karate Kid. Climbing a ladder to clean out the gutters and paint the trim will get your portage legs back into shape.

But the best is to get seat time in the canoe, doing actual paddling has no equal. You need to make the strokes automatic in order to crank out the miles and go hour after hour. Some of the paddling machines are bad for your form since the paddle shaft on the machines doesn’t care if its vertical or not, and the chain does not pull along the center of travel like the water flowing past your hull. You can’t develop a good catch or recovery on a machine, but it will help develop your arm muscles.

Spring is coming, bring on the open water,


Thanks for all the great tips… a combination of gym exercises, household chores (my wife will love that one!) and hey… just get out there and do a lot of spring paddling.


ps: it’s the bowron lakes in BC I’ll be doing. I’ve never done anything like it before… most I’ve ever paddled is about a couple hours so I want to get some strength, endurance & paddling hours under my belt.

Amen Plaidpaddler
Works for me. Prepping for a 7 day paddle by pushing iron may work physically, but aren’t you going paddling to enjoy the outdoors? Climb, hike, and paddle son, and if you can find some trees to cut down and process, count your blessings. I cut and process firewood as a hobby. Keeps me in shape, drives the neighbors nuts, does the “customer” a favor, and make some money to buy saws and canoes.Tomorrow will be my third paddle in 4 days, the waters 34 degrees, but the rivers high…:slight_smile: