how to train up for a canoe trip

-- Last Updated: May-18-07 6:39 PM EST --

The husband and I are planning a five-day canoe trip in Algonquin Park this summer. We both tripped as teenagers, and we went out on an overnight trip last summer, but it's been a loooong time since either of us paddled hard.

Has anybody got any ideas for how we could train up at the gym or around the house to lessen the pain I know we're going to be feeling? We don't have a canoe, so we can't actually train with one (we'll be renting/borrowing for the trip).

I'm especially looking for some specific weight lifting exercises to target the paddling muscles in my back and shoulders.


Rowing machine
My brother is into marathon canoeing, and he trains on a rowing machine during the off season.

That might be the way to go.

I would be more worried about…
blistering on my hands.

Can’t you get out once every week or two in a rental canoe someplace.

One thing my wife does when we haven’t paddled in a while is using a couple of one pound weights, (one in each hand) will do a bunch of reps simulating the paddling motion.




– Last Updated: May-18-07 7:19 PM EST –

Start with heart/breathing workouts. Take stretches seriously (arms-legs-back). Your ideas from the old days are still good but the updated equipment may need to be addressed. If this is new area beg/borrow/steel gps, follow mapping. Make an itinerary and leave it with someone you know so they could help in relocating you. If possible give updates along the way if the trip is extended or shorten. I usually take a radio with weather,GMRS,HAM,Cell in cast of trouble.(only used in emergency) In my baggage I usually carry the equalizer (to even the playing field). I usually want to be stealth in the woods also. (Yes,Nam Area-Vet)If all else fails-adapt,over come,move out. All the lower items and hidden out of way but excess able. Fishing items and snorkel/fins if ample room. Lose an item on h2o just go get it. The world record for breath hold is 400' that by a lady 2. Have access to wilderness first aid book.remember poison ivy( knowing the antidote is usually right next to the ivy it is called Jewel weed sap)Have a great trip I need to practice my SAR missions. The yorkie is a great dog just for that too. :)

The best thing you
can do is follow JackL’s advice. Rent a canoe at least once every two weeks and just go out and paddle. Before each touring/camping season that’s what I do. Try to go for at least 6 miles first time then increase until you can do at least 10 miles or more in wind without tiring.

Tripping training
As has been mentioned by others finding a canoe livery and paddling ahead of your trip will certainly help build “paddling muscles”. Having paddled for many decades I’ve never found any exercises that replicate actual paddling. …and proper form while canoeing (paddling techniques, torso rotation, etc…) will go a long, long way towards making your body ache less at the end of a day on the water.

Beyond paddling another part of canoe tripping is of course portaging – or ‘por-taahhh-ging’ as they say up north, eh. The trails in Algonquin are for the most part fairly easy and many are relatively short (depending on your route). However if you’re out of shape and you’ve brought too much “stuff” the portage trails can be true miseries. If you’re in good physical condition and you’ve pared your loads down to essentials you’ll find the trails (almost) a pleasure. If you don’t already do regular walking as part of your daily exercise routine you’d be ahead to add it to your schedule. We’ve found that in preparation for a canoe trip carrying a backpack while doing our daily walking really helps to build up stamina. You can start out with a small load gradually increase the weight you carry.

Another thing you can be doing in preparation for your trip is to thoroughly prepare all the gear/supplies you’ll take with you. Eliminate weight wherever possible, get down to essentials - abolish unnecessary stuff. My wife often says: “Ounces add up to pounds”. On the portage trail truer words were never spoken. If you can’t carry all your things (including your canoe) across the portage trail in two carries you have brought too much – eliminate it.

Hope this helps and bon voyage! -RK

Second the rowing machine
Your immediately available resources seem to be the gym and walking with a loaded pack. If your gym has a rowing machine (Concept II is very good), work out on it 3 or more times a week for 30 minutes. Better wear leather gloves on this machine until your hands toughen up. It will callous your hands and prepare them for paddling as well. Rowing will build arm, shoulder, torso, leg, and endurance strength. The days you aren’t at the gym load up your pack and head out for an hour walk - some hills are good. As several others have mentioned the best preparation for a trip is getting out and paddling hard. For my own preparation I paddle hard at least once a week for 8 weeks in advance of a trip. Generally this is for 4 miles in the evening, but also like to do a least one 10 to 12 mile workout at my all day cruising pace if weekends allow. I workout year round on a Concept II as well.

Arm, back & leg exercises
I agree with others’ posts. Of course, paddling is probably the best approach. However, if you can’t get out paddling, a rowing machine is pretty good substitute. I get out paddling to get my arms (and hands) ready for the paddling and walk (with a bit of weight) to get leg muscles ready for those portages. Also I’ve found that exercises simulating paddling motions (with lots of rotation) helps get my back in shape for long periods of paddling as well for readying my back for sleeping on the ground when camping. I’ve had some lower back problems in the past so I find back strengthening/stretching exercises (include stomach crunches, of course) very helpful. Arm strengthening exercises (w/ weights) are also good for preparing for canoeing and for handling your packs.

Have a great time on your trip and let us know how it goes.


Wall Pushoffs
No joke…kayaker and outdoors magazines both listed wall pushoffs as one of the best conditioning exercises for the shoulders and upper torso

find a std. width hallway, put heels up against the basebard on one side and hands on the facing wall and…do pushoffs.

Yoga on the side
Just thought I would throw in the benefits of some yoga moves for strength, flexibility, endurance also. Plank pose, handstands, sun salutation, backbends (or modified backbend) and lots of others.

Second the Yoga Vote!
Margaret -

Cardio is necessary for endurance. Walking can do that for you - and it doesn’t need to be high intensity. Just 65% of your max. Do it 3x a week for 40 min. or more.

If you can’t find a good yoga class, pick up a DVD to learn some good deep stretches. You’ll feel better in general.

Work on strengthening your core. Men tend to muscle through long paddling trips with powerful biceps and triceps. Most women don’t have that option. But, the most efficient way to paddle canoe or kayak is with a great torso rotation, and that comes more naturally to women anyway!

Best rotation warm up, I think, is to lie on the floor, flat on your back, and raise your legs 90 degrees to the ground. Then, keeping knees together, bend your knees so your shins are parallel to the ground. Extend your arms straight out to your sides, keeping your shoulders flat on the ground, and roll your hips to one side and hold it. Then roll to the other. Allow the stretch to sink in deep each time. Really gets those muscles ready. Eventually you can do this without bending the legs… just straight out.

Have a great trip!


Rowing machine, sweeping and raking
A good rowing machine will get all the right muscles in shape and you can often find them used or in gyms.

For toughening the hands I’d do as much sweeping, raking, and hammering as you can with rough wood handled implements and tools.

Shoulders are often a weak link. Do internal and external rotation of the rotator cuff (using thera-bands, or some similar bungee type stuff).

Bent over rows are classic, as are lat pull-downs.

Get the book “Conditioning for Outdoor Fitness” by Musnick et. al., I highly recommend it.

Have fun on your trip.

work on good body mechanics
Using the abs and not the arms is the key to good paddling.

The pitfall is that if you excercise the abs at home you will not know the proper way to paddle out there and will use your arms and tire out relatively quickly.

A lesson is worth it. Or be as realistic as possible. One way to practice for a canoe trip is to paddle every day but there is a right and many wrong ways to paddle.

Portaging in APP is key. Thats what will tire you out. You might keep your distances down especially in portaging.

Took my wife there when we were 22.
Fun, fun fun. First and last canoe trip with my wife, she hates water and was terrified the whole time, but was at that stage where she still wanted to make me happy.

I’d do the rowing machine and any machines that work your arms and legs, backs and torso. Torso rotation machine would be important.