Weight lifting to train for paddling?

Hi Everyone,

So a group of friends and I are planning on a 6 day, 200 mile paddle down the length of the Muskegon River in Lower Michigan this summer. It’s going to be a 40 mile a day paddle AVERAGE and to say the least it will be a major physical test for all of us involved.

Only one of us is in what I would call “iron man” shape and has a great deal of kayaking experience, and the majority of the group (myself included) averages around 250 lbs. and not exactly in shape. Last year we did 126 miles in 4 days and everyone was sore but survived. Two years about we did about 100 on another river, and we did the Appostle Islands off of Lake Superior for about 50 miles the year prior to that. So we’ve been “building up” to this point in experience and distance.

To say the least I have some reservations about doing the trip, but as long as we can set an emergency car at a logical half way or 3/4 distance point if someone just can’t handle it any more I’ll feel a little bit better about our chances.

Anyway, if I’m going to do this I really want to get in better shape for this especially when it comes to endurance for paddling. I’m no stranger to the gym but I go mostly for cardio work and moderate weight lifting. I’m not really lifting to “bulk up”.

So what I’m wondering is, can anyone recommend a weight lifting routine for chest and shoulders that would help me to build muscle and endurance for this?

Any particular machines or lifting exercises to work on?

This is what you want…

– Last Updated: Feb-01-12 3:43 AM EST –


and you can get a cheap used copy on Amazon. The book has very specific stretching and strengthening exercises for different outdoor sports, along with detailed training plans. I regularly used the skiing and mountaineering sections, and am now starting to use the canoeing section.

The best exercise for…
…long distance paddling is to paddle for long distances. Weight training will not help build endurance for paddling. Weight training will help with overall fitness and will definitely help with portages and the physical rigors of camping.

Not chest and shoulders
The stroke technique that provides power and endurance is performed with the large muscles of the body (torso and legs), like an abbreviated golf swing. You’ll probably get more improvement working on technique than pumping iron.

If your gym has a torso twist machine, that would be a good workout. Rotating the torso driving off the feet with a pulley machine or hand bike works. Modern swim technique drives the freestyle stroke from a hip rotation, so doing laps is helpful.

stroke class
Is helpful in developing an efficient paddling stroke, something than will get you through those long mile days.

I agree that the best exercise for kayaking is kayaking, but I try to do some kind of strength work once or twice a week.

My favorite single exercises for kayaking are pullups and pushups. Many competitive kayakers expect to be able to perform 20 pullups. Perhaps an easier goal to aspire to is for three sets of five reps (over time). Search the web for the correct technique. For pullups, if you don’t retract your scapula (keep your shoulders away from your ears and pinch your shoulder blades together) you can do more damage than good. Inverted rows (fat man pullups) are a good exercise to gain strength if pullups are too challenging.

You need to work both the “push” and the “pull” muscles. If you only work one group (like only doing bench presses) you can develop muscular imbalances that affect your posture and shoulder heath.

The information above is very simplistic and incomplete. Working with a good personal trainer can help you to avoid injury and get started on a good program based on your particular body structure and needs.

Having said all of that, working on good technique (using your core and legs rather than your arms) might yield the most short-term benefits, but you need both good technique and good fitness to function at a high level and avoid injury.

Greg Stamer

Probably helps
to have the Stamer genes.

genes may help
define our full potential but without persistance and determination nothing will ever come of it. Few, if any of us ever reach our full potential.

you need to paddle
After paddling very long days it is rarely my arms that are sore. Usually neck, back, and hamstrings. I would also suggest manual labor. Cut some fire wood, dig some holes, etc. Sounds funny but it really does help. You can recreate these things with exercise, but not as fun.

Ryan L.

my routine
I find the best workouts that improve my paddling stamina are rowing on the Ergometer and static machine training on Cybex or Nautilus machines, particilarly those that work my upper back, oblique abdominals and thighs.

I agree that some technique training will improve your ability to extend your comfortable paddling range. Also, for a long flatwater tour like that, get (or make) a Greenland paddle to switch off with whatever paddle you usually use so you can change your cadence and effort. Greenlands are great for long paddles, far less tiring.

In addition to good advice above
Do intervals on the water (using good form, of course). Paddle hard and fast for a selected distance and then recover over that same distance. A GP is a good idea but so is a wing paddle. Get a small mid-wing and learn to use it efficiently. And finally, don’t forget to stretch after (not before) every workout. Stretch the same muscles that get strengthened and shortened.

Some suggestions…
Personally I think strength training is a fantastic piece of paddling training. There are books are training for kayaking, and youtube clips.

A few tips:

-Work on core: transverse abdominus will help with posture and sitting for long periods in the kayak without getting a sore back. Obliques provide much of the rotational power. Lots of good books and youtube clips on core workouts.

-Rotator cuff: small muscles that my not help you paddle faster, but they’re commonly injured from being to weak. Strengthen them to avoid injury on a longer trip.

-Upper back: shoulder alignment is important, otherwise you may be reinforcing bad biodynamics. Pull-up, seated rowing, standing rowing, lat pull-downs, 1 arm standing row. Strengthen these muscles: lats, serratus, rhomboids, mid and lower traps.

-Lower back


-Yoga will help with whole body conditioning, and flexibility which will help in getting proper torso rotation and help you sit comfortably for longer periods.

Good luck!

light weights
I do lots of reps and different muscle groups. But the best thing to do, is to paddle and learn good technique. I don’t feel sore after long.paddles any more, and i will be 60 in a month.

Jay Babina
I agree with a rowing machine. I belong to a gym and do the full course of machines but I never bypass the lateral pulls and try to spend time on a rowing machine.

What’s a pull up? People can still pull themselves up after 50?

Sure - it’s easy
all I have to do is start from a trampoline… :slight_smile:

Rowing Machine - paddling
Go hard on a Concept 2 for 1 hr each day.

Go paddling a lot (four days a week for at least 2 hoursm, with some all day paddles) -do some 40 mile days.

An elliptical works wonders all around,
and you can work out with light dumbbells at your desk.

check epic kayaks

This is a good set of exercises geared towards kayak racing but will work to get you in shape.

Lots of lat work and lots of core work.

As an ex-competition oarsman, and a
paddler, I don’t agree on the rowing machine. The motions are dissimilar.

Unfortunately, the OP has missed his chance. Raking leaves, alternating sides, is a pretty good way of preparing for paddling. Actual paddling is better.

put the iron away.
pullups and crunches. Different variations of each.

You can download smartphone apps that give you routines for each and track your progress.

Don’t forget the cardio and stretching.