Fit to Paddle

The Paddler’s Guide to Strength and Conditioning by Rocky Snyder

There is nothing like the feeling of shoving off in a kayak. When all the work is done, all the preparation, and logistics are complete and you finally start floating, it is as if the weight of the world has been lifted and you are suspended on a new medium where the rough edges of gravity have been softened.  The sport of the canoe has magical powers and can completely change the lives of those who take it up.  Once you are hooked, you want to enjoy it often and for as long as possible.  After nearly 20 years of teaching, guiding, and competing, I believe that cross training is the key to developing the balance needed to enjoy year after year of paddling fun.

You may be someone who loves to glide over glassy flat water while watching for wildlife and nature.  You may yearn for the adrenaline rush of whitewater. You may paddle the sea. Whether you go via the safety of a harbor, or by blasting through the surf, you will be using your own type of craft and your own set of muscle groups.  As varied as paddle sports are, so are the different training routines you have to choose from. You need to create your own balance to help you perform better and avoid injuries.

This yin and yang of paddling has many aspects. Two of the most important aspects are strength and flexibility. Most beginning paddlers are lacking in one or both of these.  Strength training, including straight up paddling and sprints, plus arm and shoulder exercises can sharpen the learning curve for beginners. More flexibility means you can stay out longer and reduce the chance of injuries. Forward bends and other yoga postures stretch out your hamstrings and reduce tension in your lower back.

Whitewater and surf paddlers need strength and flexibility to perform repeated Eskimo rolls in conditions which have may have severe penalty clauses attached. Side stretches, forward bends and backbends for flexibility, crunches, sit ups and back extensions for strength are easy to do with an exercise ball. Injuries are almost inevitable. Many are caused by lack of concentration. Others can be caused by improper boat fit, lifting, poor paddling posture, rolling, overworking tight muscles or not enough stretching. Getting whiplash can really mess up your day (not to mention your neck), and shoulder dislocation or separation is not rare.  A good chiropractor can come in handy. However, pro-active training is often the best way to shorten your recovery time or avoid injuries altogether.

Advanced and competitive boaters need rigorous cross-training to balance rigorous paddling, for example, running or biking followed by swimming. To win you need strength and flexibility, but also a balance of endurance and power. Balanced workouts carry over to a balanced life. That is what Rocky’s book is all about. This book gives explicit details about programs of stretching and strengthening which you can use to create your personal training routine so that you can get serious and take it to the next level. You can’t always go out for a paddle when you want to, but you can help ensure many more paddling days in the future by staying fit to paddle.

Dave “The Wave” Johnston
World Champion of Surf Kayaking

    • Hidden
  • COVID-19 Update

    For more info, please read our COVID FAQs.

    In response to the Shelter in Place order for Santa Cruz County, RFC is committed to:

  • keeping business as usual via online training for all clients
  • closing the studio to the public
  • keeping our trainers fully employed
  • keeping you up-to-date with email content as needed
  • Thank you for your continued commitment to RFC!