Paddle Sports

Strength Training for Paddle Sports

Paddling a canoe or kayak is a lesson in dynamic balance; the paddler is on a constantly moving and unstable surface. How water moves depends on the medium: vertically in the case of waves on lakes, or horizontally in the case of rivers and streams. Whitewater is the epidome of moving water, as it gets much more complex. Minnesota is blessed with a variety of paddling options for all ability levels, including whitewater kayaking and canoeing, sea kayaking on Lake Superior, or flatwater paddling on thousands of lakes. Most local paddlers like to test their skills in other places too, such as rivers in the Smokies, Appalachians, Rockies or desert southwest. It is highly recommended that paddlers enroll in skill development courses in addition to any physical training specific to the sport, especially for kayaking or whitewater sports.

Musculoskeletal Demands
While many paddlers recognize the importance of upper body strength, canoeing and kayaking are total body sports that rely on strength and flexibility throughout the entire kinetic chain. The lower body provides a connection to the boat, and helps initiate powerful paddle strokes as well as maintain balance. Power generated by the lower body is transferred to the paddle through the trunk, torso, and upper body. Paddle strokes, hull placement in the water, and control of the boat depend on each segment of the body working in concert with one another in all planes of movement. You are only as strong as your weakest link!

Common Muscle Imbalances
Although every individual is different, there are common muscle imbalances seen in paddlers. Because canoeists use a single bladed paddle, they often have more muscle development on one side of the body compared to the other. Muscles that are commonly tight and need to be stretched include: hamstrings, pectorals and anterior shoulder girdle.  Paddling also requires a great deal of lateral spinal flexion and hip flexor flexibility. Muscles that are commonly weak and need to be strengthened include: rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers, posterior shoulder girdle, mid and lower trapezius, wrist flexors and extensors, trunk stabilizers such as spinal erectors and abdominals, hip flexors, hip adductors and glutes. Imbalances may need to be addressed not only to improve paddling performance, but to prevent injury.

Training Components
A well rounded training program for paddle sports depends a great deal on what kind of paddling you will be doing, however all require aerobic endurance, balance, agility, upper body strength, lower body strength for stabilizing the boat, flexibility, and core stability.

Common Paddling Injuries
The most common paddling injuries are usually to the shoulder and are a result of improper technique or weakness in the posterior shoulder girdle and rotator cuff. Dislocated shoulders are fairly common in whitewater kayaking and could be minimized by practicing safer paddling techniques.

Kayaking Skull Rapid in Westwater Canyon of the Colorado River. Is your body ready?

Training Program Options

Option 1. The most effective option is to work one on one with a professional Strength and Conditioning Coach to ensure that you are doing the most efficient exercises correctly. You will first have an assessment to determine your current cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, and muscle strengths and weaknesses prior to beginning a training program. K’s Body Shop will then utilize that information to design a customized program that determines appropriate exercises and intensities so that you can maximize your paddling performance and minimize the chance for injury. Since there are no contracts, you can work with your trainer as often or as little as you please. Contact K’s Body Shop to schedule your appointment or get more information.

Option 2. If you have a group of paddlers in the Twin Cities area who are interested in having a professional Strength and Conditioning Coach oversee your small group strength training workouts, contact K’s Body Shop. This is a great option for training partners to contain costs while still getting some professional instruction. Since each athlete is different, the workouts will not be completely customized, but you will have the option of discussing appropriate exercise progressions based on your abilities. Prices vary depending on number of participants and location of sessions.

Option 3. The least expensive option is to follow a pre-designed strength and conditioning program. These programs are “as is” and do not include additional coaching. Customers simply pay for the program of their choice via PayPal and will be immediately directed to a link to download a zip file containing 8 different PDF files. PDF readers can be downloaded for free from All programs include pictures and/or descriptions of each exercise; such as dynamic warm-up, cardiovascular activities and intensities, strength training exercises, stretching exercises, and cool down. The programs are readable on smartphones, tablets, and computers. See sample to get a general idea of the format.

We currently offer 1 strength and conditioning program for paddlers which is available for purchase here.  The program includes 5 different workouts: 2 day off-season rotation, 2 day pre-season rotation, and 1 in-season workout. Athletes who will benefit the most from this option are self motivated,  have basic weight training experience, are in good health and injury free. Workouts use free weights, stability balls, medicine balls, cables or tubing, plyometrics, balance and agility drills.

Please review our terms of service before purchasing a pre-designed training program. Note: Because of current international tax laws, these programs are currently only offered to US based customers.

The pre-designed Strength Training for Paddle Sports is designed for recreational boaters who are looking for a comprehensive strength training program to improve their paddling. It includes:

  • How to Plan Your Workouts
  • Dynamic Warm-up: 10 exercises
  • Flexibility: 8 self-myofascial release + 18 stretches
  • Off Season A: 11 exercises
  • Off Season B: 11 exercises
  • Pre Season A: 10 exercises
  • Pre Season B: 10 exercises
  • In Season: 8 exercises

Cost: $19.97

Purchase Strength Training for Paddle Sports: