Don’t let the leisurely look of canoeing fool you; paddling can be hard work. But do some targeted training, and you’ll slice right through the water. “Stronger muscles translate into a stronger paddling stroke,” says Rocky Snyder, author of Fit to Paddle and the brains behind the two paddle-specific exercises described below. Do them twice a week in addition to your regular strength workout for at least 6 weeks before your paddling trip, and you’ll have the power and stamina to counter strong currents, dodge obstacles, and get through long hours in a headwind. Both exercises are done on your gym’s pulley machine. Aim for two sets. “If you can’t perform 8 reps, the weight is too heavy,” advises Snyder. “If you can perform more than 15, it’s too light.”
“Shoulders and lats are your primary paddling muscles,” says Snyder. “This exercise targets both by mimicking the canoe stroke.” First, make a gym paddle by attaching an eyebolt to a shovel handle (or a 5-foot pole), then hook the bolt to the lower pulley. Kneel if you’re a whitewater paddler or sit on a stool if you’re a flatwater canoer, then grip the top and lower end of the rod as you would a paddle. Tighten your abdominals and pull back past your hip joint with a slight rotation of the torso. “The biggest mistake people make with this exercise is bending their lower arm, which overworks the bicep and shoulder. Keep your arm straight, and you’ll use your lat muscles more,” advises Snyder.
Snyder transforms the classic lat pulldown into a canoeing-specific exercise with a simple change in body placement. “By getting in the appropriate boat position, you learn to stabilize the rest of your body while using your paddle muscles,” explains Snyder. Grab the bar on the high pulley and kneel (whitewater) or sit on a stool (flatwater), but avoid the lat machine with pads that hold your knees down–you won’t have that advantage on the water. Start with a lighter weight until the position feels comfortable. Pull the bar down to your chest, bringing your elbows behind your hips. The lat pulldown also targets the biceps.