If you’re a keen canoer you can definitely be doing, and actually should be doing, training that takes place outside the canoe itself. While admittedly spending time in water is by far the best way to improve your skills and even from a physical perspective the most efficient, you should definitely be doing some exercises during other times to supplement your canoe time. All competing canoers do this, and being a very physical activity, it’s paramount that you stay fit. Think of it like this: You have to be technically proficient to do well in whitewater slalom, but to take advantage of that technique you have to be physically ready – otherwise you’ll be held back.
So what exercises are best for you? Just imagine yourself paddling hard in a canoe. The first things that come to mind are probably your arms and back. Understand this: For a sport where the competitor is sat in a boat, canoeing is incredibly demanding. For your arms, you’re utilizing every part, your forearms, triceps and biceps. Your shoulders are important, and your lats are responsible for pulling back the paddle, against the water that resists it. But it is the core is usually the part that feels most sore for someone that has just started paddling. This is what allows you to twist your upper body and channel maximum power into your stroke.
The first suggested exercise are rows. This can be done seated or standing, but the principle is the same. You hold onto a bar and pull it back, ensuring you achieve a full range of motion. This motion is very similar to the body movement during paddling, but the weight is distributed symmetrically between both sides of your torso. Here’s a video on how to perform them:
The rows are primarily activating your lats. Training your arms is actually not as important as you might think, as your torso is what accounts for the highest percentage of your overall power. However if you want to train your arms, your priority should be tricep pulldowns. This is because your biceps are for the pushing motion, whilst the triceps are responsible for the pulls, which is where the resistance of the water makes it harder. Bicep curls should not be ignored, however, if you are working your arms out.
The next part to focus on is your core. In a canoe, it is necessary to twist your torso against a strong resistance to paddle and steer effectively. While traditional core exercises like situps and crunches are useful, even more important are exercises that involve twists around your core. Oblique twists, which is demonstrated in the video below, are the best exercise to strengthen the right muscles.
Your legs, which are the least mobile part of your body while rowing, should not be ignored completely. Think of your legs as an extension of your core. If they are weak, you will not be well grounded in your position and that affects the control you have over your upper body which is twisting and turning. While it might seem strange, the best exercises for strengthening muscles in the core-leg relationship is jumping, where the core is heavily involved in controlling the upper body after taking off, and vice versa. Vertical Jump Development has plenty of exercises that involve jumping.
Although your grip strength should naturally develop as you gain more canoe experience, many beginners find that they quickly lose grip strength and develop sore muscles in their hands and surrounding their wrist and forearms. It can be helpful to do some grip training. Men’s Fitness provides a good grip training workout.