Quick: which body part do you use when you’re paddling?If you said arms, you’re only partly right. Try powering your paddling with just your arms, even if you have Hulk-style guns, and you’ve just cut short your river experience. Take it from me: I’m a former competitive powerlifter who learned just how in shape a paddler needs to be when I rafted the Rogue River in 2012.
Paddling even easy rapids for a few days in a row, or catching a ferocious headwind here and there, requires all-over strength as well as a good cardio capacity and endurance. Now, i’m not saying you have to start going to CrossFit three times per week before you go, but a little pre-trip body prep won’t hurt. Try incorporating some of the moves below into your weekly workout routine, and bonus, you’ll feel and look great by the time you set off down the river.
Exercise Ideas to Help You Paddle Like a Pro (And Feel Like One Too)
Fighting the current or wind takes some strength. You’re working your arms, shoulders, back, core, even your legs. To prepare, focus on compound exercises that also work multiple areas of the body. A great place to start is old-school bodyweight exercises. Push-ups will get you ready to propel that paddle through the water. If you’re not up to military-style, start with your knees on the floor. Already knocking them out with no problem? Elevate your feet to make them harder. Pull-ups or chin-ups are a great complement to push-ups (can’t do them yet? With work you can!).
A strong core is at least as important as your upper body. Planks and side planks will help develop the muscles that stabilize you as you’re leaning into your paddle. And as the strongest, biggest muscles in the body, your legs can provide a powerful base for paddling. Build them up with walking lunges and backward lunges, and squats. When you’re ready, add some weight to these – try holding dumbbells to increase resistance. (And if you have access to a squat rack and an experienced trainer, you can’t beat back squats with a barbell for all-over strength.)
Nobody’s having fun if they’re sucking wind five minutes into the trip, so don’t neglect your cardio capacity before you go. Think high-intensity interval training here. These short bursts of hard-core exercise are incredibly effective. Pick any movement you like – jump rope, boxing, burpees, stationary cycle and elliptical are all good – and after warming up go full throttle for a short period of time, then rest briefly. Repeat. It’s a miserable few minutes, no doubt, but can be surprisingly exhilarating – and you’ll thank us later.
Finally, you’ve got to be ready to work for long stretches. The first time you have to fight a headwind for several miles you’ll be glad you did some endurance work before the trip. Go for long bike rides, increase the number of laps you can swim, and hit the woods for long hikes.
Don’t just daydream about the amazing river rafting trip you want to take this year; go get ready for it! Remember to be smart about it, and get expert help where you need it.
Ask OARS. about the intensity of your paddling trip before you go. Yes, some level of fitness is needed to enjoy outdoor vacations of any kind, but many rafting vacations are suitable for a variety of ages and fitness levels.