Watershed Blog

5 Exercises to Have You Ready for Paddle Season

Paddling season is nearly in full swing, that means if you haven’t already, it’s time to start planning trips and looking at permits. However, that’s not the only way to prepare for an excellent summer on the water.

Kayaking, and paddling in general, can be a physically demanding sport, especially on rougher routes and waters. So, in order to be your best self this season, try these exercises to kill time until the next time you get to get in the water. 


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4 Areas to focus on


You’ll want to build endurance in your shoulders, arms and core, which will be constantly in motion from the stroke sequence and paddle. 


Your core is where you generate most of the power used to paddle and stroke. Keeping the core activated is essential so that you don’t overwork your shoulders and arms. A consistent strength routine will also reduce the risk of injury from a long season.


Lump your favorite aerobic exercise into this area, because maximizing your stamina on the water is the best way to go for the longest period and still have a blast without straining yourself. Things like running, cycling, the rowing machine or even intense hiking fits into this category.


Much like climbing and bouldering, kayaking requires an astute amount of balance. You are being tossed and thrown around by raging rapids, after all. 


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We also can’t stress enough the importance of warming up. Making sure your muscles and joints are limber and fluid is the best way to avoid injury and perform at max potential. Now, on to the good stuff! Although having a varied strength and conditioning workout is the dream, here are three staple exercises you should always have in your arsenal that will have you set for kayaking this season.


Start with your feet shoulder-width apart holding two dumbbells or a barbell on your shoulders. Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, keeping your core engaged and your chest up (e.g. don’t end up folding forwards). From that position, explode upwards, pushing the weights above your head with straight arms.. 

Repeat this as one big fluid motion for 3 sets of 10 or 12 reps, and you’ll feel the burn in your core on the raise, and in your butt when you squat. 

Bird Dogs

Bird dogs are designed to truly strengthen and activate your core, which is where a lot of your paddling power comes from. They’re similar to planks but involve the coordination of your arms and legs, which helps us stay more engaged as opposed to holding a plank for a minute straight (an eternity in plank time). 

Starting on all fours, raise one arm and the opposite leg simultaneously. Try your best to keep your leg and arm as straight as possible, keeping them parallel with your back, and your hips straight and unmoving (ideally, your pelvis will be parallel to the floor at all times). Hold this stretched out position for about ten seconds or so. To make this exercise spicier, you can add movements like frog kicks, speed up the reps in quicker intervals, or add resistance/weight in the form of resistance bands.

Kettlebell Swings

Kettle bell swings are a full body movement that will help strengthen your back, your core, your shoulders and your posterior chain – all vital for happy paddling. There are two types of Kettlebell Swings, Russian (the kettlebell lifts level with your face) and American (the kettlebell lifts all the way above your head, shown above). Start with the weight in both hands in between your legs , with feet a little more than hip distance apart. Dip down, keeping your chest up, and swing the kettlebell in front of you, finishing the movement all the way above your head.

This exercise is easy to hurt your back on, so when starting our make sure you’re weight is appropriate for your current strength, your back is straight, your core is set, and you’re not hunching over or lowering your chest to the ground. Begin with 3 sets of 10 reps, and add 5 reps a week.

Hanging Knee Raises

This one improves works on your core and has lots of different variations, including single leg lifts, twists, and toes to bar. Start hanging from a bar and setting your core by breathing all the way out and feeling your belly muscles tighten. In control the whole time, lift your knees as high as you can go with the aim of hitting your chest with them. Slowly lower them down. Repeat for 3 sets of 20 reps.

Variation – Knee Lifts

If you don’t have access to a bar but still want a little core and balance action, you can do a version of knee raises standing while holding your paddle (or a weight, it’s up to you.)  Start with the paddle above your head and your feet a little less than shoulder width (the narrower your stance, the easier it is). Set your core and raise one knee at a time to at least waist-level and hold for a few seconds, alternating legs with each rep. For an added challenge, you can extend your leg, sticking your foot out, with each rep, or complete with more speed (keeping in mind your core must be active at all times).

Bent Over Rows

These simple but effective reps will increase your back and upper shoulder strength, while having the hidden benefit of working on your posture too. You can complete these with a barbell, kettle/dumbbells or resistance bands, and will feel the burn in your lats, traps and your shoulder joints.

Start with feet slightly over hip distance wide, with your weight resting in front of you. Keeping your chest up and back straight (v important!!!), slowly hinge at the hips till you are bent over with your weight hanging beneath you. Keeping a little bend in the knees, pull your elbows back trying to keep your arms as close to your sides as possible, till your weight touches your ribs cage. Ladies, aiming to hit the base of your sports bra is a good target. Repeat for 3 x 8 reps, increasing in weight when you’re ready.


Did you know our duffels make the ideal gym bag too? The Chattooga has ample space for your essentials (keys, wallet, snack etc), plus a change of clothes and towel.


Send this blog to your workout partner or paddle buddy, so you and your squad can have the best summer of paddling ever!