How to Train for Kayaking and SUP
Paddling a stand up paddle board (SUP) or a kayak is an exhilarating way to get a complete workout while interacting with nature.
The following training guide is designed to help you focus on the most essential aspects of fitness for completing a paddling adventure: cross-training and strength training.
As always, be sure to consult with your doctor before starting any new training routine.
Warm-Ups and Stretching for Kayaking and SUP
Consistently performing a dynamic warm-up prior to paddling and strength-training workouts prepares the primary muscles and strengthens the supportive stabilizing muscle groups.
Spend 2–5 minutes on active stretches that take the body through movement patterns similar to some of the more intense movements to follow. Examples include lunging with a torso twist, side bends, and straight-leg walking kicks.
After paddling and strength training, do a few static stretches to lengthen and loosen the major muscle groups you’ve worked. Work your way through stretching the large muscle groups used during the workout such as the chest, hamstrings, hips flexors, and trunk. Do each stretch 1-2 times, holding for 30–60 seconds.
Aerobic Cross-Training for Kayaking and SUP
In addition to the muscular endurance requirements of paddling, which are best developed through targeted fitness training and actual time on your craft, developing a solid aerobic fitness foundation is critical for keeping you energized throughout your session.
The best cross-training activity for paddling, bar none, is swimming. Both lap and open-water swimming provide substantial aerobic and paddle-specific muscular endurance conditioning (core, upper back and legs) that translates directly to more efficient paddling. Swimming has the added benefit of preparing you for potential aquatic mishaps.
Jogging, trail hiking and mountain biking, though less specific than swimming, are also very good cross-training activities. These leg-dominant aerobic conditioning activities support the lower-body demands of paddling and give you a strong foundation for proper paddling technique.
Strength Training Exercises for Kayaking and SUP
Like all physically demanding recreational activities, the repetitive nature of paddling poses a potential risk to both the recreational and the more hardcore paddler. The most common overuse injury in paddling is irritation in the lower and upper back due to the repetitive stress of forward bending while rotating the torso.
Use a full-body resistance training routine, 1–3 times per week, that fortifies the prime movers and strengthens stabilizing muscles that are essential for good paddling technique and posture.
This sample workout is specifically designed to help you prepare for the stresses of paddling. It can be done before short cross-training sessions or be the sole fitness focus on certain days.
Begin by doing this workout 1–3 times per week, with a minimum of 48 hours between sessions. Start with 2–5 minutes of light aerobic activity like jogging or jumping rope in order to properly warm up.
Perform 2-3 sets of 15 repetitions of each exercise, with only moderate resistance to start. As you become more comfortable with the exercises, you can gradually increase the resistance and decrease the number of reps to develop more strength.
Single Leg Squat with Single Arm Middle Row (resistance band)
- Begin in a standing position with the left arm holding one handle of a resistance band with arm bent into a rowing position next to the rib cage.
- Keep shoulders broad and trunk tall throughout the exercise.
- Inhale as you descend into a single leg squat on the right leg, extending the left arm out.
- Exhale as you stand back up from the single leg squat and row the right arm back to the starting position.
- After completing 15 reps using the right leg and left arm, switch sides and then take 30 seconds of rest before moving to the next exercise.
Chest Fly (resistance band)
- Begin by wrapping the center of a resistance band around a secure anchor point that is at chest height.
- With legs in a staggered stance, face away from the anchor point and place about 80% of the body weight into the front leg.
- Holding a handle in each hand, with the band extended underneath the arms, think of a broad bear hug as you bring the resistance band handles around the front of the chest.
- Inhale as arms open, exhale as arms squeeze in.
- On your next set, switch to the opposite leg in front. Then, rest for 90 seconds before moving on to the next exercise.
Hip Hinge with Kettle Bell
- Begin with feet hip-width apart, holding the kettle bell in front of the body with both hands.
- Shoulders are packed in and down throughout the exercise, and chest is broad.
- Press firmly into the ground from the heels and midfeet and create a soft bend in the knees.
- Inhale as you hinge forward from the hips, keeping the back straight and neck in a neutral position, and exhale as you rise back up to standing.
- Complete your repetitions and take 30 seconds of rest before moving to the next set or exercise.
Hay Baler with Medicine Ball
- Kneel on the ground with knees about hip-width apart. Begin with the medicine ball extended over one shoulder, with a slight rotation through the trunk.
- Inhale as you lower the medicine ball down and across the body toward your hip, and exhale as you raise it up and across the body over the opposite shoulder.
- Maintain length in the torso throughout the exercise; do not round out lower back.
- Complete your repetitions on the first side and then swtich to the other side. Take 30 seconds of rest before moving to the next exercise.
Wood Chop with Resistance Band
- Begin by placing a resistance band around a secure anchor point above head height.
- Think about the trunk doing the majority of the work for this exercise, instead of your arms and shoulders.
- Grasping the free handle, face perpendicular to the anchor in a quarter- or half-squat position.
- Keeping the arms straight, inhale while rotating slightly up and toward the anchor point, and exhale while rotating down and away.
- Complete 15 reps and switch sides. Rest for 90 seconds before moving on to the next exercise.
Step-Up with Lateral Raise
- Start with one foot planted on a box or step.
- In one fluid movement, step all the way up, extending the trailing leg laterally, straight out to the side.
- Drive up largely from the heel and midfoot of the front leg. Inhale as you step down off the step, and exhale as you step up.
- Repeat on the same side for 15 reps and then switch sides. Take 30 seconds of rest before moving to the next exercise.
Pull-Down with Resistance Band
- Facing the anchor point, secure the resistance band at or just above head height.
- Hinge forward from the hips and maintain an active core throughout the exercise.
- With arms extended straight above the head, hold each handle and pull the resistance band down with straight arms toward the thighs.
- Complete your sets and take 30 seconds of rest before moving to the next exercise.
Skater with Uppercut
- Hopping laterally, landing on the outside foot, bring the opposite arm up and across the chest as if doing an uppercut punch.
- Think about the punches coming from the twisting of the torso (not pushing with your arms).
- Repeat on the other side. Complete 15 reps on each side.
- Rest for 90 seconds before moving on to the next exercise.
Core Training Exercises for Kayaking and SUP
Novice paddlers often inaccurately assume that the muscles of the arms and shoulders are the primary body parts responsible for locomotion in paddling. Although both certainly have a role in paddling, you would be well served by developing rotational strength in the torso and muscular endurance in the legs and the upper back.
These are the muscles that drive proper stroke mechanics in kayaking and SUP and that are essential to efficient and sustained propulsion. Perform 1–3 sets of 15 repetitions of each exercise.
Stability Ball Crunch with Twist
- With the stability ball under the hips, lean back slightly, with the hands behind the head and elbows out wide.
- Knees and hips should remain steady throughout; rotation should occur from the waist as your crunch upward.
- Think about raising your chest up toward the ceiling with each repetition, not significantly bending from the upper back and neck.
- Inhale as you lower your body, and exhale as you crunch up.
Stability Ball Bridge
- Head and shoulders should be securely anchored on the ball with hips up in a tabletop position.
- Descend the hips slowly. Knees should remain over the ankles throughout, not drifting forward and back.
- Focus on coming all the way up and pausing at the top of each rep to fully engage the glutes.
- Inhale as you lower your hips, and exhale as you raise hips up.
The nonprofit American Council on Exercise (ACE) educates, certifies, and represents more than 53,000 fitness professionals, health coaches, and other allied health professionals.
This publication is not intended to provide medical advice on personal health issues, which should be obtained directly from a physician.