Are you a newcomer to kayaking? Welcome! This sport is plenty of fun, but it has its physical demands. You need a certain fitness level to get the best experience out of your kayaking adventure. If you’re not fit, your friends will paddle away from you, or you might end up gassing out before the end of the tour.
Worse still, you could end up not having the strength or explosive power to get yourself out of a dangerous situation on the water. Being fit pays dividends when you need your body to perform in the kayak.
When you get fit, you can start challenging yourself to races and other extreme sides of kayaking other than just touring. So, how do you get fit? What does it take to get into peak physical condition for kayaking? This post unpacks a strategy on how to train for kayaking.
- Cardio Training for Kayaking
- Strength Training for Kayaking – Why You Need It
- What Muscle Groups Do I Need to Train for Kayaking?
- Calisthenics for Kayaking
- Free-Weight Exercises for Kayaking
- Kayak Strength Training Strategy
- In Closing – Your Fitness Determines Your Kayaking Experience
Cardio Training for Kayaking
Cardio needs to be the foundation of your training program. Cardio, like running or using equipment like the elliptical machine at the gym, will help you build endurance for paddling.
While kayaking does involve explosive movements, the majority of it is endurance-based. As a result, you need to have a strong motor capable of paddling at high tempo levels for as long as possible. To be honest, nothing beats paddling practice when it comes to training for kayaking.
The more paddling time you have, the fitter you get. However, that’s not an option for people that only get out to the river or lake once or twice a month. You need a way to get yourself in shape outside of the boat while going through your daily grind in the city.
Signing up for a gym gives you access to a range of equipment for cardio training. There are stepping machines, treadmills, elliptical machines, air bikes, and air-pulley machines. You also get access to free weights to help you build explosive power in your paddling.
Running or Cardio Machines?
Suppose you don’t have the money to sign up for a gym or don’t feel like packing yourself into a confined space with a hundred sweaty other people. In that case, you can always do your cardio training at home yourself.
Sure, you won’t have access to the bevy of equipment you have at the gym, but you can do a lot with a good pair of running shoes and the road.
Running is a great way to get your cardio in. However, it impacts your knee and hip joints more than using an elliptical machine at the gym. Still, you go with what makes you feel comfortable. We’ll discuss a training strategy that works in the gym and at home.
How Much Cardio Training Do I Need?
The more cardio you get, the better. We recommend starting slow with two to three sessions a week. As you build your strength and endurance, you can begin adding an extra day every other week.
Ideally, you want to be doing 20 to 30-minutes of cardio work at least 6-days a week, with one rest day. The more you do, the fitter you get.
HIIT vs. LISS Cardio Training
High-Intensity Interval Training describes a method of cardio training that improves explosive power. LISS training (Low-Intensity Steady State) is great for building stamina; HIIT strategies help you build explosive power.
Explosiveness gets you off the starting line faster and keeps you running at full power for longer. It’s necessary for fighting currents and whitewater in Class II and Class IV rapids if you want to avoid capsizing.
Your cardio schedule should include two to three HIIT sessions during the week. An example of a HIIT session would be sprinting for 30-seconds, then cooling down with a walk for 15-seconds.
Repeat that cycle for eight to ten rounds. As you progress with your fitness, you can lengthen the sprint period. Ideally, your HIIT workouts should be no longer than 20 to 25-minutes max. Don’t do more than three sessions a week as the training is taxing on your central nervous system (CNS).
Strength Training for Kayaking – Why You Need It
Strength training is necessary for kayaking. Doing cardio all day is fine, but it will not help you lift the boat off the roof racks or pull yourself out of the water into the kayak. For that, you need strength training.
An Increase in Muscular Strength and Endurance
Strength training increases muscle size and strength. That means you get more torque in your paddling stroke and more explosive power. Couple that with your LISS and HIIT cardio strategy, and you have a solid recipe for fitness.
Protect Yourself from Injury
Strength training boosts athletic performance and explosive power and protects you from injury. You’ll strengthen the ligament and tendons in your shoulder joints, hips, and lower back. Regular training makes it easy to spend long periods in your seat without feeling tired.
Will Gaining Muscle Tire Me Out?
Many people assume that gaining muscle makes them gas out faster. However, that’s not the case; it’s not like you’ll put on slabs of beefy muscle here. We’re talking about a few pounds of lean tissue that make a huge difference in your performance on the water.
What Muscle Groups Do I Need to Train for Kayaking?
When you’re planning your strength training program for kayaking. You’re going to center your training sessions around “compound movements. ”
Compound movements are exercises that involve multiple muscle groups in the movement. For example, the squat and pull-up are compound exercises, so we included them in your training.
The squat works the hams, quads, glutes, lower back, core, upper back, chest, and traps. The pull-up works the upper back, shoulders, arms, and core. These exercises improve your explosive power, allowing you to drive your paddling stroke using your core, not your arms.
Chest, Shoulders, and Back
The chest and back are important for your paddling stroke. They provide the general power from the start to the end of the stroke, and we can train these muscles with calisthenics like pushups and pull-ups or free weights like deadlifts and bench presses.
The core provides the drive throughout the movement, sustaining the strength you use when plunging the blade into the water. Your core supports your lower back and hips, allowing you to stay in the saddle longer without feeling tired.
The hip flexors are important for transferring the drive from one side of the kayak to the other during your stroke. Your core is the center point and crux of the entire stroke, and it controls your power through the paddling movement.
Glutes and Hamstrings
The glutes and hamstrings are less important for paddling than the upper body, but they still play a role in the stroke. Glutes support your lower back and hip flexors, and the quads allow you to tension against the footpeg and brace for more drive in your paddling stroke.
Do I Need to Train Arms?
No, there is no need to train your arms independently. Using compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, and pushups are all you need to keep your arms in shape.
Calisthenics for Kayaking
Calisthenics is the foundation of your strength training program. You need to learn how to handle your body weight before moving on to training with free weights. The following exercises are all you need to improve your paddling strength.
A pull-up bar is the kayaker’s best friend. Install one at home, or use it at the gym. Start with sets of three reps until you can do ten pull-ups in a row. Then whack out sets of 10/ 15/ and 20 as you build your strength. Once a week, do as many pull-ups as you can to failure.
The pull-up is a vital exercise for building paddling strength. It helps you with the strength you need to pull yourself back into the boat after falling out. Practice them as often as you can and at least three times a week.
When executing the pull-up, concentrate on getting your collarbone, not your chin, you the bar. Puff your chest out as you approach the bar during the movement. We recommend the wide-grip, overhand style of pull-ups for the best results.
Hanging Leg Raise
You can do this exercise on your pull-up bar. It’s great for the core and builds power in the abdomen, lower back, and hips. Hang from the bar and keep your legs straight. Lift them, so they are parallel to the ground and at a 90-degree angle to your spine. Hold at the peak for two seconds, and release in a controlled manner.
Do three sets of ten reps and feel the burn. Beginners will likely need to start by bringing their knees to their chest with their legs bent 90-degrees. Practice this before progressing to the full movement with the legs extended.
Free-Weight Exercises for Kayaking
When you’re confident you’re peaking with your calisthenics training, it’s time to add some free weights. You can join the gym and use their equipment if you like. However, we think a barbell and a few plates are all you need to train at home.
The back squat is the king of compound exercises. Your form is critical, so watch YouTube videos to understand the form required to safely complete the exercise.
The squat builds strength in your hams, quads, hips, glutes, lower and upper back, core, chest, shoulders, and traps. It hits every muscle group, building strength fast.
The stiff leg deadlift is another exercise that’s great for building core strength and power in the hip flexors. Check on YouTube for the correct form before completing this movement. You’re looking at rep ranges of 8 to 12 per set for squats and deads, with three to four sets total.
Barbell overhead press will help you build pushing strength and stability on your back. Start light and focus on your form. Don’t go too heavy and focus on an 8 to 12-rep range for three to four sets. Remember to warm up your shoulders properly before attempting this exercise.
Kayak Strength Training Strategy
Your kayak training strategy for your cardio and strength sessions runs through three phases.
In the beginner phase, you want to focus on your form, breathing, and stretching. You need to build the foundation before starting the hard work. Rushing into monster workouts as a beginner will only lead to injury and burnout. Take it slow and build on steady improvement.
During the intermediate phase, you’re starting to build a decent fitness level. You can start pushing yourself harder once or twice a week. Remember to listen to your body and adjust your training to accommodate your recovery.
When you feel you have a good fitness level, usually around six months after starting training, you can start pushing the envelope. Every session becomes a max effort and a quest to outdo your previous performance.
However, when you’re operating at this level, you need to pay close attention to your body. Your recovery needs to be on point, and you need to know when you need to pull back to avoid burnout.
What Is a De-Load Week?
You’ll need to take time off and recover fully every six to eight weeks. During this week, you can take a short walk or do some pushups every now and again, but the idea is to take it easy. This strategy recharges the CNS, resetting you for another hard six to eight-week training cycle.
How Many Strength Training Sessions Do I Need a Week?
You need around three to four free weight/strength training sessions a week at maximum. Overdoing it and going with five or six will burn out your CNS, and you’ll find you get sick because you suppress your immune system.
Some people experience nervous system crashes because they push their training too hard and don’t pull back with a de-load week often enough. Remember, taking time off is as important. Recovery determines how you perform in your next workout and whether you stay injury-free or not.
In Closing – Your Fitness Determines Your Kayaking Experience
The fitter you are, the better you perform in the kayak. Start slow and build into your training; in three months, you’ll find you’re reasonably fit and capable of keeping up with any tour group.