May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, February 1999

Tonic for the upper body, with a twist

And While
You're At It ...
  • Do the following drill in a pool: Paddle 25 yards with smooth, long strokes, first balancing on your boat's right edge, and then turning around to do 25 yards on your left. This works your stomach muscles and improves your balance. Repeat 10 times.
  • Don't forget your feet: If you push against the foot peg opposite your paddle stroke, you'll generate significantly more power.
  • If you're having difficulty mastering those controlled, high-rpm paddle strokes that you need to negotiate big water, lose the macho inhibitions and switch to a paddle with smaller blades.
  • Practice your off-side roll until it's every bit as good as your strong-side move. After all, you never know what might be blocking your preferred path to oxygen.

Whitewater kayaking and canoeing are grueling endurance sports, true. But oddly, it's rarely a lack of aerobic capacity that stands between you and the ability to bang a quick U-turn and ferry against the current to catch an elusive standing wave. Without sufficient — nay, formidable — upper-body strength, your arms and shoulders will give out long before your lungs, leaving you bobbing like a cork.

Of course, as Chris Huffins would tell you, such strength doesn't emanate solely from your limbs and their respective joints. To generate the powerful rotation that's central to paddling, boaters also need to develop the muscles of the trunk, including the latissimus dorsi, the abdominals, and those in the lower back. "People think they know what muscles they use to do certain things," says Huffins. "But almost every athletic movement requires these core muscles, which keep everything working as a cohesive unit." The good news is that, as with climbing, you don't have to worry about pumping iron for your legs beyond what Harvey Newton already has you doing.

In the Gym

You'll be tacking three upper-body drills onto Newton's routine, which brings your maintenance obligations to eight exercises. Of the paddling moves, one is for the deltoids, which help bring the blade forward; another works the forearms, which help pull it through the water; and a third targets the obliques, which provide rotational power.

For the deltoids, do standing dumbbell raises: Holding dumbbells at your sides, palms facing inward, raise the weights straight out like wings until your arms are level with your shoulders, and then lower them. On your next gym visit, hold the dumbbells at your thighs instead and lift them to the front. Alternate methods each workout. Do three sets of 15 repetitions.

You can target the forearms with a nasty little exercise that requires a dowel rod outfitted with a two-foot length of cord that has a weight tied to the end. Gripping the dowel overhanded, twist it like you're rolling up a poster until the weight tops out, and then unroll it. Repeat four times. For the obliques, try the Russian twist (shown below), which'll have you twirling like a rodeo star in no time.

In the Boat

Assuming your upper body is tuned up enough to keep your heart rate properly elevated, you can tick off Dave Scott's cardio workout right on the river. Indeed, the goal of a paddler is the same as that of a distance runner or cyclist: to steadily increase the time you can hover just below your lactate threshold. If you need a break from the river, there are a few machines — such as a rowing ergometer or a hand-crank stationary bicycle — that can provide a comparable upper-body aerobic workout. Cross-country skiing will do the trick too.

T H E   C R U X   M O V E

Russian Twist
Sitting on the floor with your legs forward and knees slightly bent, place a six- to 12-pound medicine ball next to your left hip. Keeping shoulders squared, twist your torso left, grab the ball with both hands and twist to the right, swinging the ball over your thighs and placing it by your right hip. Reverse the motion and repeat 15 times. Do three sets.

Photograph by Doug Merriam

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Got Wanderlust?

Escape your daily grind with Outside’s best getaways.

Thank you!