(Rob Howard)

Power Stroke

Get fit for summer's hottest sport—in less time than you'd think

Rob Howard
Lindsay Yaw

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YOU’VE GOT THE THREE P‘s: playboat, PFD, and paddle. But what about arms that can muscle you out of a Class IV hydraulic? Hmmm. Outfitting yourself is easy, but don’t forget the engine that drives the whole shebang: you. We can whip you into the kind of shape needed for paddling (or climbing or surfing or, heck, softball) in three weeks—and do it over your lunch hour.

Leading our crash course is Greg Glassman, the Santa Cruz, California–based creator of CrossFit, an intense but mercifully brief regimen that uses circuit training to build muscular endurance. For more than a decade, his program of combining power lifts (such as cleans) and bursts of high-intensity cardio drills (like sprints) has been making already fit Los Angeles Police Department officers and Secret Service agents even fitter, and improving the preseason conditioning of athletes like two-time Olympic skier Eva Twardokens and alpinist Mark Twight.

CrossFit works by developing stamina. “This is your body’s ability to use energy at a local level for extended periods,” says Glassman. That makes it perfect for navigating whitewater, where quick, powerful reactions will help you handle funky waves and unexpected rocks. You’ll build stamina by teaching your body to cope with non-oxygen-burning exercise, while simultaneously taxing the cardiovascular system via endurance drills. Variety is also crucial. “Regimens of constant variation executed at nonstop high intensity develop superior fitness,” says Glassman. “That’s the basic truth.”

Flawless paddling technique takes time. But strength and endurance gains can happen in just three weeks with daily training, Monday through Friday. Each session starts with a five-minute warm-up on a treadmill, bike, or rowing machine, followed by a no-weights, low-intensity round of that day’s exercises (opposite). Start the regimen with light weights and break up the reps, doing multiple sets to reach the given number (e.g., complete 20 pull-ups in sets of 5-4-4-3-2-2). For the run portion, if you can’t get outside, hop on a treadmill, stair climber, or elliptical trainer. Do your circuits “for time,” with no rest between exercises. Finish with five minutes of full-body stretching. Each week, strive to beat last week’s time, not lift more weight.



20 front squats/push presses, 20 pull-ups, 15 front squats/push presses, 15 pull-ups, 8 front squats/push presses, 8 pull-ups


Run hard for 3/4 mile, 20 stiff-legged dead lifts, 20 sit-ups, run hard for 1/2 mile, 15 stiff-legged dead lifts, 15 sit-ups, run hard for 1/4 mile, 8 stiff-legged dead lifts, 8 sit-ups


30 power cleans/push presses


Complete five circuits of the following workout, resting two minutes between each circuit: 10 pull-ups, 20 push-ups, 30 sit-ups, 40 body-weight squats


20 dead lifts, 1/4-mile hard run, 15 dead lifts, 1/4-mile hard run, 8 dead lifts, 1/4-mile hard run

Body-Weight Squat, Dead Lift, and Push Press

Illustration by Tomer Hanuka Illustration by Tomer Hanuka
Illustration by Tomer Hanuka Illustration by Tomer Hanuka


Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and hold your arms out in front of your body. Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Spring back to standing.


Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, bend your knees and hips, squat, and grab a light barbell. While keeping your back straight, drive yourself back upright.


With your feet shoulder width apart, lift a lightweight bar to your upper chest with your hands outside your shoulders. In one motion, dip your hips down into a quarter squat, then spring back to standing and lift the bar overhead. Lower bar and repeat.

Power Clean, Pull-Up, and Front Squat

Illustration by Tomer Hanuka
Illustration by Tomer Hanuka

Illustration by Tomer Hanuka Illustration by Tomer Hanuka
Illustration by Tomer Hanuka Illustration by Tomer Hanuka


With your feet shoulder width apart, squat and grab a light barbell with your hands just slightly outside your shoulders (a). Keeping your lower back straight, spring upright while shrugging the bar upward. Carry the momentum up onto the balls of your feet, hoisting the bar past your waist (b). Squat under the bar, flipping your elbows outward to catch the weight high on your chest, then stand (c). Lower the weight back down, then squat until the bar touches the ground.


With your palms facing out, place your hands on a bar, arms hanging straight down. Pull yourself up. If regular pull-ups are too hard, use a box to jump up to a pull-up and slowly lower yourself down. Repeat.


Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and lift a light barbell up to your upper chest, hands just slightly more than shoulder width apart. With your back straight, squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor, then spring back up.

Sit-Up, Push-Up, and Stiff-Legged Dead Lift

Illustration by Tomer Hanuka Illustration by Tomer Hanuka
Illustration by Tomer Hanuka Illustration by Tomer Hanuka


Lie on your back, arms crossed at your chest, legs bent, and feet flat on the floor. Curl your torso up toward your knees until it’s perpendicular to the floor. Slowly lower yourself back down.


Lie facedown, with your hands, palms down, at the sides of your chest. Keeping your legs, hips, torso, and head in a straight plane, push your body off the floor. Lower yourself back down until your chest barely touches the floor. Repeat.


Bend over with your back slightly arched and your knees straight until your back is parallel to the floor. Grab a light barbell. Slowly lift yourself back up, then lower the weight to the ground. Repeat.

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