It’s you or your gear

Paddlers are gearheads. No question about it. We all love adding a new piece of equipment to our arsenal or a new boat to the fleet. Each fancy geegaw brings the promise of new adventures and sometimes new capabilities.

Some things are truly technological advances that will help us get to places we might not otherwise be able to go. Think you’re going to throw that aluminum Grumman on your head and trot on down the trail? Probably not. But that high tech model you’ve had your eye on… the one that could survive a fall off an apartment building without a crack and still be light enough to easily portage? Now that’s what we’re talking about.

The titanium handleless spork that shaved three ounces off your kit while lightening your wallet by $30 might be a different story. I have a friend who constantly picks up the latest whiz bang product to promise him a lighter load.

He’s got great gear. It’s really light. He’s not.

We spend a lot of time making lighter and stronger versions of our kit, but we frequently neglect creating lighter stronger versions of ourselves.  Could your next $300 be better spent on improving you vs. your gear?


Don’t miss Canoecopia March 11-13

Power to the Paddle at CanoecopiaI’ll be speaking at this year’s Canoecopia event.

Join my fun hands-on session where you’ll learn and practice functional exercises to help you paddle longer, faster, and stronger. Learn simple exercises requiring little or no equipment and targeting crucial muscles to be a better paddler, build endurance,and prevent injury. You’ll improve your outdoor experience and become the best paddler you can be!

If you’re planning to come to the show, I’ll be speaking Friday, March 11 at 6:30 pm in the Atrium.

In addition to my presentation, you’ll find more than 175 presentations and pool demos and a show floor packed full of all the boats, boards, and paddling gear you could ever want.  Learn more about the show at

I hope to see you there this weekend.



Balance for paddlers

Paddling is always unstable (some say the same about many paddlers). Just getting in the boat can be a balancing act of it’s own. Once you’re in the boat you’re always mindful of your positioning to keep the hairy side up.

I am not a big proponent of combining a lot of weight with balance exercises. Search the Internet and you’re sure to find someone juggling dumbbells while standing on a stability ball. That’s just an ER visit waiting to happen. Today’s post is about simple ways to train our bodies to adapt to everyday balance challenges.

Our bodies more in three planes of motion:

  • The sagittal plane is characterised by forward and back movement.
  • The frontal plane includes movement to your right and left.
  • The transverse plane involves rotation around the spine.

If we fail to include movement in all three planes in our training program, we leave ourselves open to the possibility of injury and imbalance.

We can quickly and easily progress, or regress, our training to account for balance.

The simplest position requiring the least compensation for balance is seated on a bench or chair. In this position, we can focus solely on the task at hand and not worry about falling.

Next is standing on two feet with the feet approximately hip width apart. This is our most stable standing position.

From here we progress to standing with our feet next to each other, parallel to one another but close to each other, staggered and far apart, and finally to single legged.

Fabio Comana does an excellent job describing these balance positions and showing progression through positions and planes of movement in this video.



What is torso rotation?

Torso rotation is critical to paddling success.  As instructors, we talk about it all the time. But what does it really mean, what causes it to happen, and most importantly how do you train for it?

Let’s start by defining where torso rotation comes from.  When most people hear “the core” in relation to their bodies, they instantly think of the abs.  While your abs are one part of your core, they’re just one part.  The core of your body is composed of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex and all of the muscles that attach to it.  That means you’re dealing with muscles including the abs (rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, and obliques), spinal erectors, chest, latissimus dorsi, hip flexors, glutes, and more.  You’re using all of the muscles of the midsection of your body with exception of the extremities.  These muscles are responsible for support all basic movement of your body.  They keep you sitting upright in your seat. They keep you from collapsing as your walk.  They’re responsible for bending, flexing, extending, and yes, rotating.

Now, let’s talk about what torso rotation looks like in a paddling situation.  Picture yourself in your boat, eyes fixed forward and shoulders solidly positioned remaining perpendicular to your boat.  You’re paddling hard, but all the power is coming from your arms.  Now, picture yourself in the boat and placing the right side blade in the water at the 2 o’clock position.  Rather than leaning forward to dip the blade to the water, you turn your body, from the waist up to increase your range of motion.  The blade sinks into the water, but instead of just pulling with your arms you keep a slight bend at the elbow and rotate your right shoulder toward the stern while the left shoulder moves toward the bow.

That’s torso rotation in action. You’re using the power of the large muscles of your midsection to create your paddle stroke rather than the small muscles of your arms.  Training for more efficient torso rotation involves a combination of activities to improve flexibility and exercises that load the body when performing that type of movement.

Here’s a quick and easy test.  Grab a broomstick for this test.

1. Start by sitting cross legged on the floor inside an open door frame and facing the frame

2. Place the broomstick across your shoulders with your arms draped over the stick

3. Without moving your legs, rotate your shoulders as far as you can with your goal being to get the stick to hit the door frame

If you can get to the door frame, you have pretty decent trunk flexibility and mobility. If not, you’ll want to work on improving your these areas to help you use your core effectively.  A strong core without good flexibility and mobility will always limit your movement.


Resistance Band Exercises for Paddlers

Resistance bands are a great tool.  They’re portable, they don’t limit you to the indoor world, and they’re progressive, meaning the more load you place on the band the more resistance it provides to you.

Today’s post will introduce you to a few of the ways you can use a resistance band to develop better stability and strength through the core, shoulders, back, and chest.


Energy Balance

Without balance, it all falls apart

The advice I’m going to give you today doesn’t involve diet pills or potions or any other crazy things you’ll find in your local drug store.  It’s not even directly related to exercise, but it is important to help you be a better paddler.

It’s rare that I meet someone who isn’t interested in shedding a few pounds from their frame and canoe and kayak paddlers are no exception.  As a paddler, losing a few pounds will help you move more efficiently, improve your endurance, and help you be more comfortable in your boat.

The secret to successful weight loss is energy balance.  Weight loss is based on a very simple equation.

Calories in – calories out = excess or deficit

It sounds simple, and in reality, it is.  If you eat more calories than your body uses, you gain weight.  If you eat fewer calories than your body needs, you lose weight.  Just like paddling, weight loss is a balancing act too.

There are factors that complicate this and can affect your results, but ultimately that equation is the most important part.  We tend to want to complicate this too much by talking about which specific foods to eat and when, glycemic indexes, supplements, and other stuff. Do a quick Google search and you’ll come across endless arguments on why this approach won’t work and this diet or that diet is the solution.

Ultimately though, mess up that equation and it’s guaranteed that you’ll fail.

The question that’s probably on your mind is “how do I determine the amount of calories I need to eat and what I need to burn to lose weight”.

There are many wearable trackers on the market today.  One tool I have used is the BodyMedia FIT.  The Body Media FIT gives you a body monitoring device that will track your activity minute by minute to tell you how many calories you’re using.  You’ll have access to a website to log your food intake and match that to your calorie expenditure as measured by the monitoring device.  I’ve been wearing one for awhile and find the data and results to be very accurate.

An alternative is to use a web-based calculator to determine how many calories you need to eat and then use a web-based service like or measure and track your intake and expenditure manually. While not nearly as accurate as tracking with something like the Body Media FIT, you’ll have much better information than nothing at all.

Finally, keep a record of what’s going in and what you’re expending.  When logging your food, keep in mind that on average we underestimate the amount of calories we eat by 30-50% and overestimate the amount of activity we perform by 20-30%.  The more truthful you are with yourself and your logging, the better your results.

Here’s a great infographic that describes the process very well.

Whichever method you use, the key is to make sure you track what’s going in and the energy that’s going out.  Yes, it takes time and effort. But anything worth doing is worth doing right, correct?


Power to the Paddle is now in print

The long-awaited print version of Power to the Paddle: Exercises to Improve your Canoe and Kayak Paddling is now available.

Power to the Paddle Book Cover

This comprehensive manual will show you more than 50 exercises to help you be a stronger, lighter, and more confident paddler. Whether you are new to the sport or a seasoned veteran, Power to the Paddle will take you to the next level.

* Learn exercises to develop core stability and strength
* Develop a personal fitness program
* Maintain better posture in your boat
* Gain endurance to handle long days in the boat
* Reduce tension in your shoulders and low back
* Protect your body against common paddling injuries
* Improve your balance and agility

Praise for Power to the Paddle:

With a minimum of equipment, Power to the Paddle provides a total body workout with clear and concise instructions on how to develop the flexibility, strength and endurance for paddlers. – John Browning-ACA Level 4 Open Water Coastal Kayak Instructor Trainer

As a popular speaker at Canoecopia, John always packs the room with folks wanting to learn more about how to get and stay fit for their next on-water adventure. This book is sure to be a great help to paddlers of any experience level. – Nancy Saulsbury, Rutabaga Paddlesports

The best way to get in shape for paddling is to paddle”. Reality, or an excuse to neglect off-water training?  In “Power to Paddle: Exercises to Improve your Canoe and Kayak Paddling” John presents a solid case for off-water training for everyone from the casual paddler to professionals. Not only is the case convincing, but John gives you the tools to improve your fitness for paddling and overall fitness. Solid step-by-step exercises will help develop flexibility, endurance and strength. I will be taking this book with me to the gym and in my kayak on expeditions. – Ryan Rushton, Owner, Geneva Kayak Center and ACA Level 5 Advanced Open Water Instructor Trainer

Get it here! Tell your friends too!


Do your feet fall asleep in your kayak?

Man, my feet are tired!

I’ve had many people tell me that their feet fall asleep when they’re kayaking.  For many people, the cause of this isn’t actually at the feet, but it’s a result of tight hamstrings and glutes.

If the hamstrings and glutes are overly stressed or inflamed, additional pressure is placed on the nerves causing pins and needles in your feet.   One of the most effective ways to release tension on the glutes and hamstrings is through use of a foam roller.

Watch the view below where I show you how a few ways to use the foam roller to help restore your body to it’s optimal level of function.


Power to the Paddle is now available on

Power to The PaddleI am excited to announce that my new book, “Power to the Paddle: Exercises to Improve your Canoe and Kayak Paddling“, is now available in print and digital format.

Power to the Paddle is packed with fitness guidance and complete descriptions and photos of more than 50 exercises to improve your abilities and help you enjoy your time on the water.

Click here to order the print version

Click here to download the Kindle eBook version

The concepts and exercises in this book have helped me be a better paddler and they can make a difference for you too.  The exercises in this book with help you:

  • Sit more upright in your seat
  • Reduce tension in your shoulders and low back
  • Use the power of your torso to create leverage to use less energy with each stroke
  • Have the endurance to handle long days in the boat
  • Drive through the toughest waves or whitewater
  • Protect your body against common paddling injuries
  • Improve your balance and agility (so you’ll capsize less)
  • Use force generated from your lower body to make your paddling stroke more efficient
  • Carry your boat more comfortably when portaging
  • While you’re at it, you might even lose a few pounds. And who wouldn’t mind that?

If you have a Kindle reader, iPad, iPhone, Android tablet, or any other device that can accept Kindle format books, you can get your copy today on the Kindle Store for only $9.99.

The print version of Power to the Paddle is available for only $14.95.

After you purchase your copy and begin to use the exercises in the book, please do me a favor and leave a review on to help my book climb the charts!

Happy paddling!


Resistance Band Exercise: Row, row, row your boat

I’ve had a few requests recently to show exercises that can be done using a resistance band. 

For those who aren’t familiar with resistance bands, they’re pieces of rubber tubing with handles on each end.  You can find them in different thicknesses which will create diffrent levels of tension.  Resistance bands are an excellent tool because they provide progressive resistance.  The more you stretch them, the greater the tension placed on your body.  Combine that with their portability and you’e got one of the best pieces of exercise equipment available.

This is the first in a series of videos using resistance bands.  Today’s exercise is a band resisted row sequence where you’ll be working on the muscles of the back that are responsible for pulling something closer to your body, like a paddle.  In this video, I show you three different variations: standard row, high row, and low row.  Each row emphasizes different muscles, but don’t worry too much about which muscles are beng targeted.    As a paddler, you need muscles to work together as a team rather than focusing on isolating the function of specific muscles.  Perform each type of row individually or combine them together (one high row, one standard row, one low row, repeat).