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.


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).



Mobility Drills for Paddlers

While the old school static stretching you did in 7th grade gym class still has it’s place, there’s a better way to warm up prior to paddling.

Today we’re going to focus on a series of mobility drills that will warm up and loosen the muscles you use when paddling.


Core Stability Exercises for Paddlers

Learn these 5 core stability exercises to make your workout more effective
Learn these 5 core stability exercises to make your workout more effective

Strengthen your core and you’ll strengthen your paddling abilities.  Many people, when thinking of how they can improve their ability as a paddler through exercise automatically turn to the arms and shoulders.  While yes, strong and stable arms and shoulders are critical, the real work should come from your core. 

Most people narrowly define the core to mean the abdominals.  The core is actually comprised of the entire midsection of your body excluding the extremities.  It’s the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex and all the muscles that attach to it.  The chest, upper back, middle and low back, glutes, hamstrings, and yes, the abs too.

Develop good core stability followed by core strength and you’ll be a much better paddler.

I posted this video to You Tube a couple of years ago and it has since received well over 100,000 views. 

In this video, I show you five great core stabilization exercises to use the core muscles and get you on the way to developing a more functional core to help you become a better, more efficient paddler.


How to begin an exercise program

Getting started with an exercise program can be difficult and confusing.

Where do I start? What should I do? Will I make a fool of myself? Where do I begin?

Which way?
Which way?

Believe me, these are all questions that have run through the head of nearly every person who starts an exercise program. You’re not alone.

When first starting an exercise program, make sure you’re cleared to exercise. Check with your doctor, make sure there’s nothing brewing under the surface.

Once you’re cleared and assuming no restrictions, I recommend incorporating both resistance and cardiovascular exercise, especially if weight loss and/or improving daily function are part of your goals. Don’t just go to the gym and start lifting heavy stuff though.

With the resistance exercise, it’s very important to make sure your body can support and manage it’s own weight before adding more weight to it. For most, that means beginning with the core. Let’s start by defining the core. Your core is more than your abs. It’s the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex and all the muscles that attach to it. It’s the muscles of the chest, upper, middle, and lower back, the spinal extensors, the hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, and yes, your abs.

All movement begins in the core. The job of the core is to support your body when walking, sitting, or performing any type of movement. Since it’s job is to support the body, it only makes sense that we stabilize and strengthen the core and allow it to manage your own body weight first.

Only then should you start adding external weights. Below you’ll find several sample videos of exercises designed to activate the core.

As for your cardio exercise, pick something you enjoy. My first choice for cardio exercise: Go outside! Take a brisk walk. Ride a bike.

I’d love to tell you to paddle for your cardio exercise, but unless you’re continuously cranking along and a high pace, the intensity isn’t usually there.

If you’re looking for indoor options, how about the rowing machine, Stairmaster, Stepmill, Versa Climber, treadmill, or elliptical machine?

Whatever you choose, get your heart rate up and keep it up for the duration of your exercise. There are lots of formulas out there to tell you where your heart rate should be. Frankly, most are fiction, based on little science. A good rule of thumb to use is the Talk Test. Imagine yourself doing your preferred exercise. Can you still hold a conversation with someone or are you huffing and puffing too hard. Bring yourself to just below that point where it starts to get difficult to hold a conversation and stay there for the duration of the exercise. As your fitness develops, you can experiment with other more intense cardio options.

The important thing here is to take it slow to start and make sure you’re within your limits. Your cardiovascular system will develop faster than your muscular system, so don’t get ahead of yourself and ramp your exercise up too quickly. I see a lot of people who start an exercise program and they jump in with both feet. While enthusiasm is great, they hop off the couch and immediately start with a 3 mile run or an hour on the treadmill. They do this for a couple of days, they’re still feeling fine, so they double their efforts thinking they’ll get results faster. Instead, stuff starts to hurt and they end up quitting.

If you’re just off the couch and just starting your cardio exercise program, start with 20-30 minutes at a reasonable pace. Do this for a couple weeks and begin to increase gradually. You’ll be less likely to get injured and more likely to see better long-term results. Long term results is what you’re after, right!

Remember, you didn’t get to where you are in a week and you’re not going to get to your goals in a week either. Make smart choices and give it the right time and you’ll see success.

With that in mind, here are a few great exercises that can get you started and help activate the core. Don’t forget to leave a comment below!

Functional warm-up sequence

Rowing crunches

Bird dog

Stability ball rollout

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