One of the thrills of kayaking is the ability to go distances on your own power with a unique perspective close to the water. Stepping the experience up a notch to racing can be a logical progression once you’ve been bitten by the kayaking bug. Regardless of your style of paddling — flat water or white water — or the type of kayak you’re in, there are certain approaches to training for a race that will help improve your paddling.
Strength and Plyometric Training
A good paddle stroke finds strength from the legs, core and back. This triumvirate of large muscle groups can give you a strength and speed advantage on the water if trained regularly. Compound movements such as squats and deadlifts focus on the legs and back simultaneously. Seated rows are great for strengthening the back by emulating the motion of rowing with added resistance, and lat pull downs target the muscles used at the end of your forward stroke. But strength training doesn’t have to be limited to weights. Try taking a light weight bar and sitting on a decline bench. With the spine straight, lean back slightly and air-paddle with the weight bar. The challenge to the core in this exercise is great for building strength while imitating the exact motion of the forward stroke. Squat jumps and box jumps help build explosive power in the legs needed for a good push off the foot pegs, and hanging abdominal leg lefts hit the entire core by challenging strength as well as stability all in one motion.
On the Water
One of the best ways to train is in your boat out on the water. If your race is a flat-water race, focus on your forward stroke. As you spend more time out on the water, gradually start to increase the cadence of your forward stroke for set intervals of time. This will start helping you develop cardiovascular conditioning to increase and maintain your forward stroke speed, as well as develop muscular endurance to maintain that speed over the duration of the race distance. White-water racers should study the terrain of the course. Once you have it mapped in your head, focus on running through the maneuvers you know you’ll need to run the course with the most efficiency for the best time.
Know the Racecourse
Ideally, it’s great to go play on the actual racecourse if possible. If a certain stretch of river or body of water is the location for your race and is accessible, start taking your boat out to that location. Run the racecourse ragged. The more you run your boat along the course, the stronger you’ll get. Get used to starting your paddle with an all-out sprint just as you would at the starting line. As you approach the finish line, start to kick up your cadence about a half mile out from the finish, and then paddle like the wind for the last 100 yards to cross the finish line. Remember to paddle through the finish line and not just up to it.
If you’re going out on the water, be sure to take note of your surroundings. Always wear a life jacket and obey any established rules of the waterway you may be on. Check weather conditions and any applicable tide or current information before setting out. Be realistic about your skill level and always err on the side of caution to make sure your kayak outings stay fun.
- Sea Kayaker’s Handbook; Shelley Johnson
- Bodybuilding.com: Hanging Leg Raises: Get a Leg Up on Strength)
- The Kayak Companion; Joe Glickman
- Eric Stiller; Manhattan Kayak Company; New York, NY
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