Exercises to Prepare Yourself for Whitewater Rafting & Other Paddling Sports
“The mark of a successful man is one that has spent an entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it.” – Chinese Philosopher
If it’s your first time or your 500th time whitewater rafting, canoeing, kayaking or rowing, preparing your body for the physical stamina and strength required will make your experience more enjoyable and your physique admirable. Similar to any other sport, working out and stretching specific core muscles makes paddling much easier and you’ll be less likely to injure yourself.
Although these activities seem to only require your arms and upper body, you’ll actually be using your core a lot if you are paddling efficiently and to maintain your balance. Some people mistakenly focus only on their upper body and forget about their bottom half—Pro Tip: don’t forget to work out your legs since you only need them to hold up your upper half.
Since watersports like whitewater rafting require you to paddle for long periods of time, building up your endurance means you won’t be huffing and puffing into the person next to you. When you’re out of the water, work on biking, running, and swimming to build up your cardiovascular health. While you’re at it, add in some challenges like 30 second sprints, hills, and obstacles. Start with five minutes as a base to see how you feel, then gradually build up time.
Before your cardiovascular workout, pre-hydrate and eat some healthy carbs such as whole grain cereal, or Greek yogurt with granola and fruit. Wrap up your workout with hydration and have some protein like peanut butter and banana, a smoothie, or a protein shake.
Being strong is crucial for how much water you’ll be pulling with each row and your group will be counting on you to pull your own weight too. Beware of shoulder injuries as this is common with kayakers and rafters if you overexert and strain your muscles. It is good to get your shoulders, arms, wrists, and core used to repetitive motions.
Build strength and power with row machines, chest presses, pull-ups, and push-ups. Use a couple of light free weights to strengthen up the biceps and triceps. Some great ones to do are straight arm lifts to the side and front. Iron aside, do a few sets of tricep dips.
Since paddling requires a lot of core muscles, throw in a few 1-minute planks and squats to your work out as well. Bonus points for doing front planks and side planks. Round out with bicycle pumps laying on your back and touching each elbow with the opposite knee and straightening out each leg.
Prior to strength building, consume some low GI carbs and protein like a spinach and egg omelet or a smoothie with protein powder. Always pre-hydrate. Follow up your exercises with a chocolate protein shake or half of an avocado with cheese and tomato and a healthy serving of water.
All of your hard work building up your endurance and strength will be futile if you pull a muscle every time or sustain an injury. Avoid any let downs by improving your flexibility through stretching after warming up for five minutes and during your cool down. Not drinking enough water can also lead to muscle cramps.
Focus on shoulder areas and reach up with one arm and then the other. Cross-body should stretches and arm rotations do wonders for those joints. Pay attention to your posture as well—standing and sitting up straight engages the core muscles and also prevents you from lower-back pain when you’re sitting in the boat.
Heading to the Water
Before you jump right into the water, take a moment to warm up your muscles whether it’s jogging, sprints, or lunges. Then stretch your shoulders, arms, wrists, legs, and back. This way, your muscles are loose and ready to rock and roll. Make sure your reusable water bottle is filled, you’ve had a few swigs of that, and your snack is safe in your belly.
Protect your skin by applying a water-resistant sunscreen to prevent painful burns from the sun reflecting off the water. If you’re wearing sunglasses (recommended), use a strap on the arms so you don’t risk losing them if they fall off. Lastly, get your helmet and life jacket on, have fun and enjoy whitewater rafting, kayaking, canoeing or rowing as you’re feeling stronger and more flexible.