Canoe and Kayak Training on the Total Gym


here’s nothing better than going outside on a nice warm day, paddling peacefully on a beautiful body of water. The air is fresh, the water is inviting, and your mind can wander as you paddle upstream on a canoe or a kayak!

Canoeing, amongst other water activities, is not only a great way to not only enjoy being outside, but is also a creative form of exercise. Paddling engages most major muscle groups by acting against the water’s resistance. It also incorporates cardiovascular training by increasing your paddling intensity or speed, and it’s a lot of fun!



Some people paddle purely for the love of the activity, and others for the exercise. Regardless of the purpose, there are many positive health and fitness benefits that result from paddling. Here are just a few to mention:

  1. Builds core & upper body strength
  2. Conditions cardiovascular system
  3. Builds endurance and stamina
  4. Burns calories
  5. Triggers the mind-body connection
  6. Engages & relaxes you with the natural surroundings
  7. Great way to enjoy the great outdoors


There are so many ways to get involved with a water sport. Perhaps you live in an area that has daily classes, or available rentals for the day. This is a great way to ‘get your feet wet’ and try it out! If you’ve already fallen in love with the sport and love the feeling you get from being outside on the water, you might want to invest in your own canoe or kayak to launch whenever and wherever you please!

The beauty of this activity is that you can choose your own adventure and goals to achieve. I think of paddling as the ‘golden goal’, because with a small bit of motivation to commit to getting on the water, you receive many benefits that improve your overall well-being. Therefore, you can achieve many goals.



Plan a paddling excursion anywhere from a short 30-60 minutes, to a whole day, or even a few days! Let me tell you, any amount of time spent floating on the water is amazing fun and beneficial, and there’s always a new adventure to experience. A short paddle ride will get you outside in the sun and is still a great form of exercise. On the other hand, you could turn your paddle workout into a full adventure for an entire day or more by planning a canoeing or kayaking camping trip. This takes a bit more planning, but it’s also an excellent way to be one with nature and your paddle!

Personally, I’ve experienced both of these types of adventures. I’ve paddled on open pristine waters, through rough rapids, in remote locations, through swamps, caves, and hidden water forests. There’s so much to see across different types of waters and sometimes you can only experience these things by paddling through it!

I have also paddled 60 miles through northern Maine with an adventure group.  This was an amazing experience, but it was a lot of work! The course we paddled was mostly in large streams, but those streams narrowed into shallow water, and we had to carry the canoe through rugged terrain to get to deeper waters. This was super challenging! Our camping gear and essentials were also lugged along, which was extra weight. This required more effort to power through the currents.  This is something I highly recommend the adventure seekers out there to try (P.S. remember to bring your bug spray… you’ll be grateful you did!)

And it’s not just for the ultra-adventure seekers, canoeing or kayaking can be for everyone and on all different levels. Experiencing this activity can enlighten and inspire you to get over some preconceived fears and take on a new challenge, and enjoy your time while doing it!



The core encompasses the muscles of your torso from your shoulders to your hips, especially the abdominals (rectus, transverse, & obliques), upper, middle, and lower back muscles.  These muscles work together to protect your organs, provide stability in all activities, and allow you to functionally move in all planes of motion with control and strength.

The torso acts as the powerhouse to exert the effort needed to paddle through the smallest or biggest of rapids. It also protects and supports the spine to paddle long distances. Therefore, it is very important to develop functional core strength that will assist the extremities to paddle with power. A strong core is also vital to preventing injury.

A well-conditioned and trained core will improve: 

  1. Performance
  2. Strength
  3. Coordination
  4. Balance


Canoeing, kayaking, and rafting rely heavily on the strength endurance and integrity of the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint, as well as the ‘pulling muscles’ of the lats, rhomboids, rear belts, and biceps. The strength to paddle is derived from the core muscles for power production and stabilization. Therefore, the core and upper body work in coordinated movements to provide fine motor control to maneuver the boat.

A well rounded strength training program should incorporate the chest, shoulders, back, forearms (for gripping), obliques, and abdominals rather than on just the biceps and triceps. The lower body provides a balanced and stable base to paddle from, and incorporating lower body strength is important to be able to transport your gear to, from, and between waterways. (I’d suggest having a strap-system or using a small cart with wheels for assistance if needed!)



Paddling a canoe or kayak requires a lot of energy expended even before you get into the water! If you have paddled once or twice before, you already know what’s involved. If you are a newbie, you need your strength for the little extras before you get on the boat! For example, there’s a lot of lifting the boats on or off of the car roof, carrying the boats from A to B to place them into the water (unless they’re already in the water, waiting for you), and then dealing with the gear simultaneously.

“Ugh! What a hassle!” Is what you’re probably thinking, but there can be a smooth plan of action to make it all worthwhile. Plus, what activity exists that doesn’t require preparation and clean up? The efforts are well worth it all once you’re in the water and ready to go.



I’ve developed an excellent circuit workout for paddle-specific movements that will develop the strength needed to make you a powerhouse for your next water adventure.


Workout Information

  • – Perform the exercises in circuit format (one exercise after the other with little to no rest until all the exercises have been completed.)
  • – Perform 10 reps each
  • – Perform 2-3 sets


  1. Seated static chest press
  2. Seated static rows
  3. Arm circles (facing tower & away)
  4. Ab crunch (front & obliques)
  5. Ab crunch plank shifts

Cardio: CycloTrainer sprints

  • Perform speed burst intervals for a specific amount of time. 
  • Recover 30 seconds in between intervals by slowing the pace.
  • Repeat for at least 2 or more cycles. The sprint circuit can also be done in between the strength circuit.
  • 1 minute, rest and recover for 30 sec
  • 45 sec, rest and recover for 30 sec
  • 30 sec, rest and recover for 30 sec

Be sure to check out the video to see how this workout is performed.  Please “Share” & “Like” with others to enjoy too!

Paddling a canoe or a kayak provides a great form of exercise in a beautiful setting. It provides a balanced approach for training your entire body while creating a memorable experience or adventure every time. So get out on the water, sweat a bit, and enjoy the moment.

Best of luck on your next water adventure!


Maria Sollon

Maria Sollon Scally MS, CSCS holds a Master’s Degree in Performance Enhancement/Injury Prevention and Kinesiology. She has obtained numerous certifications in various areas of fitness and is a national conference presenter. Maria specializes in Pilates, Performance Coaching, and Corrective Exercise Techniques and Kettlebells. She is the creator of the Plyo Pilates Method and has developed a series of amazing workout DVDs. She is a Master Trainer for Total Gym, Resist-a-Ball, Body Blade, Peak Pilates, Kettle Bell Concepts and is a freelance writer for Fitness accredited magazines, newsletters, and fitness blog sites. Maria demonstrates her knowledge each day and uses her dynamic creativity throughout her specialized line of work. (purchasable workout videos) (workout clips)

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