How To Train Your Arms for Paddling

Photo: mavoimages

If you want to get better at kayaking, it’s time to start moving.

While time and distance on the water is the most fun way to improve, arm strength and conditioning exercises on land will help increase paddling efficiency and endurance during the off-season or when you can’t get to the water. In this guide, you’ll learn how to train your arms for paddling with a few simple exercises. 

Each workout should include a push and a pull for targeting different muscle groups in the arm, and a core strengthening exercise for a full-body conditioning workout. With each exercise, focus on learning the technique before increasing weight and volume. Alternate between Workout 1 and 2, and take 24 to 48 hours of rest in between each session for a total of two to three days per week. 


Before you do any training exercises, get your blood flowing. First, do 10 to 20 minutes of easy aerobic exercise like walking, running, or gentle rowing if you have a machine. Then, once your body is warm, target the arms and shoulders with range-of-motion exercises, rolling and circling arms for 5 to 10 minutes. 

Workout 1

Complete a circuit of each of these three exercises with 2 minutes of rest between each circuit. Start with two to three circuits and gradually increase the volume to five as your strength and endurance improve. 

Push-ups: Start with box push-ups at an angle. Place your arms and feet at shoulder-width, then lower your body until the chest touches the box or floor, pause, and push yourself back up. As you progress, decrease the angle and height of the box until you can complete full push-ups on the floor. Volume: 10 reps per set.

Pull-ups: Set up the bar with a resistance band. Using a box or step, grab the bar with both hands shoulder-width apart with palms facing away from you. Step one foot into the resistance band for assistance, then hang with your legs crossed. Pull your body up until your chin is above the bar, pause and slowly lower, and then repeat. As strength improves, decrease the amount of support from the resistance band until you can complete a full-body pull-up. Volume: 3-5 reps per set.

Kettlebell swings: The kettlebell swing is a full-body strength move that targets the core. Start with a lightweight kettlebell until you master the exercise. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart with the kettlebell on the floor in front of the feet. Bend slightly at the hips keeping the back flat and core engaged. Swing the kettlebell to eye level and back through the legs keeping the hips and core engaged. Volume: 10 reps per set, start with a lighter weight to learn the movement, then slowly increase the weight. 

Workout 2

Complete a circuit of each of these three exercises with 2 minutes of rest between each circuit. Start with two to three circuits and gradually increase the weight in each set and the volume to five circuits as your strength and endurance improve. 

Single-Arm Overhead Press: Select a lightweight dumbbell to start. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Tighten the muscles in your legs and core for support. Hold the dumbbell in one hand at your side, then lift the dumbbell to your chest with the palm facing inward. Press the dumbbell straight up overhead, pause, and slowly return to the starting position. Volume: 10 reps on each side.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row: Holding the dumbbell in your right arm, rest your left knee and hand on a bench keeping your back flat. Allow the dumbbell to hang directly below the shoulder. Pull the dumbbell up and back toward the hip slowly, pausing and then slowly returning to the starting position. Volume: 10 reps on each side.

Turkish Get-up: Performed with a dumbbell or kettlebell, the Turkish Get-up, or TGU, is a full-body conditioning exercise that is effective at building core strength and balance. It tests the body’s ability to coordinate movements, going from laying down on your back, to a seated position, to a lunge, to standing (and back through the sequence to the starting position) all while having one arm extended up with a weighted load. Volume: 5 reps on each side, alternating for a total of 10 in a set. Start with bodyweight TGU to learn the movement, then slowly add weight. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.