Pro kayaker and personal trainer Heather Herbeck is here to help you improve your fitness and get the most out of the upcoming paddling season. Jumpstart your off-season kayak training with this exercise plan designed to improve your paddling strength and endurance.

[This article is part of The Ultimate Fitness Guide For Paddlers. Find all the resources you need to stay healthy and fit for paddling.] 

First, some definitions

Muscular Strength is the amount of resistance your muscle can take in a single contraction. Muscular strength is important for taking on sudden, external forces while kayaking and maintaining proper and safe body mechanics. It helps you go where you want to go when paddling challenging lines through rapids and it’s needed for carrying your kayak, putting your kayak on top of a vehicle and putting on your sprayskirt.

Muscular Endurance is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles, to work continuously for a long time without tiring. This is important for improving posture and alignment, thus decreasing the likelihood of acute or chronic injury.

Kayak training program outline

Goal: Build muscular strength and endurance with exercises specific to paddling.

Time: January and February (8 weeks)

Frequency: Three times a week on land and 1-2 times a week on water

Duration: 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps for strength; 3-5 sets of 12-15 reps for endurance.

Training exercises for kayaking strength

Start your full year of kayak fitness training by focusing on these basic exercises. These exercises for kayaking strength are demonstrated in the video below:

  1. Kettlebell swings, swinging kettlebell high and also keeping it low with more weight
  2. Overhead press
  3. Cleans
  4. Goblet squats
  5. Pull-ups
  6. Cable rows
  7. Push-ups

Remember to focus on technique. With strength training, you need to move with purpose—execute slow and controlled movements and work each exercise at a weight that causes fatigue at the end of the set.

Training exercises for kayaking endurance

Flatwater sessions in your boat:

  1. Weeks 1-4: Paddle at a moderate pace for 20 minutes or two 10-minute intervals. You should be able to hold a conversation with a paddling partner.
  2. Weeks 5-8: Do five 3-minute bursts of hard paddling with a 1.5-minute recovery in between.

These core training exercises for protection, power and mobility are demonstrated in the video below:

  1. Oblique twists with a medicine ball
  2. Leg extensions
  3. 4-square crunches
  4. Back extensions

Year-long kayak training program

January – February

Emphasize paddling-specific muscle strength and endurance

March – April

Paddling-specific endurance, while maintaining your strength and power, is highlighted. Spend lots of time on the water improving your technique.

May – August

Competition season and warm weather boating begin.

September – October

When the main paddling season wraps up, go back to the basics: general endurance and strength training. Cross-training with other activities will work on stability, mobility and flexibility. This time should also be used to rest overused areas of the body and work on healing any injuries.

November – December

Continue cross-training for overall fitness. Emphasize strength-building activities.

Note: Use caution with these exercises

A good base of muscular strength and endurance is encouraged before jumping right into these exercises. If you don’t have that base yet, start these exercises very slowly and spend some time working to perfect form. This type of training is not for everyone—we are all unique. This is just a general program.

Heather Herbeck has a B.Sc. in Exercise Science and is a pro kayaker, Certified Personal Trainer and Level 1 Crossfit Trainer with over 15 years experience. Check out her website at Fitness and Sport Evolution for more.


  1. For some of the kettle bell and squat exercises, I do them on an inverted bosu ball to add in balance practice. Do you have a resource for developing a training program for kayak endurance racing? Paddle Monster looks like it’s more SUP and sprint oriented.


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