The Whitewater Workout: How a Kayak Pro Builds Core and Arm Strength

Kayaker Brad Ludden used this strength workout to prepare for the Grand Canyon.

Professional whitewater kayaker Brad Ludden has made over 100 first descents in places like Madagascar and Sumatra. In fact, he's such a pioneer that he even named his nonprofit, which provides free outdoor adventures for young adults with cancer, First Descents. Now as co-founder of Stoke Broker, an elite guiding service, Ludden leads expeditions and outrageous custom adventures in unforgettable places. One of his next is a return to the Grand Canyon. "Any time I'm getting ready to go on an expedition or lead an adventure, I make sure I'm prepared physically," Ludden says. "When you're fit and strong, you're comfortable pushing your limits and enjoying every minute of it."

Ludden's Grand Canyon strength workout won't just help paddlers looking to take on the canyon's nearly 300 miles of rapids. It's perfect for anyone looking to build power and strength for canoe, sea kayak, SUP, and whitewater adventures of any length or difficulty. While most of the workout uses weights, Ludden likes to integrate a rower throughout. "Using a rower strengthens the same muscles you'll use on the river while keeping your heart rate elevated for the workout," he says. After the warm-up, perform all sets of one exercise before moving on the next.

Warm Up: Row 1000m at 60–75 percent effort

Strict Press: Warm up with an empty barbell, then perform five sets with ascending weight and descending reps: 10, 7, 5, 3, 1. Rest up to a minute between sets.

Pull-Ups and Dips: Perform three supersets of 10 pull-ups followed immediately by 10 dips. Rest up to a minute between sets. If 10 reps feels easy, use a dip belt to hang weights from your hips.

Row 1000m: 75–85 percent effort

Arm Raises: Holding a dumbell or kettlebell perform three supersets of following exercises. Perform 10 reps of each and take up to a minute rest after the third exercise.

  • Lift your arms straight out in front to shoulder height with palms facing in. 
  • Lift your arms up to the sides at shoulder height with palms facing forward.
  • Lift your arms straight out in front to shoulder height with palms facing up. 

Bent Over Row With a Barbell: Bend at the waist, legs slightly bent, and lift the bar from the ground to your chest. Perform five sets with ascending weight and descending reps: 10, 7, 5, 3, 1. Rest up to a minute between sets.

Row 1000m: 85-95 percent effort

Medicine Ball Pull Overs: Using at least a six-pound medicine ball, lay on your back about six feet from a wall. Start with the ball on the ground behind your head. As you sit up, simultaneously throw the ball into the wall, timing it so that the ball hits the wall, as you're fully upright. The ball will bounce off the wall. Catch it and lower your self back to the original position. Repeat for three sets of 20 reps. Rest up to a minute between sets.