Core Exercises for Paddlers, Part I

By Kim Russell

The torso is the paddler’s powerhouse. It’s where we get our “oomph” to boof, sweep, and forward paddle our way through the biggest of rapids. It protects our spine and gives us the support to paddle long distances.

If we neglect our torso, what were little aches and pains throughout our body will become more prominent, and eventually they could even keep you off the water and on the couch.

Your “core” encompasses your abdominal and back muscles, specifically the rectus abdominus, obliques and lower back. These muscles provide stability to both the upper and lower body in all activities: walking, sitting, paddling, skipping, etc. Not only is a strong core vital to preventing injury, when it is conditioned and well trained, your performance, strength, coordination and balance will also improve.

Here are some paddling-specific core exercises to keep your powerhouse strong:


1. Swiss Ball Crunches (Straight crunch and oblique crunches):

Sit on a standard exercise ball then roll down so the ball is supporting your hips at your low back/pelvis. With your arms across your chest or behind your head, contract your abdominals and lift your chest upward off the ball. As you lift, keep your chin OFF your chest, coming up as high as you can while maintaining a flat back. Slowly return to the starting position to finish one rep. Repeat to fatigue x 3.

2. Planks: The plank engages the abdominals, as well small shoulder stabilizer muscles.


Lie face down on a mat, resting on your forearms with palms flat on the floor. Push up off the floor and rise onto your hands and toes. Maintain a flat back and hold this position by contracting your glutes and abdominals. Picture yourself pressing upward through your shoulder blades, almost rounding your back. This will engage your serratus anterior and further stabilize your shoulders. Avoid sagging at the abdominals or sticking your bottom up in the air. Hold until you cannot hold any longer or until proper form is lost, and repeat for 3-5 reps. If you feel this exercise in your shoulders, push back into your toes, and it will take some pressure off the shoulders. If you are having lower back pain, you are likely sagging at your torso and need to rest.

Progression: Walking Planks

From the plank, shift your hands “two-steps” to the right, allowing your feet to follow, while maintaining a flat back. Walk your hands back to center, then “two-steps” to the left, allowing your feet to follow. Do not allow your hips to drop. Repeat to fatigue or until you lose form.

Variation: Side Planks


Start by lying on your side, supported by your elbow, with shoulder over elbow. Upon inhaling, lift your hips toward the ceiling. You may rest you upper hand on your hip, or extend your arm toward the ceiling. Hold this position, maintaining a straight line from shoulders to feet. Upon fatigue or loss of proper form, rest. Repeat 2-3 times.

3. Ball Pass:


Lie down on your back with your legs straight. Place a Swiss ball between your feet and extend your arms overhead. Bring your legs upward as you complete a sit-up, and pass the ball from your feet to your hands. Slowly return to a supine position with ball in hand until your feet and arms are just off the ground. Then proceed to sit-up and pass the ball back to your feet for one full rep. Repeat to fatigue x 3.

–Go to Core Exercises for Paddlers, Part II.

**These exercises may not be suitable for some individuals. Consult your physician before trying any of these movements.**

About the Author: Kim Russell has a B.S. in Human Physiology and is both a full-time Exercise Specialist and Professional Whitewater Paddler of over seven years. She has won the Western Whitewater Championship Series from 2010-2013, the Wind River Festival from 2010-2013, and the Northwest Creeking Competition from 2009-2013. She has , participated in various FLUX women’s clinics, and is an active member of the Northwest paddling community. You may also find Kim on the local bike trails racing Enduro Professionally, with a notable win of the 2014 Oregon Enduro Series Women’s Pro Category.

For more information on Russell and for similar articles visit her website:

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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