WWR manual chapter 9

9.4 Weight Training


9.4.1        General principles

Weight training is a useful addition for athletes that have plenty of canoeing mileage ‘in the bank'. If you are still developing your canoeing physiology, it is better to go canoeing more often rather than embark upon weight training.

A weight training program should be to develop strength and power. There is little point in doing endurance training in the gym. It is better doing it in the boat. Therefore repetitions of 4RM to 15RM are best.

Starting off you should do 1 or 2 sets building up to 2 to 3 sets.

Consistency is the key. You should be doing at least an average of 2 sessions per week. If your average is less than 2 sessions per week, you are probably better doing other forms of training such as more paddling or resistance training in the boat. You will all be familiar with the stiffness in the days that follow weight lifting. Only if you are consistent will that stiffness feeling reduce. You should note that you will always carry some fatigue into your next paddling session but again by doing consistent training fatigue can be reduced.

The best exercises are multiple joint - compound exercises (because paddling is a compound exercise). These have the added benefit of developing co-ordination. It is better that these sorts of exercises feature at start of a session. For instance you don't want to start off with an isolated bicep curl which will then fatigue a small muscle that you need for a compound exercise.

The most important exercises are ones that increase the power of the pull phase. However it is also important to develop balanced musculature and physique so pushing is useful as well.

Adding ‘core-stability' exercises, for instance using swiss ball type exercises, is very useful.

Be pragmatic. If you don't have a gym with equipment to do all the exercises, develop alternatives with the equipment you do have. If you don't have a spotter, don't lift very heavy weights. Develop sessions that fit into the time you have available.

Be very careful! A lot of canoeist's injuries come from the gym rather than paddling. Make sure you warm up properly (get your heart rate and body heat raised). Make sure you use good technique. Progress to larger weights conservatively to avoid injury.

9.4.2        Program Advice

RM - Repetition Maximum is the maximum you can manage to lift for the no. of repetitions e.g. 4RM is the weight you can just manage to lift on the 4th lift.

At the beginning of a program, move in a controlled manner and concentrate on technique.

Recommended to lift 10-12 RM, start off with 2 sets building up to 3 for 10-12 workouts.

Later (minimum 10 sessions):

- Move as quickly as possible whilst maintaining good technique.

- Rotate the load i.e. mix -up sessions of 4 -RM,  8-RM, & 12-RM.

Shift the emphasis from strength (4-RM) to power (12 RM) where the lighter weight can be moved move quickly) in cycles of 2 to 3 weeks.

- Some overloaded eccentric work is also useful, but requires care as the loads tend to be very heavy.

Recommended standard programme: exercises A to L (12 exercises),

To make the session quicker, do the exercises alternating in pairs i.e. for 2 sets: A, B, A, B, C, D, C, D, E etc. where the pairs are using different muscle groups.

This session can take a while especially if 3 sets are done, but there doesn't need to be much rest at all between exercises.

The most important exercises for paddling are A and E.

R can be interchanged with C, and M or N for B. If doing more than 2 sessions per week best to include a greater range of exercises in the programme as a whole i.e. not all the same exercises every session.

9.4.3        Exercises

A. Seated 1 arm pulls (on cable row)

            Sit up straight (chest out), legs bent, keep head still throughout.

Start from rotated position with arm straight.

Pull back with lots of twist in the first part of the pull, until hand level with hip

B. Bench Press

Barbell should touch chest

C. Pull-Ups (neutral or overhand wide arm grip)

Work through full range i.e. go down to maximum reach.

Keep lower body static (cross ankles).

D. Dumbbell flies

One dumbbell in each hand, with arms by the sides and elbows very slightly bent.

Keep the elbow fixed (i.e. arms almost straight throughout) lift both hands up in a wide arc until dumbbells touch above the head.

To make it harder - in the downphase pause with arms horizontal and then lift back up above the head in an arc. This can also be done seated on a Swiss Ball, which requires some core stability.

E. Bent-over 1 arm pulls

Place one knee and hand on a bench of about knee height.

Hold dumbbell in other hand and start with the arm straight, fully extended forward, and the trunk rotated.

Keeping hips and non-pulling shoulder still, pull hand up towards the hip, but also out to the side. Ensure there is a really good twist.

F. Dips

Elbow should be a right angle at the bottom of the movement.

Keep the lower body static (cross ankles)

G. Reclined Leg press (1 leg)

From 90° knee angle to leg straight.  

H. Shoulder press

Use a paddle width grip. Alternate lowering in front of and behind the head.

Over the weeks try to extend the range of motion (i.e. lower further on both sides) -best done with 10RM or lighter weights.          

I. Medicine Ball twists

Lie on you back with the knees well bent (>90°). Hold a medicine ball in both hands with the arms extended out straight up in front. Keeping the arms straightish, rotate the trunk and lower the ball down in an arc to the left, touch it down level with the shoulders or slightly higher, then back up and to the right. Repeat until tired.

Keep the abs tense, and the front of the pelvis pulled up towards the ribcage throughout

medicine ball twist.jpg




This can be made more difficult by doing it on a swiss ball but whilst still holding a  medicine ball. Maintain good spine posture throughout.





J. Dumbell waves

Lie on the floor on one side, with legs separated for stability.

Place both arms out straight in front with a dumbbell in the upper hand (little finger upper most) and this elbow slightly bent.

Keeping the chest still, and the elbow slightly bent move the upper arm in an arc from straight out in front to vertical.

Lower dumbbell through same arc until it almost touches the ground, then repeat.

K. Crunches

Lie on your back with a bench tucked in the back of the knees so hips and knees are at 90°. Place hands to the side of the head and crunch forward by progressively flexing the spine forward, should be no movement at the hip. Ideally touch elbows to opposite thigh/knee i.e. twist on the way up. Try to move in a slow controlled way, jerking up and down quickly makes this much easier.

L. Swiss ball balance exercise

Kneel with hands and knees on the ball.

Squeeze your glutes and maintain a neutral spine, upper back straight not hunched, with head up.

Stage 1 is just to balance.

Stage 2 is to Raise one arm slowly off the ball at a time, so it is straight out to the side.

Stage 3 is to raise one arm and opposite leg.

Stage 4 is raise alternate arms high and wide in quick succession.

Must keep spine in good position throughout!


M. Alternating dumbbell press

Lie back on a flat bench, with a dumbbell in each hand, held at the shoulder.

Push one arm straight up to vertical, then as that comes down push up the other arm.

Some side to side chest roll is fine.

N. Decline Press-Ups

Place the feet on the end of a bench, and position low boxes or thick disc weights under each hand (the hands should be lower than the feet).

Keep the trunk flat and rigid throughout (do not sag!), do a regular press-up, but lower the chest beneath the level of the hands (you need a space between the 2 boxes) before pressing up. Try to move through as big a range as possible, and in a controlled manner.

O. Power Cleans

A great exercise for whole body co-ordination, pulling with the arms and pushing with the legs. But requires careful coaching and good technique, not for the novice.

P. Bananas

Lie flat on the floor, face down. Place hands next to the head and elbows out to the side.

Lift feet and knees with legs together as well as shoulders, chest and head off the floor, so you are balanced on your stomach and hold for 15s.

Rest and repeat 4 times.

Adjust time as fitness improves.

Q. The Plank


Hold this position for 30s. Important to keep body straight. Raise each of the four limbs in turn for 15 s each. This can be made harder by placing the feet on a bench (or harder still on another swiss ball) at the same height as the elbows.




R. Bench Row

Lie on a high bench face down so the edge of the bench is just under the chin, with a barbell perpendicular under the bench. Lift the barbell up to at least a 90° elbow angle.


S. Lunge

From standing upright with both feet together, take a big step forward, bending the front knee until the back knee touches the floor.

Start with just body weight, 20 each side in a slow controlled way, and progress to a barbell across the shoulders.

T. Reverse Crunch

Lie on back with the knees bent up towards the chest.

Hold weight between ankles, curl lower back up (without any hip/knee/ankle movement).

Progress with heavier weight or pulling knees up to opposite shoulder.