Strength Training for Dragon Boat Paddlers

Dragon boating season is beginning in the lower Mainland as teams get out and train on the water for upcoming races. However, one of the key components integral to a team’s success in competition is building individual strength.  A typical dragon boat stroke consists of a “catch” phase which targets the shoulders and arms and a “pull” phase which relies on strong back muscles. The following exercises can be included in your workout routine to develop a powerful dragon boat stroke.

CATCH Phase: Arm Muscles

Strong shoulders, biceps, and triceps are needed to enter the water effectively while grabbing as much water as possible. Develop strength in these areas with dumbbell overhead presses, dumbbell shrugs, bicep curls, and bench presses.
Image: T-Nation
To Do a Proper Bench Press:

1) Set up by positioning your eyes directly under the bar and lie flat on the bench
2) Adduct your scapula and raise your chest
3) Grasp the bar with an equal distance from your left hand to the center of the bar and from your right hand to the center of the bar (use the rings on the bar as a guide)
4) With a big breath, brace your core, and unrack the bar by straightening the arms
5) Lower the bar to the middle of your chest by bringing the elbows in at an approximately 75 degree angle
6) Once the bar touches your chest, push the bar upwards until the elbows lock and the arms are straight
7) Breathe and repeat the bench press

PULL Phase: Back Muscles 

The latissimus dorsi is a large, triangular-shaped muscle located on the back that is crucial for a paddler to pull as much water as possible. Strengthen this muscle with overhead pull downs, seated rows, bent over rows, and pull-ups.
Image: Isaac Insoll
To Do a Proper Pull-Up:

1) Hang from a pull-up bar and grasp the bar about shoulder-width apart with palms facing away from your face
2) Retract and adduct the scapula
3) Pull yourself up while bringing your elbows down to the floor until your chin passes the bar
4) Lower yourself all the way down, breathe, and repeat the pull-up

Variation: Add weights to your pull-ups using a dumbbell between your feet, a belt and chain with added weight plates, or a weighted vest. Start by adding a very small weight such as 5 lbs and attempt to do 2 or 3 reps for 5 sets. Increase your weight load during the following week by adding another 5 lbs and attempt to do 2 or 3 reps for 5 sets. Continue adding to your load as your strength improves.
Check out this video for some GREAT paddling stretches after an intense water workout:
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