Get river fit with workouts for kayakers, rafters and SUPers
May 19, 2017
The mud season coffee break is over, boaters, and now the water is calling.
For the first time since October, your daily fix of adrenaline will come on a strip of flowing — not frozen — water. Local rivers are nearly ready: the Upper Colorado River is flowing around 2,190 cubic feet per second this week, which means the thick of paddling season is nearly here.
But are you ready for the transition?
"It's really no different than early-season skiing," says Matti Wade, owner of Ten Mile Creek Kayaks in Frisco and a veteran paddler with 20-plus years on whitewater. "The water is low, so you just want to get back out and start moving again. Everyone has been so lower-body focused all of winter. Now it's time to get upper-body focused."
And that's only the tip of the iceberg, or whitecap, or whatever — there's a whole summer for water puns. In the meantime, the Summit Daily sports desk talked with local kayakers, rafters and stand-up paddleboarders for advice on how to get in shape (and ward off injury) while the conditions outside are still unpredictable. Here's to a long and healthy season.
For the kayaker
Like Wade says, kayaking is nearly the polar opposite of skiing. Your upper body does the majority of the work, while your lower body stays relatively static and helps only with balance.
But that's still a simplistic way of looking at things. For any athlete in any sport, full-body strength can be incredibly beneficial when it comes to enjoying a long, full season with few or no stress-borne injuries.
"You really want to focus on building overall strength, from your arms to your chest to your legs," says Scott Haden, the former aquatics manager at the Breckenridge Recreation Center and an avid paddler for the past 15 seasons. "You have to think about how repetitive these (paddling) motions are. When you're wearing out one muscle group and don't have those other groups to support it, you will get tired quicker."
Rowing machine: Wade and Haden are major proponents of rowing on an indoor rowing machine throughout the year. The mechanism works your abs, low back, upper back and shoulders — the main "motor" muscle groups when paddling — while also boosting cardio.
Lateral cable or dumbbell raises: Along with your shoulders, lateral raises also strengthen your rotator cuff — the tendons and ligaments around your shoulder responsible for circular movements. It's the same grouping MLB pitchers tear with abandon, and it's the same grouping Wade says most paddlers ignore.
For a lateral raise, stand straight, facing forward, with two dumbbells or a cable at your side. Slowly raise your arm out and up from your side body until it reaches 90 degrees, and then slowly return to the start.
Water work: The rapids aren't quite ready, but that doesn't mean you should shun your boat. For experts, Wade suggests heading to Frisco Bay Marina or another section of open water on Lake Dillon for paddle technique.
"I've just been getting back into the groove of spooning around with a paddle," says Wade, who also says now is a good time to get on the Blue River (256cfs) before the water starts raging. "As these rivers get plump and the runoff starts, now is the time to get in. It's not going to push as hard or be as deep, so there is more danger that you might hit a rock if you flip, but the hydraulics are easier to see."
For beginners, the Breck Rec Center is hosting two open-water nights for kayakers and rafters. Cost is $10 per boat (as in three or more people can share a boat for $10) and runs from 6-7:30 p.m. on Fridays, May 19, May 26 and June 2.
For the SUP-er
It seems the stand-up paddleboard trend is here to stay. That technically means it's no longer a trend — more of a legitimate sport, really — which also means entire races and training programs are springing up around anything and everything SUP.
Kati Patino, a local yoga and SUP instructor, fell headfirst into the racing scene and now races long-distance events on flat water in June and July. Before then, she spends spring and most of May prepping her body for the racing to come. Come mid-May, though, it's time to get away from the gym.
"Transitioning into paddle seasons, you want your main focus (to be) spending time on and in the water, rather than spending time in the gym trying to build the 'necessary' muscles," Patino says. "Those muscles will be tricked as soon as you get off the land and on your board."
Treading and lap swimming: Just because you should be on the water doesn't mean you need to temp an icy dip on the SUP. Aerobic ability and stamina are important when the season arrives, and so Patino likes to spend 30-plus minutes in the water at least 2-3 times per week.
Try a mixture of treading and lap swimming. Begin with four minutes of treading, transition to one length (25 yards) and then four more minutes of treading. Repeat for 150 total yards (six lengths).
Core strength: Like yoga, SUP is a great core workout. Fittingly enough, that makes yoga a perfect way to cross-train for SUP. Taking a yoga class 1-2 times per week can boost flexibility, strength and stability. Patino recommends mixing up your classes, with hot yoga one week, Level II the next and Level III after.
"If you aren't used to yoga, getting in there once a week for the strength and stability will be perfect," she says.
Squats and lunges: Have your sights set on whitewater SUP? Now's the best time to work your legs with squats and lunges fine-tuned for the wide, athletic stance you're forced to adopt on a SUP board. But, remember: You're not in the market for the bulky thighs of a rugby player. This is more about strength and stamina, and your workout should reflect the goals.
"When you're on the whitewater, you're in a squat the entire time," Patino says. "You need that strength and balance."
Try a sequence of wide-legged lunges and squats. Begin with 10-15 sets of 20-30 unweighted reps. Be sure to use a full range of motion with both movements, including good posture and controlled movements. Add 5-10 pounds if you like.