Fit to Paddle vs. Paddling for Fitness

We all know that paddling is a great workout, but there is a distinct difference between being in shape to paddle and using paddling as your primary method of getting in shape.

Quite often, newbies join a dragon boat team to lose weight and/or get fit. That is actually what I did many years ago. I was looking for a way to get out on the gorgeous water in Miami and get in a good workout at the same time. True, for many people being out on the water with teammates is often more fun than being inside a gym, but one should not rely solely on practice sessions once or twice a week as a means of becoming fit.

It is your responsibility as a paddler to arrive to practice each week more fit and more prepared than you were last week. Tweet it!

If you are planning on being competitive as a dragon boater, it is imperative that you consider your fitness level off the boat. What kind of cardiovascular shape are you in? How is your agility? How is your overall strength? If you aren’t already moderately fit, chances are you won’t improve your paddling as quickly as you would like. If you are struggling to breathe because your cardiovascular fitness is lacking, you likely won’t be able to focus on much else. If you aren’t very flexible, your rotation and technique will be sorely lacking. If your muscles are screaming at you after a few minutes of paddling at a moderate pace, you probably won’t be ready to work on your technique because all you will be thinking about is how much everything hurts.

Paddlechica Workouts Alice Tran 2

Photo provided by Alice Tran

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m most certainly not saying that you shouldn’t set foot in the boat until you have lost weight and are in tip top shape. But the message here is that if you are already relatively fit, you will be ready to put more focus on your technique and endurance in order to become a better paddler. You are therefore more likely to see rapid improvements in a shorter time period. But don’t worry! It’s never too late to get fit. Sure, you should attend as many practice sessions as possible; being in the boat with the team is crucial. But what you do in between practices can make or break you as a paddler.

Paddlechica Camp Didi Fisher Weinreb

Schuylkill Dragons and Belleville Dragons focusing on technique at the Bow Wave camp, 2016. Photo: Didi Fisher Weinreb

What does your time off the boat look like? Are you sitting around eating pizza and ice cream and drinking beer while playing video games? Or are you hitting the gym to strengthen your muscles? Are you going to a yoga class to improve your flexibility? Are you running, swimming, using the erg, etc. to improve your cardiovascular fitness? Working on your fitness level off the boat at least two times per week will help you immensely. Three to four times is even better.

It’s easy enough to say that you should go to the gym, or should go running, or should go to a yoga class. But what will actually motivate you to go? When it’s the crack of dawn and staying in bed seems like a much better idea, where can you get that inspiration to actually get out of bed and drag yourself to the gym?

Paddlechica Pullups Alice Tran

Photo provided by Alice Tran

How about the idea of being a better paddler? If you are reading this post, I’m guessing that you are passionate about dragon boating. You have found a team that you connect with, you recognize that you are a part of something bigger, and you enjoy paddling. If you have been truly bitten by the dragon boat bug, you are finding yourself becoming more competitive, wanting to be in better overall fitness condition, wanting to make the race crew, and wanting to be the best that you can be for your club.

So, don’t rely solely on your team’s practices to keep you in shape. It is your responsibility as a paddler to arrive to practice each week more fit and more prepared than you were last week. Be stronger, be more agile, be more aerobically and anaerobically ready for the coach’s workout. Ensure that you are fit to paddle. You and your team will benefit from your extra efforts.

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12 Discussion to this post

  1. Kina says:

    Thanks paddlechica. I participated in my first dragon boat competition last week. I was truly motivated to do more working out for myself and my team.

  2. Sophia says:

    Awesome post Kristin! Can you do a follow up on workouts we can start sharing with our team?

  3. Grace B says:

    Hey Kristin. Someone on Team Survivor SD Sea Dragons posted this and I immediately recognized your logo. Well done, good article. See you on the water. Xo grace bernal (San Diego!)

  4. Yvonne Butcher says:

    Love Paddlechica…helpfull in every way.

  5. Ursula says:

    Thank you very informative and makes so much sense!

  6. Julia says:

    Thank you. I’m gonna start working on my cardio more. I’ve definitely been bitten by a dragon…..

    • Paddlechica says:

      Glad you’ve found your love of dragon boating – it’s definitely addictive once you’ve been bitten!

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