The question: I am going to go on a bunch of long canoe trips this summer that involve portages. Are there exercises I can do to prepare?
The answer: What fun! As a kid I loved going camping with my dad.
At a minimum, do basic strength exercises like squats, lunges, rows and shoulder presses. Ideally, you should also incorporate multi-joint, full-body, functional strength exercises that require you to co-ordinate your upper and lower body. These will prepare you for the physical demands of lifting and lowering the canoe in and out of the water and carrying it, and all your gear, as you portage. Here are four exercises that will do the trick:
Single-arm lunge and press: If possible, use a kettlebell, bell portion up. Otherwise use a dumbbell. Hold the weight or bell at shoulder-height in your right hand. Step your left leg backward into a lunge. Bend both knees to lower your body toward the ground. To finish, straighten your legs and press the weight above your head. Try not to wobble – stabilize your body with your core. Do 10 reps each side.
Squat thrust: Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Squat down toward the floor while simultaneously doing a biceps curl. As you stand up, press the weights up over your head. Lower the weights and repeat. To challenge your core and mimic the physical demands of portaging, do a unilateral version of the squat thrust by holding only one dumbbell.
Unstable exercises: Good balance is also a must; you don't want to fall as you get in and out of the canoe. Start by simply standing on a wobble board or bosu. Next, try standing on the bosu and using light weights to do biceps curls, stationary lunges or squat thrusts.
Front and side planks: Lastly, do exercises that specifically strengthen your core. If you are familiar with planks, challenge yourself by putting your forearms on a Swiss ball.
Trainer's tip: Another way to train for your trip would be to go for a walk in a park or ravine wearing a weighted vest or a heavy backpack. Find a hilly, uneven route. After about 20 minutes of walking, stop and do step-ups on a bench, squats and walking lunges. Finish your workout with another 10- to 20-minute walk.
Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for 10 years. Her website is www.kathleentrotter.com.
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