Canoeing: Tips to Make You a Better Paddler

Canoeing is a popular sport and recreational activity enjoyed by people of all genders and ages. Canoes are not motorized, requiring you to paddle, which can be quite the challenge for newbies and even experienced paddlers. This necessitated this article as we explore some tips to make you a better paddler. 

Here are some tips to follow to paddle your canoe better:

  1. Improve your technique
  2. Improve your strength and Endurance
  3. Practice! Practice!!

3 ways you can improve your paddling

Apply the following to improve how you paddle your canoe on the water. 

1. Improve your technique

Paddling, like many other activities, requires some level of skill which is often made evident in your paddling technique. It might look easy when you look from the outside or watch people paddle on the television. There’s a chance you have gone with the flow, pushing against the water with your paddle and moving your canoe with random keystrokes. But there’s only as far winging it can take you. 

As a result, you must improve your technique to see improvements in your paddling. The following are easy-to-follow steps that can help better your technique:


Your position in the canoe can make or mar your canoeing experience. If you are not seated comfortably and constantly shifting your weight around, it could cause unnecessary, avoidable motions with the paddle that wastes time and energy. Also, leaning too forward when paddling can cause some drag and require more input to paddle and too far backward could affect the planing of the canoe on the water. 


Your hand movement decides to a large extent the efficiency of your paddling. You should ensure that every motion is geared towards moving your canoe to your preferred position. You can ensure this by leaving your hands evenly spaced along the paddle shaft and stretched out wider than your shoulder width. Also, with your paddle held out in front of you, the concave (rounded) portion should be facing you. 


Your form in the water is another important consideration for improving your technique. Great form dictates that you have your head up out the canoe and look directly ahead. You want your shoulders lifted too. Your weight should not be drooping on your chest but resting on your sternum as you use your core to curve your back.

Follow Through

A common rookie mistake is to stop paddling when the paddle is only past your body. You need to stick with the follow-through way past your body, as the longer you can, the more momentum you can carry, propelling your canoe faster with relatively minimal effort. 

2. Improve your strength and Endurance

If you have perfected your technique, your strength and endurance are the next things to worry about. Failure to do so would negatively impact your paddling when on the water, as you are more likely to experience long-lasting burnouts frequently. 

Stretching: Before and After

You need to warm up your joints before you hit the water. Ensuring your body is that much looser can be the difference between an interesting paddling experience and a day on the water you can not wait to forget. The cool-down session after is almost as important as the warm-up before hitting the water. You should drink enough water so your body can easily rid itself of the built-up lactic acid. 

Strength Training

Before hitting the water, you want to ensure you get some strength training done. This ensures that your body can handle the physical strain from paddling on the water for extended periods. The following are some routines you can implement to build up your strength: 

Single Arm Bent Over Row

Use one side of your body at a time since paddling is also a unilateral movement. This exercise targets the lats muscle (back), the shoulders (teres major, teres minor and posterior deltoid), the brachioradialis, brachialis and biceps, and the upper back (rhomboid, traps). 

How to do a single arm bent over row:

1. Stand with your feet apart with all your weight on the foot in front.

2. With a closed, neutral grip, hold a dumbbell in the hand opposite your front foot.

3. Lean forward on your front foot with your torso just above parallel to the floor. You can rest your other arm on your front foot for support (if necessary). 

4. Let the dumbbell hang down your fully extended elbow. 

5. Slightly push your chest forward and your shoulders back. 

6. Keep your arm close to your body as you pull the dumbbell to your torose, allowing your elbow to do all the lifting. 

7. Pull upwards till the dumbbell touches the side of your body

8. Slowly lower the dumbbell while maintaining control.


These work out your triceps, lower back muscles, abdominals, shoulders and chest. It is a popular go-to because You can practice it anywhere, can be modified for anyone and requires no special equipment. 

How to do a pushup:

 1. You should get on the ground with your weight supported by your fingers and toes (you can support with your knees for a modified pushup). Your hands should be placed on the ground with your fingers forward, tucked underneath your shoulders. 

2. Allow your body to slope down at about 45 degrees as your elbows bend back, leading to your chest. 

3. In this position, push upwards with your hands as you raise your body back to the original plan position. You should ensure that you move all of your body at the same time. 

Endurance Training

It is easy to confuse strength with endurance, but they are two separate entities. Strength, as it relates to paddling, discusses how much energy you can exert at a single time, while endurance outlines how long you can maintain this strength. The following are some routines you can implement to improve your endurance: 

Ring Rollouts

This works on the shoulders’ muscles and develops your core. 

How to do a ring rollout:

1. With the rings four inches from the ground, kneel on a mat about half body length from the rings with your legs crossed. 

2. Lift your legs off the floor with one ring in either hand. 

3. Lean forwards with your arm extended as you push against the rings in a full stretch. 

4. Return to your starting point with your arms still extended.


Pull-ups are popular because they are an instant workout for your shoulders. If you are new to pull-ups, you can use a band or machine to start with an assisted pull-up.

How to do pull-ups

1. You want to grip the rings or the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart and your palms facing away. 

2. From this position, pull your body up with your chest until your face is just above the bar or the rings. 

3. Practice! Practice!!

Sometimes all there is to improve your paddling is more practice—enough time on the water that you can commit all your techniques to memory. If you do it long enough and consistently, paddling will become second nature, and you will find yourself paddling much better and using up less energy. 


Paddling your canoe better requires working on your strength and endurance while taking time out to practice. The right exercises in pre-and post-paddle sessions would ensure you can paddle for longer, and learning the correct techniques would provide better results on the water. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I increase my paddling speed?

When looking to increase paddle speed, there are three things you must consider. The first is your technique. You should learn and practice techniques that allow you to gain and keep momentum with fewer strokes—the other two work on minimizing drag and increasing strength with correct exercises. 

What muscles do you use when paddling a canoe?

While the entire body works as a unit when paddling a canoe, the more important muscles are the triceps, the lats (latissimus dorsi), and the obliques (muscles used to twist the torso). 

Is paddling a canoe good exercise?

Paddling a canoe is a fun, low-impact activity that can improve flexibility, aerobic fitness and strength. It has several benefits, including increased upper-body strength in the abs, arms and back.