Editor’s Note: A big shout out to Melissa DeMarie and Liz Meheve of California Women’s Watersport Collective for some of the photos featured in this post! You guys are awesome!
The Tsunami Rangers have a tradition of training in the trees. One of our videos shows the team running through the cypress forest at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach. The guys are jumping over downed trees, swinging from branches, and dodging obstacles in preparation for their extreme sea kayaking adventures. Why train this way? That’s what we’re here to talk about.
To begin with, our outdoor gym is free. Second, it’s right outside the door. So straight off there are two great benefits: the outdoor gym doesn’t cost anything and you don’t have to go anywhere particular to use it.
Third, the outdoor gym uses the human mind as well as the body in ways that are more functional and realistic than conventional gym exercises. When you’re training in the trees, you’re using all muscle groups in ways that are more complex than basic bicep curls or leg presses. Exercises involving machines and dumbbells have their place but they’re pretty mindless activities, like walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike you can literally read a book or watch t.v. while you’re doing them.
Outdoor activities force the mind to focus differently than in an indoor environment. When we walk or run outdoors we have to pay attention to the changing terrain, the weather, the scenery, and the horizon, just like how we have to pay attention when we kayak. Not only does training outdoors improve strength, agility and reactivity, it improves mental awareness and focus. In addition, outdoor training has been shown to improve mood and sleep and lower stress and feelings of sadness and depression.
The best way to get better at anything is to practice, so in order to improve as kayakers we need to get in a boat and paddle. That said there are a lot of other things we can do on land and in the water to get fit for kayaking. Swimming, of course, is a biggie. Swimming in pools is no substitute for swimming in the ocean or river where you paddle. I’ve heard kayakers say, “If you wouldn’t swim there, you shouldn’t paddle there.” Whether or not you agree with that statement, you definitely ought to be a competent whitewater swimmer if you’re going to get into whitewater or surf.
The first thing I did with my partner Robert when I taught him to kayak was go to Crescent City and have him swim in surf. Swimming up and down the beach and diving under waves is a great whole body workout, and it taught him about timing and wave rhythm as well. Plus it gives you a psychological edge in that you not only understand how to swim in surf, you can enjoy it and feel comfortable and at home in an often chaotic environment. Then you don’t worry about falling out of your boat and swimming.
Kayakers need strong bodies not just to paddle but to haul boats and gear around. We need good cardiovascular fitness. We need to be nimble for surf landings and seal landings and flexible for wet exits and rolling, and our paddling environment is often wet and slippery. We need balance and stamina, awareness and focus. Here’s a list of some helpful exercises you can implement in your outdoor gym:
Stairs. Stairs offer an intense cardiovascular workout that also strengthens your hips and legs. Portage, anyone? You can run or walk both up and down the stairs.
Hills. No stairs? No problem! Find a hill and walk or run that. You can do long butt-buster workouts on big hills or laps on smaller hills.
Parks and open space. You can use playground equipment to do pull-ups and all kinds of functional drills (use your creativity!) Open grassy areas are good for wind sprints, calisthenics, and yoga or stretching.
Benches. Use benches for pushups, dips or plyometrics (explosive movements designed to improve power). Jump up on to a bench or low wall and then jump down. Repeat. Keep these drills short – they are effective but can be exhausting.
Curbs and low walls. Use these for step-ups. You can alternate slow and quick steps to improve agility and cardiovascular strength. You can step in place or travel laterally. You can also walk along these structures for balance practice.
Rocks. Use them for lifting if they’re not too big. Carry a big stone close to your body while running or doing squats or step-ups to improve cardiovascular strength, muscle strength, and stamina. Plus rocks make great launch pads for that prize-winning cannon ball!
Logs. Stand on one foot or walk along them to improve balance.
Trees. Climbing trees is a great whole body workout requiring balance, strength, agility and flexibility. You can do pull-ups on a tree branch, push-ups against a tree trunk, or just hang on a branch to stretch out your arms and back.
Sand. Running, walking, lunging, or otherwise exercising in sand is a great whole body workout. It’s especially good for calves and ankles.
Ocean. Body surfing and surf swimming are excellent workouts for kayakers. This Tsunami Ranger site has a great series on ocean survival swimming skills and how to develop them, written by the Wave Warrior Eric Soares himself.
Rivers. Swift water rescue practice is fun and practical. Walking across swift, shallow rapids, jumping into rapids and swimming holes, and swimming down rapids and in and out of eddies are all great practice for whitewater kayakers.
In a nutshell, the Rangers are big advocates of outdoor training. Mainly, we just love it, but we’re well aware of the mental and physical benefits of taking your workout outside. The outdoor gym stimulates your creativity – how can you use your environment? You get stronger, tougher, more flexible and more agile. Plus you’re reducing your chance of dementia, heart disease and osteoporosis as well as improving mood, memory, and focus. What’s not to like?
Do you train outdoors? What’s your workout like? Please share with us! For more information on kayak fitness, search “kayak fitness” on this site above and see articles on core strength and flexibility for shoulders, wrists, hips, and more!