Which exercises are most important for Dragon Boat athletes?

We received an important question on reddit and we wanted to elaborate on the answer a little further. 

Racepace asked:

What muscle groups and exercises do you consider to be the most important for Dragon Boat?

We feel the question being addressed comes up a lot and clarification is important for athletes everywhere, especially dragon boat athletes.

(You can view the original question and answer here.)



There is no muscle group/groups that is most important, and exercises are merely a means to an end.

We primarily train movements, not muscles, and recognize that the entire body needs to be working as a functional unit in order to perform.

Although things need to be tailored to the athlete, there are aspects that we address with everyone we work with. How we do it for each person is individualized, but this gives you a general idea.

Strong legs and hips, maintaining symmetry side to side:

Our go-to exercises for this are squat variations, such as front or box squat, and deadlift variations such as sumo or conventional. We also like to implement a good balance of single leg work, such as rear-foot elevated split squats, to focus on symmetry from left to right.

Exceptional stability through the core:

The core’s job is to efficiently transfer the force created by the legs and hips to the upper body and ultimately the paddle in the water. This means it needs to be like concrete, not a noodle, so we use core exercises like RKC planks, pallof presses, and the game changer, Stir-the-pot, to accomplish this. Remember, the core is 360 degrees around the body, not just the 6 pack, so it should be trained in more than just one plane.

A ridiculous and symmetrical upper back:

This shouldn’t be a surprise, but how it is accomplished takes a little more thought as paddling is an asymmetrical sport. We need a big, strong back, which is built with deadlifts, chins ups, and our all time favorite the barbell high bench row, but we also need to make sure we address any imbalances from a long season of paddling potentially on only one side. To do this we include things like wall slides and T-Spine mobility in the warm up, and then single arm work like dumbbell row variations in the workouts.

Using some of these exercises we can develop overarching qualities like strength, power, and endurance that are required to excel at your sport, but how it fits into the specific athlete’s program depends on the specific athlete in question.

If you have an athlete with outstanding back development but that lacks the ability to transfer force through the torso, the most important exercises are going to be the ones that help develop the core. The needs will vary from person to person – person A might need more upper back, person B might need more hip extension work, and person C might just be weak – so that is how we prioritize programming and exercise selection.

At Viking Strength Systems we think it’s critical you evaluate your sport from an athlete-centric point of view. Although the demands of the sport are fixed and the end goal is the same for everyone – to be the best paddler to ever grace the waters – each athlete should be considered individually.

The exercises above should give you a great place to start, and if you can master them you are well on your way, but I just want to be clear that this is not the entire story, as I haven’t even touched on injury prevention, assessments, how to periodize programs for long-term success and much, much more.

If you have questions or comments we are happy to provide you with answers, so please comment below!


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