Which exercises are most important for Dragon Boat athletes?

At Dragonboating.com we have a general guideline of not simply re-posting content from other sources – we are, after all, not a news aggregator site. However, we have run into an article written by our new friends at Viking Strength Systems that was so relevant to dragon boaters that we simply had to share here.  This is not a paid post.  We were well impressed with these guys, and wanted to highlight their work in a way that is useful to dragon boaters.

Without further ado, here is the answer!

There is no muscle group/groups that is most important, and exercises are merely a means to an end.
You should 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 must be addressed with everyone . How that is done for each person is individualized, but this gives you a general idea.

Strong legs and hips, maintaining symmetry side to side:

The go-to exercises that the trainers at Viking Strength Systems use 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 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 dragon boat paddling is an asymmetrical sport. You need a big, strong back, which is built with deadlifts, chins ups, and the all time favorite of trainers at Viking Strength Systems, the barbell high bench row.  You also need to make sure you address any imbalances from a long season of paddling potentially on only one side. To do this, 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 Viking Strength Systems prioritize programming and exercise selection.

The trainers at Viking Strength Systems stress that it is 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. Our friends at Viking Strength Systems also note that the above hasn’t even touched on injury prevention, assessments, how to periodize programs for long-term success and much, much more.  Consider this food for thought, and drop them a line.

About Viking Strength Systems

Viking Strength Systems is a fitness and performance company dedicated to educating, empowering, and improving the lives of dragon boaters ranging from recreational athletes to international champions. They believe training should be fun, accessible and above all effective, and they want to teach you how to achieve results that last a lifetime


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