By Kathy Gilbert
Paddling in any form —; kayaking, rowing, canoeing —; works the “Big House.”
“It’s hard to believe,” said Liz Pierce, a 17-year-old Chattanoogan and the top-ranked junior female wildwater kayaker in America. “But kayaking works your torso muscles. It’s a big ab workout.”
Rowers call the area from below the shoulder to just above the knee “The Big House,” said Greg Maynard, boys varsity crew coach for Baylor School.
Others call it “the core.”
By any name, the area from below the shoulder to just above the knee is the target zone for paddlers of all types and speeds.
Some might call it a form of Pilates —; rowers become sleek and lean, not muscle-bound, said Megan Cooke, 33, girls varsity crew coach and sculling class director for the Lookout Rowing Club.
“People come up to me and feel my biceps,” Ms. Cooke said. “But leg strength combined with back strength makes a strong racer.”
Rowing comes in two styles: sculling and sweep rowing. There are several types of kayaking, among them wildwater racing, freestyle, recreational, sea and touring and river running.
Rowing is done on a sliding seat, in a slender reed 26 feet long and 11 inches wide that weighs a mere 30 pounds. Recreational rowing boats are a bit wider and about double the weight, Mr. Maynard said.
To prepare for paddling, scan your body for lower-back stiffness or injury, said Katie Larue, 51, president of the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club. Consult a doctor if you have back concerns or are beginning an exercise program, she added.
Try a “functional fitness” class, a strength-training routine involving several muscle movements at a time, she suggested.
“When you’re active on weekends,” Ms. Larue said, “you’re using all parts of your body. You don’t isolate them.”
Sit-ups and other forms of ab training, such as Pilates, are also helpful, said Chris Brigman, 31, manager of Rock/Creek Down Under on Frazier Avenue. Strengthen muscles in the shoulders and back to avoid injury.
“Shoulder dislocation is one of the most common shoulder injuries in kayaking,” Mr. Brigman said.
Start your prekayaking warm-up with gentle stretches to lubricate the rotator cuffs, Ms. Larue suggested. Also stretch and warm up leg muscles.
“Your legs are immobile for a long time in a boat,” she said. “Make sure they’re warmed up so you can relax in your boat.”
Enroll in lessons before diving in, Ms. Larue said.
Rivers are also chock full of hazards, from rip-roaring currents to tumbling boulders. Guides and instructors can teach you the basics of water safety.
“If you stand up in moving water, for instance,” Ms. Larue said, “your feet can become entrapped under moving rocks. You can drown quickly.”
Always whitewater kayak in groups of at least three people, Ms. Larue advised.
After you master the basics, local kayakers said, splash in for a workout that’s also a good time.
“We’ve got water around us,” said new flatwater kayaker Gary Camp, 41, owner of a local building materials company. “Paddling’s just another way to utilize our city, and it’s a lot of fun.”
E-mail Kathy Gilbert at firstname.lastname@example.org