Fitness for Kayaking – Developing the ABC’s of Movement

Our collective efforts during the Alert Level 4 Lockdown period have led to some easing of restrictions. For lucky paddlers they have been able to get their white water fix since moving to Alert Level 3 but for many this will only occur after the shift to Alert Level 2.

Continuing on from our previous post which focused on improving core strength and stability this week we will be focusing on developing the ABC’s of movement which are Agility, Balance and Co-Ordination.

Why do I want to develop my Agility, Balance and Co-Ordination?

Research has shown that the athletic ability of any individual is based on their foundational development of their Agility, Balance and Co-Ordination. These three things are the cornerstones of athletic development and physical literacy. If we want to do anything from catch a ball to run our local river with style we have to develop the basics to do so.

Photo of Tutea Falls on the Kaituna River by Mike Robertson. Showing all of the ABC’s in action.

What does Agility, Balance and Co-Ordination mean?

Agility is defined as the ability to move in multiple directions at speed. To be able to change direction and also having the ability to accelerate and decelerate as quickly and efficiently as possible. We know as a white water kayakers that when moving from one place to another we need to be agile. The stop, start and change of direction for the body is critical for paddlers to move into different positions. This could be going from a bow rudder into a forward paddle stroke, from stern rudder into draw. The ability to stop moving to hold position and then move again is critical for us to be agile.

Balance is defined as the ability to control your body in its own space. We could go more scientific, but for me, it’s better to keep things simple. When on a river being able manage your balance while paddling will undoubtedly aid you in your development, as the water changes we need to be able to stay upright whilst being able to move through a range of movements. By being able to change how we sit then we can work to have our centre of gravity over the base or by use of the paddle or more importantly using the stability that we get from moving and by adding in positive connection points we maintain our balance throughout a manoeuvre.

Coordination is when all parts of the body are in agreement to perform a skill or a task. We are continually using multiple parts of our body to help achieve / maintain our balance. Think back to the critical move that you must make on your local river and how you must coordinate upper and lower body movements. If these movements are correctly coordinated with the necessary agility then we can maintain our balance and will normally have a successful outcome.

How can we develop our ABC’s?

This may all seem very complicated and you mightn’t be sure exactly what how you can develop it but it is pretty easy. It doesn’t matter whether you are a young up and coming white water kayaker or seasoned pro you can still work on developing these skills following the programme below:

Start out with a gentle run for about 5-10 minutes to get yourself warmed up:

Sled Pull

Push Up



Single Leg Deadlift

Medicine Ball Rotations

To complete these exercises you don’t need any fancy equipment, instead of using a sled just hook your kayak up to a throw rope and drag it across your garden and if you don’t have a medicine ball a stone will work just as well just throw it across your garden instead of against a wall.

How many how long?

Depending on your level of base fitness you may want to start off slow aiming to complete around 6-10 repetitions of each exercise or between 20-30 seconds and aim for 1-3 rounds depending on how it feels.

Once you start to feel more comfortable with the circuit you can start increase the reps by 2-4 of each exercise or increase the length by 10-20 seconds or aim to complete more rounds.

You want to try and complete this circuit anywhere from 1-3 times per week to really try and improve your agility, balance and co-ordination for when it is time to get back in a boat!

Make sure to check in next week when we will be releasing an article looking at how you can brush up on your safety skills during this Lockdown.

These paddling fitness articles have been put together by Matt McKnight, Matt is professional Canoe Slalom coach and a keen whitewater paddler.