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  • Paddle Monster coach, Larry Cain

Tips for Training Legs for Chattajack

Last weekend I went for a fun SUP paddle with a couple of buddies of mine from my canoe days. Conditions on Lake Ontario were pretty good, with a moderate northeast wind kicking up nice, fast, two-foot plus wind waves and a small ground swell. We did the usual upwind/downwind paddle you’re stuck doing when you can’t arrange the logistics to go downwind; hammering upwind for 6km and then turning around for a nice 6 km downwind leg with speeds averaging 5:30/km.

One of my buddies was a three-time Olympian in canoe and is a pretty experienced SUP paddler so he loved it. The other is an experienced C1 paddler but new to SUP this year. He’s already awesome on the flats but a little tentative still in waves. As the three of us joined up to turn at the 6 km mark to begin the downwind portion of our paddle, he commented that his legs were spent. It reminded me of my own early experiences in waves and how quickly my legs got fatigued, and more significantly, how important your legs are to effective paddling in big water or in the late stages of long races.

When we’ve been paddling for a while, are in shape, and have a little experience in big water I think we take for granted how important our legs are and how much work we require from them for effective paddling. Similarly, unless we do ultra long paddles on a regular basis it’s hard for us to imagine how much they’ll fatigue over three hours or so in any water. So with last weekend’s reminder still fresh in my mind, and people out there really starting to bear down in their Chattajack training, I thought that it would be appropriate this week to share a few simple leg exercises you can do throughout the SUP season to increase power endurance and enhance proprioception (and thus balance). They’re guaranteed to help prep you for paddling in big water and enhance your paddling ability in the late stages of long races like Chattajack.

A lot of people think you have to be at the gym to train legs. While that may be true if you’re doing squats with heavy weight, for the type of leg strength you need for SUP it’s possible to do a few simple exercises wherever you may be, requiring minimal equipment, space and time. Here are a few I do regularly, immediately after paddling two to three times a week, that have helped my paddling in big water and in long races dramatically.

Split Squat Jumps

Split squat jumps is a great plyometric exercise that involves all the large muscle groups of your lower body. Make sure you extend your front foot far enough forward so that you have an angle of 90 degrees or greater at your knee to prevent injury. The more explosively you jump, the higher you’ll go and the more you’ll be developing power. Focus on landing quietly and with control. Landing this way builds strength during the deceleration and will require heightened use of proprioceptors in your feet and lower legs, which will help you with balance when you are on your board.

Watch the video here:

Frog Jumps

Frog jumps are another great plyometric exercise working your lower body. They’re also a real lung burner if you do enough reps. Like with split squat jumps you’ll want to jump as explosively as you can, this time for distance instead of height, and land as quietly and with as much control as possible. Again, you are developing heightened proprioceptive ability in your feet and lower legs that will help with your balance, while at the same time you are working on power endurance in your legs.

Bulgarian Split Lunges

Bulgarian split lunges are a great lower body exercise that can be done without the jump as you see in the video, although I prefer doing it with the jump to increase power development and add in the enhanced proprioceptive demands associated with a controlled, quiet landing.

You’ll need a bench, chair or step to place your back foot on and you’ll find it a bit more difficult to balance if the top of your foot lies flat on the bench in a plantar flexed position rather than just your toes contacting the bench in a dorsi flexed position. If you choose to do these with the jump, you’ll again want to make sure your landing is as quiet as possible. Make sure your front foot is far enough forward to give you an angle at your front knee of approximately 90 degrees.

This is a great exercise for developing power endurance as well as your balance. You may want to start holding onto something with one hand for stability before progressing to doing the exercise with hands on hips.

Lateral Bench Jumps

You’ll need a stable bench that can take your body weight for lateral bench jumps. Be sure that it is stable enough that it won’t topple if you misstep.

Jump explosively off one foot in an upward but lateral direction so that your take-off foot lands on the bench and your other foot lands on the ground on the opposite side of the bench. As usual with plyometric exercises, your landings should be controlled and quiet. Then do the same thing in the opposite direction so you’re back where you started.

It’s pretty difficult to do these without some help from your arms for jumping and for balance so I wouldn’t think about trying to do these with your hands on your hips.

This might be the most difficult exercise of those included here to do without access to a gym. In that case you might have to search around for a place where you can do these and experiment a bit. Just make sure that whatever you end up doing them on is stable and will take your body weight. Failing to do so can risk serious injury.

Skating Motion

Though I am using a medicine ball in the video, alternatively you can do the skating motion with a dumbbell held in front of you, or with nothing in your hands held in the same position.

You are trying to jump laterally as far as possible and stick your landing on your opposite foot. Land quietly with controlled deceleration before accelerating and jumping explosively in the opposite direction. This is a great exercise for power endurance and proprioception with your muscles working in a different direction than in split squat jumps or Bulgarian lunges.

Watch the video here:

Low Walking

Although low walking is not plyometric, for me it is a great exercise that is very simple to do. With your hands on your hips step forward with one foot like you are going to do a step lunge. Be sure to take a large enough step that the angle at your front knee is 90 degrees. Come up only enough to allow your back foot to pass under your body and step forward. Another way to look at it is don’t come up any further than the straightest your legs get when you’re on your board. You’ll need sustained contractions in your hamstrings, glutes and quads to complete each set which is excellent for developing strength endurance in these muscles.

Watch the video here:

Squat Jumps

Squat jumps are like split squat jumps but we’re jumping up from a squat position with both legs straightening at once and then sinking back into a deep squat position when we land. As with all plyometric exercises the idea is to jump as high as you can to develop power, while landing as cleanly and quietly as possible to develop strength through deceleration and proprioception in your feet and lower legs.

Watch the video here:

The Circuit

I’ve used each of these exercises at various times as part of other workouts, doing 3 to 5 sets per exercise. But what I’ve come to prefer is doing them together in a leg circuit immediately after a paddling workout, completing a set of one exercise before quickly moving to the next exercise. I normally do 20 to 30 reps of each, and when I’m doing exercises that alternate one side to the next I do 20 to 30 reps on each side.

I recommend starting by picking 5 exercises and doing one round (or one time through the sequence of 5 exercises). I’d do this a couple of times a week immediately after getting off the water. After a week or so add another exercise and another round. Over time, do all the exercises and try to do 3 full rounds. Three rounds of 30 reps doing all the exercises will only take about 15 minutes but it’s a real killer.

I‘m convinced if you incorporate exercises such as these into your program on a regular basis in a leg circuit you’ll feel a whole lot stronger on your board as well as more stable. And for those training for Chattajack I can tell you from experience that this extra legwork, done when you’re already tired, really helps improve your power endurance and your ability to have strong legs underneath you in the late stages of the race. This will allow you to paddle a whole lot more effectively deep into the race where your technique usually starts to breaks down and you start to question whether or not you can finish.

Of course these exercises represent just the tip of the iceberg of those available in the Paddle Monster video library which are part of the comprehensive strength training plan developed by our Strength and Conditioning Coach, Chris Chapman. But they’re easy to do, effective and can have a huge impact on your Chattajack preparation. Try building them into your program and see for yourself. And remember…..TRAINING WORKS!!

Learn more and sign up to prepare for Chattajack at


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