Cross Training Exercises for Paddlers: A Practical Guide

Sport specific paddle training is important and highly efficient, however, endurance cross training for paddlers off of the water can also be a valuable paddle training tool. Paddle Society coaches will often write these kinds of workouts into member’s customized training plans depending on their goals, athletic background, time constraints and ability to paddle through the winter.

Incorporate the endurance cross training exercises for paddlers below into your training program or reference them if you are following a Paddle Society customized training program. Cross training for paddlers off of the water can help rest paddling muscles, prevent injury and keep training fun and interesting.

With all of your training both on and off the water, be sure that you are properly warming up for at least 5-10 minutes, with dynamic stretching and other functional warm up exercises. All of the training Zones used below are explained in our article on training intensity here.


This is my favorite type of cross training exercise for paddler as it is relatively low impact, can be done outside and helps develop strength and endurance in the legs. If you can’t get outside on a road or mountain bike, then an indoor spinning bike is a sufficient substitute.

Be sure you have the seat and handlebars adjusted to correctly fit your body before you begin. You may combine aerobic and anaerobic workouts closer to your race to stress both systems simultaneously. Add high intensity fartlek intervals to any aerobic workout to stress the anaerobic system.

Pedal for 10 minutes at Zone 1-2 intensity to warm up and at least a few minutes to cool down for each of these exercises.

Biking Aerobic Workouts

1. 10’ at Zone 2, 10’ at low Zone 3, 20’ at Zone 2, 5’ at low Zone 3, cool down 5’

2. 15’ at Zone 2, 5’ at low Zone 3, 15’ at Zone 2, 5’’ at low Zone 3, 20’ at Zone 2

3. 20’ at Zone 2, 5’ at low Zone 3, 20’ at Zone 2, 5’ at low Zone 3, 20’ at Zone 2

  • Make up your own workout with a focus on high volume, low intensity in mostly Zone 2 and
    very small portions of low Zone 3 intensities.

Biking Anaerobic Workouts

  • Start all workouts below with a 15 minute warm up with increasing intensity from Zone 1 to
    Zone 2 and then low Zone 3

1. 5 x 60 second maximum intensity at Zone 4+, active recovery in Zone 1-2 for 6 min  between sets

2. 10 x 45 second maximum intensity, active recovery for 5 min between sets

  • Focus on high rest to work ratio with short, intense bursts of speed into Zone 3-4. Riding up
    hills and using higher gears are great ways to increase the intensity


Running is another great way to train your energy systems outdoors. If you have knee problems, back problems or other impact related injuries, consider biking workouts instead. There is no point in risking injury just to get your training in. A ‘train at any cost’ mentality is counterproductive, often results in injury and slows you down.

Running Aerobic Workouts

Run at a comfortable pace at Zone 1-2 and low Zone 3 for 20-40 minutes. Start toward the 20 minute mark and work your way up to 40 minutes over the duration of at least four weeks for beginner runners. Running at a comfortable pace where you would be able to talk and hold a conversation is a fun and easy way to build your aerobic endurance base.

Running Anaerobic Workouts

Sprinting, fartlek sessions, hill running and interval training are all great options to help build your anaerobic system while running. Keep your total running sessions under 40 minutes and allow for sufficient rest in between high intensity pieces of 20-60 seconds in Zone 3-4.

Do not start any anaerobic running workouts without at least four to six weeks of aerobic running under your belt. The easiest way to pull a muscle or cause any number of injuries is by sprinting before allowing your muscles, tendons and joints to adapt to running movements. Try running barefoot on the beach to build up foot muscles and just because running on the beach is great!


The Concept 2 rowing machine is a valuable piece of equipment to use for paddle cross training sessions. Most health clubs have Concept 2 rowers. The full-body rowing movement makes it a great way to cross train for SUP and outrigger. Be sure to research correct rowing form before beginning a rowing workout. You can also attach a bar to the C2 rower and use the machine from a standing or sitting position to simulate stand up paddling or outrigger paddling.

Hold the bar as you would hold your paddle and, just like that, you are stand up paddling or outrigger paddling indoors! The company Kayak Pro actually makes a paddle specific ergo machine that is the closest thing to paddling without being on the water. Paddle Society members will have received a Kayak Pro Ergo discount code in their member welcome emails. Use a paddle specific ergo machine if you have access to one.

Rowing Aerobic Workouts

Many of the workouts from your paddle base development training on the water can be used on the rowing machine by cutting the volume in half. Drop the volume because rowing for 30 minutes can be much more difficult than paddling for 30 minutes.

3 x 10 minutes at Zone 2, 1 minute rest in between sets
30 minutes continuous rowing at Zone 2
3 x 10 minutes at Zone 2, get up and do 20 push-ups every 10 minutes

Rowing Anaerobic Workouts

C2 rowers really help your anaerobic training sessions. Knock out these high intensity, low volume workouts for a great way to stress your anaerobic system and maximize your time in the gym. All workouts should start with dynamic stretching and at least 5-10 minutes of warm up rowing. Start each interval at Zone 3 working up to Zone 4.

5 x 750 meters at with 3 minutes rest
4 x 1000 meters with 3–4 minutes rest
5 x 5 minutes with 4 minutes rest
5 x 4 minutes with 4 minutes rest

Circuit Training

Circuit training with plyometrics helps increase your muscle power and is a great combination of aerobic and anaerobic activity. Read more about circuit training and watch the videos on the Fitness page to learn great circuit training exercises to incorporate into your paddle training program.

Cross Training For Paddlers Recap

We’re big fans of cross training for paddlers and mixing up a paddle training program. We’d all like to be on the water all of the time, however, time constraints, weather, logistics and life gets in the way. Use these cross training for paddling exercises as a part of a balanced paddle training program. Paddle Society coaches will incorporate this style of training into your customized paddle training plans.

I personally believe it is very important to use a lot of cross training for stand up paddling in particular. The strain and force exerted while stand up paddling, as compared to outrigger and other paddling sports, is enormous. The poor leverage from using such a long paddle from a standing position requires a stand up paddler to use exert an incredible amount of force.

This factor, combined with the fact that most stand up paddlers are participating in SUP as their first paddling sport, can often lead to injury and over training. Therefore, if you are a stand up paddler then I strongly recommend incorporating cross training to help you see the highest performance gains.

Watch and implement the exercises from our videos on cross training. If you are a Core or Pro member, you can ask your Paddle Society coach to incorporate more cross training into your customized paddle training program.

What’s your favorite paddle cross training exercise? Join the conversation and let us know on the Paddle Society Forum!

By | 2017-03-27T15:14:33-05:00 January 7th, 2017|Categories: Fitness, Foundational Stand Up Paddle Content|