The last time I went on a prolonged canoe trip with multiple portages was over 10 years ago. I consider myself to be in decent physical shape; I’m active outdoors on the weekends and I have great stamina. However, like many people these days, my work is sedentary and largely spent at a computer. Overtime this takes a great toll on your body. I realized I needed to train to meet the challenges of this trip and avoid injuring myself or irritating the hardware in my back.
When preparing for a long trip such as this it is important to perform an honest assessment of both your current level of physical fitness and the physical requirements of the trip. I started planning for this trip by assessing what canoeing 631 miles over two months would entail. All day paddling is about endurance and having a strong muscle platform. Paddling a canoe largely involves the upper body muscles and core muscles. On full paddle days I could be burning anywhere from 4,000 – 6,000 calories a day. I will be portaging (walking) around 6 dams and I will need to be able to carry a 90lb, 15’8” two man canoe on my shoulders for up to a mile at a time (one portage is much longer than this). I also need to be able to carry an 80lb waterproof back pack
If you are like me and not certain where to start at the gym, a great way to get started is to go to a trainer for a couple of sessions. Have them develop a workout routine specific to your needs. Lucky for me, my housemate is a gym rat and a Naturopathic Doctor. She helped me to develop upper and lower body work outs to get me started. As my training progressed I then met with a trainer to adjust my routine.
I utilize machines and free weights for my upper and lower body weight training. It is important to get a dynamic exercise using both. Using just machines can lead to a static exercise routine; which means your muscle building will not translate very well into real world lifting situations. Involving free weights enables you to work on whole body muscle stabilization (aka you work out secondary and tertiary muscle groups as well as your targeted muscles). On my upper body days I specifically do free weight exercises targeting muscles to help me better increase my range of motion.
I also start every work out with an intense cardio session. I aim to burn 700 – 1000 calories per cardio session. I cross train using an elliptical and a stationary bike. Cardio is essential to my plan for several reasons. Thanks in large part to my sedentary work, I have put on some pounds. As of the writing of this article I have shed just over 50lbs so far. I have also been building endurance from increasing the resistance in my cardio exercises. Burning this many calories gives me a testing ground for blood sugar control and insulin adjustments. This helps me to see how intense exercise sessions affect my body’s response to long lasting and short lasting insulin. I then use this data to figure out dose adjustments.
Real World Training
My biggest concern here is all the weight I have to carry on my shoulders during portages. If I do it in one walk I will potentially be carrying a total of 170lbs. I have been practicing my canoe lifting and carrying technique. I used this video specifically to work on my technique. I have been carrying my canoe around the neighborhood gradually increasing the distance I walk. I walk with my back pack and life vest on to simulate what I will be doing on the trip. Over time I have been adding water to jugs in my backpack to add weight. I’m currently carrying 40lbs in my pack. I am working my way towards 80lbs in my pack while carrying my canoe.