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Is Canoeing a Good Full-Body Workout—Or Is It Wimpy?

Not only is paddling harder than it looks, it taxes your body like interval training.

“Some buddies and I are going on a canoeing trip in the Adirondacks, on a river they say has some pretty cool rapids. But another pal of ours called canoeing “wimpy” because “you just sit all day and only use your arms.” Is that true, or is it really a good workout?” AL J., Lima, OH

It’s definitely not wimpy: “On full-paddle days, you could burn 4,000–6,000 calories a day!” says Courtenay Schurman, C.S.C.S., co-author of The Outdoor Athlete. For comparison, Schurman says, if you’re a 175-pound guy and you jog 6 mph for an hour, you’ll burn roughly 612 calories; but if you canoe 4 mph for an hour, you’ll burn 728 calories—even more if there’s a headwind, “Canoeing taxes the body like interval training,” Schurman says. And that’s not counting the time you’ll spend humping a 17-foot canoe and all your gear over land (aka “portaging”).

To make sure you’re physically in shape for several days of paddling, Schurman advises working on 1) upper-body strength (shoulders, lats, arms, and forearms); 2) a strong core (abs, obliques, and lower back); and 3) leg endurance (calves, quads, hamstrings, and hips), for portaging.

Finally, if the river has rapids, be sure you’re a strong swimmer, Schurman says, and that someone with you is a skilled boat handler. But all in all, it’s an experience you won’t forget. “The adrenaline rush of going through rough water is a thrill in itself.”

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