We’ve already examined some great, functional lifts that will make you a better hiker in “Four Lifting Strategies to Make You a (More) Badass Hiker,” so it’s only fair that we cover all of the wave-cutting, rapid-battling, paddle-snapping kayakers out there.
As with any sport, the goal (hopefully) is to get better. A mandatory part of that is training, both in the water and in the gym. The goal is to be stronger and more capable at your pastime, and the ripped bod look will come naturally with time. As a general basic strategy, one should try to focus more on the functional lifts that target a greater number of muscles. With that in mind, kayaking is more of an upper-body and core targeted sport, so you’re obviously going to want to pay much more attention there. As the saying goes, “friends don’t let friends skip leg day,” so don’t slack on the squats (they’ll give you a tight core, anyhow). However, since you’re working toward being bigger up top, here are four lifts that will get you bigger gains in terms of your adventure (and those pecs).
This is a pretty obvious one. Beloved by meatheads, athletes, and people with “little man syndrome” the world ‘round, the bench press is probably the most recognizable lift, even to those who have never stepped foot inside a gym. It exudes machismo, pain, and the ever-present threat of dropping the bar on your trachea. Done correctly, the bench press is a vital upper-body lift. Done incorrectly, it can cause major damage to your shoulders. As with all big lifts, proper form is a must. When bench pressing, grip the bar shoulder length apart, and try your best to keep your elbows tucked in close to your sides. You can grip the bar with a closer grip if you are looking to target your triceps, but never grip it wider than shoulder length, as doing so is just asking for a shoulder injury. Flaring your elbows out will usually allow you to lift a bit more, but it is also pretty rough on your shoulders. Before taking the bar off of the rack, arch your back while taking care to not lift your butt up off the bench. This will make your body work almost like a coiled spring ready to force the bar back up. It also often helps to try to “grip” the floor with your feet and imagine yourself almost squat pressing the bar back up to the top of the lift. The bench press will work your shoulders, pectorals, biceps, triceps, and if done correctly, even your core a bit.
Overhead (or Military) Press
Another staple of upper-body workouts is the overhead (often called a “military”) press. Military presses will target your shoulders, pectorals, back, triceps, and core. It can also be a dangerous lift, as it involves taking something very heavy and lifting it up over your head from a standing position. Stand with your feet together as if you’re standing at attention (hence the nickname the “military” press), and lift the barbell from your upper chest up above your head. At the bottom of the lift, you’re obviously going to have your head cocked back a bit so that the bar doesn’t hit you in the chin on the way up. Keeping your back as rigidly straight as possible and with a tight core, lift the bar above your head until your arms are fully extended. Once the bar passes above your head, make sure to bring your head back into a normal standing position beneath the bar. This lift can be one of the more frustrating ones when it comes to seeing gains, as it often takes longer to develop the shoulder muscles involved. As with the bench press, it is a good idea to have a spotter nearby. There are few scarier things that can happen in a gym than having a lot of weight pressed up over your head and realizing that your arms are about to give out.
Bent Over Rows
Sure, you’ll look kind of silly doing them, but bent over rows are extremely beneficial for your shoulders and back. Load about 1.5 times the weight that you can comfortably and safely overhead press onto a barbell. Keeping your back as rigid and straight as possible, pick up the barbell with the same stance as you would for a deadlift. Once you’ve lifted the bar to your waist, bend about 25 degrees forward, remembering to keep your back straight, core engaged, and butt sticking out (we said you’d look silly, remember). Pull the barbell up toward your sternum and try to make your shoulder blades touch at the top of the lift. As aforementioned, this will work your shoulders, back, and core mostly. Because every good lifting routine includes a pull to go with a push, this is a great partner to the bench press. If you have the facilities available, doing the two as a superset would be ideal.
Some may argue that this isn’t necessarily a “lift” because it doesn’t include a barbell, kettle bell, or dumbbell, but you’re lifting your own weight in the pull-up, and it can be one of the more humbling things you can do at the gym. Pull-ups (and chin-ups, for that matter) can be a pretty good litmus test for your overall body strength, because they force you to…well, pull your body up. Pull-ups can be frustrating and sometimes embarrassing when you start, because they are pretty difficult. They are, however, extremely basic. Simply grasp an overhead bar with an overhand grip (palms face away from you) just slightly wider than shoulder width, and pull yourself up, trying to get your chin above the bar. Then come back down, rinse and repeat. Chances are, if you’re a newbie to strength training (or if you’re just weak), there will not be much “rinsing and repeating.” Do them to failure (meaning you can’t do any more), wait a bit or go do something else, and then do them to failure again. Pull-ups can even be a worthwhile tool to keep your heart rate up between sets of another exercise or as a part of a circuit.