Endurance and Speed for the Canoeist

                    Originally published in Paddler Magazine, 2007

You and some friends push off from shore for a week-long trip. The first couple of miles reveal glassy water but then the sheltered bay gives way to an exposed, windy stretch and the game changes. The short crossing requires a burst of power from each paddler – “let’s get this over with as soon as possible!” Translation? “Give me some speed.” Later, the wind backs off but the mileage for the day will still stand at 20. What will make this extended, varied day more enjoyable? Greater endurance wouldn’t hurt. 

So what can you do to enhance both your speed and endurance? It’s as simple as TTT: tools, training, and technique


The engine for the canoe is you but your direct power connection with the water is your paddle. The right paddle will increase both your speed and endurance immediately. In short, get yourself a bent shaft carbon fiber paddle and never look back. The bent shaft gives you a more efficient stroke by allowing the paddle blade to engaging the water at the proper, vertical position and the substantial weight reduction of the carbon fiber is shocking. The first time you try one you will have the sensation that the paddle is jumping out of your hands! This all translates to quicker paddle strokes and less muscle fatigue.

 The other tool that makes a big difference is a fabric spray deck. By reducing the tendency of the wind to catch on the inside walls of the canoe you will ensure that more of your energy will be converted to forward momentum.


Much like cycling, you are how you train. Climb hills and you will become a hill climber, but your speed will not increase on the flats. Same goes for canoeing. It’s called specificity – train specifically for what you want to do well. This doesn’t mean you need to do boring workouts on some paddling machine in a gym. What it does mean to your speed and endurance is this: you must do more fast paddling and you must paddle for longer periods.

 Ultimately, beefing up both your speed and endurance means you will need to paddle a little more than you are now. There’s no getting around the fact that you need to spend more time in the boat, but in my experience this is a good thing! If you get out once a week now, consider adding an after-work paddle mid-week. Use this outing to work on speed by throwing in several timed pick-ups; something like this:

  • Warm up at a leisurely pace for the first 15 minutes.
  • For the next 30 minutes alternate between fast paddling for 5 minutes and slow recovery for 5 minutes. This works out to 3 speed intervals. Each 5 minute speed session should take your heart rate and paddle stroke rate up to, but not beyond, your comfort zone. Make sure you don’t let the pace break down your form. Don’t splash with the paddle blade or get to the point where you are flailing.
  • For the last 15 minutes go back to the leisurely pace; warm down like you warmed up.

 Total paddle time = 60 minutes

 Doing speed work like this once a week for a couple months will, without a doubt, give you that burst of speed when you need it.