Staying in Shape for the River Season

fit arm
Creative Commons License photo credit: austins_irish_pirate

I know it sounds silly to stay in shape for the river season, I mean isn’t a river trip supposed to be a vacation? Why do I need to be in shape to take a vacation?

The simple answer is, it is a vacation, however it’s an active vacation which requires the use of many muscles you normally don’t use during our normal sedentary lives. For example how many times do you do these activities:

  • Row a heavily loaded raft?
  • Carry heavy boxes and bags on and off a floating raft?
  • Walk along the tubes of a floating raft?
  • Squat onto your haunches as you put up a tent or help build a sandcastle?
  • Twist and pull a paddle through the water on a paddle boat or in a kayak?
  • Swim in a river?
  • Walk on uneven ground carrying gear?

Basically everything you do on a river trip isn’t something you would normally do on a regular work day, unless you’re a river guide.

Don’t panic though, you don’t need to be in great shape to run a river you just need to be in marginally good shape. If you’re only a passenger you don’t have to be as prepared but even then there are some things you can do now to make your summer river trip more enjoyable.

If you’re the oarsman responsible for getting your friends or family down the river safely you should be in good enough shape to row comfortably all day. It’s not all work, you can rest on the flat stretches but you want to be able to make a move when you have to without pulling your back out.

Preparing a little bit now will help you tenfold when it comes time to take your river trip. Here are some exercises I do on a regular basis to stay in decent shape. I’m not a physical therapist or a doctor, this is just what works for me, it is only a suggestion.

Basic River Trip Workout

1. Pull ups- Pull ups are my favorite exercise. they work your arms, back, shoulders, and even your core. I only do 2 sets of 10 each. This may not be attainable for you right away, but the nice thing about pull ups is how quickly you can see results. If you keep with it you’ll notice how much easier it is to do them and how many more you can do.

2. Push ups- Push ups are like pull ups, they’re hard at first but they build quickly. Push ups help your core as well as your chest, back and arms. I usually do about 3 sets of 25 a couple of times per week.

3. Sit ups- I know these can be tough, but they really help the core. I usually add some twisting at the end to help engage the obliques. In other words I put my right elbow on my left knee as I come to the top of the sit up and vice versa on the other side. 3 sets of 25 are what I normally do.

4. Running- I hate jogging, or running, it hurts and it isn’t fun for me, however it is the quickest and best way I’ve found to keep my cardiovascular system up where I want it. It also helps tone and keeps the weight down. I don’t run a lot, usually 2 three-mile runs a week.

Believe it or not having a good cardiovascular system will help you on your river trip. You won’t get winded when you have to make your way over uneven ground hauling heavy bags. You’ll be able to swim and enjoy the river more too.

I do other stuff besides what I mentioned but that is the core of all my workouts. If you do those exercises a couple of times a week and increase your frequency as the season gets closer, you’ll be ready for your river trip and feel good about taking your shirt off to boot.

Even if you’re only exertion on the river is lifting a beer and a fork to your face, you’ll be better prepared and have more fun if you have some level of fitness.


I’m on my 10th day of P90X and I’m loving it. It’s probably more than you need for basic physical fitness, but WOW, it is an ass kicker and really ramps up your fitness level. I’m committed to sticking with the full 90 days and I’m sure I’m going to have amazing results.

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