Upper body conditioning for board paddling support crew

If you’re looking at taking your ocean swimming to the next level and tackling ocean swims of 5km plus you may find you need a support crew.

Depending on the swim, support crews can be made up of a ski/kayak paddler, board paddler and/or boat support.

If you’ve been asking around trying to find a friend to paddle alongside you during your marathon swim, and you’ve come up with a keen friend who’s a little out of shape you’re going to want to make sure they’re conditioned to make it the whole way with you!

In this blog Bondi Rescue lifeguard and volunteer surf sports coach Anthony ‘Harries’ Carroll shares a few exercises board paddlers can do in the gym, beach or home to condition their body for board paddling.

Some notable ocean swims that require a support crew are:

Functional movement patterns for board paddling

The exercises demonstrated below are designed to mimic the ideal board paddling technique.

You’re trying to focus on the most important action which is the catch & grab. This is where all the work is done and where you need to build your strength.

Use these exercises to:

  • Mimic the techniques & body position of board paddling
  • Become more confident to paddle
  • Gain increased stability and control
  • Develop strength and endurance

Include specific board paddling exercises into your regular exercise program at least twice a week, and core stability exercises 2-3 times a week, for 6 weeks in the lead up to the event.

Engage the core

When performing these exercises you need to “turn on’ your core muscles. Core muscles reside in the area of the stomach and the mid and lower back (not the shoulders). To engage your core, pull your stomach up and in.


Straight arm pull-down (Beginner)

Strengthening exercise to work the Lats.

  • Start standing with shoulder-width arms and legs two steps away from the machine.
  • Use palms down grip on the bar.
  • Slightly bend your torso forward at the waist and fully extend your arms. While keeping arms straight, pull the bar down by contracting the lats until your hands are next to the side of your thighs. Breathe out as you perform this step.
  • While keeping your arms straight, go back to the starting position while breathing in.
  • Repeat for 14 repetitions. Complete 3 sets.

Straight arm pull-down (Intermediate)

To take straight-arm pull-downs to the next level you can incorporate an exercise ball.

The action performed is the same as for the beginner exercises, however, this time you will balance on an exercise ball on your knees paying extra attention to turning on your core muscles and stabilizing yourself on the ball.

3 sets of 14 reps. Replicate the board action by a fast down pull (1 sec) and slow (4 sec) recovery.


Exercise ball push-up (Intermediate)

Here’s an advanced chest exercise based on the classic beginner level push up (which you can also do).

The exercise ball push-up requires an advanced level of upper body fitness and it will call on just about every upper body muscle in order to maintain balance on the unstable surface.

  • Begin by placing your hands on the ball about shoulder-width apart and your feet together on a similar level solid surface in a “plank’ position.
  • Once in position, keeping your back straight, slowly lower your upper body until the chest touches the ball.
  • Slowly push up to the starting position, exhaling as you push up.
  • 3 sets of 14 reps.


Barbell Ab Rollout (Beginner)

This exercise works primarily the abs, and also the lats, shoulders and lower back.

  • Start in a kneeling position with the barbell in front of you.
  • Bending at the waist, grip the barbell with a shoulder-width overhand grip.
  • With a slow controlled motion roll the bar out so that your back is straight.
  • Keep your arms straight throughout the exercise.
  • Roll back up to a kneeling position.
  • 3 sets of 14 reps.

Complete replication

Bench exercise band board paddle

This exercise uses a rubber exercise band to provide resistance while mimicking the natural board paddling technique. This can be performed in the gym or anywhere you can set up a bench with a place to connect band in front.

Tip: See if you can set up your board on a bench!

  • Ensure your body position best replicates your position on a board.
  • Start with your arms square with your elbows at 90 degrees at the “catch’ phase.
  • Maintaining your shape push through with palms, pulling through with lats.
  • At the end of your pull prepare for recovery phase then maintain shape in recovery into your catch.
  • 3 sets of 14 reps.

Same exercise without bench:

Important notice: Before you attempt any of these exercises ensure you have been given the ok by a registered medical practitioner and seek advice from a registered fitness professional.

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