The best way to get in shape for a big kayaking trip, most paddlers will tell you, is to do a bunch of little kayaking trips.
Former Marine Nic Doucette has a big trip coming up this summer. A very big trip. In fact, it’s an epic, 2,552-mile, from-source-to-sea, Mississippi River-sized trip.
His mission: to raise $25,000 for injured service members through the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund by padding from the big river’s headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.
Currently in school at the University of Wisconsin’s Whitewater campus, he just has one problem when it comes to getting ready for the more-than-two-month trip.
“Wisconsin weather has not been kind to my training,” he tells PT365 in the middle of his spring break. ”We’ve still got at least an inch of ice on the river up here.”
Instead, he’s been hitting the gym at least six days a week all winter to make sure he’s ready.
“When you’re paddling correctly, you shouldn’t be using a lot of your arms — it’s much more shoulders, back and core,” he says.
That’s why, in addition to plenty of cardio, he’s anchoring every workout with three key exercises to help build and hone those muscle groups. Of course, you don’t have to be kayaker to work them into your own workout.
“I’ll do a set of pullups at the beginning, middle and end of every workout,” Doucette says.
While his personal best is 37 reps at normal speed, he prefers a much slower cadence for most workouts. Typically, he’ll spend 3-4 seconds going up and then the same speed all the way back down to a full-arm lock-out before starting the next rep.
At first he was only able to do about eight reps that way, but he’s now up to sets of 20 to 25 slow-speed reps.
To mix things up, he throws in sets of weighted pullups by holding a dumbbell with his feet. He started with a 20-pound weight and as he improved started adding more weight in increments of 5 pounds. He’s up to 50 pounds now.
Bent-over row with dumbbell
If you’re not familiar with this one, start with one knee up on the back of a weight bench, with your hand griping the front. Your other foot should be planted to the side in a wide stance, with the dumbbell on the floor in front of you.
With your body bent over, lift the dumbell up to the starting position just up off the floor. With your head and back straight and parallel to the floor, lift the dumbell up to your armpit and then back down for one rep. Once you’ve finished on that side, switch to the other arm for one set.
Doucette says the key for building strength has been more weight and less reps.
He started with four sets of four, with a one-minute break between sets, using the heaviest weight he could manage while maintaining good form throughout. For him that was 55 pounds.
“Once my fourth set was no longer difficult and I could do about six to eight good reps, I increased the weight by 5 pounds.”
In six months, he’s gotten up to 85 pounds.
“I seem to have plateaued at 85 pounds, so I’m trying to do six reps now with each set and then hopefully move up to 90 pounds.”
“These things destroy me,” Doucette says. And for good reason.
The Dragon Flag is credited as one of Bruce Lee’s secret weapons in building up those killer abs. You may have seen Sly Stallone pumping them out in Rocky IV.
“They’re similar to leg lifts or flutter kicks but activate way more of your core.” In fact, Doucette says he first discovered the Dragon Flag after he worked his way up to sets of 50 leg lifts. “I was just getting bored with them.”
Now he ends every workout with three sets of Dragon Flags just before his last round of pullups.
Here’s how you do it: Lie down on a weight bench with your hands gripping the end behind your head. Alternatively, you can use a decline bench, with your head up where your feet would normally go.
Either way, lifting up from the ball of your upper back, the starting position is with your legs straight out and parallel with the floor. From there, swing your legs up until your feet are almost directly over your head, but not quite.
“If your legs are straight up, you’re defeating the purpose. You always want to have a little angle to your body,” he says.
Return to the starting position, and that’s one rep.
Doucette does sets of 30 reps. “The first set, my legs go up the middle. Then I take a break, then one set up and over to my left side. Another break, and then another set over to the right. It’s insane ab workout.”
Doucette plans to launch his trip down the Mississippi on May 31. To follow his progress, or if you’re interested in supporting his fundraiser, check out MississippiRiver2014.weebly.com. All donations go directly to the Semper Fi Fund.\
Jon R. Anderson is a staff writer for OFFduty. Contact him at email@example.com.