Strength Training for Dragonboating

If you’re familiar with Primal Strength or have been reading our articles you’ll know that our philosophy is centered on taking an individualized approach to training. Because of the way we chose to run our program we can’t herd 50 clients through a one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter session. While we do train in small groups, every one of our clients has a tailor made program. In fact we don’t even begin to prescribe exercises until we have met with the client and have put them through a rigorous Structural Balance Assessment.

Once we have assessed the client our first priority is to deal with any dysfunction and we have never met anyone who is completely dysfunction free. Dysfunction is usually caused by a lack of joint stability, mobility, strength and associated muscular imbalances. This can be a challenging time as people generally want to get under the bar and be challenged. But if a person is unable to e.g. squat due to a lack of hip mobility then loading them and getting them to squat anyway is, in the words of world-renowned Physical Therapist Gray Cook just adding strength to dysfunction. This is a recipe for injury. Instead, during this period we make sure we are addressing the issues flagged during our screen while still providing a training response through the use of biomechanically similar but safe exercises for the client at that stage of their journey. It may take a little time to address each dysfunction but the upside is that once the body is moving properly the rate of strength gains increase at a much higher rate than those who adopt the “shut-up and squat” mentality.

Being a good trainer was once described as being similar to being a good pilot. Before taking off a pilot follows a set checklist where he/she establishes whether everything is running as it should because if he/she gets that part wrong the effects down the track could be disastrous. Once in the air the airplane can get knocked off course by winds and turbulence and it is the pilots job to correct these deviations in order to end up at the desired destination. In our case the pre-flight checklist is the Structural Balance Assessment and the corrections are subtle changes to the program as the client adapts. 

Now to get back to the topic at hand - dragonboaters! Dragonboating is understandably a huge sport in Hong Kong, and across the globe for that matter. Few water sports have the same history, promote the same levels of camaraderie or are as easily accessible to the novice waterman. Training is high intensity and places significant demands on the anaerobic systems, which we think is important for long term health (read more here). However the sport is famously asymmetrical due to the fact that each paddler will only contact the water on one side of the body for extended periods of time. Some teams make an effort to switch sides of the boat regularly but the norm would be for one side of the body to be stressed to a far greater extent than the other. 

This is backed up in the research. A study by Pourbehzadi et al (2012) investigated the effects of high level dragonboating on posture. They found that almost all of the athletes studied had postural deviations as a result of the sport including increased lumbar lordosis, scoliosis and uneven shoulders. Dr Don Makenzie, the team Physician for the Canadian Olympic Kayak team believes that injuries from dragonboating have soared over the last 5 years as the sport has expanded rapidly. He considers the root cause of this to be the asymmetrical nature of the sport, which is compounded by often poor conditioning before the commencement of dragonboat training and inexperienced coaches who push too hard - too fast. He notes that the three injuries he sees most commonly are lower back strains, shoulder impingements and forearm tendonitis from griping too tightly. He also believes that all of these injuries are avoidable with well designed strength training. 

Perhaps then dragonboaters could be divided into three groups:

  • those who do no strength training and are predisposed to injury
  • those who opt for one-size-fits all programs who add strength to their dysfunction
  • those who are able to source individualized strength training programs based on their specific needs, who stay injury free and enjoy the sport to a greater extent.

I know which group I’d want to be in.

We would love to list some exercises at this point but that would be missing the point. Instead why not make an appointment with one of our trainers for one of our 100% free/zero obligation consultations. We'll go through a basic structural balance assessment with you and offer you some starting pointers.

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