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Packraft Training Tips from Sarah Histand

Packraft Training Tips
From Packrafter and Personal Trainer, Sarah Histand

Written by: Sarah Histand | Photos: Luc Mehl

We may be stuck at home, but it doesn’t mean we can’t start getting ready for paddling season. Once we flatten the pandemic curve, we’ll be on the river in no time. And the good news is, you can get ready for packraft season from the comfort of your living room! 

We invited trainer Sarah Histand to share a few exercises that we can do at home to help get in shape for our summer trips. Sarah is a packrafter, personal trainer, and mental health counselor from Anchorage Alaska, and she uses these exercises to prepare herself and her clients for their backcountry paddling adventures (like her Western Brooks Range Traverse last summer).  Now, on to Sarah…


Packrafting requires a super-strong core, stable shoulders, and flexible hips. And if you have thigh-straps or knee-cups, you’ll also want to activating your inner-thighs to add to your stability. Check out the three exercises below that Sarah has put together to simulate a bunch of the paddling actions with each move.

If you have them, a few props you’ll want are a Resistance Band and your paddle.  Any resistance band will work! If you don’t have a resistance band on hand, sub in a dishtowel, pillow, baby, or small dog for the twisting V-Sit. For Chest Press just push hard against imaginary resistance—it will activate the same muscles!  We understand it’s hard to find or purchase these items right now, so get creative and use what you have to make it work.


Chest Press Punch.

Wrap the Figure-8 Band around your back, with the ends in each hand close to your armpits. Find an athletic stance (feet slightly wider than your hips, knees soft, core engaged) and, starting slowly, push forward with one arm while the other stays in close. Then switch sides.

Pay attention to how you’re using your core to resist torso rotation as you’re punching – this exercise is both an upper body and a core one, much like paddling. As you get comfortable with this move, you can increase the speed of your punches.


Twisting V-Sit.

Sit on the ground much like you were sitting in your packraft: knees bent and heels on the ground in front of you. Tip your hips forward so you are resting on your sits bones, not your tailbone. Starting with your hands on the floor behind you, lower your torso back toward the ground a few inches, until you feel your core fire up. Don’t go too low – instead, when you’re ready for more challenge, remove your hands from the ground, extending them out in front of you.

Next stage is to add a Figure-8 pattern with your arms & shoulders, while keeping knees and hips as stable as possible. We want the core to feel challenged here, and the twists to originate in the upper back/thoracic spine. This movement is much like the twisting motion of paddling and can help.

Grab a band or part of your paddle handle to keep your hands in place while doing this.

Shoulder Mobility.

Shoulder strength and mobility is so important for paddlers! This exercise is a great warm up for the shoulders and the brain before a paddle session… and bonus, you’ll impress all your friends if you can do the last one in the sequence without hitting yourself in the head. It’s really hard to describe in writing, so please see the video below that shows you exactly how to do this one. You’ll need your paddle and some space to move around. 

Click on the image below to view the video.


Looking for more? Try out Sarah’s Busy Day Workout to get a sense of her workout style. Then consider joining Sarah’s upcoming online training program: Summer Strong: Mind & Body Training Summer Adventures. This online program begins April 20, 2020 and will help you build the kind of functional strength you need for outdoor adventures—from your living room!  


Sarah Histand is a personal trainer, mental health counselor, nutrition coach, and outdoor adventurer. Her online training community helps people build mind & body strength so they can keep up with their friends, prevent injuries, and have as much fun as possible in their outdoor adventures and their daily lives. Check out her summer training opportunities: Summer Strong: Mind & Body Training for Summer Adventures.