The Athleticism of Whitewater Rafting
People often ask me what it takes to be a whitewater raft guide. I tell them it takes a special someone to handle the level of control and responsibility, let alone the physicality of it. Pushing a raft down the river is vigorous work, and you must have a certain amount of strength and athleticism. For example, even just pulling yourself back into a raft after falling out is similar to a muscle up, though the water creates a different type of resistance so it is crucial to use your legs to kick with enough power.
Usually a 16-foot boat has six to 10 paddlers. The heavier these people are, the harder it becomes to steer a boat. Ideally the paddlers work as a team by staying synchronized, leaning forward, and engaging the hips while their paddles break the surface of the water. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Which Muscles Does Rafting Work?
While guiding a boat through the whitewater section of a river, the three main movements we teach are the draw, pry and the J stroke.
If I am guiding from the right of the boat and I draw, the objective will be to turn the boat to the left. The right side of my body will be engaged as I reach my arms and torso out of the raft, dig my paddle in the water and “pull” it towards me. It looks very similar to a person doing a lat pulldown from the side. The right latissimus dorsi is engaged, the trapezius, both biceps, core and the hips.
A pry is a pushing movement so it will direct the boat to the right. Similar to the triceps press, the right elbow will be flexing while holding the shaft of the paddle. As the triceps extends the elbow, the arm pushes the blade in the water and away from the raft. This movement engages the right pec and anterior deltoid.
The J stroke is combination of both a pry and a draw. It is ideal for paddlers and guides to switch sides consistently to prevent neuromuscular imbalances and injuries.
Why Rafting Matters
I believe that whitewater rafting is one of the most underappreciated sports. Not only does it provide people with entertainment and the joy of the outdoors, but it's also a stunning experience and a great workout. Unlike CrossFit, strength challenges or tough mountain challenges, the rafting industry does not require athletes. You don't have to lift weights to enjoy rafting, though those with conditioned athletic abilities do open a window for more opportunity, enjoyment and safety.
Can't Get On the Water to Try Out Whitewater Rafting?
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