8 Off-Season Training Tips for Dragon Boaters

What do you do when the competitive season comes to a close?

The off-season is your golden opportunity to sharpen your skills and get ready for the next set of races.

In this article, we’ll delve into 8 tips to make the most of your off-season so that you can hit the water running when the new dragon boating season starts!

Table of Contents

1: Identify Your Weaknesses

Why Is This Important?

Identifying your weak points is the first step to improving. This may sound obvious, but many people don't actually realize what specific areas they need to improve on. Or, they might just say, "Well, I'm weak at everything." The more specific you are, the better you can plan to strengthen these areas, and thus the more likely you are to actually fix them!

Common Weaknesses

  • Technique: Catch too shallow; overreaching; bending the top and/or bottom arm during the pull; not enough rotation and/or hinge.
  • Power: Not accelerating through the stroke.
  • Strength: Can't do any/very many pullups; weak pushing strength.
  • Endurance: Can't continuously paddle with good technique and decent power for longer periods.
  • Core strength: Can't maintain posture during continuous paddling.
  • Coordination: Can't sync with team.
  • Flexibility: Tight hips/lats/hamstrings preventing you from getting a full range of motion.
  • Starts: Very important for the 200m and the 500m! Many people and teams lack the explosiveness required to accelerate the boat at the start.

Identifying Weaknesses

  1. Video Analysis: Record your practice sessions so you can objectively analyze your dragon boat technique.
  2. Peer Feedback: A second set of eyes can spot what you might miss.
  3. Self-Assessment Tools: Biometric wearables and performance metrics can offer invaluable data while you paddle.
  4. Track Your Workouts: Write down your land and water workouts so you can monitor your improvement over time and identify weak areas.

2: Set SMART Goals

Why SMART Goals?

Most people set vague goals. Most people also don't follow through with their goals. Don't be like most people.

SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals offer a structured approach to improvements. 


  • Get your first pullup within 10 weeks.
  • Aim to hit 2:05 for my 500m erg time trial.

Tracking Progress

  • Training Apps: Track your workouts with a fitness app or just write it down in a Google Sheet.
  • Journals: Nothing beats old-fashioned pen and paper for self-review.
  • Biometric Tests: Heart rate monitor, etc.

3: Consult with Experts

Why Experts?

Professional guidance can help you find weak points you never would have realize on your own and can help you come up with a tailored plan to address them.

Who to Consult

  • Coaches: For skill-specific guidance.
  • Trainers: For gym workouts complementing dragon boating.
  • Physiotherapists: To prevent or treat injuries.
  • Nutritionists: For dietary plans.
  • Sports Psychologists: Mental wellness is as important as physical fitness.

Where to Find Them

  • Google Search: Websites often list certified experts in various fields.
  • Recommendations: Trusted teammates or friends can offer great suggestions.

Check out our article on how to find a dragon boat coach.

4: Try New Exercises

Why New Exercises?

Variety prevents boredom and engages different muscle groups, allowing you to strengthen muscles that often get neglected by only training on the water. This will help keep training fresh and exciting as well as help prevent injuries.

Exercises to Consider

  • Cardio: Swimming is a fantastic low-impact endurance activity that is also highly similar to canoeing technique-wise. Cycling is another great low-impact option. Running is great as well, although it is higher-impact on the joints and muscles.
  • Weight Training: Unless you already actively train it, strength is something most people lack. The most transferable exercise is the humble pullup, which trains all the upper body pulling muscles you need for paddling. Rowing exercises are another great option, whether it's with a cable or a barbell. Bench press and pushups are great for working the upper body pushing muscles. Train the spinal erectors (i.e. the lower back muscles responsible for hinging) with exercises like deadlifts and hyperextensions. Don't skip out on leg day either; barbell squats, hack squats, split squats and leg press are great options to balance out your training. Lastly, don't forget about your core; consider exercises like planks, situps, side planks and leg raises.
  • Flexibility: Yoga, stretching.

Incorporation Tips

  • Split Routine: Alternate days between new exercises and dragon boating.
  • Rest Day Activity: Light yoga or Pilates can be excellent.

    5: Recover Actively

    Why Active Recovery?

    Recovery isn't merely the absence of training; it's an essential part of it. Active recovery methods help to speed up muscle healing and reduce fatigue.

    Especially during the beginning of the off-season, it's important to prioritize rest and recovery. Even if you feel fine, there will still be residual fatigue left over from the previous season. Taking a break from paddling to do other stuff will allow your mind to reset and will help keep you motivated for the next season.

    Examples of Recovery Activities

    • Easy Paddle: Paddle at a light pace (one you can still told a conversation with) to help flush the muscles out and work on technique.
    • Walking: A low-impact option that clears the mind.
    • Stretching: Focus on the muscles most used during paddling.
    • Massage: Deep tissue or sports massages can work wonders.
    • Meditation: Breathing meditation (i.e. breathwork) is a powerful tool used by high-level athletes to control anxiety, calm the CNS down and enter a flow state.

    Scheduling Recovery

    • Weekly Off: Dedicate at least one day to recovery per week.
    • Recovery Plan: Integrate lighter workouts and stretching into your weekly routine.

    Tip 6: Cross-Train

    Why Cross-Training?

    Incorporating other similar sports can bring in a new set of challenges and skills that are complementary to dragon boating. You can work other muscles neglected by dragon boat training as well as develop strength and endurance in areas that will enhance your paddling.

    Cross-Training Options

    • Outrigger Canoeing: Widely used by many dragon boat paddlers to work on individual technique and fitness on both sides, perfect for the off-season and to get more mileage in around your team dragon boat sessions.
    • Paddle Erg: The best way to work on your paddling fitness and technique without actually going onto the water.
    • Canoe/Kayak and Stand Up Paddleboarding: Has a steeper learning curve, but the stability and feel for the water that you will develop is highly valuable.

    Finding Opportunities

    • Local Clubs: Many offer cross-training options.
    • Events and Races: Participate in different sports events for experience.

    Tip 7: Eat Well

    Importance of Diet

    Fueling your body with the right nutrients is essential for performance and recovery. Start creating new habits in the off-season that will fuel your way to success.

    Healthy Food Choices

    • Lean Proteins: Chicken, turkey, and fish.
    • Complex Carbs: Brown rice, quinoa, whole grain bread.
    • Healthy Fats: Avocado, nuts, and olive oil.
    • Cut Out Processed Foods: A good rule-of-thumb to live by when deciding on what to eat.

    Meal Planning

    • Calorie Tracking: Know your caloric needs and plan accordingly.
    • Bulk Cooking: Prepare meals for the week in advance.

    Tip 8: Stay Motivated

    The Need for Motivation

    Keeping your spirits high can make the grueling off-season training a lot more bearable.

    Motivation Strategies

    • Set Lots of Short Term Goals: Focus on hitting small, easy goals, like going to the gym 2x/week, or doing 10 pullup negatives per gym session. Easy wins like this will keep you motivated.
    • Rewards: Treat yourself when milestones are reached.

    Overcoming Challenges

    • Community Support: Join a team or a group of friends who are after the same goal and who will support you.
    • Feedback Loop: Regularly check in on your progress through testing, and then adjusting your plan if necessary.


      We encourage you to integrate these tips into your training and would love to hear your feedback.

      Questions or suggestions for future articles? Feel free to comment below!

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