Fresh Air Fitness

Paddle your way to good health.

When Sarah Hobday first moved from Baltimore to Virginia Beach four years ago, she saw ads for kayak lessons. “I thought, ‘you know what, I should try that sometime.’” A deal-of-the-day coupon spurred her to action, and she signed up for a class with Ocean Eagle Kayak Adventures. “I went out for the first time and just completely fell in love with it,” says Hobday, 34. “Being out on the water and seeing the dolphins and the fish made for a much more enjoyable workout than being indoors, working out on a treadmill.”

When she started the sport in July 2011,  she says, “I was at my heaviest. But once I started kayaking, it really helped my weight fall away.” Hobday began ocean kayaking two to three days a week, often bringing her beagle, Scooter, along for the ride (he has a life jacket, connected to hers with a strap). She also started making healthier choices in her diet. Within three months, she lost 30 pounds and has since lost 25 more—and kept it all off.

Because they can involve short spurts of exertion, followed by recovery times, kayaking and other watersports offer natural opportunities for high intensity interval training–one of the top fitness trends of 2014, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. High intensity interval training can improve strength and endurance and make the body more efficient for calorie burning.

In rowing, one example of interval training might be to alternate a slower stroke rate (for example, 18-22 strokes per minute) with a faster one (26-34 strokes per minute), says Bill Weirich, an instructor with Virginia Boat Club in Richmond. “We might go five minutes on the faster stroke rating, then two minutes off. We’ll do that 5 or 10 times, depending upon where we are in the season and where are in training.”

Kayakers and paddleboarders can incorporate similar techniques. “Even if you’re enjoying a nice relaxing day on flat water, stand-up paddling offers a very good workout. You use your core for stability, your arms for paddling and your legs for balance. It’s a full body workout,” says Shawn Young, owner of Fredericksburg SUP, who started his business in 2012 after teaching classes in Utah, Florida and Hawaii.

Outdoor water fitness is more accessible than many people think. Beginners can try their hand by taking introductory kayaking classes on waterways throughout the state or sign up for a dolphin or nature adventure trip on the ocean. “Safety is number one. Always, 100%, wear your PFD­–your personal flotation device,” says Stephen Zawisa, Jr., owner of Ocean Eagle Kayak Adventures.

The Virginia Boat Club offers “Learn to Row” sessions over the spring and summer months, generally four weeks long. Classes meet three times a week and last about 90 minutes each. Students do not have to join the boat club to take the class. Because of its low impact on joints, the sport appeals to students of all fitness levels and ages, says Weirich. His students include a 72-year-old man who began rowing for the first time last year.

Says Young, of Fredericksburg SUP, paddleboarding “looks challenging, but it’s really easy to pick up. With the right instruction and guidance you can learn the basic skills and be up on the paddleboard within a half-hour to an hour.”

He starts his two-hour beginner lessons by introducing students to fundamental paddling and safety skills. The students then go out on the water­­–kneeling, and then finally standing on one of the provided boards. For the last part of the class, the group paddles down the scenic Rappahannock River.

“If I had no other option but to go to a gym all the time, I’d be bored to death. But if I paddle five or six miles, I’ve had a great time. I’ve looked at eagles, and I’ve seen fish jumping,” says Young. “I completely forget the fact that I’ve been out there getting a fantastic workout.”,,

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