Agonist and Antagonist training for paddlers

Something to keep present in your training is strengthening your antagonist muscle, the push vs the pull as is the case for paddlers. The agonist is the prime muscle working in a particular movement. The antagonist is the muscle that’s directly opposing the agonist muscle.

agonist-antagonist Example; when the bicep engages, the tricep relaxes. These two muscles are considered a muscle pair, but their roles are not always the same and direction of motion can be in opposite force. When you do a tricep extension to contract the back of the arm, the bicep relaxes. In this situation the tricep is now the agonist and the bicep has become the antagonist. This may be confusing in theory, but if you try either one of these exercises, you’ll fully understand the concept just by feeling where the muscles are engaging and relaxing.

As paddlers we know that our strength comes not from our biceps but from the core and rotation during the drive, which is a whole lot of muscles all working together to create the prime motion of the stroke, where we deploy our power to propel ourselves forward. There is a lot of pulling motion as well as some pushing at work in the top hand drive, press and leg drive. If you have been paddling for more then 2-3 years you have probably noticed a difference in your build, hundreds of thousands of strokes later your body evolves to accommodate the motion and technique. Take a moment to look in the mirror and relax completely, take notes on how your body slouches, what part of your shoulders, arms, torso and back are built up and see how these built up muscle groups affect your body by pulling your posture or other muscles. This can give you an idea of where to start working.  Deter injury and improve your balance by offsetting your agonist while also strengthening them for performance and working towards longevity.

Considering staple exercise routines for paddlers that have equal pulling and pushing action, pull ups and push up are a good example, both exercises engage the upper body from arms to torso, yet in opposing force. Consider adding in the agonist & antagonist training concept when planning your WOD or circuits, this will help build a strong paddling frame that is less prone to injury.


This workout will get your heart rate up while working both agonist and antagonist. Pay extra attention to form and transferring load by engaging muscle groups. Place this workout after your cardio piece and be sure your are warmed up. Take a rest if needed between sets rather then risking injury.

  • 20 push-ups
  • 20 35lbs low row each side
  • 20 45lbs-95lbs bar push and press (?)
  • 20 pull-ups
  • Repeat x3 for time (20-24 minutes)

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