What is outrigger canoeing?

Outrigger canoeing, hailing from Polynesia, is a popular and growing sport in Singapore and beyond. It is 1,3 or 6 person vessel with an ama (hull) on one side to improve stability. Paddlers are single file and will generally paddle for ~15 strokes alternating on each side. Since this sport has not made it to Olympic status yet training methods are not yet as highly tuned due to research focusing on other watercraft sports.


Don’t confuse it with..

Dragon boating, of Chinese origin, which refers to a 18-22 person craft, with paddlers sitting in pairs, each of them rowing on one side.

Rowing (or crew as it is referred to in the U.S.) owes its origins to Ancient Egypt and has each person sitting single file in a 1-8 person shell with two oars each. Rowers not only differ in their use of mounted oars but they also face away from their intended directions and use their legs to slide back and boost the power of their stroke.


What injuries are likely?

With this being a predominantly upper body focused sport using repetitive movements, injuries are to be expected.

In a 2009 study of Outrigger paddlers in Oahu they found a staggering 62% (n=293) of them had experienced paddling-related musculoskeletal injuries. The most common sites of involvement were shoulder (40%), and back (26%), followed by wrist/hand (10%), elbow (9%), and neck (9%). Rib injuries were also common among these paddlers.

The most common specific injuries I see as a Physiotherapist are lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), rotator cuff pathology and lumbo-pelvic strain.


Factors affecting injury?


  • Those who paddle both long and short distances are more likely to get injured than those who only paddle short distances.
  • Muscular imbalances are found between the dominant and non-dominant upper limb which leave the weaker side more at risk.
  • Injuries are not solely related to paddling, lifting and moving of crafts is also a risk factor!
  • Unlike many other water sports canoe seat position does not influence injury rates, which is likely because seat position is frequently changed.
  • No difference between genders for likelihood of injury.


Factors affecting success?


  • A larger stature with less aerobic capacity has been found to be more powerful than a lighter more physically fit stature in sprint races.
  • Those able to generate and maintain higher power output on a 1000m ergometer time trial.
  • A shorter stroke length produces greater force but may be more physiologically demanding.
  • A paddle angle of 10-30’ has been shown to produce significantly more power than a straight paddle.


 How to prevent injury?


Given the higher likelihood of shoulder and back injuries strengthening exercises that train the rotator cuff and core should be integrated into the weekly routine of outrigger canoe paddlers as well as a full body cross-training exercise like swimming. A frequency of twice a week for strength training with >48 hours of recovery between sessions is optimal.



What muscles are important to train?


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Where to start with strength training?

Exercises that work the body as a whole, incorporate rotation and are use heavy resistance are best. See below for some examples:

1. Resistance band or cable pull down with rotation.














2. Forward lunge with rotation- holding medicine ball or weight.






3. Russian twist with medicine ball




What to do if you have an injury?

The above exercises will help to prevent injury in healthy paddlers but will not be suitable to treat current injuries. Visit a Physiotherapist for an individualised assessment and rehabilitation strategy. Working also with your coach to perfect your stroke will help to address the cause of injury and prevent recurrence!


About the author

danielle-moran-150x150 Danielle is an Irish Physiotherapist working in the Robinson Road branch of City Osteopathy and Physiotherapy. Danielle has a keen interest in sporting injuries and restoring athletes to full performance. She has begun her outrigger canoe journey in the last year and is a proud member of the Singapore Paddle Club!







Canyon DV, Sealey R (2016) A Systematic Review of Research on Outrigger Canoe Paddling and Racing. Ann Sports Med Res 3(5): 1076.


Stanton R. Strength training for outrigger canoe paddlers. Strength Cond J. 1999; 2: 28-32.


Stanton R. Injury patterns and strength training habits of Australian outrigger canoe paddlers. Strength Cond Coach. 1998; 6: 7-11.


Haley A, Nichols A. A survey of injuries and medical conditions affecting competitive adult outrigger canoe paddlers on O’ahu. Hawaii.