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Adrian     One minute to start

Over 140 teams of paddlers will wait in anticipation for the race official to yell “one minute to start” during the Canadian Cancer Society Manitoba Dragon Boat Festival on the weekend of September 10-12 at the Forks.

Dragon boating originated in China 2000 years ago and has become increasingly popular among corporate and community teams in Manitoba looking to raise money and awareness for an important cause. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, over $350,000 was raised in 2009 to fund cancer research.

The long decorative boats are propelled by 20 paddlers, guided by a steersperson, and kept in sync by a drummer. The teamwork and thrill of competition make for an exciting weekend for both participants and spectators along the Red River. This atmosphere attracts teams of seasoned paddlers and weekend warriors, which may mean pain and discomfort for those who don’t prepare for the event.

This will be my first year dragon boat racing and I can say after the first few practices that the rush of paddling as a team masks the muscle soreness that comes after. It may seem as simple as paddling to the beat of a drum but as with other sports, dragon boat racing requires total body conditioning, including cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, strength and proper technique to maximize performance and minimize injury.


It’s a race to the finish, meaning your body will be working hard to paddle faster and faster. Without a strong heart and lungs, you may find yourself huffing and puffing after the first 100 meters. There are many ways to train your cardiovascular system including running, biking, roller-blading, swimming, and aerobics. If you are a beginner, a good way to start is by doing a 5-10 minute warm up such as a brisk walk followed by a 10-15 minute jog or run and finish off with a 5 minute cool down walk. Simply replace running with any of the other activities listed previously to vary your workout and try to fit in 3-5 sessions each week.


Dragon boat racing requires a good range of motion through your shoulders, spine, and hips. Any limitations may lead to an inefficient stroke or to muscle strains when you are suddenly and repeatedly reaching beyond your normal range. Stretching is most effective after a warm-up so it can easily be added at the end of each cardio session. To improve your flexibility, stretching should be done daily, holding each position for a minimum of 30 seconds.


You mainly use your back, shoulders, core, hips, thighs, and chest to paddle a dragon boat. A strength training routine should focus on those muscle groups and should be done 2-3 non-consecutive days a week. If you are new to cardiovascular, flexibility or strength training, it’s best to talk to your physiotherapist or an exercise professional to learn proper technique, progressions and receive specific exercise prescriptions.


The most important way to prevent an injury on race day is to learn the correct technique and safety precautions. Each team in the Manitoba Dragon Boat Festival is given three opportunities to practice with experienced people on dock to coach you on proper paddling. If you have any medical conditions that may limit your ability to train for the event, it is important to receive clearance from your doctor.

It may seem like a lot of preparation for just one weekend of racing, but the time it takes to properly train is much less than the time it may take to rehabilitate after an injury. If you start now, you may not be as conditioned as someone who routinely trains in all four areas, but you will be better than the person who just shows up on race day. The feeling of accomplishment just might motivate you to continue to train routinely and make physical activity a part of your lifestyle.

Good luck paddlers. “One minute to start!”

Adrian Salonga is a graduate of the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor’s degree in Medical Rehabilitation in Physical Therapy. Please send your questions regarding mobility, health promotion or injury prevention to

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