Building the Right Dragon Boat Team Training Program

Written by Blake Hara, Co-Founder of Gushou

So you’ve got a dragon boat team, now you need a team training program. Your new coach will help guide you through this process, but as team captain or a VI(Paddler) it’s not going to hurt for you to know the principles that will guide your coach’s decisions this season.

Assuming we’re talking about a new or novice team (i.e. less than two years’ experience), the guidelines below should help you build the right dragon boat team training program.


Dryland Practices

It is ideal for new teams to get in a few dryland practices before setting sail with the dragon. Here are four objectives for team dryland practices:

  1. Safety by introducing new paddlers to our sport in a safe and controlled environment: There is high probability that some of your members will never have paddled before – some will arrive not knowing what dragon boating even is! So, the first practice is educational and about setting expectations.
  2. Socialization: As much as dragon boating is about being a team sport, the team component significantly outweighs the sport component. For teams to be successful – in sport and in life – everyone has to be on the same page. Everyone also needs to be comfortable communicating with one another and (ideally) they like each other and are prepared to go to battle for one another. The first few practices will lay the foundation for accomplishing this.
  3. Technique: Dryland practices – whether in paddle pool, on paddling machines, or in a room reviewing YouTube dragon boat videos – all will serve to teach paddlers the mechanics of the stroke. Through observation, demonstration, and eventually practise, paddlers will appreciate the mechanics and movements for the stroke.
  4. Fitness: Dryland practices can help to physically prepare paddlers for this curious new team sport called dragon boat. Routines that incorporate stretching and flexibility will payoff down the road when coaches are looking for core power and core extension from their athletes.

Lake Practices

Spring is here and the snow has melted – or not… Either way, it’s time to push-off and paddle free! Ideally your team has been able to get in some dryland sessions during winter but if not, it’s not a problem because programs should cater to the level of the individual team. Below are lake practice guidelines for new teams that are preparing for a race two months out.

Phase 1: Technique & Building Base

1 – 3 weeks

Using a nine-week program as an example, focus should be on building good technique and a solid aerobic base during the first 3 weeks (⅓).

  • Always warm-up and warm-down to minimize risk of injury.
  • Break-down stroke. Stay away from technique tsunami and focus on one stroke concept at a time, eg. choose a practice to work on catch and next practice for pull-through, etc.
  • Low stroke rates and low to moderate efforts help reinforce technique.
  • Drills, drills, and more drills! Drills should hammer home important stroke technique concepts; be sure to always incorporate at least one into each practice!
  • Five & Thrive – keep practice pieces to 5 mins or less with enough rest to ensure full recovery; 1-3 mins rest should do it.

Example Drill: Catch Pause Drill

  • Paddlers pause in catch position on command (eg. every 3-4 strokes)
  • In this position focus is on setting up catch through hips=>torso=>shoulders

Phase 2: Speed & Power

4 – 6 weeks

Now that we have solid technique and aerobic base it’s time to push the limit, but don’t abandon long pieces just yet; continue with technique and aerobic base while introducing shorter and more explosive pieces. Without getting too technical, by end of Phase 1 traditional aerobic pieces will be mixed with power endurance (the ability to repeat powerful movements back-to-back, i.e. power with less rest). After The ratio of shorter pieces will outweigh technique and endurance pieces. These pieces are important during all phases and keep us moving in middle of racing.

As Phase 2 progresses, sets and reps should increase gradually to reach speed and power goals.

Example Drill: Finish Drill

  • Paddlers emphasize builds and finishing stroke strong and aggressive on command (eg. every 3-4 strokes)
  • This drill reminds paddlers to finish strokes with power

Phase 3: Race Preparation & Strategy

7 – 9 weeks

Phase 2 wraps-up with emphasis on speed; which leads into race components in Phase 3 – specifically starts (which are the truest form of speed in dragon boating). Here coaches can experiment with what works and what doesn’t. Depending on the crew, certain variables (i.e. power, speed, technique), can be emphasized to produce the fastest and most cohesive team possible.

Like Phases 1 & 2, warm-ups and drills are still important practice components, and should not be skipped.

Here are a couple of tips to keep your training on track in phase 3:

  • In preparation for race day, teams should practise actual race distance PLUS under and over-distance pieces to build speed and endurance, respectively.
  • High effort race pieces require sufficient rest to train proper system and ensure high quality.

Example Drill: Gates Drill (link)

  • This is my favourite drill. It stresses importance of leading stroke cycle using core
  • It also stresses importance of moving in sync with teammates and not letting hands get ‘ahead’ and out of sequence.

Sample Team Practice Program

Sample Dragon Boat Team Practice Program


HAPPY PADDLING EVERYONE! Hopefully the snow’s melted before lake practices start!

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