7 Ways to Achieve Your New Year’s Fitness Goals on the Canals

kind permission Jan Pickles

Kind Permission: Jan Pickles

Do you believe in New Year’s resolutions?

Have you ever begun a January exercise program, only to abandon it by February?

Would you like to increase your chances for long term success?

The answer could be to combine your fitness practice with time on the waterways, to maintain your enthusiasm!

Before beginning any kind of exercise program, first check with your doctor that you are healthy enough to start whatever you have planned. Mentally you are more likely to succeed if you have confidence in your exercise ability and receive encouragement and support from those closest to you. It’s also a huge advantage if you have chosen something you enjoy, like being close to boats and waterways.

Here are seven ways to get active on the inland waterways.

1) Work the Locks.

As you approach a lock as part of a crew you may be the one to leap to the bank holding a rope and haul the boat in, then tie to a bollard. To fill or empty the lock you will need to wind paddles with a simple device called a windlass, and some of these mechanisms can be quite stiff! Then there is opening the lock gates by pushing the balance beam. Some can be quite heavy and require you to put your back into it. Before hiring one of our boats you will be fully trained in how to steer the narrowboat and operate the locks by one of our RYA qualified instructors. Your instructor will not let you begin your narrow boat holiday until he is fully confident in you being able to handle the boat.

2) Lock Wheeling.

Traditionally, when cargo was carried on the waterways, this meant going ahead of the working boats, up the towpath to set and prepare the next lock ready for the boats’ arrival. This was often done on a bicycle, but some people still call it lock wheeling if you charge ahead on foot. On all holiday narrowboats, apart from Silver Fox, we can offer a cycle rack to carry two cycles.

3) Bow Hauling.

This is not something that is often done these days unless you have a butty (a boat without a motor). But you may sometimes see traditional cargo boats or hotel boats working as a pair; motor and butty. Occasionally manoeuvring the boats requires pulling the butty by hand, on a rope, to get in or out of a lock for example. Bow hauling is not recommended for the inexperienced boater, but it is certainly a strength-building exercise for those who undertake it as part of their job!

4) Walking.

Take a picnic and ramble away from the beaten track (towpath) across buttercup meadows to discover ancient villages. Or walk alongside the boat while your crew member steers, and hop back on for tea and cakes when you need to refuel.

5) Jogging on the Towpath.

The towpath is such a picturesque running track, usually far from any noisy traffic sounds. If there are a lot of locks you may find yourself well ahead of the boat and need to wait for the others with a cool drink in a waterside pub.

6) Mooring Up.

As well as leaping off with a rope and hauling the boat towards the bank, this can often involve using a mallet to bang mooring pegs into hard ground. This is great for releasing any repressed anger by bashing that peg on the head!

7) Barge Poling off the Bottom.

This is not so common if the canal is deep enough, but you may occasionally get caught on an underwater obstruction and need to push the boat off using a barge pole. This is done by standing on the roof of the boat.


Several of these suggestions should not be attempted for the first time without proper training and supervision. But if you’re looking for an interesting way to get fit, do consider booking a hire boat holiday or a day trip with us.

We’re currently taking bookings for this year’s boating season. Will you join us on an adventure?

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You may also like: 5 Family Goals You Can Achieve on a Narrowboat Holiday

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