Kayaking as Exercise

Kayaking As Exercise

Kayaking is an incredible water sport that offers more than just a relaxing day on the water.

Those who kayak regularly will tell you how strenuous paddling for an hour or so can be.

Whether you take the yak out on the rapids or go fishing or even spend a day on flat water, you do need some serious arm strength, and you may need proper kayaking training to undertake the sport on a regular basis.

Kayakers lead a very healthy lifestyle. After all, the sport is not just about bobbing around on the water. But it offers many health benefits as well.

Before we delve into the advantages, let us first differentiate between canoeing and kayaking.

The Difference between Kayaking and Canoeing

Often, the two terms are used interchangeably because they both essentially entail paddling over water bodies. However, there are some substantial differences between the two.


Yes, a canoe is different from a kayak and not just in shape but also in design.

  • A canoe is an open-topped vessel that features benches as seating.
  • It can fit around two people at a time deepening upon the make and model.
  • In a canoe, the paddler either sits on the benches or kneels down on the bottom.
  • A kayak, in comparison, is a closed-off water vessel in which the kayaker sits with their legs extended out front.
  • A yak mostly seats only one person at a time.
  • Canoes usually have higher sides than kayaks do.
  • A kayaking paddle features a double-ended blade, whereas a canoeing paddle is one-sided.
  • Kayakers also have to wear a spray deck to keep water from filling in the cockpit.
  • Kayakers also have to wear safety helmets and protective gear like nose plugs and goggles that canoers don’t. They only out on a life jacket as safety gear.

Health benefits of kayaking

Health Benefits Of Kayaking

While kayaking and canoeing are classified as low impact exercises, they have significant health benefits.

If you are a nature and food lover who can’t be bothered to go to the gym, then this is the perfect sport for you.

It can help you maintain good form while enjoying a nice, sunny afternoon over placid or rapid waters.

Paddling is quite strenuous and can help build upper body strength.

The movement of the arms when making a stroke opens up the joints and gives your upper body muscles a good work out. The movement improves flexibility and range of motion.

Besides the range of motion, the movement also enhances core strength.

Core strength is critical for powerful strokes and maintaining one’s balance in the vessel. How stable the vessel directly influences the efficiency of each stroke.

While kayaking may not be the best way to get six packs, it is definitely an excellent way to get your heart pumping.

For the ailing and the elderly, paddling can help improve cardiovascular function. In fact, it can provide a much-needed dose of exercise for them.

Over time, the sport can help reduce fat and increase lean muscle mass, giving the kayaker a beautifully toned body when done right.

If you follow the proper technique, you end up working various muscles all over the body, including your shoulders, arms, back, core, and those that rotate the torso.  

If you think your legs may get women rest, you are wrong. The sport requires significant leg work to steer the vessel and maintain balance.

Kayaking is a full-body workout that can help you while providing an enjoyable, meditative experience.

Whether you’re tackling Class 6 rapids or are enjoying a recreational trip on flat waters, kayaking is an excellent way to de-stress.

You can paddle away all your worries while enjoying the scenery and getting a good workout at the same time.

Why is Kayaking a Good Cardio Experience?

Why Is Kayaking A Good Cardio Experience?

We don’t know about the experience, but according to Men’s Journal, Kayaking is one of the best workouts for heart health.

Many shy away from invigorating cardio exercises because of their high impact.

Running on a treadmill can burn a lot of calories and get your heart racing, but it is also quite hard on your knees, which is why many won’t or can’t take it up.

Kayaking is an ideal alternative for those looking for something a little easier. We aren’t by any means claiming the sport is a piece of cake.

No, it is not. It will leave you sore when you first try it out, but eventually, with resilience, you can build stamina and get more oxygen into your lungs.

As per research by the School of Exercise and Sport Science, Sydney University, kayakers tend to breathe a lot more efficiently than others.

We don’t know about you but enhancing our ability to breathe sounds like an appealing idea to us.

How Many Calories Do You Burn by Kayaking?

The number of calories you burn when kayaking depends upon the speed and the distance covered.

On average, a person weighing 130 lbs can burn over 350 calories in one hour of leisurely kayaking while a person weighing 175 lbs can burn over 400 calories in the same amount of time. 

The number of calories burned depends upon multiple factors like speed, weather, and water current.

Kayaking sessions where it is you against the water prove to be intensive workouts that can burn up to 500 calories in just one hour.

Kayaking for weight loss

Your kayak can be your ultimate weapon in the fight against body fat. A simple rule when it comes to trying to lose weight is – burn more calories than you take in.

Taking your kayak out can help you do that. In fact, it may be the best way to do it, right after swimming, of course. But not everybody feels like going for a dip every day.

Routine is often the reason behind the death of all our fitness goals. You can, however, take up different forms of kayaking to keep things interesting. You can go fishing or paddling.

You can head to the sea, the river or lake. It really depends upon your mood, but no matter where you go, you will be burning calories – more on some trips, and less on others.

But be assured that you will soon be able to get rid of that belly fat as long as you stick to the yak and paddle.

Kayaking Workout Plan

Kayaking is an exercise that requires both muscular strength and endurance to be able to maneuver through the water.

While you may be able to fair well on still waters when flowing with the current, moving against it can be challenging.

To maintain efficiency in your movements, you need kayaking training to keep your muscles in tune with the movements.

A kayaker must maintain good form all year round to be able to take advantage of good weather as soon as it arrives.

They can do so by following a simple workout routine that can keep the muscles working even in the offseason when kayaking may not be possible.

  • Shoulder rotation – shoulder movement is the churning mechanism when paddling. It is what allows for that powerful, efficient stroke. To maintain a full range of motion even when not kayaking, you should make use of a resistance band. Grab a band and hold your arms close to your side. Then pull at it while keeping your arms close and only rotating your shoulders. Doing so helps in building overall arm strength, making paddling maneuvers easier, and can help avoid rotator cuff injuries.
  • Dumbbell curls are another exercise to help build upper arm strength. Pick up two dumbbells, one in each arm. Curl one arm at a time holding the dumbbell near your shoulder for one or two seconds and then repeating on the other side. The exercise will get you used to carrying the weight of the paddle. It also makes for more powerful forward paddling strokes.
  • Dumbbell twistsIn this exercise, you hold one dumbbell in both hands and hold your arms out front level with your chest. Then you twist your upper torso first to one side and then to the other.  The movement helps improve rotation and flexibility in the upper body, which is essential for efficient paddling. It also strengthens the core and shoulders.
  • Weighted Side BendsHold the dumbbells above your head and bend to one side as if you were doing a standing side crunch. Do not go out too far as you may end up tearing your muscle tissues. Alternate on each side to improve movement and strengthen your back muscles.

What Muscles Does Kayaking Work?

What Muscles Does Kayaking Work?

Kayaking works multiple muscles at a time – some of them more so than others.

However, you don’t have to worry about a muscular injury, as with kayaking training, the chances of muscular rips and tears are slim to none.

Back Muscles

Kayaking works three main muscles in the back:

  • The Lats – the largest muscle in the back. A forward stroke when paddling requires a similar motion to pull-ups or chin-ups. To get your muscles used to the movement, you can regularly undertake these exercises at the gym to build strength.
  • Rhomboid Muscles – The rhomboid muscles are responsible for the scapular retraction, which is the pulling of your shoulder blades towards the spine. When paddling, these muscles are essential to maintaining a good posture when kayaking.
  • The trapezius muscle is situated in the middle of the back and is what allows for movement in the neck and shoulders. During kayaking, you must avoid overusing the upper traps as they are responsible for our day to day movements. The focus should instead be placed on the middle and lower traps.

Shoulder Muscles

When paddling, we make extensive use of our deltoid muscle, which shapes our shoulders.

It is very easy to overwork these muscles or cause them harm, especially if a paddler maintains the wrong posture. Kayakers must maintain a paddler’s box to avoid ripping the muscles.

A ‘paddler’s box’ is an imaginary rectangular shape that places the arms, neck, and shoulders in an ideal position. Maintaining it is an essential part of kayaking training.

Rotator cuffs

The rotator cuff has four muscles that are critical when it comes to maintaining arm and shoulder stability.

When kayaking, we put them at serious risk as these are the most overworked muscles during the exercise. Again maintain a paddler’s box can help avoid injuring these essential muscles.

Upper Arms, Forearms and Grips

The sport uses both triceps and biceps throughout the excursion. Even though it may use the former more than it does the latter, it is essential to train both for an enjoyable trip.

Forearms and grips play a vital role in the sport. They flex, rotate, and extend to allow you to make major and minor movements to maneuver the vessel through the current.



With each stroke, you end up placing a significant amount of pressure not only on your back but also on your chest muscles.

As you lift the paddle and dip for a forward stroke, you open up your chest, which is what makes this an excellent cardio exercise.

Legs and Hips

Your legs and hips may not be visible, but they are often the start of the show. No kayaker can perform well on the water without efficient use of the lower half of their body.

The hips are what allow paddlers to shift their weight from one side of the vessel to the other as need be.

The legs not only act as stabilizers but also as a kayaks steering wheel. A kayaker can never twist and turn a yak unless they let their legs guide the movements.

Any attempts otherwise can result in the yak toppling over, leaving you drenched in cold water.

Core Muscles

The core muscles perhaps play the most important role when kayaking. They not only help maintain good posture but are also responsible for the efficiency of strokes.

The stronger the core is, the more powerful each stroke will be, allowing you to cover a greater distance within a short amount of time.

The core muscles also allow the body to channel the strength from the abdomen to the legs and hips to allow kayakers to make a sharp turn and hold the yak steady in turbulent waters.

Being able to work all these muscles simultaneously is not easy. While it may look like a leisurely sport, kayaking is not.

It is a full-body work out that can not only help you burn fat and tone your body but also maintain healthy heart function.

Those at risk of heart stroke or with knee and joint pain can definitely switch to the sport for a full dose of cardio. All it requires is a little bit of resilience and kayaking training.



Kayaking is a sport that has multiple health benefits.  It is the ideal low impact cardio exercise for the flat-footed or those with joint pain.

The constant movement increases the heart’s pace, leaving you breathless but also improving your heart health at the same time.

The movement not only improves cardiovascular function but also increases muscle strength.

Paddling provides a great upper body workout that targets your neck, shoulder, arms, and back. It tones your body, giving you the beautifully tanned and toned arms you’ve dreamed of.

If you want to enhance your core strength without having to do loads of crunches, then this is the workout for you.

It is by no means easy on your abdominal muscles, and those who have been inactive for very long will find this just as painful as any other ab workout.

But on the bright side, you didn’t get the sweet workout pain in a sweaty, smelly gym. You instead spent a wonderful afternoon out on the water.

Lastly, it is a versatile sport that you can undertake in any water body. Its adaptability is excellent news for those who detest routine and seek something more adventurous.

You can take the kayak out on a river, a lake, or in the sea. You can travel with or against the current.

There is no limitation to how challenging you can make the sport for you, which makes it ideal for those who are constantly striving to grow and conquer the next step.

Whether you are striving to lose weight or adopt a healthier lifestyle, this is the perfect sport for you to pick up. It is a healthy form of exercise that you can effortlessly incorporate into your life.

With a little bit of kayaking training, you can even adopt it as a family sport to enjoy during summers or over the weekends.

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