What Muscles Does Kayaking Work? (Surprising Finds!)

Those who are not into Kayaking may not understand that kayaking is extremely beneficial for the human body. However, in this article, our focus will be on what muscles kayaking works? We will also shed some light on Kayaking muscle and how often you should do kayaking.

Men kayaking

Is Kayaking Beneficial for Muscles?

One of the essential keys to a healthy lifestyle is to get involved in physical activity. If you do Kayaking properly and have the right technique, kayaking is an extremely beneficial exercise. However, if your technique is not right, and all you are doing is sitting and paddling, then Kayaking won’t be beneficial.

You need to understand that if you are doing Kayaking as an exercise, you need to treat it as an exercise. If you kayak on flat water, the best exercise to do is sprints. You will need to paddle at a full pace for a minute and then rest for about twenty seconds.

Once the rest is over, rest for a minute, then you will need to repeat this workout until you are cored tired. If you use a creek boat to the kayak, the best exercise is to catch as many eddies as possible. You should also surf as many waves as possible and as many ferries as possible.

If you are kayaking in Class II, you should move in the rapids to make it feel like Class III. If you are kayaking in Class III, try to make it tough and similar to Class IV. You need to challenge yourself and push your limits when you are kayaking. This will improve your strength and endurance, but it will also improve your kayaking skills.

If you use a playboat for kayaking on a standing wave, you will get a workout no matter what your purpose is behind kayaking. This type of kayaking is known as freestyle, and it will give your core a real workout. For freestyle kayaking, you need to involve your core to stay stable while surfing the waves.

The best way you gain strength through kayaking is to kayak as much as possible. The more time you spend doing sprints, surfing waves, and taking strokes, the stronger your muscles will get. By now, you probably know what Kayak muscle means, right? If not, then read on.

Which Muscle groups does Kayaking Benefit?


Yes, kayaking is very beneficial for the chest muscles. While it may not be significant, each kayaking stroke puts immense pressure on the chest muscles. Have you ever tried a single dumbbell bench press? Kayaking works the same muscles as the bench press but oppositely, and it works each muscle simultaneously.

The group of muscles that connects the bones to the chest in your upper arm and shoulders is known as the Pectoral muscle. This muscle makes up a good portion of your torso, and kayaking is good for this muscle.


When kayaking, the core muscles are extensively used in many different ways. This happens because your legs are inside the kayak, so your core acts as an anchor which connects the kayak to the upper portion of your body.

The motion of forwarding paddling rotates the abdomen and oblique from one side to another—this is where the power is generated. Beginners believe in this misconception that power is generated through the arms, which is wrong. The reality is the rotational force generated in the core and legs is the driving force behind the paddling motion.

The lower back and the abdomen are stabilizers and maintain the proper posture and balance. These two parts of our body are engaged in maintaining a good spinal posture and preventing the kayak from capsizing.

Hips and Legs

Even the hips and legs get a workout during kayaking. While a kayaking leg workout is not as intense as cycling, it does involve leg muscles for the kayaking motion. The legs are a key component of the kayaking motion, as they stabilize the body during the motion.

Forearms and Grips

Since the paddle’s contact point is in your hands, the entire kayaking motion depends on how strong your grip is. The power generated by the arms, core, and back must be forwarded to the paddle with the help of the grip. Kayaking is perfect for building grip strength, as the forearms are engaged in the paddling motion.

Triceps and Biceps

Everyone wants their triceps and biceps to be nicely sculpted. Kayaking can help you build your triceps and biceps, as they are both major components of the kayaking motion. The duo of biceps and triceps is often referred to as an Agonist-Antagonist pairing, which means that when one muscle relaxes, the other contracts.

So, in a forward paddle stroke, the biceps will contract, pulling the paddle in one arm. The triceps will push the paddle in the other arm. This will give both the triceps and biceps sufficient exercise.

Rotator Cuff

While the rotator cuff can be added with the other shoulder muscles, they require special attention. There are four types of muscles in the Rotator Cuff:

  • Subscapularis
  • Teres Minor
  • Infraspinatus
  • Supraspinatus

These muscles act in different ways and stabilize the arms and the shoulders. Keeping the rotator cuff strong and healthy is important because they are an essential part of kayaking.

Back Muscles

There are many muscles in your back, and they are the ones that deliver a powerful punch when in the kayaking motion. While you might not see the back muscles involved in the kayaking motion, they are very much involved. Below we have discovered each back muscle group and its involvement in kayaking:

Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)

This is the largest back muscle group involved in every forward stroking motion. These muscles transfer the energy from the lower body and pull the arm back and inward towards the body. Lat pulldowns, pullups, chin-ups, and rows are other exercises you can do in the gym to strengthen your Lats.

Trapezius (Traps)

This muscle group is involved in moving the shoulder blades up and down. This muscle group also provides support to the spine and neck. Most people only know about the Upper Traps, but middle and lower traps are also. The upper traps are usually involved in kayaking, but you need to train the upper traps in the gym.


This muscle group is situated in the upper back and is responsible for scapular retraction, which occurs at the end of a kayaking stroke. This means that the muscles pull the shoulder blade back towards the spine. These are small-sized muscles and should be stretched out frequently to maintain a healthy posture.

Tips for using Kayaking as a Workout

old man exercising whilst kayaking

Kayaking looks a lot of fun, but honestly, it is not easy. However, if you are serious about doing kayaking as an exercise, we have some essential tips. Our discussion so far has been focused on Kayak muscle; now, we are going to focus on some essential steps you need to take when doing kayaking as a workout:

Calculate the Weight

Keeping an eye on the calories is necessary when doing any workout, and kayaking is no different. Whenever you want to calculate the number of calories you’ve burned through physical activity, you will first need to determine how much you weigh.

For instance, a person weighing roughly 125 pounds when driving a stationary bike would burn 400 calories per hour on average. On the other hand, a 185 pound man can burn up to 600 calories when driving the same bicycle.

If you happen to be on the heavier side, I’d recommend you check out a guide I’ve recently wrote. It is a complete guide to kayaking as a larger paddler.

However, the calories that you burn during kayaking would be less than other physical activities such as running or swimming. While kayaking, a 125 pound man would burn around 300 calories hourly. Someone who weighs more than 125 pounds would burn roughly 400 calories hourly through kayaking.

Increase the Intensity

The calories you burn while kayaking also depends on how intensely you paddled or the type of water you were paddling in. There are several varieties of kayaking that you can do. You can also do lengthy kayaking tours, usually taking place on a big water body such as a lake.

Sea kayaking will enable you to kayak through waves, which can get tricky. Whitewater kayaking is usually done by professionals, as the terrain is full of dangerous rocks and rushing waves. The route is very unpredictable, and it requires quick maneuvering and motion.

Lastly, you can also do surfing, kayaking, and surfing in a kayak. There are also different varieties of strokes involved in kayaking, such as the backstroke, forward stroke, and draw stroke. These strokes move the kayak from side to side.

The strokes will help you increase your intensity and burn more calories. When you switch up the kayaking strokes, you are using different muscle groups; this will increase your tempo in the long term and will provide cardiovascular benefits.  

Health Benefits of Kayaking

There are many health benefits of kayaking, and we have discussed them below:

Works the Muscles and your Heart

When thinking about doing a workout, kayaking may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Whenever people want to build muscles, they usually head to the gym. However, as we have already discussed, kayaking is an extremely beneficial exercise.

Kayaking can also work your lungs and your heart. And kayaking is not just beneficial for elite athletes or fitness gurus; it also benefits people who cannot do high-impact exercises or are old.

It helps you Achieve the Ideal Bodyweight

Kayaking is one of those exercises that can help you shed weight and maintain your body weight. Kayaking burns many calories, roughly 500 calories per hour if you paddle at 5 mph. While some other exercises might be more efficient at burning calories, you don’t need to spend hours kayaking to burn calories. Kayaking is also more fun to do than other types of exercises.

Some people kayak for more than an hour, sometimes for entire afternoons. If you kayak for several hours consecutively, you can burn up to 1600 calories in a session. If your main goal is to lose weight through kayaking, you can allocate several afternoons throughout the week and kayak consistently.

Improves your Endurance

If you kayak for several hours, it improves your stamina, which will allow you to withstand effort without getting fatigued. Performing exercises such as kayaking at least three times a week can increase the energy in your body by about 20 %.

This increase in energy allows you to kayak for a longer period of time and spend energy on other activities.

Increases Vitamin D in the Body

Some food sources can activate Vitamin D, such as cheese, beef liver, fish, etc. Our bodies also contain inactive forms of the vitamin. However, we need to be exposed to sun rays for vitamins to affect our bodies.

Vitamin D is essential for us as it enables the bones to get stronger, aids brain development, boosts the immune system, keeps the heart-healthy and supports muscle growth. Kayaking will allow you plenty of exposure to the sun, which will activate the Vitamin D in the body.

Reduces Stress

Getting fresh air or spending time outdoors can reduce stress. To maintain your mental fitness, you must first control stress. Stress is also related to several dangerous illnesses, so your main goal should be to eliminate it if you are suffering from stress. Kayaking provides several stress-releasing benefits and significantly reduces stress.

Increases Happiness

Being in the wilderness is not just fun; it can make you happier, kinder, and creative. Kayaking is an outdoor activity; it is ideal for those that want to be happy. Aside from the positive effect nature has on our mood, kayaking can release several chemicals from our body, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and endorphins.

Most of these chemicals are neurotransmitters, which regulate our mood, uplift our confidence, and help us feel happy. Due to this, kayaking is recommended, especially for people experiencing stress and depression.

Enhances Memory

Exercising regularly and being active can improve your thinking skills and help improve your memory. Kayaking is an aerobic exercise, which unlike muscle toning exercises and resistance training, can increase the hippocampus’s size. The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for verbal and learning memory.

Performing kayaking consistently will stimulate the growth of blood vessels in the brain and also increase the cells in the brain. Overall, kayaking will help the brain to stay healthy and active.

The correct way of Kayaking?

When trying to do kayaking, you need to ensure that you have good paddling skills. To achieve an effective paddle stroke, you will first need to learn to utilize your body properly while kayaking.

You need to keep in mind some key positions before you go kayaking next time. These positions are crucial and will enable you to make a fast and strong kayak paddle stroke.

  • Sweep
  • Reach Forward
  • High Brace Position

High Brace Position

These key positions are components of an effective paddling position. The High Brace position is great for bracing on the kayak, and you can do it by leaning forward. When you lean to the kayak’s front, you are warier of what is ahead of you, which allows you to examine your obstacles easily.

This lean forward will also allow the paddle blade to enter the water at its midpoint, making it easier for you to kayak.

Reach Forward

This position is used to stretch an individual out over a kayak. It will give you length and adds power to the stroke. This position will give your arm a substantial length. However, while doing this position, you should not bend. You should always maintain a straight line, followed from your head through the spine, tailbone, legs, and feet.


This position is typically used when slowing down or cornering. By sweeping back through the water, you will slow down the kayak and put it in a position where you can easily examine obstacles and corners. This position will also give you a stronghold of the paddle blade, and you can easily take it out of the water.

When you are kayaking, you are constantly adjusting to your stance and finding the right balance. However, you should be aware of the positions discussed above. By knowing these positions, you will be able to use kayaking as a workout.

An incorrect technique will lead you to nowhere, and you can injure your back. Learn the skills necessary for kayaking, even if they are basic, then go on a kayaking trick. The right skills will help you build kayak muscle.


In this article, we discussed which muscle groups are used in kayaking. We discussed each major muscle group used in kayaking, such as the core, back, chest, legs, etc. We also listed down the several benefits that kayaking offers, both physical and mental. If done properly, kayaking can help build muscles and maintain your body weight. However, you should have the proper technique and the right set of skills for doing kayaking. If you do kayaking regularly, you can easily build kayak muscle.

Vanessa Hopkins

Hi, I'm Vanessa. Long-time kayaker who's proud to be part of this community. I strive to provide our visitors with insightful guides with the aim to improve their kayaking experience. I've been working with SunshineKayaking for over 5 years, providing world-class services.

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