Will Kayaking Build Muscle?

Kayaking is always a great adventure offering some beautiful scenes in cool water surfaces with some quality peacetime to connect with nature.

Kayaking does build your muscles. Yes, it is a proper cardiovascular exercise and gives you a great opportunity to work out your upper body and keep it in good shape.


Muscles built While Kayaking


Everyone wants abs, no doubt about that since people work out really hard in the gym to build abs. Your trunk runs from your waist to your neck. It is constantly involved to help you rotate the paddles during kayaking. This consistent movement helps you to build abs quickly and more efficiently.

The core muscles are extensively involved in kayaking. Since your legs are inside the kayak, your core acts as an anchor between the kayak and your upper body. While you’re rotating your trunk, your abdominal and oblique play a vital role in generating the required power. The abdominals in your lower back are also involved by maintaining your balance.


While paddling may sound easy, it is equal to a gym workout for forearms and grip. These two muscles are extensively used during paddling. While one arm extends the other contracts and the grip is used to rotate the process for the other arm giving you a complete grip and forearms workout.

Continued paddling during long hours engages your forearms a lot and the power transfer is made smooth by rotating the paddle using your grip hence, building these muscles in a very healthy and proper way.


The chest may not seem like one of the obvious muscles used in kayaking, but it is involved.  Chest muscles are used to extend one end of the paddle forward while the other arm pulls the paddle inward. These muscles also act as stabilizers throughout the motion, like with a cable row in the gym.


Your shoulders are also involved in kayaking. While propelling the kayak, you constantly rotate the paddle to keep giving a smooth push. This is where shoulders come into action. Shoulder muscles provide the power needed to pull the paddle back towards the body. Hence, maintaining a proper rotational motion to smoothen your kayaking.

Back Muscles

Your back muscles are the most used ones during kayaking. During each kayak stroke, your back muscles play a vital role to provide force. The lats are the largest muscles of your back and are contracted whenever you apply a forward stroke. Their major role is to transfer power from your lower body and pull your arm back in during paddling.

The traps are located in the middle of your back. They are used to move your shoulder blades up and down and are also involved in neck and spine movements.

Biceps and Triceps

Biceps and triceps are used throughout kayaking. They work in a pair. Meaning that when one muscle contracts, the other relaxes. So, during a forward stroke, when paddling, the biceps contract to pull the paddle in one arm while the triceps act to push it in the other. This provides a constant healthy exercise for both muscles.


Kayaking is one of the best cardiovascular exercises. The heart is the most important muscle in your body and keeping it healthy and strong is very important to live a healthy life. Kayaking provides you with a complete cardio workout with a great adventurous experience. It is also a great option for people who get easily bored during regular gym exercises.

Calorie Burner

Research suggests that one hour of kayaking can help you burn up to 400 calories. It is the best way to burn calories. Kayaking also has better stats of calorie-burning than other regular gym exercises. So, it not only builds your muscles but also converts the extra fat on your body into muscles.

Kayakers live a healthy lifestyle than average people with a strong heart and better body shape.


You do not need to get in shape for kayaking but will have more fun if you are fit. Although it is a physical activity, it only requires a moderate fitness level. You can paddle at any pace that you are comfortable with and build up muscles.


In fact, people who regularly engage in bicycling, hiking, and swimming are already in great shape for kayaking. However, because paddling requires a reasonable amount of effort, keeping your body fairly agile and fit is a great way to ensure that you go through the entire trip without experiencing any issues.


Exercise for arms

Paddling involves working against the water. It helps in toning your muscles and developing strength. If you go on Kayaking trips frequently, you’ll see a gradual increase in your arm & forearm size. Kayaking is a form of resistance training for your arms and forearms.


Shoulder Muscles

A lot of shoulder movement is involved in paddling. Even your back and chest muscles get involved. Kayaking regularly will increase your upper body size & strength.

Lower Body Strength

It might come across as surprising to quite a few people, but when you’re in the Kayak, you need to apply constant pressure with your legs to maintain balance. While it may not be as effective as your leg day at the gym, it’ll be ignorant to say that Kayaking doesn’t improve your lower body strength.


Fits into your cross-fit routine

If you’re someone who finds running, cycling, weight-lifting, and swimming all equally engaging and don’t want to give up any of that, you can develop a cross-fit routine, and Kayaking will fit right into it. Go for a run along the coastline or the lakeside for some time, and then paddle after that. Or start your day with Kayaking, making it one of your primary cardio workouts, and then follow it up with weight-lifting.


Excellent Cardiovascular Workout

Cardiovascular workout isn’t always running on the treadmill, or in the park, rowing, swimming, or cycling. Kayaking might seem a bit unorthodox at first, but it’s a very effective workout for a healthy heart. It’s low impact, so it doesn’t leave you as tired as the ones mentioned above. Also, it doesn’t put a lot of strain on your body or heart in one go. For people who’re recovering from an injury, paddling is a great workout that doesn’t have the risk of aggravating the injury or pain any further.

On average, a person will burn approximately 400 calories after an hour of Kayaking, which means that it’s an effective workout for people who’re looking to lose weight.


It’s good for all age groups

If you’re looking for a past paced high-impact workout, or you’re looking for a low-impact routine, Kayaking suits both the requirements. You can arrive at a regime that meets your health objectives.


You get to engage in a workout in the lap of nature

Quite a few people find the environment of the gym to be very similar to their workplace. It’s indoors, and there are a lot of people. You have to put your things in a locker, dress up for it, and usually, there is loud music playing that doesn’t help your peace of mind or help you achieve your inner equilibrium. Also, there is a constant noise of people using the equipment, grunting, and heavy breathing. Not exactly the place where you’d want to go after a bad day. When you Kayaking, instead of all of that, you get to see scenic sights, you get to breathe fresh air in the middle of a serene water body, and there is quiet all around instead of commotion. Watching the sun go down while chilling on your Kayak, if that can’t bring you peace of mind, perhaps nothing will.


Good for mental health

The only reward one gets out of a gym workout is to be fit and in good shape. There is no recurrent gratification, only long term results. Not that there is anything wrong with it, but wouldn’t it be nice if your daily workout had some other perks.

When you go Kayaking with your friends, engage in banter with them slowly paddling the boat, and have your small fishing bets, it provides you the much-needed relief from your day to day routine life. It’s a break you can take more often. Work-out doesn’t have to be just another chore when there can be a fun element to it.

Kayaking is a workout for your body and rest for your mind, the most optimum combination for a healthy life.


While you don’t need big muscles to enjoy kayaking, some basic fitness is crucial for an enjoyable and comfortable kayaking experience.


If you are planning for a kayaking trip, it is recommended that you engage in some kind of exercise to keep your shoulders, upper body, and arms fit for paddling.


Some of the workouts to perform include simple aerobic exercises such as cycling, yoga, walking, and pilates classes.

If you are starting your kayaking journey, then you need to be trained for it properly so that you can have a wonderful and safe experience.

There are different kinds of exercises when training for kayaking. In the case of paddling, there are exercises for upper body strength. For pedaling, exercises for muscles of legs are more common.

Here are a few things training for kayaking helps with.

  • Increases strength

Training exercises help in increase strength in core muscles allowing you to generate more stroke power.

  • Builds endurance

Shoulder, arm, and leg muscles are in constant motion during stroking. Training helps build more endurance in these muscles.

  • Improves balance

Training exercises help you maintain your balance so you can paddle or pedal smoothly and efficiently.

Things to remember while training

A few things to remember while training are:

  • Warm up

Always warm up for 5 to 10 minutes before you start the training exercises.

  • Modify exercise if needed

If your body hurts, you can modify an exercise or even skip it to avoid injury. It is better to rest for some days as well.

  • Move at your own pace

If you are a beginner you should be going slowly at first, increasing the pace as you get better.

Training Exercises

Here is a brief description of a few of the exercises that can train you for kayaking.

  • Open Book Exercise

This exercise is ideal for improving strokes. Generating strokes requires a lot of flexibility in the torso. This exercise enhances the range of core rotation and eventually makes you flexible enough for a full rotation with knees held together.

  • Kneeling Chop Exercise

Ideal for improving forward strokes, this exercise improves core rotation by working on upper and lower abdominals and obliques, as well as glutes and upper leg muscles. You should feel fatigued at the end of this one.

  • Kneeling Lift Exercise

Also called the “reverse chop”, this lift exercise helps improve backward strokes. It enhances core rotation by strengthening upper and lower abdominals and obliques along with glutes and leg muscles.

  • Pull-Down Exercise

Shoulders are in constant motion while paddling and it can be an exhausting process. The pull-down exercise helps you build up the endurance needed to handle long stretches of forward strokes and constant paddling.

  • Book Grab Exercise

While Paddling you use the muscles of your forearm constantly to grip the paddle while generating strokes. This exercise helps with building up the endurance of forearm muscles.

  • Crunch and Twist Exercise

To be able to kayak properly you need to be able to constantly rotate your core so that you can paddle efficiently. This is an ideal exercise for developing core strength as well as endurance by engaging the obliques and abdominal muscles. You can make this exercise easier or harder by adjusting how far you rotate to each side and also by choosing how high up you raise your body.

  • Single-leg Squat Exercise

This exercise is ideal for maintaining balance and providing the body with stability as well as strengthening core muscles. The squat in this exercise engages core muscles with hip muscles that balance the weight of the body. You can adjust its difficulty by adjusting your squat’s depth.

  • Row Exercise

Bicep and lat muscles are in constant use during a kayak stroke. The rowing movement helps build up endurance in these muscles

  • Skater with Uppercut Exercise

The uppercut motion of this exercise increases shoulder strength and the side-to-side skater motion gets your blood circulating. This is a great exercise for building up rotational power and balance because it engages glutes, quads and abdominal muscles.

These training exercises can help you get trained in kayaking in no time at all. Even if you are strong physically, if you do not know the proper techniques that are involved in kayaking you will not be able to kayak properly. Instead you strokes will be poor and your ability to feel comfortable and paddle far will be hindered so training for kayaking before you start your kayaking journey is very important.