Kayaking might look like the easiest thing in the world, but it actually requires you to use your muscles and burn up a good deal of energy in the process even if you’re only going for a short paddle.
Improper technique due to poor fitness and joint stiffness can expose you to a wide range of injuries that could make paddling an uncomfortable experience for you or even put you out of commission for a while.
Luckily, there are physical activities and training you can engage in away from water at home or at the gym to prepare your muscles to perform optimally while kayaking.
In this post, we’re going to cover some great kayaking muscles workouts you can start practicing to make your paddling adventures more efficient and injury-free.
Photo by Victor Freitas
- Why should kayakers train their muscles?
- Kayaking Muscles Workout for Strength
- Kayaking Muscles Workout for Mobility
- Kayaking Muscles Workout for Endurance
- Kayaking Muscles Workout for Flexibility
- Final Words
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There are lots of benefits that you can unlock to improve your mental and physical health and kayaking abilities through consistent workouts. Here are some of the advantages that exercising can bring to your paddling experience.
Advancing your kayaking skills and embarking on long kayaking trips or even multi-day tours is something that takes time to happen. You actually need to train your core muscles to improve their mobility.
Greater mobility means that you can move your body from one position to another or quickly change directions or level of intensity and do it all with control, grace, and pliancy.
The more mobile, agile, and coordinated you are, the better you will be at responding to whitewater, strong currents, and other water conditions without suffering injuries like back pain, muscle pull, hand/wrist pain, muscle strain, and more.
Even if injuries occur, muscle training will enable you to recover quickly and return to paddling in no time.
Kayaks are human-powered vessels. This means that they require you to exert significant energy and apply the right paddling techniques to paddle them efficiently.
Physical training will improve the strength and stability of your muscles, allowing you to move without limits and embrace more resistance.
Building a stronger core, back, shoulders, arms, and chest will not only make you a better paddler, but it will also make your kayaking adventures less stressful and more rewarding.
You will be able to embark on longer trips and confidently navigate dicey waterways without feeling completely worn out.
Photo by Scott Webb
Kayaking, like all other physical activities, works up your heart rate and your lungs. If you don’t want to end up out of breath or feeling lightheaded and dizzy after only a few minutes out on the water, you have to strengthen your cardiovascular system by working out.
Enhancing your cardiovascular health will boost your physical capabilities and endurance with paddling and other activities. It will assist push your muscles to function better.
Being able to paddle for a long time without your arms feeling like lead or your whole body crumbling under the weight of exhaustion is what muscular endurance does for you.
Working out your muscles helps build endurance, which in turn improves your alignment and posture while kayaking, and makes you less likely to suffer a serious injury.
Physical training can also help with flexibility, allowing you to extend your muscles farther than they would typically go. Greater flexibility results in better stability, mobility, and range of motion, all of which will serve you well when you’re out on the water.
Here are a few strength exercises you can do to help you tone and stabilize the core muscles needed for paddling.
Photo by Elina Fairytale
Although kayaking mostly drives power from your back and shoulders, it also engages your chest and core muscles which help to stabilize your movements as you paddle.
Planks are one of the most effective exercises for building core strength and endurance. They are simple to execute because they only require your body weight and they can be done pretty much anywhere.
Target muscles: Core & chest
Equipment Needed: None
Reps: Hold for 45 seconds and repeat 2-3x
Follow these steps to perform a plank:
- Lie on your stomach, on a yoga mat, or on a flat and smooth surface.
- Spread your feet hip-width apart, keep your ankles straight, curl your toes and lift your body off the mat.
- Your elbows should be under your shoulders and your body should be in a straight line.
- Squeeze your glute and thigh muscles to engage your core.
- Maintain a steady breathing and hold the position for at least 20 seconds before returning to the starting position.
Photo by Gustavo Fring
Crunch and twists, also known as modified crunches are great kayaking muscles workout for increasing core strength. The stronger your core is, the more you can avoid back pain while paddling.
Target muscles: Core, abdominals, obliques
Equipment Needed: None
Reps: 15 – 20 on each side for 2 – 3 sets/rounds.
Here’s how to pull off a crunch and twist:
- Lie flat on your back with your knees close together and bent at a 90° angle; your arms should be crossed over your chest.
- Raise your head and upper body to do a crunch while keeping your neck in a neutral position. Be sure to rotate your upper body towards your left knee as you go up.
- Lower your body back to the ground.
- Repeat the process, but rotate towards your right knee this time around. Keep going until you complete your reps, then rest for 30 seconds and repeat again.
Photo by Binyamin Mellish
The great thing about kettlebell swings is that they offer both muscle strength-building and cardiovascular benefits, which makes them particularly effective for kayakers.
Target muscles: Full body.
Equipment Needed: Kettlebell
Reps: 20 for 2 – 3 sets.
Follow these steps to perform kettlebell swings:
- Grab a kettlebell at a weight that you can comfortably handle for 20 reps; 3-5kg is a good starting point.
- Place the kettlebell on the ground in front of you and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart behind it.
- Bending from your hips, with a slight bend in your knees, grab the kettlebell, swing it back between your legs to create force then swing it straight out in front of your body, driving your hip forward as you do.
- Try not to swing the kettlebell higher than your shoulders and squeeze your glutes and cores as you swing forward.
- Lower the kettlebell to the ground while still keeping your core engaged. Repeat the kettlebell swings until you reach your desired number of reps.
- Kneeling chop
- Single arm bent over row
- Bicep curls
- Dumbbell skull crushers
Here are a few mobility movements you can incorporate into your training to aid proper movements and make your body more adaptable and less prone to injuries while kayaking.
Photo by Cliff Booth
Since kayaking is an activity that requires you to sit in a spot for long periods, you might feel some pain in your lower back butt, or hips after spending time on the water.
To minimize your chances of experiencing pain in these areas, it’s important to practice lower body exercises like hip rotators to help loosen your joints, improve mobility, strength, balance, and ease of movement.
Target muscles: Hips, glutes, and lower back
Equipment Needed: None
Reps: Hold for 30 seconds for 3 sets.
Whether you’re sitting at your work desk or on the sofa watching a movie at home, you can do hip rotators by following these steps:
- Sit up straight in your chair and move your butt close to the edge of the chair.
- Bend your right leg at a 90° angle and cross your left leg so your left ankle sits at the top of your right thigh.
- Use your left hand to press down on your left leg with gentle and firm pressure.
- When you feel resistance, lean forward slowly from your hips, keeping your spine straight and your chest forward, and hold this position for at least 30 seconds.
- Switch legs and repeat the movement on the opposite side.
Photo by Yan Krukau
This stretch aids in averting muscle sprains and spasms that kayakers are prone to by strengthening and lengthening the piriformis and enhancing overall mobility.
Pretty much anyone can perform the standing piriformis stretch without too much difficulty.
Target muscles: Piriformis, glutes, hamstrings
Equipment Needed: None
Reps: Hold for 30 seconds
Follow these steps to perform the standing piriformis stretch:
- Start by standing in front of a wall with your back against it, then walk two steps forward.
- Bend your hips so it’s at a 45° angle to the floor, lift up your right foot and bring your right ankle to rest on your left knee.
- If you’re doing it right, you should feel a stretch in your butt. Hold the position for about 30 seconds before returning to the starting position, then repeat the stretch on the opposite side.
Photo by Total Shape
Although the upper body plays a far bigger role in kayaking than the lower body, paddlers with strong glutes, hips, and hamstrings will have much better posture while paddling than their counterparts who don’t exercise these muscles.
The conventional deadlift is a great exercise for toning and stabilizing your lower body.
Target muscles: Hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings
Equipment Needed: A barbell or a pair of medium-heavy weight dumbbells
Reps: 10 – 20 times for at least two sets
Here’s how to execute the conventional deadlift:
- Stand with your feet a bit wider apart than hip-width and your toes slightly pointed out while gripping the dumbbells with arms extended in front of your thighs.
- Keep your back flat and bend your torso, hips, and knees slowly while pushing your hips backward. Think of it as a squat but with your waist and upper body hinged forward.
- Lower the dumbbells/barbell towards the ground while keeping it close to your body. Your back should remain flat and neutral throughout.
- Pushing through your feet, extend your knees and hips and begin rising with the weight still as close to your body as possible until you are standing fully erect.
- Repeat the process for at least 10 reps to complete a set.
Other workouts that you can do to improve your mobility while kayaking includes:
- Bird dog
- Side plank with hip dips
- Dumbbell shoulder press
- Single arm + leg Romanian deadlift
Weaving the following exercises into your workout plan will help boost your fitness levels, allowing you to paddle for longer without feeling sore or risking injury.
Photo by Ruslan Khmelevsky
As you paddle across the water, your shoulders are in constant movement, supporting you to execute each stroke. Exercises like pull-downs build up your endurance by strengthening the muscles in your shoulders so you can withstand longer kayaking trips.
What’s more, they can be done in the comfort of your home.
Target muscles: Shoulders
Equipment Needed: A resistance band
Reps: 15 – 20 on each side for 2 – 3 sets
Here’s how to execute the pull-down:
- Secure one end of your resistance band to a surface that’s a little bit above your shoulder height, then stand with your feet slightly apart.
- Bend slightly at the hips and grab the end of the resistance band with your left hand.
- Position your body so the band has room to stretch as you extend your hand forward or backward.
- Keep your core engaged as you pull the band down until your hand goes slightly past or is right next to your left thigh.
- Let your hand return to the starting position. Repeat the process at least 15 times before switching to your right side.
Tip: You can increase or reduce the resistance level of the band by shortening or lengthening it or your body’s distance from it.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
This movement is borrowed from the world of boxing and it helps work out the muscles in your upper and lower body to improve your rotational balance and shoulder strength, which will come in handy when portaging or paddling.
The side-to-side motion of the skater with uppercut is also sure to get your blood pumping, making it a great cardiovascular workout.
Target muscles: Shoulders, core, glutes, quads
Equipment Needed: A pair of light-medium weight dumbbells
Reps: 15 on each side for 3 sets
This is how to do the skater with uppercut movement:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart while holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Hop to the side, landing on your left foot, while raising your right arm up across your chest like you are landing an uppercut blow. Focus on using your torso and abdominal muscles to generate the force needed to raise your arm than the arm itself.
- Hop back onto your right foot while bringing your left arm up across your chest.
- Perform at least 15 repetitions on each side to complete one set.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto
Building strength in your core and lower body with this exercise will help increase your stability and enable you to maintain better balance when in a kayak.
This workout also boosts endurance in your lat and biceps, which are muscles that are in constant motion when paddling a kayak.
Target muscles: Lat, biceps, core, hips
Equipment Needed: A resistance band
Reps: 15 – 20 reps on each side for 2 – 3 sets
You can perfectly perform the single-leg squat and row movement by following these steps:
- Take one end of the resistance band and secure it to a surface above your shoulder height.
- Stand and face the surface where the band is attached with your right hand gripping the end of the band and start pulling the band until your arm is next to your rib cage and bent at a 90° angle.
- Raise your right leg and do a single-leg squat as your arm extends outward and return back to the standing position as your arm returns to its place next to your ribcage.
- Let your trunk remain tall and your shoulders broad as you carry out this movement.
- Repeat this movement 15 times, then rest for 30 seconds before switching to your left side and performing another 15 reps to complete a set.
Some other endurance-focused exercises that you can use to train your kayaking muscles include:
- Loaded carries
- Oblique twists
- Seated long pull
- Triceps dips
Including these flexibility exercises at the end of your workout can help lengthen your muscles, better your range of motion, increase joint stability, and take your paddling abilities to the next level.
Photo by Men’s Health
Another kayaking exercise that can make your paddling strokes more efficient by improving the flexibility and strength in your torso is the open book. The exercise mirrors the movement of a book being opened.
Target muscles: Core
Equipment Needed: None
Reps: 15 – 20
Follow these steps to do the open book exercise:
- Lay on your side with your legs bent at 90° and both hands stretched out in front of you at shoulder height. Your arms and open palms should rest on top of each other.
- Lift your top arm slowly and begin rotating your upper body in the opposite direction.
- Rotate as far back as your body will go, but don’t force your arm to reach the floor if it feels too uncomfortable or tight. You should feel a stretch along your arms and shoulders.
- Rotate your arm and upper body to the starting position.
- Repeat at least 15 times before switching to your other side.
Photo by Mikhail Nilov
Hip flexor stretches are very effective at building up flexibility in your joints as well as strengthening your lower body muscles.
Target muscles: Hips, core, glutes
Equipment Needed: None
Reps: Hold for one to two minutes
Here’s how to perform a hip flexor stretch:
- Kneel on one leg while bending your other leg at a 90° angle. The leg you’re leaning on should be directly under your shoulders and hips while the other knee should line up with the heel and ankle of the foot in front.
- Place your hands on the knee in front of you and gently apply pressure to engage your core.
- Keep your tailbone and hips tucked beneath your body and squeeze your abs and glutes to keep your spine protected for the duration of the movement.
- Bend forward slightly until you feel some pressure in your hips and hold the position for one to two minutes.
- Next, push your back foot into the ground while pushing your knee forward and hold the position for 30 seconds.
- Switch to kneeling on your other leg and repeat the process from scratch.
Photo by New Body Plan
This is another great exercise that works out and stabilizes your core kayaking muscles to give you the strength and mobility needed to easily execute powerful paddling strokes.
Target muscles: Core, shoulders, triceps, upper back
Equipment Needed: A lightweight dumbbell or weighted object like a gallon of milk
Reps: 15 – 20 for 3 sets
To perform the supine lat pull over, follow these steps:
- Lie back on a yoga mat, a bench, the end of your bed, or some other flat surface, while holding the dumbbell or weighted object with both hands over your chest.
- Fully extend your arms backwards towards the floor and over your head with a slight bend in your elbows and your core engaged. Your fingers should be pointing away from your head.
- You will feel a good stretch along your arms and core. Slowly return to the original position with the weight hanging over your chest.
- Repeat the movement at least 15 times to complete a set.
Whether you’re an experienced or competitive kayaker, or you’re considering taking up kayaking, building a comprehensive training plan that targets the muscles used during kayaking will only make you a better paddler.
Keep in mind that it’s normal to feel soreness in your muscles after your workout sessions. The soreness may even take a few hours or days to manifest, but don’t let that deter you.
As you focus on training your muscles two to three days a week and combine this with aerobic exercises like jogging, running, or (treadmill) walking, while also getting enough rest, you can advance your kayaking abilities in no time.