Muscles used in kayaking

The Key Muscles Used in Kayaking [with Photos]

Kayaking is not only a relaxing and enjoyable outdoor activity – it is also a great way of working out your muscles!

There is no better way to enjoy nature’s beauty than spending the day paddling on blue tides.

Contrary to what you may think, kayaking is actually among the best full-body workouts in the world.

Most people believe that at best, kayaking only works their arms and backs but that is far from the truth.

Read on as we delve deeper into unveiling the various muscles used in kayaking and how to keep them healthy.

Is Kayaking a Good Exercise?

As a new paddler, this question may linger in your mind before you experience the exhaustion that comes after an intense session of kayaking.

Well, it all depends on your level of effort and intensity. Kayaking does not have to involve serious exercise or workout.

It can be a relaxed paddle in a recreational kayak or sprints that will leave you extremely tired and out of breath.

The best part about kayaking is that you have total control over the intensity of your workout.


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Which Muscles does Kayaking Work?

Only a handful of sports can target as many muscle groups as kayaking. A good kayaking session will work your cardio vascular, legs, core, back, and arms.

Back Muscles

Kayaking benefits for back musclesThis is the first muscle group that most people think of when kayaking and rightfully so.

This is because when kayaking, the back muscles are the main drivers for each kayak stroke.

Your back has Lats muscles, which are the largest in that area. These muscles contract each time you make a forward stroke.

They work by transferring strength from your lower body, pull your arms inward, and back towards your body.

To increase your lat strength, you can do pull downs, rows; chin ups, and pull-ups at the gym.

Rhomboid Muscles

On your upper back, there are the rhomboid muscles and they are responsible for scapular withdrawal which occurs at the end of a kayak stroke.

What this means is that these muscles pull your shoulder blades back inwards in the direction of your spine.

They are also responsible for good posture hence should be regularly stretched.

Trapezius Muscles

These are the last of back muscles and are responsible for moving your shoulder blades up and down as well as allowing your spine and neck to move.

You might be familiar with the upper traps otherwise known as shrug muscles but did you know that there are also lower and middle traps.

You are likely to overuse your upper traps while kayaking so it is advisable to train your middle and lower traps as well.

As you focus on working out your muscles, it is important to remember that good posture is what keeps your back healthy.

Therefore, we advise on getting a high-quality kayak seat. This will allow you to stay pain free and paddle for longer.

Shoulder Muscles

Using shoulder muscles to paddle kayakDuring kayaking, your shoulder muscles do a lot. In fact, they do almost as much as your back and arm muscles.

While shoulders may not seem that important to the average eye, they are actually reported to be the most injured by anglers.

When forward stroking, the posterior deltoids, which are muscles, located at the back of your shoulder work much more compared to those at the front part of your shoulder.

These muscles help pull the paddle towards your body and this can lead to overdevelopment of the rear muscles and ultimately a muscle imbalance.

As such, it is important to stretch and train the shoulder while focusing on balancing the forward and rear deltoids.

You can avoid injury to your shoulder joint by always having a paddler’s box at hand when fishing. You can form this imaginary rectangle using your chest, and arms. This position guarantees shoulder safety and maximum power.

Rotator Cuff

It is possible to incorporate rotator muscles with the rest of shoulder muscles but we think they require their own attention.

The rotator cuff has four muscles, which function in different ways to rotate and stabilize your arms and shoulders.

If you are an athlete, keeping the rotator cuff in good condition is key but so is it for anglers.

With internal and external rotations in the gym using light dumbbells or a power band, you can train your rotator cuffs.

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Triceps & Biceps

Most people would appreciate a pair of nicely carved guns and kayaking can certainly help in that area, since both triceps and biceps are heavily used during kayaking.

Triceps and biceps are branded as the Agonist-Antagonist pair, which simply means that when one-muscle contracts, the other one relaxes.

Therefore, when paddling forward, your biceps contract to pull the paddle in one arm.

Simultaneously, your triceps retaliate by pushing the paddle in the other arm.

This way, you are able to consistently workout both muscle groups throughout your kayaking session.

Forearms and Grip

Paddling grip for kayakingHaving a strong grip on your paddle is important because everything else you do while paddling depends on it.

Essentially, it is the contact point with your paddle.

The power coming from your arms, back, and core must get to the paddle through your grip.

One of the best ways to build grip strength is through kayaking because your forearms are constantly busy during intense kayaking.

When casually kayaking, be sure to relax your grip otherwise, you may get wrist injuries.

Chest Muscles

While the chest is not one of the obvious muscles you would think benefits from kayaking, they are actually involved.

Chest muscles play a part in extending one end of the paddle forward while the other arm pulls the paddle inward.

Moreover, chest muscles function as stabilizers in the course of kayaking.

Core Muscles

While kayaking, your core muscles are extensively used in a few different ways.

Since your legs are inside the kayak, your core plays the part of anchoring and linking your upper body to the boat.

All through the forward paddling motion, your obliques and abdominals function by rotating your trunk sideways and this is where the real power is produced.

Most anglers tend to think that the power originates from the arms but that is not the case.

The truth is that the rotational force produced at the core and in the legs steers the paddling motion.

The lower back and abdominal muscles also stabilize and sustain proper posture and balance.

They constantly work to maintain proper posture in your spine to prevent your kayak from overturning.

Hips & Legs

Hip and leg exercises for kayakingLegs also get to work out as you kayak albeit not as intensely as leg leg-focused sports such as cycling.

Legs act to stabilize your body during the kayak stroke.

The point where your feet meet the boat is where a good kayak stroke begins.

That point is where the power transmission for the whole stroke is introduced; therefore, it is paramount to ensure that your feet are firmly lodged on the kayak’s foot brackets.

As you get more used to kayaking and gain skills, you will realize that your feet can be used in many different ways such as rolling, turning, and bracing.

Your hips also play a part by acting as the point of contact between the boat and your core.

They come into play when performing a ‘hip snap’ during a brace or roll movement.

Cardio and Heart Muscles

Kayaking also works out your heart muscles, which are the most important muscles in your body.

Irrespective of whether you are kayaking for recreational purposes, or sprinting, kayaking plays an important role in maintaining your cardiovascular health.

In fact, you can burn up to 500 calories with just an hour of kayaking.

It is also a great option for individuals with lower body injuries since it is among the few cardio-centric upper body activities.

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Whether you are kayaking to pass time or you are looking to lose weight, the activity is great for exercising your muscles.

The best thing is that kayaking is a full body workout that targets your entire body so why not start kayaking today to see the results?

Erick Thompson

Hi, I'm a fishing & kayaking enthusiast who enjoys sharing tips and tidbits with newbies, intermediates, and experienced anglers alike.

1 Comment
  1. sunil

    Very important information.

    Reply July 21, 2020 at 11:12 am

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