What Muscles Does Kayaking Work

For many onlookers, kayaking may be an easy ride on the water. It can seem even more so if you are using an inflatable kayak, as they don’t look like a serious bit of kit. In reality, this is very far from what is going on. Kayakers understand this all too well because they know about the benefits of kayaking.

Kayaking can burn calories for every moment you are on the water, so it does more than help you build up stamina and increase fitness. It is a great way to lose weight and enjoy yourself in the great outdoors as you do so.

Carry on reading to find out the muscles used in kayaking. You can also see how working all your muscle groups gives a proper posture and will benefit you better than a good workout in the gym.

Is Kayaking a Good Exercise?

There is nothing to say kayaking has to be anything more than a leisurely paddle in a recreational kayak or an extreme endurance test packed full of sprints or paddling in rough waters. Doing such will leave you exhausted and gasping for air in the beginning.  Therefore, the answer depends on the intensity and effort you put into the sport.

Many paddlers who are new to kayaking ask this question before they come to experience total body fatigue, which can occur after an entire body workout in your kayaking session. Kayaking lets you control how much you exercise, but even sedate paddles can deliver a great kayaking workout.

What Muscles Does Kayaking Work?

When you look at the muscles in use, you could think kayak exercise was designed to provide a workout from the beginning. However, this isn’t true, and any rowing action delivers a great upper-body workout.

Here are all the muscles you will use when hitting the water in your kayak.

Back Region

You find many muscles in the back, and they are among the power muscles to deliver a strong paddling motion, even if they don’t appear to move too much. The Latissimus Dorsi, or as we know them, the Lats, are the biggest muscle group in your back. With each stroke, these will contract and expand to deliver the torque power from the lower body.

Rhomboid muscles located in the upper part of your back work at the end of each kayak stroke. At this point, their function is to pull your shoulder blades toward your spine. Trapezius (Traps) are large muscles that deliver motion to the spine and neck along with blade motion. You may hear of the ‘upper traps’ as shrug muscles. Middle and lower traps do need working, also.

Shoulder Muscles

Some of the most widely used muscles when using a kayak paddle are your shoulder muscles. Working in combination with your arms and back, they help you propel the kayak and can be easily overused as a result. Rear deltoids can become overdeveloped, thus leading to an imbalance with the forward deltoids.

The rotator cuff deserves mention. Comprising four muscles, they are the connection between the shoulders and arms. If any of the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, or subscapularis face injury while kayaking. You will feel a loss of power in that particular shoulder.

Triceps, Biceps, Forearms, and Grip

You will be proud of your arm muscles after kayaking for a while. The Agonist-Antagonist pair, as they are known, means one of them will contract as the other relaxes. When paddling, one will be pulling the paddle while the other is pushing the other end. It delivers a consistent workout for all these muscles, one of the visibly active body parts.

Following on, you then have your grip, which is your paddle contact. If you don’t grasp the paddle well, you will find it hard to use all the muscles already mentioned. There can be plenty of force as you draw the paddle through the water.

Both forearms and hands will improve quickly as they are continually used.

Chest Muscles

A few things happen in the chest region, yet it all leads to fantastic cardiovascular exercise as the back pushes the paddle forward while dragging the other end backward. The chest muscles do the same at the front of the body as the arm pulls the paddle.

Legs and Core

You may not know how much your legs play a vital part in paddling a kayak. Each stroke needs balancing, and this is what your legs do. Leg muscles need to sit firmly in your kayak, as it is here where the root of your power stroke begins.

From here, the power will be delivered to the next section before all other muscles start their functions. Your core muscles are the link between your lower and upper body parts. With the balance coming from your feet, your obliques and abdominal muscles control torso rotation. It is this side-to-side motion where you generate all your power. Legs do come into use in more areas. The more experienced you become.


The heart is a muscle and does receive a hefty workout like all the above muscles on the list. Every hour of kayaking can burn a considerable number of calories . The total, though, does depend on your weight, the weight of your kayak, and how long you spend paddling.

Health benefits are plentiful, and your heart can gain plenty of health benefits, as can the rest of your body. You can also find that your heart benefits from the outdoor surroundings that will envelop you as you enjoy your subtle body workout.

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