Kayaking is a great sport for those who love the water and want to get a close-up view of nature. But, are you aware it can also be a wonderful workout? What muscles does kayaking work? You may be surprised to learn the many muscle groups that can benefit from a paddle on the water.

What Muscles Does Kayaking Work? It’s a Great Way to Get in a Good Workout

Man and woman are paddling the kayak boat

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While kayaking is often seen as a relaxing and leisurely sport, it also works several different muscle groups. These groups are not limited to the upper body. In short, there are several muscles that the kayak workout strengthens.

These muscle groups include:

  • Back muscles
  • Shoulder muscles
  • Upper arms
  • Forearms
  • Gripping muscles
  • Abs
  • Chest
  • Legs
  • Hips

Beginning kayakers tend to only use their arms when paddling. This can be exhausting and even strain your muscles. In order to get the best workout from kayaking, it’s important to use the right form and be sure you’re working the muscle groups we describe.

You can also achieve a lot of variety during a kayaking workout. For example, you can do sprints, or you can do endurance, long-distance training. We’ll take a more in-depth look at these muscle groups and eight ways how kayaking can be beneficial to getting a good workout.

1. Kayaking Works Your Back Muscles

Man is going to the sea showing her back muscles

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At first glance, the only body part that seems to be doing the work kayaking are the arms. But, this is far from the truth! What muscles does kayaking work? A lot more than you may think.

The answer to the question of what muscles does kayaking work would not be complete without adding these three muscle sets of the back. These include the lats, rhomboid, and trapezius muscle groups.

The “Lats”

Kayaking works your lats. That’s short for the latissimus dorsi. This is a set of muscles that are the largest ones in your back. They are responsible for creating torque power from your lower body and transforming it into your arm movements.

Your lower back is also instrumental in kayaking. It’s vital to provide the correct posture. This enables the rest of your upper body to function and paddle with precision. This is very important because without using the proper paddling technique, you may strain your back.

The Rhomboid Muscles

The rhomboids are found in the upper back. They are used to rotate the scapula (should blades). This movement occurs at the end of the kayak stroke. It happens when the stroke causes the shoulder blades to move together towards your spine.

Kayaking will do more than merely give your rhomboids a workout; these are the same muscles used for standing straight. So, your workout will undoubtedly help your posture as well.

The Trapezius Muscles

What muscles does kayaking work? The large middle back muscles called the trapezius are vital to the paddling effort. If you’re not familiar with them, don’t worry; you’re not alone. Most only know of the upper “traps” because they are used when you shrug your shoulders. There are also middle and lower traps that are used in kayaking.

One word of caution: Those who kayak can easily overuse their upper traps (the “shrug” muscles). It’s important to be aware of how much you’re working out, train properly, and remember to warm up and cool down just as you would in any other sport.

2. Kayaking Works Your Shoulder Muscles

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The muscle that contours your shoulder is called the deltoid. This muscle is placed under tension with the paddle-related motion on the kayak. This is actually a better workout than typical ones that only work one set of muscles in isolation.

What muscles does kayaking work? These deltoids help with the rotation of the shoulder which helps the kayak move forward. Participation in kayaking can provide a great workout for these muscle groups.

3. Kayaking Is a Great Workout for Your Upper Arms

Woman raising her arms

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Triceps are the muscles used for paddling, but did you know they actually work more than your biceps when you’re kayaking? While your kayaking, it exercises both sets of muscles, and the design of the kayak paddle provides a more consistent workout. This is because one arm pulls while the other one pushes. This torque power pushes the kayak forward.

Remember that because of the kayak’s unique double-bladed paddle, each stroke you take is a single-arm row. Now, imagine getting that same exercise from a weight machine at your gym, and you can see how kayaking presents a wonderful opportunity to develop your strength.

4. Kayaking Works the Forearms and Grip Muscles

First, the paddling motion is only possible through the forearm and paddling muscles. It’s one of the most vital aspects of learning how to kayak well. What muscles does kayaking work? You’ll have to include the forearms and hands which will be rotated, flexed, and extended during the workout. While at first endurance may be a challenge, you’ll gradually improve until using these muscles becomes second nature. Then you can vary the length and intensity of your workout.

5. Kayaking Tones the Ab Muscles

Photo of a Shirtless mas showcasing his abs with the city view as a background

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So, what do the abs have to do with kayaking? Quite a lot, actually. While the upper body seems to do all the work at first glance, it’s the abs that play a crucial role. After all, these lower body muscles are the ones that are the connecting points with the kayak.

The rotating movement that is needed to propel the kayak forward places demands on your abdomen and obliques. You naturally contract your abs in order to coordinate these body movements.

6. Kayaking Works Your Chest Muscles

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What muscles does kayaking work? Don’t forget your chest muscles. This group includes the pectorals. You may not feel it when you’re kayaking, but they are being used extensively. This is what enables you to push with one arm and pull with the other. Pressure is placed on the chest for each stroke. When you combine it with the torso rotation needed to propel the kayak forward powerfully, then you have a good basis for a thorough workout.

7. Kayaking Uses Your Leg and Hip Muscles

Leg muscles? In kayaking? Absolutely! Legs are essential. Granted, they are not used to the extent that they are in walking or running, but they bend and help your torso and arms drive the kayak forward. The legs also brace against the walls of the kayak, and hips provide the point that connects your body with the vessel.

8. Don’t Forget: Kayaking Also Presents Cardiovascular Benefits

What muscles does kayaking work? We’ve provided great reviews on all the different areas, but we would be remiss if we didn’t mention one of the most important muscles in your body: your heart.

Kayaking can be leisurely and relaxing, but it can also be a great cardiovascular exercise. One hour of kayaking can burn around 400 to 500 calories, depending upon your pace and speed. It’s a great option for those who want a good cardio workout but have issues with their legs or knees.

What Muscles Does Kayaking Work? Conclusion

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Kayaking often seems like a “lazy” exercise. After all, what could be more relaxing than leisurely paddling through the rivers, oceans, and lakes admiring nature and taking a wonderful break from the daily routine? However, you’ll find that is far from the truth! Of course, kayaking is a wonderful way to experience nature, but it can also be a very complete workout, exercising the same muscle groups that you’ve been targeting during gym workouts.

Of course, managing a complete workout that is both a calorie-burner and a safe exercise depends upon using the correct kayak stroke. The stroke should always begin where the feet and the boat come into contact. This is an important point because it’s where the “power transfer” for the stroke begins.

After being sure your feet are firmly secured in the kayak’s foot braces, you can begin your stroke. Mastering this technique will also be vital if you decide to implement other kayaking techniques such as rolling.

Remember that your hips are the point where the kayak comes into contact with your body core. If you need to use a brace maneuver or you decide to complete a kayak roll, it will be important that you master the “hip snap” that will direct your body and kayak where you want them to go.

What muscles does kayaking work? Perhaps a better question is what muscle groups does it NOT work? You’ll find that, if you utilize the right technique, that kayaking focuses on every major muscle group, and it provides the perfect blueprint for an activity that is both fun and a good workout.

The muscle groups include the back muscles, particularly the “shrug” muscles and the lats. Your upper arm and forearm muscles will get quite a good workout. Your abs are vital, as they are the parts of your body that enable you to have the torque needed to propel the kayak farther. While it seems counterintuitive that your legs would be used in kayaking, these muscles are important for bracing and stabilizing.

There are several muscle groups that are involved in kayaking, and getting a good, solid workout is just another reason to enjoy this fun recreational sport.

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