If you live near bodies of water like lakes, you may be interested in participating in water-related activities like kayaking, rowing, and canoeing. Kayaking has become one of the top preferred outdoor activities as more and more people try it out. That said, the majority are still holding back, with more questions than answers about this activity. Is kayaking good exercise? This is the most asked question about this activity. Let us analyze its benefits and risks to better understand where kayaking lies in the exercise spectrum.
What Is Kayaking?
At first glance, you could mistake kayaking for canoeing. However, the two are quite different exercises. The main difference between the two lies in the technique. Unlike a canoe, the riders in a kayak are always strapped into their seats
Due to its small size, most experts suggest steering using a double-sided paddle. That means, when kayaking you hold onto the paddle using both hands, dip it into the water on alternating sides to propel it along (2).
Can A Beginner Do Kayaking?
Yes, they can. Like cycling, kayaking is a relatively simple activity to learn. All you need is to pick up the correct technique and postural requirements. However, it is worth noting that there are different types of kayaking, such as flatwater kayaking, sea, and whitewater kayaking.
Additionally, note that there are different ground kayak paddling exercise techniques. These stem from the differences in hand positioning and paddling form. If you are interested in picking up this activity, be sure to inquire about the correct technique for each type. Here is a look at some of the different techniques in this exercise:
Kayaking While Holding A Combined Paddle With Both Hands
In this form, you are required to do the following (2):
- Spread both arms out with the elbows flexed at a 90-degree angle.
- Paddle on only the right, then on the left.
- Reach forward.
- Maintain a lateral flexion of your trunk while holding the paddle horizontally.
Kayaking While Holding A Divided Paddle With Both Hands
When kayaking using this technique, you must (2):
- Raise both hands.
- Rotate the trunk while vertically holding the paddle.
- Maintain a lateral flexion of your chest while holding the paddle vertically.
- Paddle on the left, then on the right.
Is Kayaking A Good Exercise?
Kayaking is an excellent outdoor activity that you can perform for leisure or reap several health benefits. Let us look at some scientifically proven benefits of kayaking to elaborate on that. They include:
If you want to build strength through outdoor activity, consider kayaking. It targets your legs, arms, shoulders, and many more muscle groups. So, it is a practical activity to help you build strength in the following areas:
Kayaking uses the majority of your upper body muscles. The constant rotation of the paddle works your forearms, with the steady rowing motion targets and strengthens the deltoids, trapezius, and upper back (2).
Again, the paddling activity works your upper and forearms. The pull and push works your biceps when you have one paddle in the water. Additionally, the counter-movement of the thrusting works the triceps.
Your paddle’s raising and dipping motion and the water resistance make your muscles work further, particularly those in your arms, chest, shoulders, and back.
Although it may not seem like it, kayaking also works your lower body muscles, particularly the legs. However, most people do not know that your legs are actively engaged during a kayaking activity.
For example, while paddling, you will realize that you have to turn, roll, and brace your legs to stabilize the rest of your body. Additionally, to maintain a good kayak stroke, you have to lodge your legs firmly on the foot braces. This means you are actively working your leg muscles and improving their overall strength (2).
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Can You Get Ripped From Kayaking?
Many people expect to build strength and get ripped at the same time. That said, it is not surprising to find individuals questioning if kayaking can also help them get ripped. Unfortunately, it cannot, especially at a recreational level.
Instead, kayaking and rowing activities primarily help build endurance since you perform these activities for long periods. Although they do not help you get ripped, these activities are great for building your aerobic fitness.
Better Postural Balance
Kayaking is an activity that requires you to maintain good posture and balance. For example, you are not allowed to paddle while leaning back because it will make the boat unstable and perhaps flip.
So, you have to assume the correct sitting posture. It entails sitting with your back supported by the kayak seat. Position the balls of your feet on the foot pegs and heels angled toward the kayak’s center. Bend your knees upward and outward so that your legs apply pressure to the thigh braces. That is the correct sitting posture.
The ability to continuously maintain postural balance while kayaking helps you effectively maintain a good posture. Research suggests that due to its benefits in increasing muscle strength and postural balance, this activity is appropriate for physically able and disabled individuals (2).
Enhanced endurance and strength are other positive effects of kayak training (2). It builds your endurance since you are paddling for hours. With time, you will discover that you can kayak for an extended duration without getting tired.
Besides endurance, kayaking also improves your cardio fitness. You work extra hard while kayaking in rougher water, especially on rapids or the sea. The more you work, the more you burn calories and strengthen your heart and lung system. As a result, this improves your cardio performance and kayak fitness (4).
Kayaking is an excellent exercise to help improve your focus. It is required while you paddle through the water to help maintain the rhythm of your strides. Additionally, your focus is necessary to help maintain proper coordination of your leg action and rowing motion.
Still, when kayaking, you need to focus on the correct breathing technique to channel the right energy into your rowing action. If not, you lose coordination of all movements and risk being carried by the water or tides.
Such focus helps you in your daily activities by getting rid of distractions. Additionally, it enables you to fuel your energy into essential activities.
Increased Core Stability
Kayaking is an excellent way of building core stability. You significantly use your trunk muscles to stabilize your kayak during the activity, especially in rougher water (4).As a result you generate more power and speed with each stroke, which builds strength, power, and core stability.
Core stability is paramount because it prevents and minimizes injury risk while doing several exercises for kayaking. Additionally, it protects your spine from bearing excessive load, resulting in back pain.
Helps You Burn Calories
Kayaking is an excellent aerobic activity to help you shed a few pounds and maintain a healthy weight. An average individual burns 375 to 475 calories per hour when kayaking. However, it is worth noting that the number of calories burned kayaking depends on your weight, the difficulty of the terrain, distance and speed you kayak (1).
For example, an individual weighing 200 lbs (90.8kg) and kayaking with moderate effort for an hour burns 477 calories (1). An individual weighing 150 pounds and kayaking at the same moderate effort burns 358 calories per hour (1).
The kayak weight you shed will be influenced by these and other factors such as your body shape. Generally, a kayaking body transformation does not happen overnight. Remember that healthy weight loss is steady and not rapid.
Kayaking helps you relax because you are out in the waters, which has soothing effects. Again, because you are outdoors, Mother Nature helps boost your mood because it reduces your anxiety and stress levels. By paddling through the calm and serene waters, you can easily get lost in the moment and momentarily forget all the troubles that make you anxious.
Gets You Outside
Being outside has been tied to several physical and mental benefits, some of which include (3):
- Increasing Social Interactions. Besides enjoying Mother Nature, being outside allows you to interact and connect with other people. Such social connections may help ease your tension and lower anxiety, stress, or depression.
- Getting Enough Vitamin D. Your body makes vitamin D from direct sunlight when you are outdoors. It is essential for it helps your body absorb minerals like phosphorus and calcium. Additionally, it is vital for your blood cells, bones, and immune system (3).
- It Makes You Feel Good About Yourself. Being outside for as little as 5 minutes helps improve your emotional well-being and self-esteem. That is particularly true when you are near or in the water performing water-related exercises such as kayaking (3).
- Improves Your Sleep Quality. Being outside resets your sleep cycle by making sure your internal body clock works right. As a result, you ward off any problems with sleep (3).
- Boosts Your Immunity. Being outside improves your immunity in several ways. First and foremost, it helps with vitamin D production, which is vital for an excellent immune system. Secondly, it enables you to absorb organic compounds like phytoncides that boost immune functioning. They are released into the air by plants (3).
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Is Kayaking Safe?
Although kayaking is listed as a good exercise, your kayak may flip. In such a case, a paddler faces the risk of suffering a fracture or concussion (5). Similarly, paddlers also face the dangers of hostile, cold waters which can cause drowning, cardiac arrest, hypothermia, and ventricular fibrillation (5).
Additionally, repeated immersion from slipping kayaks increases your risk of paronychia infections, blistering, otitis, softening of the skin, and sinusitis (5). You can minimize the chances of your kayak flipping or reporting these medical conditions using these safety tips (6):
- Paddling when sober. Alcohol and kayaking do not mix. Do not drink and then kayak.
- Wearing a life jacket. Although some people find it uncomfortable to kayak with a life jacket on, it is best if you keep it on. It might save you from drowning if your kayak was to flip. It would be best to find a fitting, comfortable, and unrestricting life jacket so that you paddle comfortably.
- Dress for immersion. Yes, you heard it right. Experts suggest dressing for the water conditions to avoid hypothermia in the cold water if your kayak flips (6). It would be best to consult a professional on the best gear to wear if you are to kayak in cold or cooler water.
- Paddle in your skill level. It is essential to stick to calm bays if you are a beginner. So, avoid an environment with rough tides and unnoticeable currents.
- Practice. Practice always makes perfect. So, before you go kayaking solo, make sure you practice first with an expert.
The Bottom Line
Is kayaking good exercise? Indeed it is, based on its long list of health benefits. It helps burn calories and increase cardio fitness, endurance, strength, core stability, focus, relaxation, and postural balance.
Additionally, it gets you outside, which helps you get enough vitamin D, relax, and get better sleep. However, kayaking poses a risk of flipping and experiencing hypothermia, concussion, fractures, drowning, or cardiac arrest. So, it would be best to work with a trainer and implement the suggested safety tips to minimize or prevent these effects.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Calories Burned Kayaking | Calculator & Formula (2020, captaincalculator.com)
- Ground Kayak Paddling Exercise Improves Postural Balance, Muscle Performance, and Cognitive Function in Older Adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Randomized Controlled Trial (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Health Benefits of Getting Outside (2021, webmd.com)
- Indoor rowing vs kayaking (2008, theguardian.com)
- Science and medicine of canoeing and kayaking (1987, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Top 5 Kayak Safety Rules (2022, paddling.com)