Caloric Burn while Kayaking

Winter and an iced over Hudson River make staying in paddling shape challenging for me here in Hyde Park. There’s only so much pool time, the rest is Nordic Walking, on the ski machine or other such activities to ward off the results of the Holidays.

To go along with my GPS widgetry got a BodyBugg by Body Media. And have used it a few times while paddling. Interesting results that I think will quash any inkling I had of getting a gym membership.

During the paddling season when I have groups out, in addition to the “How far have we gone?” and “How fast are we going?” questions has been the occasional “How many calories am I burning?”. I’ve only been able to answer this in vague ranges as “I’ve read on the internet” (so it’s gotta be true) “that you burn…”

Well now that I’ve gotten to take it out on the water a couple of times I’ve actually got numbers and I was surprised as to how much I was burning at what I considered a short paddle distance.

Before I go on; the BodyBugg unit is not waterproof. Don’t roll with it! Under a drysuit or during oxygen side up activities = no problem.

The Course:

The River Connection Boathouse at the Hyde Park Landing to the north end of Bard Rock at the Vanderbilt Estate = 1.25 miles


Flooding tide, ice floes that needed to be dodged around every 1/4 mile, wind out of the south at 10-12 knots.

Speed Made Good = 6.4mph North and 3.8mph South (my gps is set on mph not knots)

Distance Covered = 3.38 miles

Calories Burned = 605 while on the water and 50 during cool down (changing back at the Boathouse) High of 12 calories per minute.

In laymans terms a short moderately vigourous paddle = 4 beers. Hey, New Math! Cheers!

I’m looking forward to seeing what the results are when I have a full day to paddle, 'course sans ice floes as a full day of zigging and zagging gets a bit much.

Other activites to compare paddling to;

Walking the dog = 7 cal/min.

Nordic Walking = 9 cal/min.

Chopping veggies for dinner = 4 cal/min.

OK, I’ve procrastinated checking in new kayaking gear to the Showroom long enough.

If you’re training, this widget might be very useful for providing some quantifiable numbers for your performance.

See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY

Calorie calculations
The only real way to calculate the number of calories burned is to use gas analyzer - that is check the amount of oxygen consumed during activity. It is quite expensive and not very portable as yet.

There is certain correlation between heart rate and the calories burned, it is probably what your device is using to estimate work done. This method is probably closer to magic than science for most individuals - activity that gets one’s heart pumping could probably kill some others.

The better way is to correlate well calibrated physical activity against calories burned and rely on that data to calculate actual calories consumed. Unfortunately, kayaking has too many variables for this to be reliable. For example, in running - there are only two variables - distance and weight ( some would argue this), calculating calories burned is very simple. In kayaking you have - paddler’s weight, kayak weight, the speed at which you are paddling, the paddle that is being used. Finding a simple correlation does not sound easy.

Your numbers are totally bogus.
There are too many factors involved in kayaking that will give a bogus number. The accelerometer has to give bogus readings …kayaking is not walking or running… the heat flux would be very inacurate. The skin conductivity would be affected by the time of immersion protection you are wearing (trapped body moisture etc etc.) As stated above the best way to measure calories burned is by O2 consumption. A better way would involve complex calorimetry in an isolated chamber. Sorry this device is totally bogus.

  1. Accelerometer - The accelerometer in bodybugg® is a tri-axis micro-electro-mechanical sensor (MEMS) device that measures motion. This motion can be mapped to forces (g-force) exerted on the body. By taking gravity and motion into account along with the other sensor data, the wearer’s body context and true level of physical exertion can be accurately predicted.
  2. Heat Flux - The bodybugg® also contains a proprietary heat flux sensor located on the side that measures the amount of heat being dissipated by the body via a thermally resistant material. In short, this sensor measure how much heat the wearer’s body is giving off. Heat flux is an important parameter because the body tends to heat up the faster it burns calories.
  3. Galvanic Skin Response - Better known as GSR, this sensor is comprised of two “hypo-allergenic” stainless steel electrodes on the back of the armband that measure skin conductivity. Skin conductivity is how much an electrical current can pass between two points on the surface of the skin and is affected by sweat due to physical exertion as well as emotional stimuli such as psychological stress.
  4. Skin Temperature - Skin temperature is measured by using a highly accurate thermistor-based sensor located on the back of the bodybugg®. Looking at continuous measurement of skin temperature in conjunction with data collected from the other sensors can reveal the body’s core temperature trends which are affected by the level of a person’s physical exertion or lack thereof.

Oh my…
I should’ve read “The Science Behind” before posting my comments.

You are absolutely right, that device is as close to BS as you can get without dipping self in manure.

Specs on widget
I’ve seen the gas analyzers and that would defintely change your center of gravity, for the worse.

No heart rate is measured with the Bugg. It seems to use 4 measurement capabilities to come up with it’s measurements; Accelerometer, Heat Flux, Galvanic Skin Response (Answer truthfully, where were you on the night of Feb. 30th?) and Skin Temperature.

Not going to claim any physiologic, metabolic or other medical expertise here but so far it’s been a seemingly accurate and user friendly interface for measuring my fitness progress (luckily no regression) without having to go to a doctor or physical therapist to be measured with a more comprehensive system.

More info on this is at

I figure it can’t hurt and besides, I’m having a bit of fun with it. Something’s gotta make the Nordic Track more interesting, other than it’s clothes hanging capabilities.

See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY

Oh well
Till they come up with an on water gas analyzer I’ll paddle a bit with the widget.

See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY

they did
There are two, I believe, that are being put through the commercialization process.

The one I am more familiar with, consists of the face mask with electronics package, probably < 2lb, and the CPU, weight not really important. Targeted price less than 20k. Obviously not aimed for the hobbyists.

Lovely device, shows you concentration of gasses changing as you breathe.

Still, I do not see any kayakers getting one of these any time soon :slight_smile:

a study
I took part in a study at Vanderbilt University where you had your VO2Max tested on a treadmill. You were weighed, etc and then entered a special sealed room for 24 hours. The entire room was on a precision scale so it was constantly monitored for weight changes. All air into and out of the room was through some tubes which monitored the air being breathed in and out. I was served exact amounts of food and they weighed what I didn’t eat. I would have to perform different activities at certain times for set amounts of time. Like 30 minutes of jogging on the treadmill, 1 hour of watching tv sitting in a chair, writing a letter for 20 minutes… I got paid well and got my VO2Max tested, so it was worth it.

so what’s your V02 max?
just under lance armstrong’s?

happy new year from the arctic circle.


It was 2 years ago and I was only training in paddling, maybe running once a month. I really wish they had a kayak ergo to test on in a separate test, because the running killed me, especially with my nose pinned shut and that snorkle deal in my mouth. But I did pretty decent at 67. Also, thinking of you way up in the tundra, I need to quit finding excuses not to hit the water… it’s only mid 30s here.

"hit the water"
you’d break something doing that up here…

i’m having a decent off-season. have really decided to turn up the intensity on indoor AT kind of stuff, a lot more stairs, bike and rowing erg than in the last couple of years. i think i got away from being really aerobically fit the last couple of years, and i’m just not big and strong enough to make up for it in the boat.

you should plan to come up for two harbors or chicago next year- chicago was very cool and wouldn’t be that far for you.


I need to
I did the rowing holiday challenge. Was going for 200,000, but missed 4 days going to Mobile, AL on a last minute trip and decided I couldn’t make up the difference. I think I finished around 130,000.

I really wanted to go to more races this past year, but the gas prices were crushing those hopes. The Chicago race and the Phatwater were both on the list, but I just couldn’t afford the trips.

You have any races for sure in 2009?

try this
try the new widget while on concept 2 rower. I burn 570 cal in 46 minutes to row 10k.

wonder what the resistance setting does to the numbers?

I did a much slower pace the other night a little less than 60 minutes for 10 K and burned 500 calories according to the calculator. So you are putting in 25% more effort but only burning about 13% more calories.

I think the calorie counters on those things are totally bogus too. A good guide to how much total effort but the exact number means nothing.

Concept 2
Concept 2 freely admits that their calorie count is nothing more than a guess.

Not that easy even for running
Distance, weight, and slope of the path run for those of us in un-flat areas.

wow! quick question marshall…
Great info BTW!

Do you have an elapsed time in there somewhere or did I overlook it? Unless (and perhaps even if) the water is still I’d think your speed would be a factor.

Your not too far off
Matthew, your estimation of calorie expenditure does not seem to be too far off according to a couple of studies with elite kayakers (and there are no others as far as I know).


Here is an excerpt from my website on training for kayak endurance:

…2 studies I know that actually measured energy expended (via oxygen uptake measures) during steady state paddling in experienced/elite kayakers. The first study (Gray et al, Int. J. Sports Med., 1995) measured energy expenditure directly while elite kayakers paddled in the water at a steady state pace. These guys averaged 83.9 kg in body mass and exerted an effort requiring approximately 12 METS. The second study (Bishop, Int. J. Sports Med., 2004), measured oxygen uptake in experienced kayakers while paddling on an ergometer at a pace set at lactate threshold. Lactate threshold, in a nutshell, is right about where a long distance competitor would be, intensity-wise. The athletes in this study weighed 72.2 kg and paddled at an intensity of approximately 11 METS (1 MET = 1 Cal/kg/hr).

If I assume your body weight to be 75 kg, your calorie estimation puts you at about 9 METS, if I calculated correctly.



605 sounds right if your pushing it
pretty hard and going intensley and traveling fast… but the average kayaking burn rate is about 500 an hour- pretty high. You probally just paddled a little harder than most kayakers.

Do you have a reference for this?