kayaking fitness

I went kayaking on a lake this weekend for the first time this last weekend and had a blast. I only live about 500 yards from a fairly large, slow moving creek and was thinking about buying a kayak and using it for working out my upper body instead of going to the gym. I also do a lot of biking and this would be a good break. Does regular kayaking provide provide a good upper body workout?

kayaking fitness
Paddling can be a great workout if high repetition with little “weight” works for you. Proper stroke technique is key- Improper stroke or bracing can cause serious shoulder injury.

A good forward stroke notably works the back, stomach, shoulders, and forearms. I did my first “long” paddle this weekend- just short of 20 miles. I find my forearms and hands to be more sore than anything.

I find…
…I get the best workout in abs and back, plus some in legs, then forearms and triceps a bit less, rather little bicep.

Next day, I still feel abs most. Workout is very aerobic and low impact.

With good technique - or even passable long distance technique - it’s a better core workout than anything. Arms are just the linkages. Torso drives paddle. When I started, my arms and shoulders took the beating. Over a little time, as my distances went up, it became more core. Arms just don’t last over distance.

Weights are a good compliment to paddling. Stronger paddlers paddle easier. Be sure to allow recovery. Trying to paddle with spent/repairing muscles from lifting sucks. Other aerobic stuff like running/cycling also complimentary. They all work together. Balance is important off water too.

Check out the Hobie Mirages
If you want a total fitness package in a yak then I would suggest that you check out the Hobie Mirage series of SOTs. These yaks will give you a great workout for both your upper and lower body. You can paddle, peddle or do both at the same time.

I believe that the Hobie line is listed in the PNet Buyers Guide, the Product Review section, and you can see a working video of the unique foot drive system on the Hobie.com web site.

Good luck in your search for the ultimate yak!


Yup - Balance
Balance is a very key component of good paddling. I lack natural athletic grace and am extremely uncoordinated.

To increase my balance and coordination off season I XC (Nordic) ski. Its all about balance and timing and is a very good low impact core building exercise. I also bought some roller-ski’s for off season training (they are kinda like longer roller blades)


What is a gym?
With a good road bike, and a good canoe/kayak, and proper nutrition you can kiss the gym goodby.



for basic fitness
between biking and kayaking it may do. I like to expand my workout by lifting weights too.

I think it depends on your goals
I think it is hard to maintain the same sort of aerobic fitness with kayaking as your principal activity as you can with cycling or rowing, for example. When I was in Med school, in the early 90’s, I was a serious cyclist (3-4 hours/ day often, lots of centuries, racing, rode across the country etc). I think I was pretty fit. When I moved to Seattle for my residency, I took up paddling seriously, about 2-3 times/week, and was initially able to bank on my aerobic fitness to make up for a not especially strong upper body (so I could maintain a strong pace for 5, 6 hours touring, etc). I was still bike commuting about 20 miles/ day, 5 days or so per week.

Moved to Atlanta in '98, and what with a job and family, my cycling dropped off to maybe 6 miles total, 5 days/week. Still kept paddling hard on the weekends, probably 5-6 hours total, but really started to notice a progressive decline in my aerobic capacity and endurance, particularly away from the boat (and I paddle pretty fast, with a wing, etc).

So, this past year I added indoor rowing, 4-5 days/ week (about 40-50km/ week) at high aerobic/ anaerobic threshold pace most of the time. I’ve noticed an immense improvement in my paddling, where I can keep up very high intensity paddling for a very long period of time.

The bottom line- I think you’ve got to be doing somethign else seriously besides kayaking if you want to get and stay in the best kayaking shape you can be in. And I think that a very strong aerobic base is the way to go, unless you really have a weak upper body and torso.

Just my two cents.


Upper body, yes; but aerobic?
The original question was about upper-body workout, which I won’t address - others already have - but some folks have mentioned the aerobic aspect. I find that, using the dumb rule of thumb “if you can talk comfortably, you’re not working hard enough” tells me that, for me at least, kayaking doesn’t put me in the aerobic zone. At least, my body can’t keep a pace that forces my lungs to work hard. Gotta go with cycling for that.

Was gonna try to make some joke about 'yakking and yakking, but gave up. You’re lucky. :wink:

  • rob

Also consider rowing
A sliding-seat boat is another good way to enjoy the water and get a workout.

Talking rule
You SHOULD be able to talk while working at an aerobic pace. If you’re huffing and puffing and can’t talk - you’ve gone crossover or full anaerobic. Up to Zone 4 or even 5. Other (short term) energy system operate here.

You can build an aerobic base at relatively low intensities. Time is key. Sure, paddle hard, but going too hard you can loose ground. Save that pace for sprint/interval work and race day. For base work - paddle long.

Endurance is better over the long haul - but extra strength can help boost that too. Train all muscle types and all three fuel systems.

If only I practiced what I preached!

I tend to be in the low 150s paddling steady (good pace, not race speed around 5mph). Definitely in zone - maybe even a ways up in zone (3-4 for me) - and am not breathing really hard and can talk fine. I’m 42 and overweight - so a very fit person could likely do same around 130s, and blow me away if they ramped it up to my heart rate. I don’t have too much more to give - so my top speed is limited. I can do 160’s for a couple hours, over 170 for an hour or so - but really have little reserve to got to for more speed. Training and weight loss might buy me another mile an hour race speed. That’s huge. Bigger than my need to go that fast apparently though.

I paddle a touring kayak,

– Last Updated: Sep-15-04 9:33 PM EST –

and not a ski, but do find it hard, despite my best efforts to get a really good aerobic workout paddling my sink. I still think of it as something that contributes to my overall fitness, but not as something that is strenuous. I am a 46 year old woman, but I am pretty fit, with a resting heart rate in the mid 50's, and recently paddled with my heart rate monitor on, and could barely get my heart rate to upper 120's, despite the fact that I was paddling a little over 5mph. When paddling back to the harbor against the wind, it was easier to keep my heart rate up:)

I have to concur with the advice on giving rowing a try. I started rowing last year on the erg at the gym and noticed almost immediate improvements in my endurance. I started doing it to cross train for paddling, and have found that it has increased my paddling endurance a lot! My heartrate quickly reaches the upper limit of my aerobic zone on the erg. I enjoy doing interval training on the indoor rower.

I also took some classes on "on the water" rowing, and quickly realized it would be some time before I developed sufficient skill to row aerobically on the water. Also, the sea kayaker in me balks at moving backwards, without proper immersion gear, in the waters where I live, even at the crack of dawn when the water is flat. I may give it another try this winter.

The Heat of a Race
is the best workout.

Burning 1000k per hour and average HR at 95% of its MAX per a couples of hours :smiley:



right on about the race
i have not experienced real anaerobic paddling- until i got into a race, it was short, i went anaerobic within a couple hundred yards of the start. if you arent getting a workout…paddle harder!

In a word…Yes.
I cycle and began kayaking in 01. I work part time in a fitness and tennis center and have a better chest,arm,shoulder and back muscletone simply from the kayaking than a lot of those guys working out 3x a week do. I really think cycling and kayaking might be the two best (combined)all around exercises out there.


Hey, Andrew

– Last Updated: Sep-15-04 11:55 PM EST –

Your are a very very fast paddler. Don't tell me that you don't do awesome workout! :D

To me, it is backward.

I bike a lot, but mostly long distances and to burn fat. While biking around 18/20 mph, my HR never goes beyound 150, and mostly in the 125/135 range. In a hard spring, I might hit 158/159. After a while my legs burn like fire!

While running, I might hit 180/185 like nothing, but it is quite boring. I don't like running that much.

However, my paddling workout are great on the water or on land using the speedstroke. Motivation is the key!


Ah… don’t forget
swimming! And if you slap a pair of divers’ fins on and a mask/snorkel you can really power your legs up! Keeps my thighs down and my legs toned during the off-season.It’s a great workout for your heart and lungs and arms too! Weights are great and also good for stretching as well.