Question for you excercise physiologists

What will a person burn more calories from and get the most benefit from:

A twenty five mile bike ride at a 18 to 20 MPH pace or a eight mile paddle at a 5 MPH pace.

I equate them as about equal, but was wondering what the experts say .



Is that 8mi. paddle in
an Epic surf ski or an 8’ punkin seed?

I’m No Doctor, but…
…I learned to practice taking wild guesses.

In terms of calories burned, how about monitoring your heart rate during exercise? I’m thinking the higher heart rate, the more O2 used & therefore more calories burned.

My 2 cents
but the larger muscle groups used the more energy required.


My Guess
I also think they’d be nearly equal. Maybe a good bathroom scale would tell the story… if you took in and passed equal amounts of liquid.


College was a long time ago…let’s see what I remember. Most of the charts that compared exercises included rowing, which is a lot different than paddling a canoe. My guess (without access to a calorimeter large enough to contain a paddler, canoe and river) is that bicycling uses more calories than paddling. Heart Rate and Calories don’t always correlate. Weight, Metabolism (Resting Metabolic Rate), Work (Force X Distance), etc. I seem to remember a regression to calories per pound per minute of exercise. Rowing and Cross Country Skiing were the highest on the chart. Both use many of the larger muscle groups. The key is how much muscle mass is actively recruites in the activity. I doubt you will find a study of calories burned in paddling specifically, but according to my five year old who knows everything, Cycling is the clear winner…However, it is much harder to get run over by an semi in a canoe!

Racing bike vs epic endurance

– Last Updated: Apr-12-05 8:48 PM EST –

60 pound three speed vs a 700 what's the boats. I'd bet a 20 mph pace non drafting is more aerobic than a 5mph paddling on a 21 pound bike vs a Q 700.

don’t know
Type of bike, type of boat, technique, size of upper body muscle groups, training level of those muscles, etc…

Lots of factors.

Unless your boat is a total pig though, I would expect 1.5hours at 5mph to burn a lot less calories than holding 20mph on a bike 25miles even if perceived effort is similar.

Kayaking can be nearly as aerobically taxing as cycling but getting the same VOmax out of paddling as cycling requires good technique that engauges as much muscle as possible on each stroke. Many folks do not engage the larger muscle groups effectively so total work done is small compared to training that involves the legs.

Whichever is more aerobic
and less anaerobic.

my guess
Well is the 8 miles at 5mph up and downstream or just downstream? Just downstream at 5 mph might be pretty easy and the cycling would be a lot more calories. Assuming similar times to complete the course and a similar effort level, the cycling would burn more calories. There is more muscle mass involved in cycling, which will result in more calories being burned.

Try comparing water needed in both.

Alternate days. It’s good to mix up your exercise, so paddle one day & bike the next.

I’m not sure but…

– Last Updated: Apr-13-05 3:01 PM EST –

The energy cost of kayaking per unit distance (C(k), kJ x m(-1)) CAN be assessed at submaximal and maximal speeds. At submaximal speeds, C(k) can be measured by dividing the steady-state oxygen consumption (VO(2), l x s(-1)) by the speed (v, m x s(-1)), assuming an energy equivalent of 20.9 kJ x l O(-1)(2). At maximal speeds, C(k) can be calculated from the ratio of the total metabolic energy expenditure (E, kJ) to the distance (d, m). E is assumed to be the sum of three terms, as originally proposed by Wilkie (1980): E = AnS + alphaVO(2max) x t-alphaVO(2max) x tau(1-e(-t x tau(-1))), were alpha is the energy equivalent of O(2) (20.9 kJ x l O(2)(-1)), tau is the time constant with which VO(2max) is attained at the onset of exercise at the muscular level, AnS is the amount of energy derived from anaerobic energy utilization, t is the performance time, and VO(2max) is the net maximal VO(2). Individual VO(2max) should be obtained from the VO(2) measured during the last minute of the 1000-m or 2000-m maximal run. The average (SD) power provided by oxidative processes increases with the distance covered [from 0.64 (0.14) kW at 250 m to 1.02 (0.31) kW at 2000 m], whereas that provided by anaerobic sources would show the opposite trend. The net C(k) is a continuous power function of the speed over the entire range of velocities from 2.88 to 4.45 m x s(-1): C(k) = 0.02 x v(2.26) (r = 0.937, n = 32).

I might be off by a decimal point or two ;-)

Happy paddling!

examples from my training log
I am using both Polar HRM and GPS. A few examples from my training log if we can believe the estimation of total burnt calories from the HRM.

Sisson kayak, 5 mile time trial on a shallow lake, wind 10-20m/s

time: 0:52:11, HRM 149, 813 calories, 30% from fat

ALLY 560 folding kayak, 5 mile time trial on a shallow lake, calm

time: 0:58:14, HRM 144, 856 calories, 35% from fat

Sisson kayak, upstream/downstream paddling on a fast, twisty, shallow river (Big Thompson), 3.4 miles total

time 2:06:39 (~1:18:00 moving time), HRM 125, 1406 calories, 45% from fat

Sisson kayak, upstream/downstream paddling on a South Platte River, 18.9 miles total

time 6:58:00 (~5:47:00 moving time), HRM 125, 4679 calories, 50% from fat

road bike, easy riding on bike trails, 20.5 miles

time 1:37:42, HRM 122, 1041 calories, 50% from fat

hiking with trekking poles, foothills, 6.9 miles

time 2:02:46, HRM 115, 1115 calories, 55% from fat

You can check speed and HRM of some real racers on my virtual race pages:


HRM based calorie comparisons
Haven’t compared lately, but use HRM a lot. I estimate:

3 mile jog/run = 6 mile x 5mph paddle (out of a 12-18 miler) = 12 miles at 15-18 mph road bike.

Your intensities/speeds may be a bit higher. I do a bit more than these distances (especially paddling) - but these are where the calorie burn coincides when divided out. Nice even multiples. Would not apply to longer marathon/endurance events - just to fat middle aged guy doing exercise. My HR is similar paddling and cycling - higher running since I’m a tad heavy and have to counter gravity.


More simply put…
It turns out that biking uses more muscle mass and is likely a more aerobic activity than using the relatively small muscle groups of the upper extremities of kayaking. More oxygen consumption = more calories burned.

Biking at the above pace is likely falling within a 12 MET range (1 MET = rest), while the kayaking is somewhere from 7-11 METs.

If all variables are controlled for (wind, temp, body wt., etc. etc.) the biking probably yields a greater caloric expenditure for equal time frames.

Wouldn’t a good scale, accurate to the tenth of a pound tell the story? Weigh yourself before and after the efforts. Allow yourself one water bottle only. No peeing 'til you’ve weighed yourself at the finish. What better, cheaper way is there than that?

Afraid not…
Measuring one’s pre/post exercise weight change from fluid loss does not provide any useable data in the determination of caloric expenditure.

what type of bike
how many calories you burn on a bike (assuming speed and distance are held constant) has a TON to do with whether you’re on a road or mountain bike and whether the terrain is flat or not etc.