Outdoor Federation

What Muscles Do Kayaking Work?

There is always something relaxing about kayaking. Paddling through the waters offers sheer and out-of-this-world joy that cannot be explained in words. However, kayaking also happens to be a wonderful form of exercise. So, what muscles do kayaking work, anyway?

what muscles do kayaking work

While expert and professional kayakers make the activity seem effortless, it actually works more muscles than you think. Aside from your back and arms, kayaking also works other muscles including your shoulders, legs, core, chest, and yes, even your heart.

Continue reading and learn about the amazing muscle work that you can get out of kayaking:

Does Kayaking Work Your Back Muscles?

Yes, your back is the first muscle group that kayaking works since this is the primary driver used with every stroke of the paddle.


The latissismus dorsi, or simply Lats, are the biggest back muscles that contract with each forward stroke. These muscles function by transferring power from your lower body, pulling your arm inward and back to your body. Lat pulldowns, rows, chin-ups, and pull-ups are some exercises you can perform in the gym to hone your lat strength.

Rhomboid Muscles

Your upper back’s rhomboid muscles are in charge of scapular retraction that happens at the end of every kayak stroke. They pull back your shoulder blades to the center of your spine. Despite being small, these muscles are very critical for a healthy posture and require frequent stretching.


The trapezius, or traps, are the large muscle at the middle of your back used for the up and down movement of the shoulder blades and provide motion to the spine and neck. Many of you are probably just familiar with the shrug muscle or the upper traps. However, there are also the lower and middle traps. Kayakers usually end up overusing their upper traps, which is why it is a must to train the middle and lower traps as well.

Fun Outdoor Quiz

Does Kayaking Work Your Shoulder Muscles?

Your shoulder muscles are some of the muscles most frequently used when paddling. Working together with your back and arms, your shoulder muscles help you in propelling the kayak, resulting in the tendency to be overused.

Rotator Cuff

The rotator cuff is often made up of four smaller muscles working together to provide and stabilize rotation for your upper arms and shoulders. These muscles are the infraspinatus, subscapularis, supraspinatus, and teres minor.

Kayaking can cause lots of strain on the rotator cuffs and most experienced paddlers make sure to train these muscles with regular external and internal exercises for them to stay healthy and fit.

Anterior and Posterior Deltoids

This is the muscle that often feels like they are on fire after several hours of kayaking. The posterior deltoids, in particular, are in charge of pulling the kayak paddle’s blade through the water on every forward stroke.

Since many kayakers spend less time going backward than forward, the posterior deltoids receive heavier use than their anterior counterparts. It can result in muscle imbalance and increase your risk of injury.

It is the reason why most kayakers often go to the gym or perform other activities to give their anterior deltoids the same level of workout as the posterior ones. Not doing this will almost definitely lead to an injury even for the most experienced kayakers.

Does Kayaking Work Your Arm Muscles?

Paddling is made up of a catch-and-pull action. When you pull in one arm that targets the biceps on that part of the body, your other arm responds with the countering forward extension involving the triceps.

While your triceps and biceps do their job, the power that your back, core, and arm muscles generate will ultimately transfer through your grip and forearms to the paddle.

Your hands are your main contact points with the kayak paddle and the strength of your grip completes the motion of paddling. All the things you do depend on gripping the paddle properly.

The muscles in your forearm are constantly engaged in maneuvering and handling the paddle, including extending, flexing, and rotating, no matter how intense your paddling is.

Initial sessions of kayaking make for a true challenge of endurance, often accompanied by fatigue in the upper body or arms. However, things get easier after some time.

Does Kayaking Work Your Core and Leg Muscles?

You may not know it, but your legs play an important role in paddling a kayak. Every stroke requires balancing, and it is exactly what your legs are meant to do.

Your leg muscles should firmly sit in the kayak because this is where your power stroke’s root begins. The power will then be delivered to another section from there before the rest of the muscles also start their functions.

The core muscles serve as the connection between your upper and lower body parts. With your feet being the source of balance, your abdominal muscles and obliques control the rotation of your torso. You generate all power with this side-to-side motion.

Does Kayaking Work Your Chest Muscles?

Although your arms and shoulders work to pull one of your arms to your body, the muscles in your chest will counteract this motion and help to push away your other arm from your body.

To know how it works, place one of your hands over the opposite chest muscle and rotate your torso little by little to the same side of the chest muscle you touch. The rotation imitates the motion that your core makes when you paddle. You must actively feel as your chest muscles contract while your torso rotates.

Does Kayaking Work Your Heart?

Yes, your heart is also a muscle, and not just any muscle, but the most important one in your body. It doesn’t matter if you love to kayak for leisure, you often go sprinting, or you like to navigate through whitewater rapids, kayaking can benefit your cardiovascular health in more ways than you think.

Consistent motion like paddling increases your heart rate, which makes kayaking among those very few cardio-centric exercises for the upper body. In fact, you can burn around 400 to 500 calories per hour of kayaking.

If you think that these muscles need some work, it’s time for you to give kayaking a try!

And with that, we officially end this blog post. But before you go, can you do us a solid and spread the love (or laughter) by sharing this on your social media? Who knows, maybe we might even find someone who can relate to our content and benefit from it... Wink