Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sea Kayak Fitness

Having emerged from a semi-active winter and aware of the effects being desk bound has had on  me, I thought there might be some value in exploring how our beloved pastime of sea kayaking can help us get into shape and paddle fit.

Sea kayaking is considered to be a relatively low-impact activity that can contribute to improved cardiovascular health. It is also possible to build the muscles of the back, chest and arms through the action of paddling if done on a regular basis. A paddler’s torso and legs may also get a workout while sea kayaking if they are used to apply pressure that powers and maintains balance and control of the boat. Research shows that an ideal aerobic exercise establishes regular, rhythmic contractions in the large muscle groups. Paddling a sea kayak smoothly meets this definition, using the large muscles of your chest, back and core.

Core Strength 

Developing core strength should be an important element for sea kayakers. This can be developed through exercises that enhance the muscles required for rotational movements of the trunk and abdominal areas. For example, you can build strength in your lower body by using squats and leg extensions. For abdominal strength and torso rotation try crunches using a balance ball. Performing plank, a yoga-based posture, forces you to rely on your core to remain balanced on your toes and elbows while you are stretched out parallel to the floor. Use triceps dips and bicep curls help to work the arms. 

Cardiovascular Training 

Sea kayaking is very much an endurance activity that engages the heart and the lungs. Preparing your cardiovascular system for kayaking requires some discipline specific training so consider the duration and distance you trips. For example, plan to kayak 10 to 12 miles by paddling 5 or 6 miles in one direction and returning to your starting point. This will account for wind resistance and not having to arrange for a car shuttle. During the paddle, aim for a consistent cadence of stroke, or pace. Use smooth forward strokes that rely on the torso rotation rather than shoulder strength. This allows you go the distance set and begin to build up to longer distances without soreness or injury. Incorporating staged bursts of speed, either for a set time or number of paddle strokes, will also help you to get faster. 

Cross Training 

As with any activity that requires cardiovascular endurance, cross-training using high-intensity aerobic exercises, such as mountain biking and running, can improve fitness levels. While the movement patterns for biking or running do not simulate kayaking movements, developing endurance ensures you won't be stranded on the water too tired to paddle to safety or back to shore. 


Getting fit for sea kayaking offers many benefits. A balanced training programme develops good cardio fitness and upper body strength while adding finesse to your paddling efficiency. Effective stroke techniques increase as you put more time in the water paddling. Like any form of regular exercise, sea kayaking can contribute to weight lose as part of a calorie controlled diet.

According to Harvard Health Publications, a paddler who weighs 125 lbs. burns 150 calories while sea kayaking for 30 minutes. For a person weighing 155 lbs, the same 30 minutes of sea kayaking burns 186 calories. A 185-lb. person burns 222 calories during a half-hour of sea kayaking. Factors other than weight that influence the calories you burn while kayaking include your speed and environmental conditions, such as wind and currents.

So whilst its good to get and get active, doing it with a plan and with purpose is even better for your overall well-being. More in-depth articles are available here:

Fitness for Kayaking - Myths and Hard Realities by Trevor Gardner, New South Wales Sea Kayak Club

Food For Thought - How To Maximise Your Paddling Energy by Sharon Trueman, New South Wales Sea Kayak Club


Unknown said...

Amen. Good report. Good commentary.

Jan Egil Kristiansen said...

Updated links:

Fitness for Kayaking:

Food for Thought: