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What Muscles Does Kayaking Work?

Kayaking is an amazing activity and is very popular thanks to the thrills and sights it can offer both day-trippers as well as more extreme freestyle kayakers.

But, while kayaking is often thought of as an occasional excursion, it can actually be so much more and is a very effective way to exercise and get in shape.

While it may not be the first thing you think of when you think about how to get a good workout, kayaking shouldn’t be overlooked as a good option to get in shape, especially as it can help you stay on target and keep you motivated by alleviating boredom. 

Believe it or not, boredom is one of the biggest reasons why people fail to meet their workout goals and aspirations, so incorporating something different like kayaking into your fitness regime is a great way to improve your overall fitness and keep you on track.

In this guide we’re going to look at what muscles kayaking can help you work out, to give you a better understanding of just how beneficial kayaking can be.

What Muscles Does Kayaking Work?

Is Kayaking A Good Workout?

Kayaking is a superb workout, and unlike some forms of exercise, kayaking works out the whole body. This may be surprising, due to the fact that kayaking is done while sitting, but it’s an immensely demanding sport and form of exercise that targets the upper and lower body in different ways.

In the next section, we’re going to look at what muscles in particular kayaking work, as well as how it targets them.

What Muscles Does Kayaking Work?


The muscles in the back are some of the hardest muscles to target when working out, and they are often neglected which can often lead to all sorts of issues, from poor posture to back pain and even issues lower down the body in the knees and hips.

There are several large and powerful muscles in the back, and harnessing their power is key to getting into shape, as well as alleviating common issues such as back pain, rolled shoulders, and posture issues.

The lats that run down either side of the back are worked with every forward stroke when kayaking and developing these muscles is very important. 

The rhomboid muscles in the upper back are what support the pulling motion and retraction of strokes. Using these muscles and building them is very important for maintaining good posture, and while they are hard to engage in everyday life, kayaking works them very well and will help develop a lot of strength in your back.

Finally, the traps are the large muscles used to move the shoulders and perform shrugging movements, and these are the main use of traps, however, the middle and lower traps are harder to work so ensuring you use all of these is key to ensuring you don’t injure yourself or overwork the upper traps.



The arms are a major part of good kayaking technique, and the biceps and triceps in the upper arms are used extensively, as well as the muscles in the hands and forearms used to grip effectively and pull with your paddle strokes.

Generating and harnessing the power required when kayaking relies on strong arms and a strong grip, which means kayaking builds this kind of strength very effectively.


The shoulders are one of the primary muscles used in kayaking, as they work closely with the arms and back to deliver the power and precision required to paddle effectively.

Unfortunately, this also leads to a lot of injuries in the shoulder as beginners often rely on the shoulders too much.

During the forward stroke, the rear of the shoulder is used extensively, much more than the front of the shoulder. It is used to pull the paddle toward the body and create the power and forward momentum needed to pick up speed when kayaking.

Overdevelopment of the rear deltoid can lead to imbalances in posture and this means it’s very important to maintain correct technique and posture when kayaking to ensure you engage the shoulders evenly.


The chest muscles are some of the least used muscles in kayaking, as kayaking uses primarily pulling motions, and the chest is a pushing muscle. 

However the chest muscles are used in the paddle stroke to reset the paddle and put it back into position for another stroke, and to perform some turning movements in the kayak, so the chest muscles can be used and worked a little, although kayaking isn’t as effective at working the chest as other forms of exercise.


The core is used extensively when kayaking as these muscles are very important for supporting you while you sit in the kayak, as well as providing stability so that the other muscles in the body can work effectively.

Additionally, the oblique muscles on the sides of the ribs are used a lot and worked very hard when paddling as you will often need to rotate and turn your body to paddle and move around while kayaking and these muscles are used heavily for these movements.


The legs and hips aren’t used that heavily when kayaking, but they are important for bracing you as well as for use in balancing, so while they aren’t placed under as much strain as the upper body, they are important.

Additionally, the feet are used to help generate power by bracing against the front of the boat, and this leverage can develop good power and muscular strength/endurance in the legs after a long day of kayaking.

Final Thoughts

If you’re interested in kayaking, then you’ll love hearing how good this activity can be for your body. Not only is it super fun, but you can actually work out a range of muscle groups at the same time. So, not only will you be enjoying your day out on the water, but keeping yourself fit and healthy too.

Hi! My name is Adele Stevens, and I have a big passion for water sports. I love nothing more than traveling to my favorite kayaking spots on my days off and spending hours out on the water.

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