What Muscles Are Used When Kayaking?

Avid kayakers love to say that kayaking is a full-body workout. While you could chalk it up to exaggeration and their love for the sport, you also owe it to yourself and your curiosity to find out. In this post, we’ll discuss the muscles used when kayaking and how ‌kayaking works out these muscles. 

Muscles Used During Kayaking

As a kayaker, you’ll find that your muscles take the heat for all the work you do on the water. If you’re consistent, you may even ‌notice an improvement in your muscles strength and tone. You’re not wrong or imagining it – kayaking really does workout your muscles. Wondering which muscles exactly? Your shoulders, arms, back, abdomen, and chest muscles are all key muscles that you activate when kayaking. Keep reading for the details:

1. The Back Muscles

With every single row you make, your back is actively involved‌. Take a moment to imagine and swap kayaking with being at the gym for a second. You’ll find that the rowing action is ‌the same as doing a single-arm dumbbell row or a seated cable row. Rowing while kayaking significantly works out your back muscles, especially your latissimus muscles (also called lats or lower back muscles). 

Also, as you extend one arm outward or forward and row back, the lats on that side contract while the lats on the other side stretch and when you row with the other hand, you alternate the workout. If you stay consistent with several kayaking trips, you’ll have a stronger back in no time. 

2. Shoulder Muscles (Deltoid Muscles)

Kayaking works out the shoulder muscles, which are called the deltoid muscles. The deltoid has muscle fibers from the front, middle, and rear heads. 

Kayaking mostly works out the rear head of the deltoid muscles. When you row front to back, the load moves from your back muscles (the lats) to your shoulder muscles. The forward circular motion smoothly glides the load from the back to the rear deltoid head to the middle and anterior head. This fully works out your shoulders; if you keep at it, you’ll have beautifully sculpted strong shoulders. 

3. Arms (Biceps and Triceps)

Your arm muscles can take a real beating when it comes to rowing. After all, they are doing most of the rowing action, so it checks out. During kayaking, the circular rowing motion contracts the biceps and triceps muscles as you pull your arm towards you. 

As you work on rowing predominantly with one arm, the other arm is countering the circular motion with a forward extension. That action helps provide more rotational force on the paddle, mostly using the triceps. When you extend your arm, the triceps also contract to help stabilize your arm.

With the biceps and triceps working in such beautiful synergy to make your rowing happen, you get more than enough workouts to give you well-toned arms.

4. Forearms Muscles

You’ll undoubtedly be proud of your arms and forearms if you keep up with kayaking for a while. There are over 16 muscles in the forearm, most actively involved in kayaking. 

5. Abdominal Muscles (Obliques and Abs)

Your abdominal muscles and obliques are heavily involved in the rotational and stabilizing movements in kayaking. If you want to build a stronger core, consistent, intense kayaking sessions will do lots of good. 

As you constantly work your trunk (body from the neck to the waist) in alternating rotation and counter-rotation, you’ll build stronger core muscles. You’ll also get better balance and spine stabilization courtesy of stronger muscles. 

6. The Chest Muscles (Pectoral Muscles)

Your pecs aren’t left out in the equation too! Just as the biceps and triceps alternate actions and form a rigorous exercise dynamic, your chest muscles also get in on the action. As your arms push and pull towards you, your pectoral muscles work hard to stabilize your shoulder joint and arm. This work is put into stabilizing your shoulder joint, and the arm works out your pecs, keeping them toned and strong. 

8. Leg Muscles

While your legs are not primarily involved in kayaking, they do a lot of work to stabilize your body as you paddle on the water. Building up momentum to move forward and maneuver on the water comes from rowing with your arms, rotating your trunk, and applying pressure with your legs.

7. The Heart

As a cardio-respiratory sport, kayaking actively exercises the heart with every row forward or backward. Cardiovascular workouts are essential for a healthy heart, so as you paddle through the water, you’re reassured that your heart is getting benefits. 

While cardio in the gym could become boring and repetitive, getting in your cardio with kayaking is a great way to keep things fun. Your heart and lungs will become stronger for it.

Additional Health Benefits of Kayaking

1. Reduces Stress and Anxiety

One of the health benefits of kayaking is stress reduction. Kayaking can be very calming – with the calming scenery on the water, the view of the water gently sloshing around as your boat glides on, and the colors of the sky. Enjoying what kayaking offers a few times a week can help you destress and relax. 

2. Helps Lose Weight

Paddling and stabilizing your kayak takes a lot of energy. If your goal is burning calories, kayaking can help you. It takes 0.1 hp of effort to move your kayak at 5mph, roughly 400 calories burned in an hour. With consistent kayaking, you could achieve your dream weight while having fun!

3. Improved Mood and Mental Health

Exercising generally encourages the brain to release endorphins or the “feel-good chemical”. This helps to improve your mood and mental health simply by being in nature. If your work or daily life causes a lot of anxiety, you’ll appreciate kayaking more whenever possible.

4. Improved Focus and Sleep

Endorphins may help you feel great but also increase your mental strength, memory, and focus. Kayaking also helps exercise specific parts of your brain associated with focus and memory by keeping them active and engaged. You’ll also get better sleep quality as kayaking tires you out.

5. Increased Vitamin D Intake

Also called the sunshine vitamin, you can get enough vitamin D to keep your body functions going just right. Kayaking in those golden rays will help increase your vitamin D intake. Benefits of vitamin D include healthy bone, teeth, and muscle growth and balanced calcium and phosphorus levels. 


Kayaking serves as a full-body workout, effectively using your arm muscles, shoulder, back, abdominal, and leg muscles. This sport has a lot to offer you in terms of physical health, building skills, improving your mental wellbeing, and learning new things about yourself. All you have to do is pick up your paddle!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Kayaking Good Exercise?

Picking up kayaking as exercise will be great for your entire body and keep you active. Do your research and take it easy as you learn to avoid any kayaking mistakes you’ll regret, such as wearing incorrect clothing and not learning proper techniques.

Is Kayaking A Good Upper Body Workout?

Kayaking is excellent for working out your upper body muscles – arms, back, and abs. Even with one-hour kayaking sessions, you’ll work out these muscles more than you probably would with a single session at the gym.

Does Kayaking Require Core Muscle Strength?

Kayaking requires core muscle strength and helps strengthen your core. Rotating your torso and stabilizing your body as you kayak requires you to build your core strength. If you’re worried about not having core muscle strength, there’s no need to worry, as you’ll build it soon with consistent kayaking sessions.

Does Kayaking Help Lose Belly Fat?

Kayaking can help you trim belly fat and build toned abs thanks to the taxing rotational movements. With each stroke, you work out your core muscles and burn calories. 

Can You Build Muscles With Kayaking?

While you won’t necessarily expect to get “ripped” with kayaking alone, you can expect that your muscles will become slightly bigger, toned, and look more sculpted. This sport alone may not build muscle mass, but you will notice increased muscle strength and muscle tone.