May 12, 2014

Exercise Benefits of Kayaking

exercise benefits of kayakingKayaking is a great activity to strengthen your core and upper body muscles as you do something that might not feel much like exercise – just one the exercise benefits of kayaking. Kayaking a nice alternative for the active person who dislikes going to the gym or club to exercise purely for the sake of exercising.

Over this past spring break I went kayaking for the first time along with family members while in Bonita Springs, Florida. I’ve gone canoeing and whitewater rafting in the past, but never kayaking.

Kayaking involves activating several muscle groups of the upper body and core to push, lift, twist, and pull (paddle). If you have weaknesses in any of those muscle groups kayaking will unmask it and you will probably feel it the next day. It requires being in a certain amount of fitness to begin with.

The legs are used to as well in stabilizing the kayak and they get a bit of a workout too, but not like the upper body

I felt it most the next day in my lower abdominal muscles and my hip flexors (which are very tight to begin with). One day of kayaking and I’m one pack closer to a six-pack – not really – but it feels that way.

Surprisingly it did not bother my lower back despite three previous surgeries, or my one shoulder that has also been cut on. And, I was able to perform my typical weight lifting routine the following day involving chest and triceps without any problem.

You are supposed to grip the paddles with thumbs on top of the paddle not underneath. That was hard to get used to and I and the others in our group found ourselves frequently gripping with the thumbs underneath the paddle (like the guy in the photo).

Our kayaking experience was more of “joy ride”, but you can certainly turn it into a great aerobic activity if you pick up the pace potentially making kayaking a near perfect exercise.

So kayaking provides a form of resistance exercise mainly for the upper body and core, aerobic exercise to improve the cardiopulmonary system, while allowing for incorporation of high intensity interval training.

As an aside. We did not encounter any alligators on our kayaking adventure which was fine with me. They scare me. If I’m going to be munched on as some creature’s meal I’d rather be eaten by a shark. I think they are swift and decisive and just get it over with. And, sharks sometimes only want one bite as if they are having a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack then leave you alone. Alligators, on the other hand, seem to like to toy with you and want you as an entire meal – slowly as they enjoy you. Plus, alligators can get you on land or water. I’ve not met anyone who has survived both alligator and shark attacks to know if getting bitten by one is preferable over the other, but I suspect in the end it probably doesn’t matter much – just a hunch.

Kayaking can be found all around the country in lakes, ponds, rivers, and the ocean. has an excellent post about taking a kayaking trip to Cleveland.  Take time to figure out how to make an exercise into a vacation by visiting



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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

  1. I never even thought about how healthy kayaking is. It’s pretty great that you can go out on the lake or river and get a killer ab and upper body workout. I have always wanted to go on a kayaking tour somewhere, so that would really make me buff!

  2. My father has been wanting to do some fun activities outdoors, as he has more time now and wants to make sure he stays healthy. You wrote that kayaking is great because it works several muscle groups including your upper body and core. This would be a great fit for my father, as he has bad knees and any activity that doesn’t put too much stress on those is good for him. We’ll have to find a good tour where he could get introduced to the activity and really start to learn the sport.

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