Rowing is often considered one of the best activities you can possibly do, given that it activates up to 84% of the total muscles in your body.
While kayaking never quite reaches that number, it does offer its own, more specialized list of benefits to make it worthwhile.
More specifically, the motions used in handling the two-handed paddle will give your lats and obliques a working difficult to get elsewhere.
But all good things come with a catch, and kayaking is no different: just planting yourself in one without a solid base to handle the waves would likely give you an unpleasant experience.
Which is exactly why we’ve made today’s article.
In it we will point out which muscle groups you will need to train in order to make the benefits of kayaking (both useful and recreational) easily accessible and not at all dangerous.
Strength, Endurance, and Balance: Taming the Beast
Ask any kayaking enthusiast about the most common injury they’ve seen, and chances are that they will say “shoulder dislocation.”
Not a good thing to endure, and it can happen for a number of reasons, including:
- Insufficient strength. A no-brainer, but nevertheless needs mentioning. When the entire upper body needs to work in unison, the weakest link tends to unravel first. Keep your shoulders strong, and they will serve you well.
- Low endurance. Even if you do have the power, low endurance will make it as if you don’t. And it isn’t like you can just take a break in the thick of it, lay the paddle down and go out for a cup of coffee. No, when you are in, you are in until you manage to get yourself over to the shore, or until someone helps you out. You do not want the latter.
- Poor technique. While technique is certainly something that one learns and improves on with time, there is no denying that improper execution is oftentimes the consequence of difficulty with the movements, especially early on. Which is most easily alleviated with—you guessed it—physical exercise!
So what we will need to do is:
- Improve our arm, shoulder, and lats strength. These do the majority of the work, and should thus be the main focus.
- Increase endurance of said muscles. All this practically means is not neglecting your (otherwise often neglected) high-rep workouts.
- Get a solid core (abs, lower back, and obliques). These will need to be strong enough to hold the rest of the machinery in place and stabilize the movements. Additionally, in case of an error that results in the kayak flipping, your ability to do a good rotational move will make a difference between you being able to turn the kayak right side up, or having to slip and swim out.
- Hone our balance skills. Always important, both to avoid said flipping, and being able to get the most out of the experience.
- Do not neglect cardio. Nothing fancy here. A bit of running, cycling, jumping rope, or whatever works best. Remember, kayaking does not demand a lot of cardio (unless you do it in especially inhospitable waters), but neglecting the aspect completely will effectively nullify the rest of your conditioning at the moment things turn rough.
The Workouts Themselves—the Tools of the Trade
Given that kayaking is not an activity with hard rules, there will be no exercise circuit here. Instead we will list some moves and note what they are good for. How and if you choose to use them will be up to you.
Just follow the simple rule: slower, low-number rep workouts will lead to increased strength. Quicker, higher-rep sessions will improve endurance. Combine the two for best results.
Running, Jump rope, or Cycling
Pick one of these and stick with it. We
recommend any of the former two, because they can also serve as a decent
companion to your usual warm-up. Don’t neglect cardio, or you will likely be
sorry at some point.
Good for: cardiovascular health.
This will make up most of your core and
oblique package. A simple move that most everyone should be able to do.
Good for: abs, obliques.
Lower Back Curl
A companion to balance out the crunch
twist, and yet another move that you should probably be able to pull off with
Good for: lower back.
Undeniably one of the best (and notoriously
difficult for the uninitiated) exercise you can do, these work all the heavy
hitters you will need. Can’t go wrong with them. If you can’t do pull-ups
though, there are easier variants such as the one with the chair.
Good for: arms, shoulders, lats.
Beginner variant: chair-assisted pull-ups
The Tuck Planche
The planche is by all means an advanced
move, but training for it will lead to many benefits. The much easier tuck
planche is an especially good way of improving strength and endurance, while also training for balance. No need
to be intimidated, it’s a really solid all-in-one package.
Good for: arms, shoulders, abs.
Beginner variant: included in the video
Speaking of all-in-one packages, the wall
handstand will also develop arm strength, shoulders, lats, and even core. The
trickiness of holding that position will also do wonders for your balance.
Good for: arms, shoulders, lats, abs
Single Leg Squat or Pistol Squat
Putting squats on this list may sound
silly, but these two do more than strengthen your legs. They work your core as
well, and the somewhat awkward motions will do wonders for your balance.
Good for: abs, balance (and legs).
A shocker, right? Thing is, no matter how much you push yourself on land, only the actual act of kayaking will get you past a certain point. So play it safe, experiment, and not only will you give yourself an awesome workout, but you will also have a whole lot of fun doing it!
Chris is an experienced Calisthenics practitioner focused on isometric exercises and street workout. He founded thehybridathlete.com in 2017, which was subsequently acquired by theyhybridathlete.com
He is based in Portland and has been working out using solely his own body weight and bars for the past 6 years.