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How to Fitness Train for Kayaking

Whether winter hibernation has taken its toll, or you just want to increase your kayaking performance, let’s look at some ways to fitness train for kayaking

Of course, getting out on the water and engaging in the sport is an excellent way to increase performance, but when that isn’t a possibility or you want to focus on some particular gains, consider creating a training regime that will reduce the risk of injury and increase your level of enjoyment. Your “land-based” workouts can pay great dividends on the water.

What You Need for Better Paddling & Why You Need It

  • Strength: It probably goes without saying that you need strength to paddle effectively. The stronger your muscles the more efficiently you overcome water resistance and add force to your stroke. You can also increase the gap between cruising and maximum effort paddling.
  • Core/Stability: A huge part of effective kayaking is rooted in your core, which adds in balance and stability. Without it, you wouldn’t have proper paddling motion.
  • Cardio: Kayaking is a sport that will get your heart and lungs working. Increasing your cardiovascular health will pay dividends on the water.

Paddling exercises and life, in general, have left most of the population with strong and tight muscles in some areas and weak and stretched muscles in others. In particular, most people tend to have strong, tight backs, pecs, and hips while our shoulders, glutes, and deep abs muscles are weak.

Targeting these muscle groups can make you a more efficient and powerful paddler.

Exercises to Improve Strength for More Powerful Kayaking

  • Dumbbell squat & press - this single- fluid motion exercise works the entire body in one fell swoop. It builds both lower-body strength and muscular endurance in the glutes and quads. In addition, the upper-body gets a workout as does the core. This is a win for an effective paddler.
  • Bent-over row - Doesn’t a rowing movement just seem like an absolute must in training for kayaking? Of course, we have to include this strength building exercise. It works the posterior chain like few other exercises - back, glutes, and legs all get in on the action.
  • Book Grab - This one might surprise you, but it is a simple exercise to increase forearm muscles which are used to continually grip and manipulate the paddle. Literally take a book (increase the size as you improve), grip it in the center of the spine in one hand and hold it with your arm straight down at your side (hold 10 sec), repeat on the other side, alternate 15x. Try to hold a larger book or hold it further away from your body, if you want a challenge. To really increase the challenge, try to do a “grip walk” and move your hand up and down the spine of the book with just your fingers.

Exercises to Improve Core/Stability for More Efficient Kayaking

  • Plank - This basic isometric hold looks deceptively simple, but if you are doing it right, it will engage your arms, lower back, shoulder, glutes, and thighs - all needed for efficient paddling.
  • High/Low Wood Chop - This “wood-chop” movement is very similar to the way the body turns during paddling so it is an excellent exercise for training a good stroke. It focuses on abdominals and obliques as well as back, shoulders, and glutes.
  • Russian twist - Since the core is a critical link between the upper and lower body, it is imperative that paddlers have a strong core for power and stability. Because of chronic poor posture, many struggle with inactivity of the key core stabilizers and an over-worked erector muscles of the spine. This can lead to back pain and restricted rotational movement. This twist helps to work on core muscles and rotation.

Exercises to Improve Cardio for Endurance While Kayaking

  • Kettlebell swings - As a strength-building and cardio exercise, this full-body-engaging swing is hard to beat. It combines the power of the deadlift with the explosiveness of plyometrics. All the large muscles of your body are engaged in this hip-hinge movement. And the quick repetitions get your heart and lungs pumping.
  • Skaters - This side-to-side movement is great for balance and coordination as well as getting your heart rate up. They also strengthened your glutes, hips, and legs all needed for effective kayaking.
  • Burpees - This whole-body exercise is no joke. They work a wide range of muscles and motions that will bring your heart rate right up. Simple, but not necessarily easy, they will get you in kayaking shape for sure!


Taking the time to fitness train can have a great impact on your kayaking performance. What are your favorite exercises? How do you prepare to get out on the water?

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