What Muscles Are Used in Kayaking? Feel the Burn!

What Muscles are used in Kayaking?

Kayaking is a great way to work out and build muscle! And given the perception that it’s all arms in paddling, you’d be surprised to learn what muscles are used in kayaking. Because while it seems like kayaking only works the arms, a host of other muscles, throughout your entire body, are actually used in kayaking.

So, what muscles are used in kayaking? Kayaking works all 12 major muscle groups in your body. Abs, biceps, triceps, lats, deltoids, trapezius, back, quadriceps, hamstrings, quads, glutes and calves. From abs to lats, deltoids (shoulder) to calves – there’s no doubt that paddling can help tone and build your muscles.

So if you’re looking for an exciting way to exercise while taking advantage of nature’s beauty, in this article we’ll discuss what muscles are used in kayaking and what parts of your body benefit most from paddling a kayak.

Does Kayaking Build Muscle?

First let’s remember that building muscle is a function of stressing your muscles beyond their current capacity for work, allowing them to heal completely, and then stressing them again. This process of breaking down and repairing muscle so it’s stronger is what “building” muscle means.

With that in mind, we can talk about kayaking and muscle building.

Kayaking has many health benefits and is an excellent way to build and tone muscle. Paddling works the upper body, core, leg and arm muscles all at once.

And as you paddle more often and for longer periods of time, with each paddling session, your muscles get stronger.

The best part about kayaking is that it can be done in a variety of places, times, and conditions. So you don’t have to worry about getting bored with your workout routine.

Kayak Muscles Worked

Major Muscles Used In Kayaking

Kayaking works 12 major muscle groups, including:

  1. Biceps
  2. Triceps
  3. Deltoids (shoulder)
  4. Chest
  5. Latisimus Dorsi
  6. Trapezius
  7. Abdominal
  8. Obliques
  9. Quadriceps (thighs)
  10. Hamstrings (back of legs)
  11. Glutes (buttocks)
  12. Calves

It uses your upper body to paddle, your core muscles for power and your lower muscles for stability and balance.

Upper Body Muscles

Kayaking engages your upper body muscles as your arms, shoulders, and chest paddle through the water.

Kayaking works your arms and shoulders for paddling and steering the boat. Your arms are used to “pull” the paddle back while your chest muscles help keep your paddle steady during each stroke. You’ll also use your shoulder muscles to rotate and lift the paddle out of the water after each stroke.

From paddling to turning and steering, even getting in and out of a kayak, kayaking is a great way to strengthen your upper body muscles.

Core Muscles

Your core abdominal and oblique muscles are used throughout kayaking as you twist from side-to-side with each stroke of the paddle. In fact, to paddle properly, you twist as much or more with your core than you do pulling and pushing with your arms.

Here’s a great video on the wtisting motion in kayak paddling:

Your oblique muscles on either side of your abdomen work together with abdominal muscles to stabilize and support your torso while paddling. This helps maintain good posture and blance so you can maximize power output when paddling for longer distances or against strong currents or winds.

Leg Muscles

While most beginners tend to paddle mostly with their arms, your legs actually do work as well. Because though sitting down during kayaking may not seem like much of a leg workout, it actually engages several different leg muscles.

Quads, hamstrings and glutes help stabilize the body and boat while balancing the kayak, expecially during rough rides or fast turns.

With proper cockpit posture, your leg muscles such as quads and hamstrings help improve overall strength in these areas over time without even realizing it.

Upper Body Muscles

The upper body muscles are especially important for kayakers, as they help propel the boat forward, provide balance and kayak stability, and keep you safe in the water.

Chest, Arm, Shoulder Muscles Used In Kayaking

Chest Muscles

The chest muscles are used to “push” the paddle through the water with each stroke. When paddling on one side of your kayak, you “pull” with the end of the paddle that’s in the water and to get more power you push with the offside arm.

This works the back muscle on your “paddle” side and your chest muscles on the side of the paddle that’s not in the water.

Your shoulders also play an important role in helping you move forward efficiently by providing power and stability during each stroke.

Back Muscles

Finally, your back plays a crucial role in keeping you upright while sitting in a kayak seat for long periods of time; it is responsible for holding up most of your weight. Having a strong back can help maintain good posture which can improve overall performance and ensure that every stroke counts towards propelling yourself further downriver or across open waters more quickly.

The pulling the paddle through the water also works your latissimus dorsi (lats) in your back.

Arm Muscles

Your arms are essential for controlling your paddle throughout each stroke as well as helping you stay balanced while maneuvering around obstacles or turns in rivers or lakes. Keeping your arms strong helps prevent fatigue so that you can enjoy longer trips out on the water without tiring quickly.

Upper body muscles play an important role in kayaking, providing power and stability to the paddler.

Core Muscles

Core muscles are essential for kayaking because they help with posture, control of the kayak while paddling, and provide power to your paddle stroke in twisting. The main core muscles used in kayaking include the abdominals, obliques, and lower back.

Core Muscles Used In Kayaking

Abdominal Muscles

The abdominal muscles provide stability when you paddle your kayak. They also keep your torso upright so that you can move forward efficiently without having to constantly adjust your position in the boat.

Oblique Muscles

Your oblique muscles are important too as they enable you to twist and turn your upper body while paddling around obstacles or navigating tight turns on rivers or lakes. Finally, strong lower back muscles will help you maintain good posture throughout long trips on the water by supporting your spine and keeping it aligned properly during those extended hours of paddling.

When developing a good core muscle routine for kayaking, focus on exercises that target these three areas:

  1. Crunches (for abs)
  2. Side bends (for obliques)
  3. Planks (for lower back)

You should also incorporate other full-body exercises such as squats, lunges, pushups and pull ups into your routine since these movements will help strengthen multiple muscle groups at once which can improve overall performance out on the water.

Additionally stretching before each session is key to avoiding injury due to overuse of any particular muscle group from repetitive motions like paddling strokes or maneuvering through rapids or waves.

Core muscles play an important role in kayaking, providing stability and power for paddling.

Key Takeaway: Kayaking is great exercise and an excellent, low-impact full-body workout, particularly for core muscles. To maximize performance and avoid injury, focus on exercises such as crunches, side bends and planks; incorporate squats, lunges, pushups and pull ups; and always stretch before each session.

Leg Muscles

When you paddle, the main source of stability comes from your legs. This means that when you kayak, you are working out many different muscles in your lower body.

Leg Muscles Used In Kayaking

The quadriceps are one of the primary leg muscles used in kayaking. The quads help to provide stability when paddling and also keep you balanced while seated on the water. Your hamstrings also play an important role in helping with balance as well as providing stability during turns or other maneuvers while kayaking. Additionally, they work together with your glutes to help propel yourself forward through each stroke of the paddle.

Your calves are another set of muscles that get worked out when kayaking since they assist with pushing off against the foot pegs or braces at the bottom of your boat as well as keeping your feet firmly planted inside them throughout each stroke cycle. Lastly, don’t forget about those core muscles.

Your abs and obliques come into play here too by helping maintain good posture while paddling and aiding in rotation so that each stroke can be executed properly and efficiently for maximum power output over long distances or tough conditions on open water bodies like lakes or rivers.

Overall, if done correctly and consistently over time, regular kayaking sessions can lead to increased strength gains all around – not just for your legs but for other areas such as arms, shoulders, back etc. This will only serve to make you a better overall paddler. So next time you head out onto the water make sure to give those leg muscles some extra attention; after all they do most of the hard work.

Leg muscles are key for providing stability and balance while kayaking. With strong legs, you’ll be able to paddle with more ease and efficiency. Now let’s look at the arm muscles that help make kayaking a fun activity.

Key Takeaway: Regular kayaking sessions can lead to increased strength gains in the legs, arms, shoulders, back and core. To maximize power output over long distances or tough conditions on open water bodies like lakes or rivers, focus on strengthening your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves and absobliques.

Specific Arm Muscles Worked

When you paddle, the muscles in your arms are used to provide power and help steer the kayak. The main arm muscles that are worked are biceps, triceps, forearms and wrists which all work together with other smaller stabilizing muscles to propel you forward.

Having strong grip strength is also essential for whitewater kayaking.

Arm Muscles Used In Kayaking


Your biceps are located on the front of your upper arm between your shoulder and elbow joint. These muscles are responsible for flexing or bending at the elbow joint as well as rotating your forearm so you can turn the paddle blade while paddling. As you pull back on each stroke with a bent elbow, these muscles contract providing power to move forward through the water.


The triceps make up two-thirds of the mass of your upper arm muscle tissue and they work together with other smaller stabilizing muscles like brachialis (located underneath) to extend or straighten out your elbows during each stroke of paddling. This helps keep good form while paddling which will give you more power over time by using proper technique rather than relying solely on brute force from just one set of large muscle groups like bicep curls would do if done incorrectly without proper technique .


Your forearms also play an important role in helping propel yourself forward while kayaking by gripping onto either side of the paddle shaft tightly during each stroke; this helps create leverage against both sides evenly for maximum efficiency when propelling yourself forward through water resistance with every single stroke taken.

Wrists and Grip

Additionally, having strong wrist flexors will help prevent fatigue from occurring too quickly due to the repetitive motions required when turning or maneuvering around obstacles such as rocks or logs floating downriver during whitewater rafting trips etc.

Finally, a strong grip is essential for those who plan on doing any type of river running as it’s important not only for controlling direction but also being able to hang onto rocks/logs/etc should they need assistance getting themselves out safely after capsizing their boat(s).

All these combined make up what’s known as “arm endurance” which can be built up over time by regularly practicing different types of kayaking strokes correctly until they become second nature.


Not only does kayaking work out 12 major muscle groups, but it also provides a great cardiovascular workout as well. Whether you’re looking for an upper body workout or want to strengthen your core and legs, kayaking can help you reach your fitness goals. So if you’re looking for a fun way to get fit while enjoying the outdoors, plenty of muscles are used in kayaking.


I'm Steve, the research and technology workhorse behind Paddle Camp. I do tons of research on all our family's paddling gear before I buy or recommend anything. I grew up canoeing with my dad and brother. A few years ago I bought paddle boards for my daughters, myself, and my wife. Ever since then, we plan most of our vacations around kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding.

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