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Exercises for Kayakers

Exercises for Kayakers

Minimizing risk of injuries due to kayaking and reducing pain with exercises. 

Kayaking is a great exercise on its own but if that is all you do you will feel yourself stiffening up and could find yourself injured. Kayaking involves repetitive arm movements, carrying heavy gear and sitting for hours at a time. This can be a recipe for a sore and stiff body if the correct care is not taken. Fortunately, there are several exercises for the kayaker that can help to reduce pain, relieve tension and increase flexibility.

Lower Back

Lower back pain and discomfort is a common complaint for kayakers but fortunately, most of it can be avoided. Poor posture such as slouching forward while paddling and consistently using an unsupported seat and backrest can also contribute to lower back pain. Kayaking often involves heavy lifting, which if done incorrectly causes strain in the lumbar. The four exercises below can help relax the lower back and sacrum area and can be practiced before and/or after a paddle as long as your body is warm. This mini-series takes less than 8 minutes to complete and will leave your back feeling spacious and relaxed. Hold each pose for at least 1 minute and repeat with other leg.

Kayak exercises

kayak stretches for the back


The shoulder is one of the most unstable and free moving joints in the body. As a paddler, it is necessary to have a wide range of shoulder rotation but also strength, in particular in the rotator cuff muscles. Paddlers tend to overuse larger muscles and underdevelop smaller ones like the rotator cuff muscles. Shoulder injuries are also one of the most common among kayakers including tendinitis caused by overuse, dislocation or separating from the AC joint. Here are a few exercises to increase shoulder flexibility, stability and mobility.

kayak exercises to help shoulders


Rotator Cuff Strengthening Exercise:

rotator cuff strengthening exercise

 Increasing Flexibility

If you are spending several hours in your boat at a time, you will most likely feel your legs become uncomfortable and tight. Tight hamstrings restrict the movement of the pelvis causing the lower back to become tense. While in the kayak you can release your feet from the petals, given them a gentle shake to bring circulation back. In calm water, it is possible to gently lean forward, hugging the deck to stretch your hamstrings. Keep your movements slow and gentle. A simple forward fold is an excellent way to dissolve tension and create more flexibility in your legs.

Forward fold:

kayakers stretch

Figure 10: Use a bolster or chair to give yourself enough support. The focus here is to relax the back, not about how far you bend. After a couple minutes, you may find yourself able to lean slightly more forward. Do not push yourself here.

Core Muscles

Building core muscles is essential for all paddlers. Kayaking involves rotational movements of the abdominals, which are the drive behind most of your strokes. A strong torso protects the spine and supports the low back, helping to prevent injuries. Core muscles greatly contribute to your overall body stability and balance when you are in the kayak. These exercises can be held up to a minute to increase the strength of the key muscle groups in the torso you use while kayaking.

Core Strength Exercises continued…

core exercise for paddlers

core strength exercises for kayakers

Repeat this mini-series with the other leg. Beginner variation: start in a tabletop position instead of a plank with both knees on the mat or blanket. Leave the right knee rooted as the left extends.

When you take the time to care for your body before, after and during kayaking, you reduce your risk of injury and minimize the pain you will experience. Feeling strong and comfortable in your boat will encourage you to spend more time on the water. Happy paddling!

**These exercises may not be suitable for everyone.**

By Rebecca Grim

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