How to turn kayaking into a full body workout – once you master the right paddling technique

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It was just one of a hundred transcendent nature experiences I’ve had in a kayak, all no more than a few miles from the dock. And while we were tired by the end of the three-mile trip, at no point was I worried about exhaustion or injury – not because I am fit, but because I knew my paddling technique was correct and easy on my muscles and joints.

Kayak sales have exploded over the last few years, thanks in part to the pandemic. Many of those boats are now available for a steal on Craigslist and other sites, as users find kayaking to be harder, or harder on their bodies, than they expected.

But it doesn’t have to be. Changing just a couple of elements of your stroke can allow you to paddle farther, avoid injury and turn your day on the water into a life-altering adventure.

WHY KAYAK?

There are several reasons beyond whale watching to try out kayaking. For one, it’s a good low-impact aerobic exercise for older people or those wanting to ease into fitness.

That’s because it doesn’t engage the body’s bigger muscles, like the thighs and buttocks, said François Billaut, an exercise physiology professor at Laval University in Quebec and the former head physiologist for the Canadian national kayaking team. The bigger the muscles, the more oxygen they need, which is why running hard, for instance, leaves you out of breath.

Second, he said, it’s one of the few outdoor exercises that works the upper body, especially the chest, back and core, which includes the abs and other deeper muscles around the midsection that are hard to train outside of a gym. Dr Billaut said to think of paddling as a companion to biking or running.

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