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Natural Awakenings National

Kayaking for Health: Great Outdoor Core Toning Exercise

Jun 01, 2010 03:00AM ● By Christine Showler

For years, much media coverage of kayaking has characterized it as a young person’s adrenaline sport. Lately, the focus has changed to encompass a wider audience by spreading the word on sea kayaking, day-touring and recreational paddling. Now, enthusiasts of all ages and from all walks of life are on the water, communing with nature, exploring lake systems and even kayaking among whales. Thus, more people are becoming aware of kayaking’s multifaceted health benefits, which typically include a harmonizing effect on mind, body and spirit.


Tone and Strengthen Core Muscles

Contrary to what many believe, kayaking does not demand aggressive arm action or upper body strength. The biomechanics of stroke efficiency are readily achieved through coordination between the paddler, paddle, boat and water. Power for propelling the kayak comes from the paddler’s core muscles and is primarily achieved through torso rotation; this engages the larger, more powerful, back and abdominal muscles.

It makes sense that toning the core muscles helps to alleviate lower back pain often associated with middle age. The forward stroke also draws power from the lower body, which is why it’s important to have a firm foot brace system in the kayak; as the paddler uses his right arm to draw the right paddle blade through the water, he pushes with the corresponding foot, which transfers that energy from the lower body through the upper portion of the stroke. At the same time, his left arm bends and pushes out from the shoulder towards the bow of the kayak, providing each stroke an added kick of thrust. Thus, kayaking becomes an all-encompassing workout.

Whether to help maintain a high level of fitness or indulge in more relaxed “lily dipping” on nature’s ponds, using proper techniques makes kayaking both enjoyable and physically beneficial.


Improve Bone Density and Stimulate Joints

Experience shows that the rhythmic movements of paddling help keep the joints fluid while increasing overall flexibility and balance. Water provides a natural resistance and paddlers make use of this basic workout principle to maintain bone density and boost metabolism. Of course, the extra calories burned functions as an aid to weight loss, which in turn relieves stress on joints as well. Advances in equipment, such as lighter paddles with narrower blades and ergonomic shafts, help to maximize efficiency and offset the effects of the repetitive motions of paddling.


Mental Benefits

Most people in today’s fast-paced, high-tech world are looking for ways to relieve stress associated with their busy lives. For those seeking greater adventure, kayaking can be elevated to offer the challenges of expedition travel. Those seeking the solace of softer adventure revel in gliding through secluded lakes and hearing unforgettable bird calls. Always, kayaking can serve as a meditative, environmentally friendly, water sport alternative that everyone can enjoy.


Social Benefits

Kayaking clubs and paddling centers provide opportunities to meet and mingle with kindred spirits who share a healthy respect for nature. It’s often considered to be a leisurely social activity and a preferred, environmentally conscious way to feel at one with nature. Paddling, a necessary means of transportation for native peoples and explorers in the Americas, is today a pleasant and healthy way to integrate with history, heritage, nature and geography.


Christine Showler, owner of Frontenac Outfitters Canoe & Kayak Centre, in Ontario, Canada is happy to answer questions about the benefits of kayaking. Call 613-376-6220 and visit

Kayak Paddling Tips

  • Avoid higher seat backs; they may look comfortable, but can actually impede smooth torso rotation and contribute to lower back pain.
  • Maintain good posture in the kayak to allow for greater rotation of the torso and minimize lower back strain.
  • Try to paddle leaning slightly forward, about five degrees.
  • Keep a low profile to each paddle stroke to minimize wind deflection and help keep arms and shoulders aligned.
  • Try to have the top paddling hand reach its highest point at eye level.

It’s common for kayakers to develop some numbness in their feet over the course of an outing. Here are a few tricks to help eliminate the problem:

  • Use an inflatable or foam cushion to hold thighs in a braced position to help alleviate pressure points.
  • Ensure foot braces are correctly positioned on the balls of the feet.
  • Install heel pads to relieve stress and keep feet warm in cold water conditions.
  • Stretch the legs and wiggle toes often while paddling.
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