How To Train For Kayaking: Top 5 Kayak Focused Exercises To Get You Paddle Fit

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Sam OBrien

Increasing the frequency or duration of your kayaking sessions is the best way to improve your on-the-water performance. 

However, unless you’re a professional athlete training an upward of 20 hours per week, you’ll have to incorporate “land-based” workouts to keep the strength and endurance gains going. 

A well-planned kayak training program can have a massive impact on your paddling performance and decrease your risk of common kayaking injuries. What’s more, it can make the whole experience a lot less fatiguing – and a lot more enjoyable.

On that note, here are the basics of how to train for kayaking

Why Do You Need To Train For Kayaking? 

Woman on a rowing machine adapted for kayking

Considering that kayaking calls for a unique blend of multiple factors, you’re going to need additional training regardless of your current fitness level. 

I mean, you could jump straight into it, but you’re probably going to regret it the second that muscle soreness and fatigue kick in – which, by the way, happens much sooner than you think. 

If you’re still wondering why you need to train for kayaking, I’ll list a few compelling reasons: 

  • Increasing Strength – The stronger your muscles, the more efficient you become at overcoming water resistance and delivering more force with each stroke. What’s more, strength training for kayaking increased muscle strength also means a larger gap between cruising and maximum effort paddling

How To Train For Kayaking To Be A Paddling God or Goddess: Top 5 Exercises & Their Benefits 

Full length of young shirtless man using rowing machine in gymnasium

Kayaking is an excellent exercise, but your training doesn’t end the second you get back to shore. 

What you do in between two paddling sessions – your “land-based” workout program – contributes toward better on-water performance more than you think. 

Here’s how to train for kayaking and transform into a lean, mean paddling machine, starting with these five simple training exercises

Exercise #1: Planks 

Couple in fitness gear performing plank exercise

If I had to pick one trianing exercise worth recommending to anyone who’s getting into kayaking or looking to improve their paddling performance, it would be the plank. 

This basic isometric hold might not look like much – not unless you’re the one doing it – but it’s one of the best core-strengthening training exercises for kayakers, nonetheless. 


When done right and with proper form, a simple plank can help you build core strength, while also putting the muscles in your arms, lower back, shoulders, glutes, and thighs to the test. 

You’ll challenge the entire body in a matter of seconds. 

Here’s the technique on how to perform a basic forearm plank

Planks for Beginners | Bowflex®
  • Lay on your stomach, with your elbows directly underneath the shoulders, your forearms flat on the ground, and your feet hip-width apart. 
  • Tuck the toes under and lift yourself off the ground, while maintaining a straight line throughout the body. 
  • Squeeze the quads and glutes and engage your core, as if you were trying to pull your belly button toward the ceiling, which will help keep the hips level. 
  • Keep the back straight, with your head and neck in a neutral position; there’s no room for sagging or curving. 
  • Remember to breathe – in through the nose and out through the mouth – and hold. 

Most people will find a 20-second hold intense enough. However, if you’d like to challenge yourself further, increase the duration, or give variations – such as the straight arm, raising and holding a leg or even side planks – a try. 

Exercise #2: Dumbbell Squat & Press

Man performing a dumbbell squat and press

When it come to strength training for kayaking, the dumbbell thruster, or the dumbbell squat and press, works the entire body in a single fluid motion: 

The movement starts as a simple squat but ends with an overhead shoulder press. 

This combination allows you to build lower-body strength and muscular endurance, mainly targeting the glutes and quads, while also working the upper body and improving core stability. 

Are you ready to incorporate dumbbell thrusters into your workout program? 

Here’s how to perform a dumbbell squat and press

Dumbbell Squat Press
  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with a dumbbell in each hand. The dumbbells should be up at shoulder height, by the ears, with your elbows bent. 
  • Lower yourself into a squat, with thighs nearly parallel to the floor. Keep the knees in line with the toes. If you can’t squat that low without compromising proper form, stick to whatever feels comfortable. 
  • As you push your body up and return to a standing position, continue the motion. Press the dumbbells above your head, bringing the biceps up to the ears. 
  • Return to the starting position and repeat.
  • Aim for 12-15 reps and 4- 5 sets for maximum strength and conditioning effect

Exercise #3: High & Low Wood Chop

Women performing cable wood chop exercise

The name says it all; it’s a compound, functional training exercise that simulates the wood-chopping action. 

What does wood-chopping have to do with kayaking, though? 

The wood-chop movement is very similar to the way the upper body turns during a kayak paddle stroke.  It’s a good training exercise which translates well into paddling sports and other everyday activities.

The “woodchop” targets abdominals and obliques – the muscles that support torso rotation at the waist – while also engaging your back, shoulders, and glutes. That alone is reason enough to incorporate this functional core exercise into your kayak training routine. 

Here’s how to perform a high-to-low wood chop using the cable machine: 

Cable Woodchop (High to Low)
  • Stand with your feet apart, grasp the cable handle with both hands, and hold it above one shoulder and at head height.  Position yourself side-on, so that the movement can travel downward and across the body. 
  • Engage the core and keep the back straight, rotate your torso to the side and pull the handle diagonally across the body until it reaches the opposite thigh. 
  • Your hips and knees may rotate slightly, and you can also rise on your toes as you twist and pull. It’s essential that you keep the arms straight throughout the motion, though. Otherwise, the focus might shift from your abdominal to your arm muscles. 
  • Allow the cable resistance to move the handle back to the starting position, and repeat. 
  • Aim for 12-15 reps on each side, with a total and 4- 5 sets.

If you’d like to spice things up a bit, you could also try the reverse cable wood chop, going from low to high. You’ll be working out the same muscle groups but through a slightly different range of motion – really taking you core strength and conditioning training to a new level.

Low To High Wood Chop Exercise - BPI Sports

Exercise #4: Bent-Over Row

Man Doing bend over row Exercise For Back With Barbell

Did you seriously think that I wouldn’t include any row movements in my strength training for kayaking exercise round-up? 

Well, think again. 

Building lower-back strength, upper body muscle endurance and stability is as important as working your core – especially if you want to develop an efficient and effective paddling technique resulting in a powerful stroke. 

This old-school move recruits your back muscles, glutes, and legs, building strength and muscle mass in the posterior chain like very few other training exercises can. Plus, you get to pick from a seemingly endless list of variations:

Single-arm, inverted, seated, chest-supported, upright, and the star of today’s show – bent-over rows. 

For this training exercise, you want to aim for at least 4 sets with a rep range of 10-12 –  so make sure you choose an appropriate weight. 

It’s not exactly a beginner’s movement, so here’s how to perform a bent-over row properly: 

Dumbbell Rows for Beginners | Bowflex® SelectTech Dumbbells
  • Start with feet shoulder-width apart and grab the barbell with both hands, positioning the palms slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep the arms straight and let it hang.
  • Bend your knees slightly and lean forward at the hips until your torso is nearly parallel to the ground. Keep the back straight. 
  • Engage the core muscles, taking the weight, and squeeze your shoulder blades together, driving the elbows behind the body and rowing the barbell up and toward your torso. 
  • Once it reaches the body, pause before lowering it back to the starting position in a controlled motion – and repeat. 

Exercise #5: Kettlebell Swings

Functional fitness workout in sport gym with kettlebell swings

When it comes to combining the power of a deadlift and the explosiveness of plyometric workouts into a single full-body movement, few training exercises can compete with the kettlebell swing. 

The hip-hinge movement recruits all the large muscle groups in your body, including core muscles, glutes, thighs, and hamstrings in a dynamic sequence that sets it apart from classic deadlifts: 

Your glutes and hamstrings deliver the explosiveness needed to create the kettlebell’s pendulum movement, while your core muscles work to counter that swing. 

Plus, the quick repetitions bring the heart rate up, adding a cardiovascular element to your training,whilst also helping improve your balance.

Did you know that your arms only act as a connection point between you and the kettlebell in a proper kettlebell swing? 

All the focus is on the posterior chain. Drive with those hips and legs!

On that note, here’s how to get your swing on

  • Select a weight which you are to perform, 5 set of 20 reps –  for a conditioning and fitness focused workout
  • Start with feet shoulder-width apart and the kettlebell sitting in front of you on the ground. 
  • Bending primarily at the hips, but with a slight bend in the knees, grasp the kettlebell with both hands, palms facing the body. 
  • Lift it and let it swing back between your legs to create momentum. 
  • Drive the hips forward and send the kettlebell swinging upward from the quads, no higher than your shoulders. Contract the core and squeeze the glutes as you reach the top of the movement. 
  • Allow the kettlebell to descend back through your legs. Its weight should do most of the work. Keep the core engaged and control the downward swing, though. 
  • Your arms are there to control the kettlebell, not drive it; the power and explosiveness comes from the hips. 

How To Train For Kayaking: Final Thoughts 

I hope this offered some helpful insight regarding how to train for kayaking. And sure, I still stand by what I said at the beginning: 

The best way to get better at kayaking is to get out on the water and do it. 

Set aside time each week, preferably two to four sessions, to target your paddling stroke muscles, though. A few simple training exercises could do wonders for your strength, endurance, efficiency, and balance, and lessen your risk of injury – on top of making each paddling session more enjoyable. 

Now is the perfect time to start working on your kayaking performance. 

So, why not try some of these strength training for kayaking moves today? 

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Sam OBrien

Sam is the founder and editor of WaterSportsWhiz. With over 20 years of experience across various water sports, he provides trusted reviews and expert advice to help others pursue their passion for getting out on the water. When not working, you can find him kayaking, paddle boarding, or planning his next water-based adventure with family and friends.