Calories Burned From Kayaking: All You Need To Know

Have you recently started kayaking and wondered, “How many calories are burned from kayaking?” We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that kayaking is a great workout that not only burns calories but also helps you tone your strong muscles.

Kayaking is a sport where kayaks are used to move over water. It is a great low-impact workout that burns a fair amount of calories when done consistently, perfect for those who are looking for a workout that is fun, easy, and enjoyable.

In recent years, it has become popular among people of all walks of life for what is often described as an “exhilarating experience”, but it also helps with managing weight, increasing strength, and boosting mood among other benefits.


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Calories Burned From Kayaking: All You Need To Know

Here’s a summary of everything you’re about to learn in regards to the number of calories burned from kayaking, its benefits, and more! 

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Does Kayaking Burn Calories? 

Yes, it does, and quite a bit too. Studies show that an average 125-pound kayaker can burn up to 283 calories per hour or 150 calories in half an hour. This depends on the weight of the paddler, and other factors such as gender, age, and body composition among other factors. 

However, to explain how calories burned form kayaking, it’s important to learn what calories are in the first place. 

A calorie is simply a unit of energy, or more specifically: 

The amount of energy that is needed to increase the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. 

Everything that happens in your body requires energy to sustain bodily functions and life at an optimal level which comes from the food we eat which is also you guessed it, in the form of calories. 

So if you’re looking to lose some of those pounds gained from the quarantine, you’ll need to understand how weight loss works. To lose weight, you’ll need to burn more calories than you consume or a calorie deficit that is big enough to ensure a steady weight loss. 

This is important as you won’t be able to know how much you’re burning unless you know how many calories you’re burning exactly daily or during exercise. However, some factors also contribute to how many calories you’re burning. 

Factors Affecting The Amount Of Calories Burned Kayaking

Some factors that affect the number of calories you burn during kayaking include: 

  • Age – The older you are, the fewer calories you burn. This is because as you age, your metabolism rate slows down and as your body composition changes, you will also begin losing muscle mass. 
  • Weight – The more you weigh, the more calories your body will burn. Compared to an average kayaker, an overweight kayaker is more likely to burn more per session.
  • Body Composition – Bodies with more lean mass tend to burn more calories compared to those with more body fat. 
  • Gender – Men and women burn calories at varying rates. Because they have lesser body fat and more muscle mass than women, they burn more calories, even when they’re resting. 
  • Exercise Duration – This is quite simple and applies to all exercises, not just kayaking. Basically, the longer you kayak, the more calories you’ll get to burn. 
  • Exercise Intensity – If you’re hoping to just chill in your kayak and burn calories, we’re here to tell you, it won’t work. The higher the intensity of your workout, the higher your heart rate becomes, and thus, the more calories you burn so be sure to do your best! 

How Many Calories Does Kayaking Burn?

Your body uses large groups of muscles every time you dip your paddle in the water and propel your kayak forward. Just trying to maintain your balance in the water engages your muscles, let alone paddling in the water. 

Based on research conducted by Harvard Health Publications and the American Council on Exercise (ACE), it is found that an average kayaker with an average weight (around 125 pounds) can burn up to 283 calories per hour or 150 calories per half an hour kayaking. 

An individual with a slightly heavier weight, say about 150 pounds, will burn more at roughly 340 calories per hour. Now that we know the more you weigh, the more you burn – a 200-pound kayaker can have up to an incredible 454 calories burned just by kayaking for 1 hour! 

How To Calculate Calories Burned During Kayaking Per Minute

calories burned from kayaking

If you’re not sure how to calculate the number of calories burned during your kayaking session, fret not, we’ve got that covered too. The formula that gives you an estimate of calories burned kayaking per minute is as follows: 

Calories per minute = (MET x Bodyweight (kg) x 3.5) / 200

We know it looks pretty complicated but it’s not too hard if you know what the variables found in this equation are. 

Let’s start with MET. 

MET otherwise known as the Metabolic Equivalent of Task is defined as the objective measure of the rate at which an individual expends energy while doing physical activity – relative to the person’s weight or mass and resting metabolic rate. 

The energy cost (MET) of water activities like kayaking based on intensity are as follows: 

  • Light effort (2.0 mph) = 2.8 MET 
  • Moderate effort (4.0 mph) = 5.8 MET 
  • High-intensity effort (>6 mph) = 12.5 MET 

The average body weight adults in the US measured by the CDC for female and male adults aged 20 and above are: 

  • Female170.8 pounds (77.4 kg)
  • Male 199.8 pounds (90.8 kg)

This may not be very insightful as to how much you will burn while kayaking unless your weight is within the average values mentioned above but if you’re keen to see what it would like to see what you’d get using the values above in the equation: 

  • Example 01: Average 77.4 kg adult female, kayaking with light effort

(2.8 x 77.4 kg x 3.5) / 200 = 3.7 calories/min 

  • Example 02: Average 90.8 kg adult male, kayaking with light effort

(2.8 x 90.8 kg x 3.5) / 200 = 4.5 calories/min 

That’s quite a bit of calories that you’re burning per minute. Can you imagine how much you’ll burn if you spend at least an hour kayaking? 

Plus, you’ll be toning various muscle groups in your body every time you dip your paddle in the waters so not only are you burning calories, you’ll be building muscle too!

What Muscles Are You Using During Kayaking? 

Kayaking is a great low-impact workout that can not only help burn calories but also tone your muscles and improve your strength and endurance. 

Some of the key muscles that are worked during kayaking are the upper and lower back, the core, your shoulders, arms, hands, chest, and the most important muscle of all, the heart. An hour on the kayak will probably help you burn more calories than a single gym session. 

A kayaking session can easily range from a leisurely paddle in the waters to a full-blown workout that leaves you gasping for air in exhaustion. Even though the intensity of the activity may differ, the impact of the workout on your entire body remains. 

Are you ready to find out which muscles are used during kayaking? 

The Back

1. Latissimus Dorsi

Latissimus Dorsi is the largest muscle in your back. They are contracted with every forward stroke and transfer energy from your lower body to assist with pulling the arm back and inwards to your body when rowing. 

2. Trapezius 

This muscle is a large mid-back muscle that works to move the shoulder blades and provide mobility to your neck and spine. The upper traps or the “shrug muscle” is more commonly known but it is crucial to train and strengthen the lower and middle parts of the traps as well. 

3. Rhomboids 

Located in the upper back as well, the Rhomboid muscle is responsible for scapular retraction, which happens when you’re ending a stroke.

This means, as you stroke your paddle in the water, it pulls your shoulder blades back towards the spine which is important to maintain a healthy posture. 

Tip: Get a kayak with proper back support as this will not only minimize injuries but also allow you to paddle longer and do so pain-free. 

The Shoulders 

As you may already know, kayaking uses a lot of the shoulder muscles, and they tie in very closely with the muscles in the back and the arms. It is one of the most common injuries that kayakers face. 

1. Posterior Deltoids 

The posterior deltoids (back of the shoulder) are often more engaged than the front part of the shoulder especially during a forward stroke and as you pull the paddle towards your body. This can lead to overuse of the muscle and cause muscular imbalances.

One way you can avoid injury to the shoulder joint is by ensuring that you maintain the “paddler’s box” – an imaginary rectangle formed by your arms, chest, and paddle at all times to ensure shoulder safety and maximum power.

2. Rotator Cuff 

The rotator cuff muscles are an important component of the shoulder joint as they work in various ways to stabilize and rotate your shoulders and arms. Formed by 4 main muscles – supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis, they also provide stability to the head of the humerus and allow full range of motion. 

Arms, Forearms, and Hands

1. Biceps and Triceps

If you’re hoping to grow some guns by kayaking, you’re in luck. The biceps and triceps are known as antagonistic muscles which means that as one muscle contracts, the other relaxes. 

Paddling a kayak is a series of catch and pull. As one arm pulls in with the biceps, the triceps extends forward to assist the biceps’ contraction of the paddle. This allows both muscles to be worked out consistently during the paddling motion. 

2. Forearms and Hands 

As your biceps and triceps work together to propel you forward with paddling, power is generated by your back and transferred to the paddle through the strength that is supplied by the forearms. 

The forearms are engaged to continuously handle and maneuver the paddle whereas your hands focus on maintaining the grip on the paddle as it is the main point of contact with the paddle. Be careful not to grip too tight, you might injure yourself. 

The Chest 

1. Pectoral Muscle 

The group of muscles that makes up a portion of your torso’s top half is the pectoral muscles. They connect the front of your chest to the bones in your shoulders and upper arms. They work hand in hand with your back muscles to provide stability and distribute force evenly as you paddle. 

Core Muscles

Your core muscles play a big part in maintaining your balance, proper posture, and helping both you and the kayak remain stable with every rotation and counter-rotation of the upper body. 

When kayaking, your abdominal and oblique muscles work together to produce rotational force generated through torso rotation to drive the paddling motion. Your abs are technically utilized more than one way throughout the paddling motions, from beginning to end. 

Legs and Hips 

It may seem like the lower limbs are not as important as the upper ones, but they are! Kayaking recruits the lower body, particularly the leg muscles as synergists for the overall range of motion – acting as a stabilizer for the body during a kayak stroke. 

A good kayak stroke begins with your legs firmly lodged on the foot braces where the power transfer for the stroke is initiated. The point of contact between the boat and the feet is crucial as you will find that your legs can be utilized to do everything you need, from bracing to rolling and turning. 

The Heart 

Last but not least, one of the most important muscles that are put to work when you kayak is the heart. Regardless of whether you’re just kayaking for leisure or doing sprints in the water, this sport is a great cardiovascular exercise.

Consistent movements such as paddling can raise your heart rate and help you burn roughly around 400-500 calories per hour of just paddling in the water on your kayak.

Is Kayaking A Strength or Cardio Workout? 

calories burned from kayaking

For the most part, kayaking is a workout that will build muscle but not muscle mass. Kayaking is more of a cardio workout but not for bulking up. It is great for toning muscles and building strength from within. 

Cardio workouts are more repetitive. It increases your heart rate gradually, making your heart pump faster and delivering more oxygen throughout your body – keeping your lungs and heart healthy. 

However, it’s important to put some effort into your kayaking for it to be a cardio workout at all. You will have to incorporate some sprints, maybe a few style tricks, or a race lap or two to get your heart going for an incredible cardio workout. 

In terms of strength, kayaking involves a lot of cardio but it also helps you establish a good base of strength – great for toning muscles, improving endurance, and strengthening them from the inside out. 

What Are Some Other Benefits of Kayaking? 

In addition to burning calories, kayaking also comes with lots of other benefits such as: 

1. Managing weight 

Kayaking is an aerobic exercise, and with consistency, you can lose a great deal of weight if done effectively. Kayaking can burn up to 500 calories if you’re going at an average speed of 500mph and about 1500 calories if you spend a whole afternoon out kayaking in the sun. 

2. Improved Endurance 

They say practice makes perfect. Kayaking gets easier the more you do it and therefore over time, you’ll be able to do it for longer too without getting tired as quickly. 

Kayaking for as little as 3 times a week can help improve your endurance levels by up to 20% – and with time, your stamina will also improve. An added advantage to this is that as your endurance levels increase, you’ll have more energy to perform your daily activities as well. 

3. Mood Boost 

As with most exercises, kayaking encourages the release of “feel good” chemicals called neurotransmitters such as serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine. They help boost your mood and improve your self-confidence levels.

4. Improve Focus 

The same neurotransmitters that make you happy are the same ones that can improve your ability to focus. The three neurotransmitters released during kayaking that help you increase your attention span and improve your focusing abilities are serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. 

5. Improve Memory

Just as kayaking helps tone muscles, it can also help tone certain parts of your brain. Kayaking particularly exercises the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and verbal memory. 

In addition to improving memory and learning, kayaking also improves and increases the blood flow to and within the brain and stimulates the production of new cells in the brain. 

Can Kayaking Help You Lose Weight?

The basic principle of burning fat in your body through kayaking is you burn more calories when you drag more weight across the water (more resistance, more effort). Despite using minimal effort, if you spend an hour or two kayaking, you can burn up to 500 calories or sometimes more! 

Technically, you can burn up to 1200 calories with 3 hours of kayaking in the water, more than your traditional exercises like jogging. So if you burn more calories than you consume, you will burn more calories and thus, in the long run, can help you lose more weight too. 

Can People With A Bigger Build Take Up Kayaking?

Of course! People with bigger builds are often introduced to a boat sport that is too small which can discourage them from taking up the sport in the first place. The key to finding the right one for your size is finding a kayak that is wide and large (10-12 feet) enough to displace your weight efficiently.

Kayaking is more about finesse and technique as opposed to the general misconception that it is all about fitness and strength. You just have to make sure you get the right boat for your size and purpose. 

Displacement is the secret to learning about weight capacity. Wider and longer kayaks displace more water and therefore can hold bigger weights and larger kayakers. Look for kayaks that are wide and sturdy, around 10-12 feet in range. 

Some great kayaks for larger people include: 

To find out more about kayaks that are suited for larger people, check out this article on the Best Kayaks With A 300lb Capacity

Tips To Burn More Calories During Kayaking 

Now that you’re more informed about how many calories you can burn kayaking, you might be wondering if there’s a way you could burn more. 

We’ve got you covered. 

Here are some simple tips on how to burn more calories the next time you go on a kayaking adventure in the water. 

1. Proper Technique Is Key

Employing proper techniques during your kayak sessions is crucial not only to prevent injuries, but it is also important to reduce fatigue and ensure that you paddle the right way to engage the right muscle groups in your body.

When we say the “right muscle groups”, we mean more than the muscles in your shoulder and arms. Remember that it’s important to engage your core to drive each stroke and that it’s a part of a large muscle chain that propels you forward, burning more calories when done properly. 

2. Going Upstream

Going downstream is always a thrill and still a workout but imagine going against the current, upstream. 

Going upstream in a kayak can be challenging and requires a lot of effort. All your muscles will have to work together to ensure that you propel yourself forward and push your limits in all the ways imaginable. 

This results in more work for your muscles, an increase in heart rate and keeps you focused as you power through the resistance. In turn, you’ll be burning more calories and at the same time, getting all your muscles toned. 

3. Adding Weight to Your Kayak 

Normally, we’d recommend packing as light as possible when loading your kayak, but if you’re looking to burn calories we suggest upping it up a little with some extra weight. 

This can potentially make your kayak more stable but also, it can slow you down and create more resistance when you’re in the water – requiring more effort to hold your pace at a consistent rate and in turn, burning more calories as you go!


The calories you burn during kayaking can vary depending on your weight, age, gender, body composition, intensity, and duration of your session. 

An average kayaker with an average weight (around 125 pounds) can burn up to 283 calories in an hour of kayaking – quite a bit for a low-impact workout that can help you burn calories and lose weight. 

We hope this calories burned from kayaking article helps you find the best ways to burn as many calories as possible with kayaking and build some muscle strength too! 

Good luck! 

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