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Kayaking: Fitness splash amid nature

Kayaking: Fitness splash amid nature

Kayaking, synonymous with fun and adventure, also gives a thorough cardio workout while strengthening various muscle groups

Kayaking, an adventure water activity, can be a fun fitness routine with numerous health benefits – both mental and physical

You have left the hustle and bustle behind. There is silence, that is, a relative hush. The whiff of moisture-laden air makes it a meditative experience. The sounds of nature and the soft ripple of water add a harmonic background score in sync with the paddle strokes: left, right, left….

Welcome to the world of kayaking — an adventure activity and a way to discover nature (and rediscover yourself). The fun quotient and fitness benefits are additional perks.

Deepak Michael, a kayaker and co-founder of Coho Earth Adventures, an adventure and travel company in Kochi, Kerala, says that kayaking is so fun that people don’t even notice the muscular strain involved. “If kayaking is done correctly, it engages different parts of the body,” says Michael. “It is a beneficial cardio workout along with being fun and enjoyable.”

Kayaks are designed differently for the purpose they serve or the kind of activity they would be used for. The popular types include flatwater, whitewater, inflatable, surfing, and fishing kayaks.

Michael, who has a certification in outdoor and adventure pursuits from the University of Otago, New Zealand, says flatwater kayaking is ideal for a beginner.

“In flatwater, one can relax, take a break if required, lean back, and paddle slowly,” Michael adds. “It is not possible on a whitewater or sea kayak because the water moves very fast. So, the person is supposed to paddle constantly to make sure they have proper control of the boat rather than the boat taking them around.”

Syam Mohandas, a kayaker and former trainer at Global Sailing Club, Kochi, says, “The two most important aspects of kayaking are the type of kayak used and the kayaker’s strength. These two factors determine the speed of the kayak.”

Kayaking for low-impact cardio

“Kayaking helps to engage different body parts. It is doing cardio in the fresh air,” says Michael. “One can choose their pace of kayaking. Whether fast or slow, it will be a good workout.”

Uma Roy, a coordinator at Nadodi Kayaking, a travel and adventure company in Alappuzha, Kerala, compares it to cycling.

“It is just like taking a stroll, but on water,” says Roy. “It is like how people take their bicycles in the evenings for a slow ride. Kayaking is like cycling – it gives a steady workout, gets the blood pumping and keeps people healthy.”

Strengthening: Torso, core, and back

Kayaking engages the core as much as the shoulders or the arms.

“Everyone thinks kayaking is paddling with the shoulder,” says Michael. “One should paddle with their core which gets activated. The torso also gets engaged. Kayaking involves sitting up straight and paddling with power, making quick turns. So, it is a workout for the back as well.”

It is like using the rowing machine in a gym. “Many people start kayaking and stop going to the gym. They start attending weekend sessions along with practising yoga. Yoga and kayaking complement each other. Especially whitewater kayaking, where people can relax,” adds Michael.

Of course, the upper body works out the most.

“The kayaker must use the upper body and paddle right and left. The bigger the strokes, the faster it goes. This movement helps exercise the back and arm muscles,” Roy explains.

Do the legs get a workout?

Legs remain immobile throughout the activity. However, the muscles do get engaged.

“While kayaking with the correct technique, people push against the legs to get some extra paddle strength. So, the legs also get a mild workout, but not as much as the core,” says Michael.

Kayaking and peace of mind

More than its physical benefits, the psychological perk of kayaking is what people usually look forward to.

For Roy, kayaking is like an antidote to the day. It benefits her mental health quite a bit, she says.

“Two years back, I came to kayak here [to Nadodi Kayaking] as a guest, and ended up working here,” she recalls. “That is the kind of impact kayaking has had on me. I want people to know more about it. It brings people closer to water and it takes them to a trance-like state during sunrise and sunset. It is like an anti-depressant.”

Kayaking also helps people get rid of their fear of water in an enjoyable way. “There are many people who are hydrophobic,” says Roy. “It is very difficult for them to overcome it because they have fewer opportunities to do so. Kayaking is a fun way to get rid of that fear.”


  • Of the many kayaks designed based on the kind of activity done on them, the flatwater variety suits beginners the best.
  • Kayaking is a low-impact fitness activity that provides a cardio workout and strengthens the core, torso, back and arms.
  • Kayaking is a great activity to unwind or relax at the end of the day. It can also help people get rid of their fear of water.

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