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How Many Calories Does Kayaking Burn?

Mark Armstrong
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Kayaking can be a great way to burn calories while enjoying nature, unlike being stuck inside a windowless gym.

But you’ve probably been wondering just how many calories you can burn while paddling your kayak.

We’ve put together some information to help you work out the calories burned kayaking by using a simple calculation.

We’ve also got some tips on how you can improve your strength and endurance to boost your paddling performance.

How Many Calories Does Kayaking Burn? - Pinterest ImagePin

How Many Calories Does Kayaking Burn?

The amount of calories that you can burn while kayaking depends on your body weight and body composition. Men and women tend to burn calories at different rates, so this can also be a factor to consider.

But generally speaking, kayaking at a moderate pace can burn from around 260 to 560 calories per hour depending on your weight. The lighter you are, the less calories you will burn.

On the other side of the scale, the more you weigh, the more calories you will burn. And if you’re a man, you’ll likely burn more than a woman who is the same height and weight.

Calculating Calories Burned Kayaking Per Hour

To calculate the amount of calories used during an activity you need to know the metabolic equivalent of task (MET). This is the amount of oxygen consumed by the body at rest.

One MET is 3.5 milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight multiplied by the number of minutes of activity.

Activities are categorized in intensity as light, moderate, and vigorous. The more effort you put in while kayaking, the higher the MET rate will be and the more calories you will burn per minute.

  • Kayaking at light intensity (around 2 mph) is 2.8 METs.
  • Kayaking at moderate intensity (around 4 mph) is 5.0 METs.
  • Kayaking at vigorous intensity (>6 mph) is 12.5 METs.

To calculate how many calories you will burn, multiple the MET by your bodyweight in kilograms and multiply that by 3.5. Divide by 200 and that gives you the number of calories burned per minute. Multiply this result by 60 to get your calories burned per hour.


  • MET x weight (kg) x 3.5 ÷ 200 = calories per minute.
  • Calories per minute x 60 = calories per hour.

An example calculation, based on an average American man’s weight of 200 pounds (90.7 kg), kayaking at a moderate pace is:

5 x 90.7 x 3.5 ÷ 200 = 7.94 calories per minute or 476 calories per hour.

For a person weighing 97 pounds (44 kg), this calculation would be: 5 x 44 x 3.5 ÷ 200 = 3.85 calories per minute or 231 calories per hour.

For the 200-pound paddler from the above calculation, kayaking at a moderate pace could mean burning 119 calories per mile. For the 97-pound paddler, this could mean burning around 58 calories per mile at a moderate pace.

However, this is not an accurate calculation for everyone, as men will usually burn more calories than women because of their higher muscle ratio and women’s higher body fat ratio.

Your fitness level can also affect how many calories you burn. This is because what might be considered light effort for one person may be vigorous for another.

For example, if you’re running, the fitter you are, the less effort you will have to put in compared to someone who is unfit or very elderly, despite both going at the same speed.

Table: Calories Burned Kayaking Vs. Other Activities

ActivityCalories Burned Per Hour
(based on a 150-pound person)
Kayaking200 to 8932.8 to 12.5
Paddle boarding428 (moderate pace)6.0 (moderate)
Swimming305 to 9855.0 to 13.8
Cycling286 to 11424.0 to 16.0

Does Kayaking Count As A Cardio Workout?

A cardio workout is one that increases your heart rate and your breathing. Also known as aerobic exercise, this can be beneficial for your heart health and can improve your stamina for future workouts.

Cardio exercise can also improve your mental health and boost your immune system. This is in addition to helping to lower your blood sugar and improve your cholesterol.

Video: Kayaking for Fitness

Kayaking can be an excellent cardio workout. But you would need to be paddling at a moderate to rapid pace for it to be decent cardio exercise. This could include doing sprints or laps on flatwater at speed.

Thinking about the MET rates, most people would need to be doing vigorous or high-intensity activity to get their heart beating fast. However, if you’re very unfit or have health issues, moderate activity could be considered cardio.

The length of time that you spend kayaking could also affect your heart rate. The longer you paddle, the more your heart rate is likely to increase, even at a moderate pace.

Low-intensity MET activities, such as kayaking at a slower, more casual pace, might not be considered a cardio workout. But this light-intensity pace could be a good starting point if you’re looking to increase your fitness levels before attempting a more rigorous workout.

This can be particularly good if you’re not used to any cardio workouts.

> How long to kayak a mile?

Can You Build Muscle When Kayaking?

Kayaking lets you work a lot of muscles in your body. This means you can build muscle while kayaking. However, because kayaking involves cardio as well as strength exercise, you’re unlikely to gain muscle mass.

But kayaking regularly will tone your muscles and strengthen them.

Kayaking mostly uses the muscles in your upper body. But it also works out your core and lower body, as you use your torso for balance and rotation with each stroke of the paddle.

The main muscles used while kayaking include the biceps, triceps, abs and lats. However, your quadriceps, hamstrings, deltoids, calves, and glutes are also used in kayaking.

Frequent kayaking will build and tone these muscles with each paddling session, even if you are going at a slow pace. The more your muscles develop, the more calories you will be able to burn.

If you are new to kayaking, you will probably notice your muscles aching after your first paddling session. And you may be more likely to notice a difference in your muscles growing compared to someone who already frequently paddles. The frequent paddler’s muscles will likely already be strengthened and toned.

Strength Training

While you might not be able to bulk up your muscles simply by kayaking, you can increase your muscle strength and build muscle by implementing strength training into your workout regime.

Improving the strength of your muscles during other workouts can help you when you’re kayaking. This can help reduce your risk of injury, as it can improve your muscles’ resilience. When you’re less susceptible to injury, you can train for longer on the water with improved paddling performance.

Increased muscle resilience can mean higher paddling speeds and increased power.

Improving the strength of your core muscles in the gym can help improve your performance on the water. Exercises using weights and medicine balls can be useful, as well as stretching the muscles that are frequently used.

How Do You Gain Stamina For Kayaking?

Increase Paddling Distance Gradually

Just like if you were about to start training to run a marathon, you probably wouldn’t run a marathon on your first training session. You would build up to it by gradually increasing the distance you run.

This same goes for kayaking. To build your stamina to paddle a long distance, you should gradually increase the distance you paddle in each training session. This can let your body get used to the distances and frequency of training.

It can be a good idea to increase the number of paddling sessions you do in a week to begin with. Then you can add a long-distance paddle at the end of your week. You can gradually increase the distance with each week of training.

Increase Tempo

If you’re into running or other sports, you’ve probably heard of tempo runs. This is where you increase the speed of your run.

While you can build your endurance for kayaking by running and doing tempo runs, you can also boost your stamina by employing these techniques while paddling.

This means you could essentially do tempo strokes by increasing the speed of your paddling strokes for around 20 minutes of your paddling session. This could help you improve your technique, speed and endurance.

Remember, just like running, you’re unlikely to be able to maintain your tempo-speed pace for very long.

Kayak Upstream

Kayaking upstream can be a good way to increase your stamina and build endurance. This often requires more effort than paddling on flatwater or kayaking downstream, as you will have to paddle against the current.

This can be difficult and it may take some practice. But it can be a good way to practice your paddling techniques in more challenging conditions.

It can also help you to work all the muscles that you would normally use for general kayaking, helping to strengthen your body for improved performance both on whitewater and flatwater.

Participate In Endurance Sports

Taking part in other endurance sports can help you boost your stamina for kayaking. Running, cycling, and swimming can all be ideal for improving your endurance for kayaking, as well as your overall fitness levels.

Strength Training

Strength training can help build your muscles so that you become stronger. Having stronger muscles means you can increase the power in your paddling stroke. With more muscle power comes greater speeds and longer distances.

Training using weights in the gym can help you build strength in your arms and upper body.

You should also work on building the strength in your core muscles. Isometric exercises can be good for improving muscle strength.

Improve Balance

Having good balance can be key for kayaking. Working on improving your balance can be beneficial for boosting your stamina for paddling. Kayaking itself can help improve balance but it can be useful to practice balance exercises on land as well.

Fitness balls can be great for balance exercises in the gym. Yoga can also help you improve your balance for increased stamina for kayaking.

Eat Well

Making sure you eat the right amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats can help boost your endurance for kayaking. Carb-loading is often done by endurance athletes to improve their performance for an upcoming event.

Eating a carbohydrate-rich diet before an endurance event can reduce fatigue, improve your performance and give you the extra energy you need to complete the athletic challenge.

Recover Well

All athletes know that bodies need time to recover after a long or hard training session. Your muscles need time to recuperate.

Drinking sports drinks after your training session, making sure you get enough sleep afterwards, and stretching your muscles can all contribute to good recovery.

Sports massages can also help your muscles to recover so that you’re fit and ready to take on the next paddling session.

Calories Burned Kayaking: FAQs

Is Kayaking Good Exercise For Back Pain?

Yes, kayaking can be a great way to reduce back pain. Improving your core strength can reduce the pressure on your spine, discs, and ligaments. Because kayaking involves working out core muscles, it can strengthen your core and can help with lower back pain.

Will You Burn More Calories Paddleboarding?

You can generally burn more calories paddle boarding, especially if you’re racing. 

> Kayaking Vs. Paddleboarding

What Muscles Does Kayaking Work?

Kayaking mainly works the muscles in your upper body but it can also target the muscles in your lower body. These muscles include the biceps, triceps, forearm muscles, abdominal muscles, lats (latissimus dorsi), rhomboids, deltoids, upper and lower trapezius muscles, and the muscles in your legs.

Is Kayaking A Good Form Of Exercise?

Yes, kayaking can be a great form of exercise. It can be done at a pace to suit your fitness level, helping you to either lose weight, tone muscles, or maintain your health and fitness.

Paddles Up! Conclusion

Kayaking can be an excellent way to burn calories and improve your fitness while having fun outdoors.

Whether you want to enjoy a relaxing paddle or you want to improve your cardio fitness, kayaking can offer a workout at various fitness levels to suit everyone.

The faster and harder you kayak, the more calories you’ll burn.

Remember, you can boost your stamina and muscle strength by doing additional exercises and training on land, which can improve your overall paddling performance.

> Benefits of kayaking

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