Kayaking a great water workout

Recreation: Have fun and exercise

Don Bickham kayaks during the 2013 National Veterans Training, Exposure and Experience Tournament at the Riverside Casin
Don Bickham kayaks during the 2013 National Veterans Training, Exposure and Experience Tournament at the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort in Riverside, (The Gazette)

Boating is a popular summer activity, whether you are tubing or skiing or simply heading out on a lake or river to find a bit of sand or “party cove” to park and enjoy fresh air and, from a distance, family and friends.

But boating — or rather kayaking — also can be a pretty darn good workout.

According to Kitty Hawk Kayak & Surf School “an hour of kayaking happily through the waters can help anyone burn 400 calories. To elaborate on that, three hours of kayaking can burn up to 1,200 calories. It is for this reason that kayaking is one of the top exercises that burn more calories than the traditional weight loss workout which is jogging.”

Anyone who has ever sat in or on a kayak knows it is not easy. also compares a kayaking workout to a run, without the pounding.

“Kayaking is one of the best sports for fitness purposes and is becoming a popular fitness tool. It complements other fitness activities (like running), because it doesn’t involve pounding and uses your upper body.

“The sport started getting recognition as a fitness activity because adventure races usually involved a kayaking leg. And so, more and more people began training in kayaks. It didn’t take long for people to realize that kayaking was a great alternative and complement to other fitness activities, such as biking or jogging.”

Fortunately, for those veteran kayakers or those wanting to give it a try, there are plenty of places in Eastern Iowa to take the challenge.

The Iowa DNR notes “Iowa is blessed with a variety of rivers, creeks and lakes offering a number of different types of experiences for beginner to expert paddler.”


There are 18,000 miles of “navigable streams” in the state, including places like the Iowa River in Johnson County, the Upper Iowa River in Winneshiek County, the Turkey River in Fayette and Clayton counties, the Wapsipinicon in Buchanan County and the Maquoketa River in Delaware County.

The DNR has a map on its website showcasing these “water trails” — and many more.

Water trails, according to the DNR, are “recreational corridors and routes on rivers and lakes that provide a unique experience (for) all water users. ... (and) provide adequate access and can include amenities like riverside camping, wild spaces, picnic areas and restrooms.” Some offer watercraft rentals.

Here is at what kayaking can offer and what to expect:


According to Kitty Hawk Kayak & Surf School, kayaking is a way to “have fun and keep fit at the same time.

— Cardiovascular — “Cardio workouts, with their repetitive nature, can be quite boring; but this isn’t true with kayaking. It is one of those exciting cardio workouts that will surely keep you going and going. Your heart, as well as your lungs, will surely be tested in a fun and exciting way.”

— Strength — “The muscle group that benefits most from kayaking are definitely the lower back muscles or lats ... The rotational movements you do in kayaking can be very demanding to your core muscles and thus, these would give the muscles a good workout. The demand for balance and stabilization can also contribute to the improvement of your abs ... Kayaking can surely improve the arm muscles. ... the biceps and the triceps are worked out as one arm rows in and another counters with a forward thrush.”

— Stress reliever — “... Everything about kayaking is enjoyable and relaxing. For starters, you get to enjoy the feeling of floating on water. And nothing can beat the feeling of enjoying the sceneries as the cold (or warm) breeze blows against your face. Of course, there is also the soothing experience of hearing your paddles splash against the water.”

Kayaking, Kitty Hawk notes, has many health benefits.

“Yes, it is a leisure activity, but you can definitely get healthier by doing it.”

The 'boat'

There are several kinds of kayaks to choose from. Here is a list from


— Sit-on-top kayaks — Many people are familiar with this type of recreational kayak. It does not have an enclosed seat, so it’s easier to enter and exit compared to other variations. They are wider, provide more stability and are generally better for beginner kayakers.

— Touring kayaks — Touring kayaks are long with small cockpits. Their narrowness and length make them a good choice for a more involved kayaking experience such as taking longer trips across lakes.

— Recreational kayaks — These kayaks have slightly larger cockpit openings than touring kayaks. Recreational kayaks also are shorter in length and are ideal for calmer kayaking experiences.

— Whitewater kayaks — Whitewater kayaking is a more challenging endeavor than leisurely paddling across lakes and ponds. There are four different types of white-water kayaks — playboats, river runners, creek boats and longboats — each of which has advantages depending on where you plan to use it.

— Inflatable kayaks — Similar to sit-on-top kayaks, inflatable kayaks are easy to transport and operate. They are best used for a more relaxed kayaking experience in calmer waters but there are inflatable white-water kayaks available.

— Child-sized kayaks — There also are kayaks available in smaller sizes for children and youth to use.

Kayaking tips

One thing all kayak sites note, including the Iowa DNR, was the wearing of a life jacket.

“State law requires life jackets on every watercraft, whether it’s a motorized boat, jet ski, kayak, canoe, or even a paddleboard,” the Iowa DNR website notes. “According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 84 percent of drowning victims who died from a boating accident were not wearing their life jackets. The best way to be ‘saved by the jacket’ is to wear it at all times, no matter your level of swimming or boating expertise.”

The Iowa DNR also offers canoe and kayak “schools.”


Other tips, according to, to help “reduce your risk of injury and also avoid fatiguing early” include:

— Focus on getting your strength for each paddle movement from your core rather than just from your arms. Your core muscles are stronger, so you’ll have more endurance and less of a chance of pulling or straining a muscle.

— Sit properly in the seat. If you’re in a recreational kayak, you may notice that the seat is adjustable. Try to avoid slouching in your seat and sit up straight instead. You’ll be less likely to injure your back and shoulders.

— Hold the paddle at its center so each elbow is at a 90-degree angle, with both hands at an equal distance to their respective ends.

— Hold the paddle firmly with one hand while the other rotates it. The hand closest to the water is the one that’s pushing it through the water, while the hand farthest away rotates the paddle.


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