Is Kayak Fishing Good Exercise?

Is Kayak Fishing Good Exercise?

For those of you that may not be familiar with what kayak fishing is, it’s the use of a small, narrow watercraft, typically propelled by a double-bladed paddle that is used for fishing on lakes, ponds or even in the ocean.

Kayaking fishing is a good exercise because it is a full-body workout that works all of the major muscle groups, including your cardiovascular system. It is a low-impact exercise that is safe for people of all ages and fitness levels. 

Kayaking is an extremely popular sport around the world because it offers everyone from beginners to experts the chance to get out on the water, get some exercise, and have some fun. 

The rest of this article will outline the many benefits kayak fishing has to offer, from stress relief to weight loss. You’ll also learn a bit about what to know before you embark on your first kayak fishing adventure. 

Strength Training

Kayak fishing is an excellent activity for strength training because you use multiple muscle groups while you’re doing it. Your arms, back, abs, and legs all play a role when you’re kayak fishing to help propel you forward, cast your line or keep you stable inside the boat. 

Strength training is an excellent form of exercise because it builds up muscle tone, which helps burn fat. Strength training also increases your overall metabolic rate, which allows you to burn calories even while you’re at rest.

The American Heart Association recommends adding some type of strength training to your daily routine at least twice a week to build strength and prevent injury. 

While all muscle groups are impacted during kayak fishing, there are a few groups that shine through more than others. These four muscle groups traverse your entire body, making kayak fishing the perfect total body workout and allowing you to maximize your results. 

Back Muscles 

The back is one of the most heavily used portions of your body during a day spent kayak fishing. A combination of your lats (latissimus dorsi), your traps (trapezius), and your rhomboid muscles are all put to work each time you reach forward with the paddle and drag it back to propel yourself forward.

These muscles work in tandem with the other muscle groups in your body to help you paddle. 


Your latissimus dorsi is the largest muscle in your body and is responsible for stabilizing you as you paddle or cast your line while kayak fishing. These muscles can be found on either side of your torso and run from just underneath your armpits down to your hips.

They also help you to garner strength from your lower body as you contract the muscle while you pull forward on the paddle. 


Your trapezius muscles run down the entire posterior length of your back and are separated into three sections – lower traps, upper traps, and middle traps. These muscles are responsible for contracting your scapulas up and down while you paddle, as well as aiding in neck and shoulder mobility.

As you paddle, your traps retract your shoulder blades, allowing you to pull the paddle backward in a powerful motion.


Your rhomboid muscles are located at the top of your back and are responsible for pulling your shoulder blades down towards the middle of your spine as you pull back the paddle. This muscle group doesn’t activate until the end of a kayak stroke but is integral in the stroke of a paddle, or when reeling in your line. 

Arm Muscles

Kayak fishing is also an excellent workout for your arm and shoulder muscles. The most commonly used muscles in this group for kayak fishing are the shoulder (deltoid), the rotator cuff (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis) and your bicep, and tricep muscles.    


While paddling, the backside of your deltoid muscle becomes activated as you pull the paddle back towards you. This muscle helps the other muscles in your back to produce enough power to drive you forward. The same muscle is used when you’re pulling back to cast your fishing rod. 

Rotator Cuff

The rotator cuff is hard at work, rotating and stabilizing your arm as you traverse through the water while kayak fishing. However, the rotator cuff will get the most work while you are fishing, not paddling.

The constant push, pull, and rotation of the rod overhead as you cast and reel in your line will sufficiently work the rotator cuff. 


Your bicep and tricep muscles work together to help you paddle while kayak fishing. This is called an agonist/antagonist relationship. While one arm is pushing the paddle forward activating the bicep, the other arm is pulling the other side of the paddle utilizing the tricep.

This type of constant push/pull activity is a great workout for the arms. 

Ab Muscles

Your ab muscles will also get a good workout while kayak fishing. They will help you to stabilize yourself not only while you’re paddling, but also while you’re casting and even sitting still in the boat. The gentle rocking of the current as you’re sitting in the water will rotate your hips slightly, requiring your ab muscles to take over to control your movement. 

As you’re paddling, the sides of your core, also known as your obliques, are working to help you rotate your body forward and backward to help propel you forward. These obliques are also used when reeling in a fish! 

Leg Muscles

While you may not consider kayak fishing to be a workout for your legs, even they will get some use while you’re out on the water. Your legs work in conjunction with the other muscle groups in your body to help stabilize you and aid in power production as you paddle.

You may notice that when your feet are firmly planted at the end of the kayak that you have a more forceful paddle. The legs also help the ab muscles to stabilize you as you sit idly in the kayak, waiting for your next bite. 

Cardiovascular Training

Kayak fishing is a great activity for cardiovascular training. Using the major muscle groups to paddle and balance yourself while out on the water activates the circulatory system and gets the blood pumping.

The prolonged movement elevates your heart rate over a sustained period, which helps build up your endurance. It can also lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and help build up lung strength.

The Mayo Clinic recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week to meet the minimum guidelines. Depending on how hard you’re paddling, you could meet this guideline with just a few hours on the water. 

Other Benefits of Kayak Fishing

In addition to kayak fishing being a great way to get outdoors and get some exercise, there are several other benefits it offers. Kayak fishing can be a relaxing way to provide stress relief.

It can help you lose weight, and its low-impact modality is perfect for those just starting with an exercise regimen or getting over an injury. 

Aside from the other physical benefits, kayaking is a great way to boost your mood and get out in nature, either by yourself or with a few friends. 

Great for Stress Relief

Aerobic exercise is a natural way to reduce stress-causing hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can cause many health-related issues if left alone. As you exercise, these hormones are swept away and replaced with mood-boosting endorphins in the brain, which have been proven to reduce stress over time. 

Continued exercise has many benefits, such as increased strength and weight loss. These too can contribute to stress relief, as increased strength often leads to a decrease in pain around the body, and weight loss boosts positive self-esteem and self-image.

Kayak fishing is also a fun, enjoyable hobby that can provide stress relief outside of the obvious physiological realm. When you are out doing something you enjoy, your stress levels are naturally lower.

Hobbies provide an outlet from the everyday stresses of one’s life and do wonders for chronic stress buildup.   

Low Impact Exercise

Kayak fishing is considered a low-impact exercise because the movements associated with it don’t put heavy stress on a person’s joints, and it can be done from the seated position.

A low-impact exercise is anything that incorporates gentle, fluid movement and generally requires at least one leg to be on the ground at all times. 

Whether you’re paddling through the water or using your fishing rod to send out your next cast, the movements are gentle and fluid enough not to impact your joints.

This makes kayak fishing a fantastic option for beginners or those recovering from an injury to get some strength and aerobic training without having to worry about hurting themselves. 

Weight Loss

In addition to the 75-150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise, the Mayo Clinic also recommends you complete a strength training regimen that works all of the body’s major muscle groups at least twice a week.

Because kayak fishing incorporates a bit of strength training with aerobic exercise, it is a perfect exercise that can be done to promote weight loss. 

Combining strength training and aerobic exercise allows you to keep your heart rate up and burn more calories without getting burned out from fatigue too soon. The longer you continue kayak fishing, the higher the number of calories you will burn, which aids in fat reduction.

As you continue to build muscle, your metabolic rate will rise naturally, allowing you to burn fat more quickly over time. 

The average person can burn between 275-475 calories per hour, depending on your weight and the intensity in which you’re paddling. 

Can Be Done Alone or In a Group

Kayak fishing is a very relaxing activity that can be done as part of a larger group or all on your own, depending on your preference. It can be a great way to make new friends and discover new places to fish, or it can be used as a way to escape the realities of everyday life

Many people choose to kayak as a way to disconnect themselves from their daily stressors and reconnect with nature. However, if you’re looking to use kayak fishing to meet new friends, there are clubs you can join that will connect you with people who have the same hobbies and interests that you do. 

Great at Any Age

Kayak fishing is an activity that can be enjoyed by the entire family. It is a great way for those young and old to participate in a common hobby, get some fresh air, and also get some exercise in. No matter what age you are, wearing the proper gear when embarking on a kayak fishing trip is going to be integral to the success of the trip. 

Can Be Done in Any Body of Water

Kayak fishing is very versatile because you don’t need to live on the coast to participate in this fun-filled activity. You can launch a kayak in any pond, lake, river, or ocean nearby and try your hand at catching a keeper! 

You will need to consider what types of fish you’re looking to catch, as that will likely drive your decision on where to launch your kayak. 

Things to Know Before You Start Kayak Fishing

Now that you understand some of the benefits of kayak fishing and just how good of an exercise it can be for you, there are some things you’ll need to consider before you launch that kayak and cast that line. 

Understand Safety Rules and Local Regulations 

The first thing you’ll want to be sure of is that you have a firm grasp and understanding of all of the safety protocols when it comes to kayak fishing. If you’re new to the sport, you’ll likely want to take a lesson with a professional before renting your very first kayak. This will help you feel more confident when you’re out on the water. 

Any time you get out on the water, whether it’s on a boat, a paddleboard, or a kayak, there is a small chance you’ll end up in the water. If that happens, you’ll need to either swim to shore or back to your kayak. Because of this, you should brush up on your swimming skills to safeguard yourself from any accidents should you happen to fall in. 

You should always wear the appropriate safety gear when kayak fishing, especially a life jacket. The best kayak fishing life jacket I have found is the NRS Chinook Fishing PFD found on Amazon.

Depending on where you’re kayak fishing, you may want to bring a helmet as well to protect you from rough waters and hidden rocks. If you’re going to be fishing on your kayaking trip, be sure you have your fishing license available in case you get stopped by any environmental police or coast guard agents. 

Start Out Slow

If you’ve never kayak fished before, it’s best to start things slow. Go to an area where the water is calm and somewhat shallow and bring a friend along with you. Heading out to an area where there may be lifeguards or other groups of people is also advisable in case you get into trouble and need some help. 

There are different types of kayaks available for rent or purchase, and some are better for beginners than others. Sit-on kayaks are flat and don’t have a hole for your feet and legs to go into.

They’re much more comfortable to climb in and out of, and if you happen to roll the kayak, you can easily get back on, even in deep water. 

Sit-in kayaks offer a bit more support and will help to carry your rod and other fishing gear, but might be tougher to get out of if necessary

Rent Equipment Before You Buy

Kayaks can be an expensive pastime if you don’t know what you’re looking for upfront. 

If you’re new to kayak fishing, you’ll want to try a few different kayak types out before purchasing your very own vessel. This will help you narrow down which brand and type of kayak you’re looking for — like a sit-in, sit-on, or even an inflatable or tandem kayak.

For more posts on kayak tips and safety, please read:

Final Thoughts

As you can see, kayak fishing is a great way to get your muscles moving and your heart pumping, making it a great exercise for anyone. Kayak fishing is a low-impact exercise that is perfect for beginners and those looking to resume an exercise regimen after injury.

It strengthens your arms, back, leg, and ab muscles while keeping your heart rate at an elevated level, which is perfect for burning calories and fat

It can be done in solitude or as part of a group, at any age, and in any body of water!

If you’re thinking of taking up kayak fishing as a hobby, be sure to understand all rules and local regulations, carry all the equipment you need with you, and start slow.

Renting equipment before buying will help you narrow down on what type of kayak you prefer without wasting money or time trying different options.

Have fun and stay safe out there!

Mike Rodman

Mike enjoys fishing all year round, from fly fishing small streams in Wyoming's higher mountains to kayak fishing the lower altitude lakes and reservoirs. Mike also has a passion for ice fishing. When he has spare time, he'll be found at his rod bench building custom fishing rods.

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