Kayaking is a popular water sport that provides an excellent low-impact aerobic workout. As a beginner, you may wonder if kayaking can leave your muscles feeling sore afterwards. The answer is yes, it is very common to feel muscle soreness after kayaking, especially if you are new to the sport.
Why Kayaking Can Lead to Muscle Soreness
There are a few key reasons why kayaking can make your muscles sore:
- Using New Muscles – Kayaking works muscles in your back, shoulders, arms, chest, abs and legs. Many of these muscle groups are not used frequently in daily life, so they can get sore when worked in new ways.
- Repetitive Motions – The paddling motion used in kayaking is repetitive, requiring your muscles to continuously contract and relax. This can lead to microtears and inflammation in the muscle tissue.
- Maintaining Proper Posture – Sitting upright in a kayak requires your core and back muscles to contract statically for prolonged periods. Maintaining this posture can fatigue muscles.
- Adjusting to Resistance – Pushing the paddle through water provides resistance that your muscles must work against. This challenges your muscles in ways they may not be used to.
In essence, kayaking works your upper body, core and posterior chain muscles intensely with repetitive motions and resistance. This leads to microtears in muscle fibers and inflammation that makes your muscles feel sore.
Muscle Groups Most Prone to Soreness
While all your major muscle groups can get sore from kayaking, some specific areas tend to feel it the most:
- Shoulders – Your shoulder muscles, like the deltoids, rotator cuff and trapezius, can get very sore from the repetitive paddling motions.
- Upper back – Muscles like your latissimus dorsi, rhomboids and erector spinae that stabilize and move your back and shoulders can fatigue and get sore.
- Triceps – Your triceps in the back of your upper arms contract to straighten your arms on the paddling motion, leading to soreness.
- Forearms – Gripping the paddle works the forearm flexor muscles, which can get fatigued and tight.
- Abs and obliques – These core muscles contract constantly to stabilize your torso while kayaking.
- Glutes – Your gluteal muscles in your buttocks help stabilize you in the seated kayaking position.
While your biceps and leg muscles get worked too, these are the areas most prone to post-kayaking soreness due to the nature of the paddling motion and posture required.
Soreness Timeline for Beginners
If you’re new to kayaking, you may wonder when muscle soreness sets in and how long it lasts. Here’s a general timeline:
- During the activity – You probably won’t feel soreness until a few hours after kayaking. However, you may notice muscle fatigue setting in as you paddle.
- 6 to 12 hours after – Soreness usually starts setting in the evening following your kayaking session earlier in the day.
- Peak soreness at 24 to 48 hours – The most intense muscle soreness tends to occur a day or two after kayaking as inflammation fully sets in.
- Soreness lasting up to 72 hours – It usually takes 2 to 3 days for the soreness to fully dissipate as your muscles recover.
This timeline can vary based on the duration and intensity of your kayaking workout. Longer, harder paddling sessions can make soreness more intense and longer-lasting.
Tips to Prevent and Treat Sore Muscles
While some post-workout soreness is inevitable, you can take steps to minimize kayaking-related muscle soreness:
- Warm up pre-activity with light cardio and stretches
- Stay hydrated by drinking water before, during and after
- Wear sun protection like hats, shades and sunscreen
- Increase intensity and duration gradually if new to kayaking
- Listen to your body and take breaks as needed
- Paddle in proper form without hunching or straining
- Stretch your muscles gently after paddling
- Consume protein after kayaking to help muscle repair
- Get plenty of sleep to allow your muscles to recover
- Use ice packs, Epsom salt baths or over-the-counter pain medication as needed
- Get a massage to help relieve muscle tension and soreness
Being patient with your body and allowing your muscles time to adapt to the new demands of kayaking can help minimize overly-intense soreness.
When to See a Doctor
While typical muscle soreness after kayaking is normal, intense or worsening pain may be a sign of injury. See a doctor if you experience:
- Swelling, bruising or redness in a joint or limb
- Inability to move a joint through its normal range of motion
- Severe pain that worsens with movement
- Tingling or numbness in an arm or leg
- Muscle pain or weakness that persists for over a week
These may be signs of a sprain, strain or something more serious like tendonitis or a stress fracture. Getting proper medical treatment can promote healing and prevent complications.
Can Soreness be Avoided as You Get Used to Kayaking?
As you continue kayaking regularly, your muscles will adapt to the demands of paddling. You can expect the following with more kayaking experience:
- Gradually decreasing post-workout soreness
- Increased endurance and less fatigue during paddling
- Faster recovery following kayaking sessions
- Less strain placed on muscles due to improved technique
- Strengthened muscles in key areas like your back, shoulders and core
While occasional mild soreness may still occur after an intense or unusually long paddle, your muscles will generally become accustomed to kayaking. Proper preparation, good technique, adequate recovery and gradually increased duration/intensity make kayaking soreness manageable.
Tips for Transitioning Back to Kayaking After a Break
If you take an extended break from kayaking during the off-season or due to injury/illness, getting back into the sport can be extra challenging on your muscles. Here are some tips:
- Start with shorter, lighterintensity paddling sessions
- Thoroughly warm up and stretch your muscles pre-activity
- Focus on proper paddling technique to avoid muscle strain
- Increase duration and intensity gradually over several outings
- Closely monitor pain signals from your body and take ample breaks
- Continue other physical activity during your time off to maintain fitness
- Get a massage to aid muscle recovery after your first few trips
- Allow extra time for your muscles to adapt back to kayaking before pushing your limits
Expect some extra soreness initially and be conservative about your pace getting back into kayaking. Patience and persistence will pay off as your body readjusts.
Kayaking Gear to Prevent Soreness
Investing in proper kayaking gear tailored to your body size and paddling style can help minimize unnecessary muscle soreness and strain:
- Paddle – Ensure your paddle length suits your height and torso width. Proper paddle sizing makes paddling less stressful on the joints and muscles.
- PFD – Wearing a Personal Flotation Device allows you to sit and paddle in better alignment, reducing strain.
- Seat pad – An ergonomic kayak seat pad enhances comfort and proper spinal alignment to prevent back and hip soreness.
- Knee pads – Cushioned knee pads protect your knees while bracing your lower body in the boat.
- Wetsuit/drysuit – Neoprene wetsuits maintain muscle warmth and prevent cramping in cold water conditions.
- Pogies – Paddling gloves reduce hand fatigue by warming fingers and improving grip.
Investing in properly fitted gear designed for comfort and ergonomics can go a long way towards making kayaking kinder on your muscles.
It is very common to experience muscle soreness after kayaking, especially when you first start out. This is due to your muscles adapting to the new demands of paddling. While some post-activity soreness is normal, you can take steps to prevent excessive muscle strain and fatigue. Over time, your body will adjust to kayaking and soreness will subside with experience. Being patient, using proper technique, having the right gear and allowing your body to recover can help you transition into kayaking comfortably.