Stretching Tips for Kayakers and Which Muscles to Stretch

Learn to Stretch Before Going Kayaking

In the excitement of getting ready to kayak and the rush to get into the water, many paddlers forget or bypass stretching. This usually proves to be a mistake, especially for taller paddlers as we tend to get sore and stiff cramped in the cockpits of our kayaks. Not to mention that as paddlers get older the likelihood of sore muscles, cramps, and repetitive strain injury increases. Stretching before kayaking is therefore an often overlooked but vital step in the paddling process. Here are some stretching tips for kayaking to help you develop a routine that doesn’t take too long but helps you keep your body flexible for kayaking.

Why to Stretch when going Kayaking?

Stretching your muscles is essential to maintaining and increasing flexibility, reducing pain, and avoiding injury when kayaking. When muscles aren’t used they contract and give the feeling of tightness. This causes an imbalance and stress on your joints. Rushing out to kayak while muscles are still tight increases the potential to strain, pull, and tear your muscles. By stretching your muscles prior to, during, and after kayaking you decrease muscle warm-up time, reduce the likelihood of injury, enhance flexibility, and shorten the duration of soreness after paddling.

Stretching Basics

Stretching is accomplished when you extend muscles slightly past their limits through the application of force in the direction of muscle extension for a duration of time. As a general rule of thumb, you will want to hold stretches for about 10 seconds. Don’t bounce or pump your stretches, but rather, stretch, hold, and then relax. Breathe deeply through your stretches to help the oxygen circulate to your muscles. Don’t overdo it, especially when your muscles are cold. Think head to toe when stretching so that you don’t miss any muscles. This means starting at your neck and working your way down your body.

Get Creative

In order to stretch your muscles, you will need to apply reasonable force against them. There are a number of ways to do this. You can use your weight and gravity to pull your body down, thereby stretching your muscles. You can grab onto a part of your body such as your foot, shoulder, or elbow, and pull to stretch a particular muscle. You can use an external object such as your kayak paddle, a tree trunk, or your kayak cockpit (while in it) for balance or leverage while stretching. There are even a number of stretches kayakers can do with a towel as an aid.

Stretches to do Before Kayaking

As kayaking works all the muscles in your body, you should really stretch your entire body. There are, of course, areas to pay more attention to such as your lower back, your hip flexors, your shoulders and arms, and your hamstrings. Learn the proper technique for all of these stretches so as not to injure yourself while performing them.

Stretching While in Your Kayak

That’s right, you can stretch while in your kayak. Focus on your core, shoulders, and lower back. You can use your kayak cockpit to provide the leverage you need. For your lower back, grab the cockpit combing and pull your body down to the deck. For your core, lay all the way to the rear onto the back deck of the kayak. Next, sit up and rotate your body to the back of the kayak, grab the cockpit combing, and pull your body around. To stretch your arms, put your arm straight out in front of you with your palm facing up. Grab your fingers with your other hand and pull your fingers down while pushing your bicep up. For your shoulders, reach your arm across your chest and bring the other arm up from underneath it and push against your arm. Repeat all of these for both sides.

Stretching When You Get Out of Your Kayak

You should stretch when you get out of your kayak at the end of a trip or during a break while on your kayaking trip. Repeat the stretches you performed before you went kayaking. Pay special attention to those areas where you are noticeably sore. Also, focus on your IT Band and your hamstrings and quads which tend to get cramped while in the kayak.

6 Muscles to Focus Your Stretches

Core Muscles

While many paddlers wear out their arms kayaking, that is not the intended muscle group to do the brunt of the exercise when paddling. The core muscles, such as the abdominals, the hips, and portions of the back do the majority of the work when proper kayaking technique is used. It is therefore ironic that stretches that focus on these areas are usually neglected by kayakers. Here are some stretches you can do to ensure your core muscles are ready to go when you go kayaking.


The shoulder muscles definitely need to be stretched and kept healthy in order for maximum flexibility and the range of motion needed for kayaking. Furthermore, Loose shoulder muscles are important for a healthy and properly functioning rotator cuff, which is a key body part utilized in kayaking.

Lower Back Stretch

Whether it be from the twisting and turning in the kayak, practicing rolls, or just sitting too long with poor back support, the lower back can take a toll in kayaking. Of course, if you have lower back problems to begin with, kayaking merely exacerbates this. Even though I included this in the core muscle section above, here are some lower back stretches to make sure you don’t pull or overwork your lower back while kayaking.

Arm Stretches

The arms should mainly be transferring the work done by the core muscles in paddling. Still, even if they aren’t generating the power, they obviously are playing a role in propelling the kayak across the water. It, therefore, makes sense to stretch the biceps, triceps, and forearms when kayaking so that these muscles are loose and ready to go.


While many people don’t think of stretching their hamstrings for kayaking, it is actually very important. Taller boaters know this all too well, as they tend to feel more cramped while sitting in their kayaks for longer periods of time.

IT Band

While it doesn’t seem the Iliotibial Band does much in kayaking, when it tightens up due to lack of use, it sure can get sore. So, even though the legs aren’t doing the work in kayaking, their lack of use can cause the IT Band to tighten up, while the gluteus maximus, or rear-end muscles used in sitting stay lose. This causes an imbalance in the muscles which leads to pain both while kayaking, and afterward.