The metabolic demands of kayaking: a review

J Sports Sci Med. 2008 Mar 1;7(1):1-7.


Flat-water kayaking is one of the best-known competitive canoeing disciplines in Australia and across the European countries. From a stationary start, paddlers are required to paddle their kayaks with maximal effort along the length of the competing distance. The ultimate criterion of kayak performance is the time taken to paddle a designated competition distance. In flat-water racing, events are contested over 500 and 1000 metres. To approximate the ultimate criterion over these distances, the velocity of the kayak should be measured. Furthermore, other factors that affect performance, such as force, power, technique and aerobic fitness, would all provide a valuable insight to the success of the kayak paddler. Specific research performed examining the physiological demands on kayak paddlers demonstrate high levels of both aerobic power and anaerobic capacity. It is the purpose if this review to present the published physiological data relating to men's and women's kayaking. With a number of recent publications, a need for an updated review is necessary. The present review summarises recent data on anthropometrics, physiological characteristics of successful and unsuccessful kayak athletes and methods of physiological testing. Due to the fact that more data have been reported for male competitors than for their female counterparts, the demands of kayaking on male athletes will be the main focus for this review. The review also suggests areas for future research into flatwater kayaking performance. Understanding the physiological requirements of kayaking can assist coaches and athletes in a number of ways. During competition or training, such information is helpful in the selection of appropriate protocols and metabolic indices to monitor an athlete's performance improvements and assess an athlete's suitability for a particular race distance. Furthermore, it may aid the coach in the development of more specific training programs for their athletes. Key pointsFlat water kayaking is characterised by exceptional demands on upper body performance.When examining the oxygen consumption, it is notable that although a high value is attainable, they are not quite as high as other sporting events such as road cycling, rowing or running where lower body is dominant.Elite kayakers demonstrate superior aerobic and anaerobic quantities and have reported maximal oxygen consumptions of around 58 ml·kg(-1)·min(-1) (4.7 L·min(-1)) and lactate values of around 12 mM during laboratory and on water testing.

Keywords: Kayak; aerobic power; anthropometry; ergometer; lactate; oxygen demand.

Publication types

  • Review