The 5 Best Strength Exercises for the Kayak Fisherman



As kayak fishermen, our bodies can take a bit of a beating after a full day on the water. Whether it be tired shoulders, a sore back, or hips that always seem tight. We need to keep ourselves strong to maximize our time on the water. A workout routine that incorporates these 5 exercises is a great start to help you pursue the fish you are after. These are not the exercises that are going to get you on the cover of GQ but they should help your with muscle stamina and joint function. These exercises are also known as corrective exercises as they will aid with injury prevention.


While there is a plethora of exercises that can be done and probably should be done. I whittled these down to the 5 exercises that will give you the best bang for your buck. As with all exercises, proper form is key. Be sure to slow down and perform these exercises with precision. Remember that these are not body building exercises, so the exercises that require weight should be kept very light, at least in the beginning. Perform 3 sets of 15 reps, 3X per week.


Let’s get started.


1. Horizontal abduction with external rotation for the shoulders. The purpose of this particular exercise is to help you increase bi-lateral shoulder stamina and to help prevent shoulder de-stabilization. In layman's terms, paddle longer and protect those shoulders from injury. As fishermen we are also using our shoulders in many more planes than the average kayaker. We are using our shoulders to pull up our anchor, reach for our tackle-box in the stern-well, reaching behind us to grab rods, etc.




To perform the exercise, hold onto a cable, dumbbell or exercise band and externally rotate backwards. You want your arm to be level and to create a 90 degree angle to the floor. With your elbow also at a 90 degree angle, start with a light band or dumbbell in your hand and rotate upwards slowly. Just remember that if you utilize a band, that the lighter the color, the easier the band. A red band is a good color to start with assuming you have no prior shoulder issues.


2. Lumbar extension on ball w/ T-Flies. The low back is the most important component of your core followed by your mid thoracic region. If you have ever had lower back pain or weakness you understand the importance of low back strength. Kayaks that do not have optimal seats will cause lower back discomfort….ask me how I know. The higher end kayaks now have better seating but still after long hours on the water our backs can give us trouble. Also, the low back is utilized in torso rotation for paddling, reaching back to the stern-well, and picking up our kayak in regards to loading and unloading our vessel. The T-Flies will help improve the paddling technique and protect the rotator cuff muscles from future injury.




Lay on the ball facing the floor. You will want to place the ball closer to your hips and away from your chest. Raise your torso utilizing your low back muscles. If this exercise is new to you or your back is somewhat weak, utilize your hands/arms in the exercise at about 25% of the work with the other 75% coming from the low back. Keep your feet wide on the floor to help improve stability.


3. Supine hamstring stretch. Hamstrings are made up of 3 muscles that include the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, & the Biceps Femoris. What do hamstrings have to do with kayak fishing? Well, they are responsible for low back comfort. How so? Hamstrings attach to the lower part of the pelvis called the ischial tuberosity. At the upper end of the pelvis the low back connects to the pelvis. Tight hamstrings pull on the pelvis which in turn places stress on the low back. Tight hamstrings also decrease the paddlers ability to lift and portage their kayak correctly.


While there are many hamstring stretches, this happens to be my favorite and if you perform it correctly you will see why. While lying on your back, place a dog leash or stretch out strap at the base of your foot. Bring your leg up as high as you can before the knee bends. Right before the knee bends, hold it at that point. Next, take your foot and tilt it towards you. This is when you will really feel the hamstring stretch! If your calf muscles are tight, you may feel it there as well. Hold this stretch for 20 seconds. The non involved leg should remain relaxed and straight on the floor. Perform 3-5 reps per side.


4. Plank on a Stability Ball. We now focus on the abdominal component of the core. Although, this exercise also hits the low back as well. The abdominals including the obliques play a major role in our ability to paddle with good form. We also use our abdominals to keep us upright whether sitting or standing. Once again, strong abdominals help us transport our vessel whether portaging or loading. We also use our abdominals/obliques to help keep our balance when fighting a large fish that dives hard off the side of the kayak or just to keep our butt in the kayak when the waves want to get nasty.



Beginners may want to perform the standard plank on the floor before beginning the plank on the ball exercise. Intermediate to advanced trainees can perform the plank on the ball. The reason for the ball plank is that the instability of the ball helps recruit the obliques, which are so important in side to side stability as well as balance. Start with your forearms on the ball and feet approximately shoulder width apart. Hold for as long as you can with proper form. To challenge yourself, bring your feet closer together to decrease the stability factor. Start with holding for 30 seconds and then move up from there based on difficulty. 4 sets at 1 minute is ideal.



5. Half Kneeling Wood Chop. The paddling motion utilizes muscles of the shoulders, back, core region and hips in a dynamic motion. The half kneeling wood chop mimics that paddling motion. This exercise should be done with lighter weights and more reps as it's designed to help with endurance and not necessarily bull strength.




I would suggest that you start the exercise with a light object first such as a stability ball and then proceed to a dumbbell. As the endurance of your core improves you can move onto utilizing an overhead cable. If you are performing this exercise at home, you may also use an elastic band attached to a door or heavy duty wall hanger. 3 sets at 15 reps per side.



While there are hundreds of more exercises that can help you with your kayak fishing game, I feel these are some of the best. Remember, these are working accessory muscle groups. You should still have a diverse strength and cardio program to stay in optimal shape.


Enjoy your time on the water, keep yourself strong and always check that drag before your first cast.


Clint Ward is a certified personal trainer with an associate degree in physical therapy. In his free time he enjoys working out, bowhunting, fishing, bird hunting and going on backwoods trips with his Brittany Spaniel Lily. Please follow oakandironoutdoors.com for info on improving your workouts as well as tips for your hunting & fishing adventures. You can also follow him at his Facebook page here: Oak & Iron Outdoors Facebook