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The metabolic demands of kayaking: A review - page 2 / 7





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Mean (±SD)


Mean (±SD)


Age (years)

26.4 (5.1)

19.0 – 36.0

24.8 (3.0)

20.0 – 31.0

Body Mass (kg)

67.7 (5.7)

59.1 – 80.7

85.2 (6.2)

73.6 – 99.8

Height (m)

1.70 (.06)

1.59 – 1.84

1.84 (.06)

1.70 – 1.96

Seated Height (cm)

90.4 (2.6)

84.8 – 98.0

96.9 (3.0)

91.6 – 103.1

Sum of 8 Skinfolds (mm)

80.0 (16.9)

52.9 – 103.7

55.4 (15.2)

30.9 – 116.1

Data obtained from Ackland et al. (2003) (pp288).


The metabolic demands of kayaking

Table 1. Morphological characteristics of Olympic sprint paddlers

Female Paddlers (n = 20)

at Sydney 2000. Male Paddlers (n = 50)

characteristics are homogeneous, Fry and Morton (1991) and van Someren et al. (1999) argue that although success is not correlated with greater body mass, the kayaker can be of considerable size without compromising perform- ance. Casual inspection of the data in Table 1 suggests a range of morphological characteristics of this population. It is interesting to note that a comparable on water sport, rowing, relies heavily on the morphological characteris- tics of their athletes for talent identification as there are different weight classes. However, when analysing the morphological characteristics of elite rowers, especially where size restrictions apply, there is a relatively small variation. Previous studies (Secher, 1990; 1992; 1993; Shephard, 1998) suggest that successful rowing competi- tors are very tall, with a large lean body mass and aerobic power. However, a slight variance may be accepted and incorporated in a variety of positions in sports where the athletes size and shape are a product of the nature of the sport (Ackland et al., 2003). Kayaking is one such sport, where although paddlers possess unique characteristics not commonly observed in the general population, there is no single trait that distinguishes an elite kayak paddler.

Considering the potential role of physical charac- teristics, when examining paddlers using the ergometry system, all subjects overcome the same resistance in order to perform work, irrespective of body mass (Bishop, 2000; van Someren et al., 1999). Thus, an increased body mass may not only not compromise ergometry perform- ance, but might enhance it. Kayak racing is performed on water and as mentioned above in the study by Ackland et al. (2003), kayakers are now heavier and have a greater percent lean body mass compared to 25 years ago. While a larger individual may have a larger absolute peak VO2, potentially, a too large body mass of the kayaker may negatively affect the relative peak VO2 attainable and cause the kayak to sit deeper in the water, increasing

wetted area of the kayak (Jackson, 1995). This increased wetted area will increase the frictional and wave drag (Jackson, 1995) thereby increasing the resistance that must be overcome by the kayaker to propel the kayak forward (Pendergast et al., 2005). Thus, the question then arises: how are power output and kayak drag affected with an increased lean body mass; do they cancel each other out, or is there an advantage in being light? Further research is essential to examine the full potential of the advantages and disadvantages between the range of body types mentioned above and examine the energy cost asso- ciated.

The energy cost of kayaking is determined by the drag of the kayak and the efficiency of the kayaker to overcome that drag. As such, the importance of both drag and efficiency in determining the metabolic requirement of kayaking, which is highly variable, is critical. The energy cost of paddling a given distance increases with increasing velocities according to a power function (Pendergast et al., 1989; 2003; 2005; Zamparo et al., 1999). Peak kayak paddling performance is therefore dependant upon maximal metabolic power (aerobic and anaerobic) complimented with superior locomotion econ- omy.

Oxygen demands during kayaking

VO2 measures of kayakers Exercise physiologists have utilised a variety of testing methods to estimate VO2 peak in kayakers (Table 2). The proportion of whole body musculature required during exercise in studies testing kayak paddlers varies. Physiological tests of kayak paddlers have been carried out during on water analysis (Gray et al., 1995; Pendergast et al., 1989; Tesch, 1983; van Someren et al., 1999), kayak ergometry (Billat et al., 1996; Bishop et al.,

Table 2. VO2 measures (L·min-1) of kayakers.

Tesh et al. (1976) Pendergast et al. (1979) Tesch (1983) Hahn et al. (1988)

6 elite kayakers 8 unskilled kayakers 6 elite kayakers 5 elite kayakers 17 kayakers (range of skill level)

Pendergast et al. (1989)

Fry and Morton (1991) Billat et al. (1996) van Someren et al. (1999)

38 well trained kayakers 9 elite kayakers 9 well trained kayakers

Bishop et al. (2002)

8 experienced kayak paddlers


Subjects (male)

Leg 5.41 3.1 5.36











4.78 4.01




(L·min-1) *

Kayak 4.61 3.5

Kayak paddling VO2 (L·min-1) †







  • *

    denotes that the ergometer exercise tests were carried out to exhaustion, representing the max VO2.

    • denotes that the kayak paddling tests were maximal efforts for that distance, not maximal exercise tests.

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