7 Ways to Stop Cramping in Your Paddle Sessions

It’s one of the aspects of paddling we dread the most, whether we’re on an SUP out in the waves or on one of our sit on kayaks for sale on a river paddle. Getting muscle cramp in the water can end a session early and when in the waves can result in a painful wipe-out as you get caught on the inside, frozen solid with leg cramps.

person on a kayak

It’s a hotly debated subject as to what exactly what causes cramp in the muscles, one of the most popular hypothese is that the muscles seize up when salt, minerals and electrolytes are lost through sweat when we exercise vigorously. Another common idea is that cramping is due to the muscles prematurely fatiguing, which explains why you see sports people more commonly seize up during the actual activity as opposed to when they are training.

There are many ways in which you can limit the chance of suffering from cramps during your canoe, kayak or SUP sessions and below you will find seven:


water drop

A pretty basic one, yet is often overlooked. With the human body consisting of between 57% and 60% water it should be pretty obvious that you should be drinking plenty of the stuff.

When you are dehydrated, the fluid around your cells decreased causing your muscles to tire, twitch and cramp. By hydrating correctly, your body’s fluids are at their optimum levels and run efficiently, this limits the chance of those painful spasms that always seem to occur on the paddle back! Sip small amounts of water often and avoid chugging down a two litre bottle just before your paddle. This will result in stomach cramps, which will also cut your session short!


saltContrary to the purported negative aspects of sodium, salt is one of the most important minerals that your body needs to run smoothly. Salt not only helps regulate your blood pressure but is key to maintaining the fluid balances within your body as well as aiding in your cell’s ability to absorb and retain water.

Salt is one of the key electrolytes that is lost when you sweat so consider adding salt tablets to your diet if you regularly put in paddle sessions or add a generous pinch of Himalayan salt to your water bottle prior to paddling.


person stretching

No matter what sport you’re doing you’ve always heard that one person constantly lamenting the importance of stretching or how yoga has helped them take their paddling skills up a notch. Well, they’re right, so you should listen to their wise words! When your muscles are tight, they are susceptible to cramping, but when they are loose and flexible they are less likely to seize up and put you out of action.

Add stretching to your life and you will see the benefits in your paddling skills reasonably quickly. Focus your stretching on your weaker areas to prevent muscular imbalance and the risk of cramp striking you when it matters most… in the water!

Know Your Limits


Know your fitness level, if you only have the ability to do a 1.5-mile paddle then heading out onto the water for a 5-miler will almost definitely result in your body seizing up.

Martin Schwellnus of the Department of Human Biology at the University of Cape Town adds: “The mechanism for muscle fatigue and muscle damage causing cramping is best explained through an imbalance that develops in the nervous system’s control of muscle. Muscles tend to become very twitchy when they become fatigued or are injured.”

Basically the fitter and more prepared you are, the less likely you are to experience muscle fatigue and cramps. So increase your fitness levels and introduce regular stretching and classes such as Pilates and yoga to your regime.

Foods Full of Vitamins and Minerals

Potassium is key for the correct nervous system and muscular function, calcium meanwhile, plays a pivotal role in muscular contraction and impulse generation, magnesium stabilises adenosine triphosphate which is the energy source for muscular contraction. Foods such as sweet potatoes, bananas and melons are fantastic sources of potassium. Skimmed milk, nut milks, dark, leafy greens such as kale and almonds are choc-full with calcium, and high levels of magnesium are found in beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Jump Around

woman jumping
When the small nerves in our muscles start to fatigue is  when cramping will occur. Luckily, jumping drills which are known as plyometrics keep these nerves from tiring.

Plyometrics are exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time, with the goal of increasing power, do them a few times a week after working out to help prevent spasms, you will see your paddling endurance increase tenfold!



The muscle requires a carbohydrate energy source to contract with it also needing energy to relax, so now there’s no reason to pass up that extra croissant in the morning or that extra serving of pasta at dinner!

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1 Comment

  1. Ron B on June 4, 2022 at 12:27 pm

    I suspect any of the above solutions might work for a few people, the only one that seems to make the most sense for most is stretching. I doubt nutrition played a part in my experience below.

    I just finished a sprint (8 hours) adventure race. Bike and trek were first with paddling a kayak near the end. I along with a handful of others were fine until we sat in the (rented) kayaks where we each got leg cramps. It was a short kayak and we all got the cramps only after 15 or 20 minutes in.

    While I suspect the positions of our bodies had a lot to do with it because nobody took the time or was even able to adjust the foot cleats or seat back to optimal positions. Nobody admitted to stretching before sitting. My theory is that after the difficult pedal section then sitting in an ill fitting boat combined to create an environment ripe for the cramping. Vaso restriction, neuro irritation.

    Keeping stretched out ahead of paddling has helped, allowing me to adapt to more situations. I’ll make sure I stretch before I get into a boat after a hard bike section in the future.

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