Aerobic Grandma: Kayaking combines exercise and recreation


If there were one activity you could pursue that would improve your cardiovascular condition and build muscle strength and stamina all while enjoying a peaceful, back-to-nature experience with little — if any — risk to your joints, would you try it? If so, learn to kayak.

Certainly one of the advantages of living in this area is easy access to kayaking, but kayaking means different things to different folks. For some, it is an intensely competitive sport; it has been featured in the Olympics under the aegis of the International Canoeing Federation since 1936. Competitive kayaking has various forms, including white water, flat water, surf ski, kayak polo, kayak sailing and more. The shortest race is 200 meters; the longest 42 kilometers — the same 26 miles as a marathon.

For others, kayaking is purely a recreational activity, an opportunity to get out on the water, alone or with friends. For all participants, it is a good workout. And if it isn’t top of mind as a fitness modality, perhaps it deserves to be.

This knowledge comes from Petar Sibinkic, a personal trainer working at the Longboat Key Club and Resort. Sibinkic is a veteran of two Olympic games, Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000. In ’96, he competed for Serbia, where he was born in 1976, and where he started to train when he was 7 years old.

In 2000, he was on the team from Bulgaria. Sibinkic did well, coming in fifth in the men’s kayak Fours, 1,000 meters in Sydney.

“Kayaking is a kinetic chain of movement that is physiologically complicated and complex, yet simple to do,” Sibinkic says. “It’s an efficient cardiovascular conditioning modality, at the same time building muscle strength, endurance and sheer stamina. And you get to be in nature, to be out of doors, where peace and quiet energize the body. It is never boring, because you are always moving.”

Paddling a kayak is a full-body workout for every part of the body except the legs. It works the chest, shoulders and core, all the muscles of the lower, middle and upper back, as well as the abdominals. The arms are driveshafts, transferring the power from the torso to the paddle. Competitive kayaking is a real calorie burner, consuming 800 to 1,400 calories per hour. Recreational paddling can burn 400 calories an hour and up, depending on the size of the person, intensity of workout, wind/water conditions, etc.

But there is one absolute prerequisite for would-be kayakers: You have to be able to swim. It takes agility to get in and out, but that can be taught. Kayaking is a Paralympic, as well as an Olympic sport. And, with the possible exception of a personal life preserver, you don’t have to buy anything to get started; lessons and equipment are readily available locally.

Sibinkic came to the U.S. about three years ago; he won a permanent green card in the annual lottery. A graduate of the University of Belgrade, in Serbia, he says his degree translates literally to “sports technology training.” Here, we call it exercise physiology. He and his wife, Nadia, and son, Mika, 4, ended up in Sarasota via a well-known route — his mother-in-law is here. The Sibinkics now have a second son, Luka, 2 months.

Sibinic has now joined the ranks of recreational paddlers — but they are a passionate bunch. Sarasotans Don and Polly Shiffner, for example, have nine kayaks — sit-on-tops and sit-insides, solos and tandems — for their various expeditions on slow rivers, bays and lakes. They have been kayaking for about a decade.

“I should have started doing it 30 years ago,” Don Shiffner says.

Sarasota resident Bob Garner, who discovered the sport about 15 years ago, says that kayaking is “the hidden treasure of Sarasota.”

Longboat Key resident Joel Fedder, a paddler for eight years, echoes that sentiment.

“Running, cross-country skiing and kayaking all have a similar singularity because you, the individual, are relating to the environment in a very special way,” he says.

They do it for fun and fitness, but their experiences have much in common with Sibinkic’s.
“In communication with nature so close to the water, you feel free,” Sibinkic says.

Molly Schechter is an ACE-certified personal trainer, with a specialty in older adult fitness plus YogaFit Instructor Training and a Power Pilates(tm) Mat Certification. She teaches classes at the Bayfront Park Recreation Center. E-mail her at


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