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Is Paddle Boarding a Good Workout? (SUP Fitness)

increase paddle boarding fitness with SUP yoga

A stand-up paddle board workout can be really good for your body. Even sitting on a SUP and paddling against a gentle current is great exercise. And if you paddle really hard, you can burn over 1,000 calories in a single SUP session!

Paddle boarding can be considered a holistic training method. This is because, in addition to training your balance and strength, it also provides optimal conditioning. If you are more dynamic or even paddle competitively, you are also well ahead in terms of endurance with the paddle board.

Aside from the general health benefits of a paddle board workout, it also allows you to profit from weight loss, train and shape the SUP muscles used, and have a great workout while having the time of your life.

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Is Stand Up Paddle Boarding a Good Workout?

Paddle boarding provides the ideal blend of muscle and balance training and is a full-body workout tailored to your needs. Depending on how hard and how far you want to paddle, your strength and endurance will increase over time. If you then integrate some exercises on the board, such as yoga or abdominal drills, you will get the maximum benefit from your tour.

Paddle Boarding Fitness
Source: Unsplash

The use of the torso and the large back muscle already plays a decisive role when paddling – from the plunge to the pull-through. Without a powerful activation, it is difficult to move forward, so this movement is already effective by itself.

In addition, during the paddle pulls, you keep bending your knees and hips slightly to move dynamically. These mini squats strengthen the thigh and Pomus muscles. Balancing comes from the abdominal muscles, pelvis, and feet and also activates the calf muscles.

Beginners are the most likely to notice all that is activated during SUP. After all, it’s not uncommon to get sore muscles from the shoulders to the lower legs after paddling. That’s a pretty reliable sign of which parts of the body all worked the day before.

What’s more, the fact that you don’t lift weights with SUP but work from your body strength makes the muscle training extremely efficient.

How Many Calories Do You Burn While Stand Up Paddle Boarding?

You can burn anywhere from 300 to 1,500 calories in an hour of paddling and exercise, depending on the intensity of your paddling. It’s a combination of cardio and strength training, so it’ll have you sweating and your muscles burning in no time.

Calories Burned Paddle Boarding in One Hour

How many calories you burn on the SUP depends largely on your weight, your overall fitness level, and the speed and intensity of your paddling. Also, if you do any other non-paddling exercises on the board (like yoga or pilates), this will increase your calorie expenditure.

There are some very handy tools for calculating SUP calorie consumption on the internet, such as the Paddle Boarding Calories Calculator.

At the heart of this calculation is a scientific fact about human metabolism. According to it, each physical activity can be assigned a value for its energy cost for a given period. This is called MET, or metabolical equivalent, and is used as a coefficient in the formula for calculating calorie burn:

Calories SUP per minute = (MET x body weight in Kg x 3.5) ÷ 200

While sitting still at room temperature has a value of 1.0 and going down the stairs is 3.5, paddle boarding has a value of 6.0. Consequently, the calories burned in one hour of paddle boarding are calculated as follows:

calories burned in a paddle board workout
Source: CaptainCalculator

Calories Burned Kayaking vs. Paddle Boarding

As per usual, it’s interesting to compare paddle board workouts to kayaking, this time in terms of calorie consumption. The average calorie burn for kayaking is 375-475 calories per hour compared to 400-550 calories per hour for paddle boarding. This means that paddle boarding yields slightly better results, so let’s see why that is.

Right off the bat, you sit on a kayak while you stand upright on the paddle board, which requires more energy. For paddling on a SUP, you engage the entire body, especially when you’re building up speed. Racing or surfing with a paddle board will involve shifting your weight a lot and using your torso and leg muscles much more than on a kayak.

On the other hand, kayak paddles usually have two blades, so you can load both shoulders and neck muscles equally. This gives your entire upper body an even and intense workout, especially since you’re only propelling yourself with your arms and torso. At higher speeds, you’ll be just as out of breath on a kayak as you would be during a paddle board workout.

Does the paddle you use on a SUP make a difference? Learn all about SUP paddles!

Is Paddle Boarding Good For Weight Loss?

Paddle boarding is not just another tedious exercise but can be loads of fun. For this reason, paddle boarding for weight loss is a great alternative to other workout routines. The secret is to find the right intensity and burn a sufficient amount of calories while keeping your energy intake low.

Paddle Boarding vs. Running: What’s better?

When it comes to sheer metrics, you burn more calories running than paddle boarding. At the comfortably light speed of 4 mph, you’re already burning as many calories jogging as you would paddleboarding. The faster you are, the more aerobic benefits you get from running.

On the flip side, running also comes with some disadvantages and limitations. It can be very taxing on the joints, so improper technique or overexertion can lead to severe joint wear, muscle tears, and injuries.

Paddle boarding, on the other hand, is a gentler and safer alternative. You can burn calories on a SUP without putting too much uncontrollable stress on your joints.

So if you’re looking for an alternative to running, you can’t go wrong with regular stand-up paddling. On the contrary, paddling promotes fitness and coordination, which makes SUP a perfect balance to running. The combination of the two sports harmonizes very well, so more and more runners are integrating SUP training into their schedules.

What Muscles Does Paddle Boarding Work?

Paddle boarding is an ideal full-body workout because you never just stand on the board without doing anything. Most of the time you need to activate your arms, shoulders, and trunk along with your legs, knees, and even toes to keep your balance and work properly on the water.

Let’s look at the individual muscles groups you work when paddle boarding:

  • arms and shoulders
  • pecs and abdominals
  • buttocks and legs

Arms and Shoulders

The movement of the paddle strokes alone results in an intensive workout for several muscle groups. Optimally, a paddle stroke is performed powerfully and with efficient technique. To achieve this, the large muscle groups in your arms and shoulders will be working hard (i.e. biceps, triceps, deltoids, and lats).

Pectorals and Abdominals

In paddle boarding, your arms and shoulders alone won’t have enough power to sustainably propel you forward for long. Most of the time you will use your back, chest, and abdominal muscles too to add extra force to your paddling.

Buttocks and Legs

Standing stably on your paddle board with each stroke will already result in engaged, sculpted leg muscles. However, especially at higher speeds, you will even need to bend your knees slightly during your paddle strokes and push the water away with more momentum. This tightens the muscles in your buttocks and legs (especially glutes, hamstrings, and quads).

Does Paddle Boarding Work Your Core?

Let’s not forget one of the most important training effects you can achieve through paddle boarding – working your core.

Core refers to the group of abdominal, oblique, and lower back muscles that contribute to the spatial equilibrium of our bodies. Any balancing exercise that calls for the build-up of steadiness requires a certain amount of core work.

A strong core helps us to better perceive our body position in space and find balance more intuitively. For this reason, paddle boarding works the core. But the opposite is also true: a strong core makes you a better paddleboarder.

increase paddle boarding fitness with SUP yoga
Source: Unsplash

How to Improve SUP Fitness

As with most sports, the more you go paddle boarding, the better you get. In addition, you can incorporate some training into your practice because you’ll see results faster. Here you can benefit from both physical and mental conditioning.

Set Up an Exercise Routine

Having a series of exercises that you can do on the paddle board can be very useful. From a warm-up to a full-body workout, or even just in preparation for paddling, an exercise program will keep you fit and strengthen your muscles over time.

Many regular land-based exercises are good for paddle boarding too, but here there’s the added challenge of having to maintain balance. This means you’ll activate the deep muscles and work on joint stability and the core, too.

Here are some common exercises you can start with:

  • Warm-up: Arm, shoulder, and leg rotations, triceps and quadriceps stretches, toe and heel raises.
  • Plank: Hands or elbows under your shoulders and feet hip-width distances apart on your toes. Also, try bringing one knee to your chest and back again, switching sides.
  • Fire hydrants: Stand on all fours and alternate raising your knees to either side parallel to the ground. Alternatively, you can raise your legs backward, still keeping them at a 90° angle. The higher you go, the more your muscles will burn.
set up exercise routine to improve SUP fitness
Source: Men’s Journal
  • Squats: These require a very good balance because you’ll be shifting your weight back and forth. Start from a standing position and slowly lower your thighs down to a 90° angle with your back straight. Keep your knees over your toes.
  • Situps: Extend your arms forward to help keep your balance. With your back and neck straight, slowly move the upper body up and down a few inches, keeping your feet planted on the board.

Set Goals and Challenges

As mentioned earlier, mental conditioning can be crucial to improving your paddling skills. Think about what exactly you want to improve in your SUP fitness. A better paddling technique? A stronger torso and thighs for more stability on the board? Be able to paddle longer distances or move at faster speeds?

Setting training goals can help you focus on the outcome and keep your motivation high. Therefore, a good idea for a goal might be to complete three one-hour paddle board workouts per week. Other examples include:

  • increasing the number of repetitions on certain exercises
  • adding weights to your paddle board workout for greater challenge and effect
  • increasing your paddling speed (ft/min) or endurance (miles or hours per day)

As you strive to get better results from your paddling, be sure to equip yourself with a good SUP GPS device for tracking and analyzing your metrics.

Read also: How far can you paddle board in a day? 

Participate in Virtual Events

Virtual paddle board challenges are a great way to test your skills and push yourself even further. Every year there are several events that you can find on online calendars like SUP Connect and SUP Events 2022.

To participate, you must track and upload your race time using a sports watch or smartphone app (e.g. Garmin, Strava, SpeedCoach, Runtastic, etc.). By doing this, you can verify your activity and compare it directly with the results of the other participants.

Get a Training Buddy

The easiest and most fun way to stay motivated is to find an exercise partner. This way, someone who is just as passionate about stand-up paddling and physical fitness can bring more discipline and fun to your workouts.

Paddle Boarding is a good workout with a SUP buddy

Which Types of Sports Can You Do on a Paddle Board?

Apart from good old SUP touring, i.e. gliding on flat water, paddle boards are great for a wide range of other sporting activities. The board’s surface is ideal for seated or lying positions, while its relative instability on the water adds an extra balance challenge. Racing, surfing, yoga, fishing, and even whitewater SUPing are becoming increasingly popular.

SUP Racing

This is probably the paddle board workout with the highest intensity. The reason is that generating speed on a paddle board requires a lot of full-body effort. In addition, keeping this speed up over a longer distance will have you panting in a flash.

SUP racing
Source: APP World Tour

SUP Surfing

SUP surfing can be very intense because of currents and winds that you have to overcome and paddle against. As a general rule, paddle boards are suitable for surfing in the ocean too. You might not be able to ride the tubes and crests of waves like surfers do, but you can still get a good workout navigating low waves.

SUP surfing
Source: Unsplash

Whitewater SUP

Similar to SUP surfing, white water paddling is very intense, fun, and adventurous. As far as training goes, whitewater offers great benefits because the water resistance is quite high. You’re fighting the current and splashes while straining your legs and torso, even more, to stay on the board.

Whitewater SUP
Source: Adobe Stock

SUP Yoga

If you just want to unwind and take deep breaths in fresh air, SUP yoga is a great alternative paddle board workout for you.

Especially for beginners, positions in which you have a stable stance or seat are highly recommended. Examples are the downward-facing dog, the child’s pose, or the cobra. As you advance, you can incorporate entire yoga flows on your paddle board, learn to stand on one leg, or even do headstands while on the water.

For SUP yoga, the lake or river should be relatively calm. The wobbly surface makes the yoga poses seem much more intense anyway and you need to focus more on their execution.

SUP Yoga
Source: Unsplash

SUP Fishing

Yes, fishing is a sport, and it also requires a certain amount of stamina. For most, it may seem like a lot of relaxing lazy day sitting around, but just wait until you catch something and have to haul it aboard. Casting the fishing rod can be just as tricky if you don’t have the right stance and stability on the SUP.

The average person can even burn between 150 and 300 calories per hour while SUP fishing! Also, fishing paddle boards are usually a little wider, so you can use the waiting time for gentle yoga or stretching for an extra burn.

SUP Fishing in the sunset
Source: Shutterstock
Do you need special SUP shoes for yoga or fishing? Read this article for our best recommendations. 

Is Paddle Boarding A Good Workout? – Final Thoughts

We can all agree that there is something almost meditative about stand-up paddling as you glide along on the water. But a proper paddle board workout can also train your whole body, coordination skills, concentration, and endurance.

There are simply many reasons why you can use SUP as a wonderful substitute for normal stability and strength training and why you will love it!

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