Stand-up paddle boarding is a great workout in and of itself – one that will engage pretty much all major muscle groups in your body. And trust me, you are going to feel the burn EVERYWHERE, especially if you’re new to paddling sports.
Even if you’re an experienced paddler, you can benefit from incorporating specific exercises into your workout routine to improve your performance, prevent common paddling injuries – and take your paddle boarding skills to the next level.
That’s not to say that paddle boarding is not an inclusive water sport. It most certainly is.
But it can also be pretty physically demanding – and you won’t be able to fully enjoy your time on the water unless you train for it.
And that’s where paddle boarding exercises come in:
From lunges, push-ups, and squats, to yoga poses, Russian twists, and bird dogs, this guide will outline some of the best exercises for paddle boarding.
So, if you are wondering how to train for paddle boarding, stick around. You’re bound to work up a sweat today!
SUP Training – Key Takeaways
- Why do you need to train for paddle boarding? SUP training – focused on enhancing your strength, balance, and core stability – is important for several reasons. For one, it is a way to improve your endurance and strength, helping you avoid fatigue. Two, it makes you a better and more efficient paddler. Three, it reduces your risk of injuries. And four, it makes your time on the water more enjoyable.
- What are the best exercises for paddle boarding? Broadly speaking, the best paddle boarding exercises are those that focus on improving overall strength, balance, and core stability. That’s why your SUP training routine should include a mix of different exercises, including lunges, push-ups, pistol squats, rows, planks, and Russian twists. You can also throw some cardio into the mix if you’d like to improve your endurance, too.
Why Do You Need To Train For Paddle Boarding?
Paddle boarding is actually a full-body workout, and if you fail to prepare for it properly, you’ll feel the fatigue and soreness in muscles that you may not even realize you had until now. It looks so simple, and it’s a relatively low-impact workout – but it also targets all the major muscle groups in your body.
In simple terms, it’s going to kick your butt.
Take some time to work on improving your strength, endurance, balance, and coordination. That applies to everyone, regardless of their fitness level – especially those new to paddling sports.
Here’s why you need to train for paddle boarding:
- Develop your core and stability – Staying upright on a SUP board requires balance – and lots of it. Core exercises for paddle boarding will help you get the hang of balancing on your board – and you’ll see an improvement in coordination, posture, and control, too.
- Increase your upper and lower body strength – Paddle boarding actually requires a great deal of both upper and lower body strength. The stronger you are, the easier it is to deal with the physical demands of paddle boarding. Plus, it makes you more efficient and adds power to each stroke.
- Help to prevent common paddling injuries – Combine poor technique, not-so-great balance, and poor fitness levels – and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. SUP training helps you avoid common paddling injuries, especially those affecting the shoulders.
- Improve your cardiovascular and muscular endurance – Cardio workouts – running and swimming, for example – that focus on building endurance prepare you for extended paddle boarding sessions and help you avoid fatigue. Plus, I’m sure your lungs and heart will appreciate it, too.
Of course, no amount of training will be enough to make up for poor SUP technique:
It doesn’t matter how much you train; if your technique’s poor, you will have a hard time keeping up and paddling for longer stretches of time.
So, while I do encourage you to train for paddle boarding, it’s every bit as important that you take the time to work on mastering the basic SUP strokes and improving your technique.
Fail to set the right foundations, and all your other efforts will be in vain.
How To Train For Paddling Board – The 12 Best Exercises
Here’s the thing:
SUP training starts long before you step on that board.
Obviously, the most important areas to focus on would be the muscle groups that are involved in the paddling motion – namely, your upper body muscles, abdominals, and legs. However, it does not end there. Your routine should also include exercises known to promote better balance, core strength, and stability – and contribute to better posture and control.
Of course, a good warm-up is mandatory. It will get your heart rate up and get the blood flowing, which, in turn, will prepare your body – and your mind – for the workout ahead. Plus, it will lower your risk of injury.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get to the 12 best exercises for paddle boarding. I’ve split them into three separate groups – strengthening, balance, and core exercises – to make this SUP fitness routine easier to follow.
Strengthening Exercises For Paddle Boarding
Overall body strength actually plays a major role in paddle boarding.
And no, I’m not just referring to upper-body strength here; the strength of lower-body muscles is a huge factor, too:
For one, you will be using several large muscle groups – including your back, shoulder, arm, and chest muscles – to propel the SUP forward and paddle effectively. Two, the strength of your core muscles – not just the abdominals but your lower back and hip muscles, too – plays a crucial role in controlling your movements, powering your stroke, and maintaining balance. And three, lower body strength will contribute to your stability and help you maintain good posture.
That’s why your strength training routine should include exercises such as lunges, squats, rows, and push-ups, that will target all the major muscle groups in your body.
Exercise #1: Lunges
There are numerous reasons why lunges should be a part of your SUP-oriented workout routine – the main one being that it’s a simple but efficient lower-body exercise that can be done virtually anywhere.
Not only will lunges work your leg muscles; glutes, hamstrings, quads, and hip flexors, resulting in strong legs and firmer glutes, but they also help improve your core strength – and, in turn, your balance.
You get to kill two birds with one stone with this exercise.
Here’s how to perform lunges:
- Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Take a large step back so that there is a distance of around two to three feet between your front and back leg to get in the starting position.
- Drop down until both your knees are bent at an almost 90-degree angle – your back knee should be a few inches above the ground, pointing towards the floor, as if you’re going to kneel down, with the front knee in line with your ankle, and thigh parallel to the floor.
- As you move down into the lunge, remember to keep your chin up, chest lifted, and your core engaged, ensuring that your back remains straight. Focus on maintaining the correct form and balancing on your back toes.
- Push back up into the starting position; be sure to squeeze your glutes as you go up and keep the weight on the heel of your front foot.
- Repeat the same movement until you hit the desired number of reps – the recommended number of reps per set would be twelve – then switch sides and complete equal reps on the other leg.
If you would like to make it more challenging, you can add some weight (hold dumbbells or put a barbell on your shoulders) – or try incorporating movement and jumping as you switch legs, aka jumping lunges.
Exercise #2: Push-Ups
While the paddling motion engages many different muscle groups all at once, your upper body strength will obviously play a crucial part in paddle boarding. And considering that push-ups are the ultimate foundational exercise that will strengthen your chest, shoulder muscles, and triceps, in addition to engaging your core, and lower back muscles, they should be a part of any workout routine, period.
Plus, the strength you’ll gain by doing push-ups will come in handy the next time you fall off your SUP or capsize – and you need to get back on the board as soon as possible.
Okay, get on the floor – and let’s teach you how to do a proper push-up:
- While on all fours, place your hands so that they’re slightly wider than the shoulders, and extend your legs back with the feet shoulder-width apart. You will essentially be in a high plank position.
- Tighten your core (imagine that you’re pulling the belly button to your spine), and, as you inhale, start lowering your body until the elbows are at a 90-degree angle – with the chest almost touching the floor.
- Pause, then exhale, and as you do so, push back up into the starting position.
- Two to three sets, with up to 10 reps each, should be more than enough for a beginner.
Proper form is crucial. Make sure that the middle portion of your body isn’t sagging and that you are not arching your back.
Does it feel like classic push-ups are too easy for you?
That’s fine; there are plenty of variations of the classic push-up and just as many ways for you to “spice things up.”
Exercise #3: Squats
Most strength-training routines will involve some variation of the classic squat. So, if you’re not a big fan of this exercise, I suggest you get used to it.
There’s no way you can have a rounded-out workout routine without squats.
Here’s the thing:
Squats are a functional exercise that works your entire lower body – quads, hamstrings, glutes, as well as your core – and improves joint and muscle health and posture, which all contributes to your performance on the water.
Here’s how to do a squat:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with the toes slightly turned out, and keep the spine in a neutral position.
- If you are struggling to maintain your balance, try stretching your arms out in front of you or clasping your hands at chest level.
- Initiate the movement by driving your hips back – as if you’re going to sit on a chair – and bend your knees to go lower. Ideally, you should go low enough for your knees to be at a 90-degree angle, with your thighs parallel to the floor.
- Then, press through your heels and straighten your legs in a controlled movement to get back into the starting position.
- Aim to complete three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
If you’d like to make it more challenging and really work on improving your balance, you can add a BOSU ball into the mix or try performing squats on your board, known as ‘paddle squats’
Exercise #4: Rows
There’s a reason why barbell rows are a big part of most bodybuilding and powerlifting workouts – it does wonders for inducing muscular hypertrophy and building a strong back while targeting a lot of different muscles at once.
For starters, it will work your mid- and upper-back muscles – namely, your lats, rhomboids, traps, and posterior deltoid muscles. Your rotator cuff muscles (the muscles in charge of stabilizing the shoulder joints) are also involved in the motion – which is a huge plus for paddlers. To add to it, it also engages your biceps and forearm muscles, contributing to arm strength.
Last but not least, if you opt for bent-over rows, your glutes, hamstrings, and abdominal muscles will be engaged during each repetition, as well.
Do note that this is a resistance exercise, where you pull the weight towards your body, meaning you’ll need to incorporate some form of “resistance” – dumbbells, a barbell, or resistance bands – to perform it properly and reap the most benefits.
Here’s how to perform rows:
- Begin with your feet at about hip-width apart in a stance that’s similar to what you’d use if you were performing deadlifts.
- Push your buttocks back, hinge at the hips, and bend over to pick up the barbell. Be sure to grasp it with an underhand grip to prevent internal rotation of the shoulder and engage your biceps more.
- Squeeze your core muscles and glutes and raise your torso a bit – just enough to get the weight off the ground.
- Initiate the row by pulling the barbell towards your diaphragm. The elbows should remain close to the body, with the shoulder blades squeezed together to prevent injuries.
- Pause before lowering the weight down into the starting position in a slow and controlled manner.
- Aim to complete three sets of 10 to 12 reps.
Don’t get too crazy with the added weight. I know it’s tempting to load up the barbell, but it might be better to wait until you’re fully in control of the motion and can maintain proper form.
Balance Exercises For Paddle Boarding
Having good balance will be a huge advantage for someone who is getting into paddle boarding; that should go without saying. Being able to maintain your balance while you’re up on the board is a prerequisite for everything else.
What if balance isn’t your strongest suit, though?
Don’t give up just yet. It’s something you can work on and improve – and the best part is that you don’t even have to hit the gym to achieve that.
Here are some exercises that will improve your balance, coordination, and proprioception.
Exercise #1: Pistol Squat
I’ll be honest with you:
If there were an actual ranking of different squat variations on a scale of 1 to 10 – with “10” being the most difficult one, of course – the pistol squat would probably earn a solid 11.
It requires some serious lower-body strength, balance, and mobility – and it is not something you should attempt if you haven’t even mastered the “basic” squats yet. Even if you’re no stranger to squats, this variation could still prove too challenging for you.
That’s how demanding this single-leg squat is.
The benefits are well worth the time and effort required to master the pistol squats, though. It will assist in building unilateral strength in the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calf muscles and take your balance, coordination, and mobility to a whole new level.
Here’s how to perform the pistol squat in a safe and controlled manner:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart; the toes should point forward. Keep your chest tall and extend your arms in front of you at shoulder level.
- Shift your body weight onto one foot, lifting the other a few inches off the ground. The leg you lift should be extended straight out, with your toes pointing up.
- Initiate the movement by bending the knee of the leg you’re standing on and driving your hips down and back.
- Lower yourself down as you would while doing a “regular” squat. Keep your other foot off the ground the entire time.
- Then, push through your “grounded” foot to return to the starting position.
- Complete ten reps, then switch sides. Go for a total of three sets for each leg – and be sure to take a 20-second break between sets.
Exercise #2: Tree Pose (Vrksasana In Yoga)
Tree Pose (Vrksasana) is usually one of the first standing balance poses that beginner yogis will learn. And while standing on one leg doesn’t sound too complicated, the Tree Pose teaches you how to feel grounded through the strength of your standing leg while simultaneously challenging your balance by lifting the opposite foot off the floor.
Practicing yoga is generally known for improving your balance and building a strong core, which goes a long way in helping with a number of other physical activities – including paddle boarding.
With that said, here’s how to get into Tree Pose:
- Start by getting into Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Make sure your feet are planted into the mat, with your toes spread and your weight distributed equally on both feet. Look straight ahead and keep your eyes on a stationary spot.
- Inhale deeply, and as you do, start shifting your weight onto the right leg as you bring the left foot off the mat and onto your right shin or inner thigh.
- Once you’ve found your balance, bring your hands to your heart (Anjali Mudra) or extend them up towards the ceiling.
- Hold the pose for a few breaths, then slowly step back into Mountain Pose, and switch to the other side.
If you feel wobbly and can’t quite maintain your balance at first, don’t worry; you’ll get there. The beauty of yoga is that it allows you to connect with your body and honor its needs, and take note of all the small movements that go into keeping your balance.
Exercise #3: Single-Leg Deadlift
As the more complex version of the traditional deadlift, the single-leg deadlift is a movement that will activate all the major muscle groups in the lower body – glutes, hamstrings, hip muscles, and ankles – while also engaging your core.
And since you’ll be doing it with one leg off the ground, you’ll be working on balance and stability at the same time.
Talk about killing two birds with one stone, huh?
Since single-leg deadlifts challenge your nervous system, it’s best to do them at the beginning of your routine. Of course, if you want a good “finisher,” save them for the end; that’s up to you.
With that said, here’s how to do a single-leg deadlift:
- Stand with the feet parallel and hip-width apart while holding a kettlebell or a dumbbell in front of you (if you’re using weights).
- Lean forward at the hips, while shifting your weight onto one leg and extending the other behind you.
- Continue tipping forward until your torso is almost parallel to the floor, forming a T shape. Make sure your arms are hanging straight down and that your back is straight.
- Slowly return to the initial position by bringing the extended leg in and then switch to the other side to repeat the same motion.
- Aim to complete three sets of 12 reps, with two-minute breaks between sets.
Once you get more comfortable with the exercise, you could up the ante with three sets of 15 to 20 reps, with a one-minute break in between. And if you want to make it challenging, add weight into the mix – dumbbells or a barbell.
Exercise #4: Single Knee Lift
Single-knee lift is another balance exercise that’s perfect for paddlers:
It targets your legs, glutes, hip flexors, and abdominal muscles, which are crucial for maintaining your balance on the board.
Here’s how to perform single-knee lifts:
- Start in a standing position, with your legs hip-width apart and your back straight and tall.
- Engage your core muscles, inhale – and as you exhale, slowly lift one leg until your thigh is parallel to the floor.
- Remain in this position for a second or two, then lower your foot down to the ground just as slowly.
- Switch to your other leg and repeat the same movement.
- Aim to complete one or two sets of 10 to 15 reps on each side.
The best thing about single knee lifts is that you can adjust the difficulty and make them more or less challenging. If your balance isn’t that great, try the seated variation of single-knee lifts – and if you want to up the intensity, perform them while hanging off a chin-up bar.
Core Exercises For Paddle Boarding
Paddle boarding is actually quite demanding when you think about it:
You need to remain stable and upright on a surface that is anything but steady – while controlling the paddle and exerting SUP-propelling force with each stroke.
Most people assume that paddle boarding is all about arm strength – but what you really need as a paddler is good balance. And balance, as you may know, comes from the core and lower body muscles.
That’s why core exercises for paddle boarding are crucial:
A strong core supports the spine, improves balance and stability, and encourages better posture – and it also plays a role in controlling the power of your stroke since it serves as a link between your upper and lower body.
The following exercises will activate all your core muscles – and then some!
Exercise #1: Planks
Panks should be your go-to exercise if you hope to strengthen your core and lower back. It also requires you to engage your thighs, glutes, and shoulders – but that’s just an added benefit. The focus is on your core muscles.
And as you know by now, a strong core is the foundation for any other form of activity that calls for balance, stability, coordination, and powerful movements.
That makes planks the perfect addition to a SUP fitness routine.
Besides, you don’t even need any equipment. As long as there is an area where you can extend your whole body, you’re good to go.
Here’s how to do planks:
- Lie down on the floor face-down, with your forearms and toes on the ground. The elbows should be positioned directly under your shoulders, with the forearms facing forward.
- Keep your eyes on the floor and make sure your spine is in a neutral position.
- Engage your abdominal muscles – by drawing your belly button towards your spine – and squeeze your glutes for added stability.
- Keep your body in as straight a line as possible – no sagging or bending allowed. Ensure that you’re not collapsing the lower back or letting your head drop.
- Hold the position for (at least) 10 seconds.
- Take a 30-second break and repeat.
As you build up your strength, you should up the time from 10 to 30 – and later to 60 seconds.
Exercise #2: Russian Twists
It is speculated that “Russian twists” got their name after the Soviet soldiers who developed and used this exercise during the Cold War.
Regardless of the actual origin of the exercise, the fact remains:
Nothing will fire up the muscles in your core – including your abdominals and obliques – quite like the Russian twist. And since it involves rotating your torso, it’s also crucial for strengthening your rotational muscles – which comes in handy when you’re paddling.
Here’s how you do Russian twists:
- Sit on the floor with your legs extended and knees slightly bent. You can either lift your feet off the ground or leave your heels on the floor.
- Lean back slightly so that you are at a 45-degree angle from the floor, and elongate your spine to make a V shape with your torso and thighs.
- Reach your arms out in front of you, with your hands clasped together.
- Engage the abdominal muscles, keeping the core tight, and slowly twist your torso to one side, then back to the center position, and onto the other side. Keep your legs stationary.
- Each full rotation counts as one rep. Aim to complete at least 8 to 10 reps in two to three sets.
It sounds simple in theory – but it actually requires quite a bit of strength. If you’re still working on your core strength, you may want to stick to planks and bird dogs for the time being.
Exercise #3: Bicycle Crunches
I have a confession:
I used to hate this exercise when I was younger – not because it did not work, but because I had the awful habit of performing it at the end of my routine, which usually led to muscle spasms and a bruised ego.
I’ve improved my core strength tenfold since then, though, and can truly appreciate this exercise for what it is:
An effective way to strengthen your core – including your rectus abdominis, the upper abdominal muscle, obliques, and transverse abdominals – all while getting your legs involved in this motion, too.
Here’s how to perform bicycle crunches:
- Lie face-up on the floor (or, preferably, a mat) with your knees bent, feet flat, and hands behind your head. Make sure your lower back is pressed to the ground.
- Engage your core muscles and raise your knees to around a 90-degree angle, with your shins parallel to the floor. At the same time, lift your shoulders off the ground.
- Exhale and start making the bicycle pedaling motion with your legs. Straighten one leg at a 45-degree angle and slowly bring the knee of the other leg towards your armpit.
- Rotate your upper body and crunch to one side, so you can touch the opposite knee with your elbow.
- Return to the center, then repeat the twist motion on the other side.
- Aim to complete 12 to 20 reps per set, for a total of three sets, taking a 30-second break in between them.
If you want to make it a bit more challenging, slow down the movement as much as you can. I’m sure you’ll feel the burn.
Exercise #4: Bird Dogs
The so-called bird dog exercise, also called supermans, is a simple but efficient way to improve overall stability and build core strength. More specifically, it will target your core, hip muscles, glutes, legs, and lower back muscles, which makes it perfect for improving posture, increasing core stability, developing good balance, and strengthening your back muscles.
And since it promotes proper posture and urges you to maintain a neutral spine, it can also help relieve lower back pain.
Here’s how you can do bird dogs:
- Get on all fours, assuming the so-called “tabletop” position.
- Make sure your knees are positioned directly under your hips, with hands shoulder-width apart.
- Engage your core; this will help you maintain a neutral spine throughout the exercise.
- Draw your shoulder blades together, slowly raising one arm in front of you and extending the opposite leg.
- Make sure your shoulders and hips remain parallel to the ground and keep your gaze on the floor with your chin tucked into your chest.
- Pause for a couple of seconds.
- Return to the starting position and switch sides to complete one repetition.
- Aim to do three sets, with 8 to 12 reps per set.
Want to make this exercise a bit harder? Add some ankle weights or use a resistance band.
Frequently Asked Questions On SUP Fitness and Workouts
What are the best exercises for paddle boarding?
The best exercises for paddle boarding are those that’ll effectively target different muscle groups used in paddling. Be sure to incorporate strength, balance, endurance – and, of course, flexibility – exercises so that you get a well-rounded routine. Planks and Russian twists, for example, are great for core muscles. Lunges and squats will work your lower body – while push-ups and rows will do wonders for upper body strength.
How do I get in shape for paddle boarding?
Building core strength is arguably the best place to start because it serves as the foundation for virtually every activity – including paddle boarding. You can then start incorporating exercises that will improve your balance and stability and, eventually, move on to strength training, focusing on both upper and lower body strength. You’ll need to make some room for cardio in your routine to prepare your cardiovascular system for the physical demands of paddle boarding. Swimming is a great choice; I’m sure you don’t mind getting wet.
Can out of shape people paddle board?
Yes, you can paddle board, even if you’re out of shape. In fact, paddle boarding is one of the best things you can do to improve your fitness levels and overall health. It is considered a low-impact activity, meaning it won’t put too much strain on your joints and muscles, which is crucial if it has been a while since you last exercised. You may struggle at first but don’t let that discourage you. As your strength, endurance, and balance improve, you’ll also get better at paddle boarding. And soon enough, you’ll start getting in shape – and feeling much better about yourself.
Do you need good balance for paddle boarding?
Paddle boarding is a bit of a balancing act. You are standing on a board that’s twice your size, on a surface that is constantly shifting and moving; it’s safe to say that good balance is crucial here. If you haven’t had much experience with being on the water, you might have trouble standing up at first – but as you build core strength and work on improving your stability, you will notice that it gets easier to stand on a SUP, avoid capsizing, and paddle for longer. And in the meantime, you can always try kneeling instead of stand-up paddle boarding.
How often should you train for paddle boarding?
For best results, you should aim to train three times a week – with a “rest day” between training sessions. You see, your muscles need to rest in order to grow. And if you train the same muscle groups every day, you’ll get diminishing returns since you don’t allow muscles to heal properly. If you don’t have time for three sessions a week, you can “squeeze” it into two sessions – but keep in mind that those will be longer and, typically, much more demanding.
SUP Fitness: A Quick Summary
While it is a low-impact activity, paddle boarding can also be physically demanding – and you will need to work on improving your strength, balance, and core stability before hitting the water.
Try to include some of the following paddle board exercises in your workout routine:
- Strength training exercises, such as lunges, push-ups, squats, and rows
- Balance exercises, such as pistol squats, Tree pose (Vrksasana), single-leg deadlifts, and single-knee lifts
- Core exercises, such as planks, Russian twists, bicycle crunches, and bird dogs
Trust me; a little bit of consistency and dedication goes a long way.
SUP fitness will not only help improve your performance, make paddle boarding more enjoyable, and make you a more confident paddler, but it can help reduce your risk of injuries, too.