How Standup Paddle Boarding Can Make You Fit

Footballer - Hector Bellerin of Arsenal FC Keeping Fit on a SUP

Some people swear that the reason they are drawn to standup paddle boarding is that it’s an amazing full-body workout that improves their core strength, balance, cardio fitness and flexibility with virtually no impact on their joints.

So, I’m sure by now you are also wondering: how standup paddleboarding can make you fit?

What is Stand Up Paddle Boarding?

Standup paddleboarding, otherwise referred to as “SUPing” or “SUP”, is a low impact activity that is a combination of strength, balance, and endurance which is required whether you are paddling or just balancing on the board.

It is both an excellent core workout as well as an excellent workout for your upper body (shoulders, arms, and neck) and lower body (toes, legs, and back) because you need to work them together.

SUP Workout


Stand up paddle board workout is a great workout if you are in it for a workout! To get a good overall workout out of your SUPing depends on how fast you paddle. The more effort you put in, the better the results. This is because SUPing engages the muscles of your whole body.

If you use an inflatable paddle board, then your workout will begin when you have to manually pump the board. Consider this a

Consider this a warm up exercise before getting on the water.  Factor in a good 15 – 20 minutes of pumping to get your board up to 15 – 18 PSI (depending on the capacity of the board).

Factor in a good 15 – 20 minutes of pumping to get your board up to 15 – 18 PSI (depending on the capacity of the board).

Prepare to spend between 10 – 20 minutes of consistent pumping to get your board up to 15 – 18 PSI (depending on the capacity of the board) and ready for paddling. Your heart rate should be faster and biceps warmer after this.

Full Body Exercise

Stand up paddle boarding is similar to running or other aerobic sports. You get to use the main muscle groups in your body. The muscles engaged while SUPing are your shoulders (deltoids), arms (biceps and triceps), back muscles (latissimus dorsi) and abs.

The Core

When paddling, you use most of your muscles to paddle the board around but the unstable platform forces your body to engage core muscles. Using your core muscles allows you to maintain balance and importantly, to paddle fastest.  If you use the proper techniques, with each stroke you will have the same feeling and impact you get when you do sit-ups.

If you use the proper techniques, with each stroke you will have the same feeling and impact you get when you do sit-ups.

Stand up paddle workout is a perfect way to make your core muscles stronger. Consistent practice will in no time give you the body of a fit swimmer.

SUP Fitness: Burning Calories

SUPing is a great calorie-burning workout if you are in it for a workout! Austin Cos of IsleSurffboards.com published an article: “SUP Fitness – How many calories does paddle boarding burn” that calculates calories burned by engaging in different categories of SUPing.

They used a heart-rate based calorie burn calculator and factored in a person’s age, weight, heart rate and the amount of time participating in the specific activity.

The calorie-burn estimates (based on an average of 3 people ranging in sizes 165-200Ibs and 1 hour of paddling) for the most common paddling categories are as follows:

Paddle Board Surfing

In the surfing world, paddle board surfing is often considered the best cross training exercise. The bigger and rougher the waves, the harder you need to work. Consequently, you burn more calories in the process.

The study found that you can burn between 623 – 735 calories in an hour of paddle surfing

Racing Paddle Boards

According to Wikipedia’s entry on stand up paddle surfing (“SUP surf”), the first stand-up paddle race (“SUP race”) took place on August 8, 2007, on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe in Tahoe City, CA, with 34 competitors.

By 2012 the numbers had grown: 400 competitors from around the world AND 4000 spectators.

The winner of that maiden event in 2012 was Kai Lenny – a big wave surfer, standup paddle surfer and racer.

Today the SUP race scene is perhaps larger than the SUP surfing one. One of the major reasons is that accessibility to SUP racing is easier than to SUP surf. Great surf locations are few and far in between and are often crowded.

Finally, surfing requires more practiced skills to do the simplest techniques. SUP racing does not.

According to the supworldmag article, your calorie burn in a standup paddle race can easily average 713-1,125 calories in about an hour of racing.

Furthermore, if you are in the open ocean, expect even more high-intensity conditions because of the side breeze and cross swell that force you to work extra hard to stabilize the paddleboard. This adds to your calorie burn overall.

Other factors that impact your calorie burn while racing paddleboards in varying levels are prevailing wind and wind speed, water conditions, your stroke form, and intensity.

What I really love about this sport is that anyone who learns to paddleboard could essentially start racing paddleboards within 10 minutes of learning how to paddle as a beginner.

The next category is paddleboard touring, one of the fastest growing SUP category.

Paddleboard Touring

Touring standup paddling is done on bodies of calm flat water, where the objective is to have a good time outside on the water with a light workout thrown in. It entails paddling for a long distance at a moderate pace without stopping in-between.

An hour of touring with an average speed of 3 mph, could burn average 615-708 calories. No wonder this category of SUP workout attracts individuals in their 20s to 40s and even 50s.

Paddleboard Yoga

Before you dismiss standup paddleboard yoga as impossible, read what yoga expert and founder of Stoked Yogi, Amelia Travis has to say about it:

“If you can breathe, you can do yoga. If you can stand on one foot, you can paddle.”

Standup paddle board yoga can be an intense workout for the mind, body, and spirit. In the article published by Austin Cos of IsleSurffboards.com, practicing a vinyasa power SUP yoga sequence which lasted about an hour can burn between 416-540 calories. Not bad!

Amelia provided three general guidelines to help keep you stable on your paddleboard on the water:

  • Slow down. Move at about half the speed you would on land
  • Mind your mat. Try to orient yourself around the paddleboard’s handle at all times
  • Gaze at the horizon. Loss of balance usually comes from shifting the gaze too quickly. Avoid this by keeping your eyes on a fixed point on land for added stability.

Paddleboard Recreational

Paddleboard recreational is the most common type of standup paddle boarding. It is an easy paddle with calm water, light winds at a slow walking type pace. Be assured that you will still break a “sweat” though.

Recreational paddleboarding can be compared to a slow walk. It is an easy paddle with calm water, light winds at a slow pace.

At a typical recreational paddleboarding pace, expect to burn anywhere from 305-430 calories in an hour. This is about double the calories you can expect to burn on a moderate paced walk at around 2.5 mph.

Calories Burned: Paddleboarding Compared to Other Sports:

This is a breakdown of the calories burned by engaging in the different categories of sup workout based on the tests reported by A. Cos above.

  • SUP surfing: 623-735 calories per hour
  • SUP racing: 713-1,125 calories per hour
  • SUP yoga: 416-540 calories per hour
  • SUP touring: 615-708 calories per hour
  • SUP recreational: 305-430 calories per hour

(NOTE: the calorie numbers above could increase/decrease depending on several factors like choppy water, paddling into a headwind and riding waves on your paddleboard)

In contrast, the calories burned for these other sports are:

  • Surfing: 412 calories per hour
  • Biking: 483 calories per hour
  • Running: 650 calories per hour
  • Swimming: 840 calories per hour

Conclusion

We hope this article has convinced you of how standup paddle boarding can make you fit even if you are a beginner to the sport.

If you are a beginner, you can check out some of the best stand-up paddle boards for beginners to figure out paddle board options to start paddling to fitness and importantly, Introduction to SUP – Stand Up Paddle Boarding to learn the fundamentals and techniques to an enjoyable experience SUPing.  There are many others online as well; all it takes is a bit of research.

For any beginner in a water activity, we encourage you to take the time to do this safely. We recommend finding a partner to go out with you, maybe someone with more experience, to coach you on using a paddle board. We wish you all the best in your stand up paddle board fitness journey!

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