By now you know that standup paddleboards are a fun and fitness-y way to traverse a body of water. “Simply paddling requires lots of upper-body, leg, and core strength,” says Larry Cain, a former Olympian and co-founder of Paddle Monster, an online SUP coaching site. Even when you’re cruising at a moderate clip, you may be looking at a cardio burn of up to 700 calories an hour.
But paddling is only one way to get fit on an SUP. The paddleboard also is an effective cross-training tool. From the moment you step on, you’re forcing your body to make constant adjustments—shifting weight between feet, shuffling around the deck, crouching slightly to ride out a wave or wake. These elements all help to build what is known as proprioception—the body’s sense of where it is in space.
This means any dry-land activity you translate to an SUP is automatically more challenging. Plus, there’s a benefit you simply cannot re-create at even the poshest gym. “Perhaps the best part about paddleboarding is it’s done on the water, which gets you away from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life onshore,” Cain says. “Being surrounded by water as you do your workout is peaceful, cleansing, and energizing.”
The next time you’re cruising, carve out 30 minutes and get a little more out of the big board.
Choose your own adventure: chilled-out, six-pack, or sweaty
1. Try Yoga
Simply maintaining solid footing while standing on a paddleboard requires core and quad engagement— but bring yoga movements into the equation and you activate your entire core, strengthening your deepest stabilizer muscles, says Carly Hayden, a yoga expert at the Professional Stand Up Paddleboard Association. If you’re a beginner, set up shop in a calm area. Bring a small dumbbell tied to a rope to use as an anchor on the front of the board. (Savasana isn’t so chill when you’re worried about floating into boat traffic.)
When you’re upside-down, grip the rails of the board for added stability, and press through shoulders and arms to take some weight off your neck.
Try this in rougher waters, with your board parallel to the chop for an added challenge. Squeeze glutes and reach free hand high to ride out the turbulence.
This one-legged move is tough, so feel free to use your paddle for balance, resting the blade on the deck, outside of your foot that’s planted. And pick a faraway point to focus on.
Yoga progressions, like sun salutations (which involve forward bends, planks, and upward-and downward-dog) gain a new dimension on an SUP. It’s about movement. The water creates instability, as does your weight shifting through the poses. Think about finding balance and calm as you go, making small shifts to your body position when you end up off-kilter. Focus on your breath, and think about using it to find connection with the water.
2. Fire Up Your Abs
Any core moves you do on the gym floor get supercharged on the water. “When you’re exercising on a board, you’re constantly making automatic reflexive movements in smaller stabilizing core muscles, which makes it unique,” says Tim Sanford, founder of Paddle Method in Los Angeles.
Pick your poison: Choose a few of your favorite (read: least favorite) moves, such as planks, burpees, Russian twists, mountain climbers, spiders, or bicycle crunches. For an extra challenge, move away from dead-center on the board.
Go for reps: Do each for 30 seconds, no breaks. Paddle lightly for 1 minute, then repeat 2 or 3 times.
Finish it off: Scooch toward the tail of the SUP until the nose comes off the water, and come into a V-sit, with your body perpendicular to the rails and your legs over the water. Hold until failure.
3. Do Intervals
Most SUP outings trend toward endurance. But for this one, you’re going to push to breathlessness a few times. (A heart-rate monitor will help you figure out your max effort.) For an extra kick, paddle against the current for the 10 active minutes, then turn and go along with it for the rest portion.
For 6 minutes, paddle at 70 percent.
Bump effort up to 75 percent for 3 minutes.
For 1 minute, increase effort to 90 percent. “You shouldn’t be sprinting, but you should be pulling really hard with considerably faster strokes,” says Cain.
Rest for 2 minutes (30 seconds stopped, 90 seconds easy paddle). Repeat 2 to 3 times.