The typical reaction I get from people when I tell them that I teach stand up paddle boarding is: “Wow! I’ve always wanted to try that, it looks like a great arm workout!”or “Oh, I heard it’s a great core workout!”. And some frequent statements from people’s impression about stand up paddle boarding: “SUP seems like an aerobic activity, it’s all cardio, right?” my favorite one “this looks like it requires a lot of strength, I don’t think I can do it!” and an all time classic, “I have terrible balance, forget about it.”

But is  SUP really a workout? And which one is it? Cardio or strength? And how does it work? And what does it work? SUP is amazing because it is all of the above and more! I like to use the all encompassing “low impact, high intensity, total body workout”.

But let’s start with the basics. First of all it is called stand up paddle boarding because before you start paddling you need to start standing. And somehow everyone neglects this fact. Your feet and your legs will come into play in a big way when you decide to take up this sport. Your feet need to grip on the board,  and you will find that they may go num after a while or “fall asleep” as the expression goes. That is a normal occurrence, especially when you are getting started in this activity. Then there’s the legs: getting “your sea legs” is another expression, which means getting a feel for what you need to do to stay balanced on your board. Also after a twenty or thirty minute practice in slightly choppy water you will surprisingly find your legs getting tired. Those legs are working baby. Even when you think you are just standing there.

But what else is holding you upright and stabilizes you as you are taking stroke after stroke with your upper body: enter core! Our core is the basis of all human movement so there is no doubt it is working when you are engaging in stand up paddle boarding. “But is it on fire? What if I wanna get ripped?”: if you are doing this right, then yes! Let’s say you have now been paddling with some instruction for two three months, your stroke technique has advanced to the extent where you are using your whole body to paddle, not just your upper body, then YES, YOUR CORE IS ON FIRE.

Now what about the upper body? “After all, how can I be holding a paddle in my hands, which is the instrument I use to move my board and you are not talking to me about my arms and back and shoulders and hands!” you will say. As a matter of fact the first few lessons are all about forgetting about the arms and training the brain to let go of that death grip on the paddle. Then the arms are reintroduced once the student is aware of how we want to use the entire body to paddle. As the form of the individual gets better there is an upper and lower body separation that happens at the level of the hips, with the upper body (all of the abdominals, latissimus dorsi, triceps, deltoids, serratus anterior, to mention a few of the working muscles) is performing a torso rotation and push-pull on the paddle and the lower body is maintaining the standing position on the board.

So, there you have it! SUP can be a workout, indeed. A total body workout, from your toes to your nose. And you can make it as intense as you want it to be by adding speed and the many variable conditions that Mother Nature has to offer. And there is no impact unless you are going through a SUP obstacle course (yes, those too exist).

For more detailed technique analysis, keep coming back to our site as we will keep posting related articles. Or better yet, see one of our experienced coaches for a group or private lesson.