SUP, Stand-Up Paddling Improves Your Physique

Written by Nikki Johnston Beaudoin, Founder of Sea to Sky SUP, Yoga & Fitness and Paiwen Paddleboards Ambassador.  |  Lead photo by Tracy LeBoe

In the last decade, stand up paddling has become an increasingly popular watersport all over the world. Even the rich and famous have been spotted getting in on the action (celebs who SUP include Rihanna, Kate Hudson, and Jennifer Aniston), but the versatility of the sport means it can appeal to just about everyone. Stand up paddling, more commonly referred to as SUP, has also been touted by many fitness professionals as an effective way to get a serious workout, with major body benefits like the five listed here. Never tried SUP? Read on. Then the only decision you’ll have to make is which bikini to wear.


All muscles contain both slow and fast twitch fibers, both of which can be targeted with certain sports and exercises. Stand up paddling recruits the slow twitch in order to help you balance on the board—they are the first muscles to activate when a muscle contracts. Slow twitch muscles work aerobically, meaning they are conducive to endurance work because they have the ability to use more oxygen. Therefore, with regular paddling, you can develop your slow twitch muscles, resulting in improved endurance and allowing you to do sports and activities
for longer periods of time.


Want to add definition to your back? Grab a paddle. When done with proper technique, the forward stroke strengthens the upper back (many new paddlers use their biceps and shoulders when they paddle, but this is a rookie mistake). When you hinge forward at the hips to set your blade in the water, you simulate the action of “falling” onto the handle of your paddle with your weight, thereby loading the lats, and using the lower back and the legs to move the paddle through the water. After a session of steady paddling, your back muscles should be on fire.


Once you develop a solid forward stroke, you can start to pick up speed. Paddling fast will boost your heart rate up into the fat burning and cardio zones and burn hundreds of calories. Next, you can bump your paddling workout up a notch by incorporating some high intensity intervals. SUP intervals can increase your lactic threshold, which will increase overall fitness and speed.

“Just being in the elements with the sun on your skin and the water under your feet has a number of health benefits in itself.”


Skipped leg day? Don’t sweat it. Stand up paddling (SUP) will give your quads (and glutes!) a killer workout. When flatwater paddling, your feet stay relatively still with your knees slightly bent and legs engaged. Your hips should be pushed back and out slightly on the side you are paddling on. In this position, your quads are forced to fire each and every time you set your blade in the water, and with your hips back the entire time, your glutes will be heating up too.


The action of drawing the blade towards you through the water activates the core muscles. The subtle motion each time you dig deep into the water activates the rectus abdominus, and the slight rotation towards the side you’re paddling on uses the obliques. What’s more, by simply standing and balancing on the board, you activate your deepest, most stabilizing core muscles, the transverse abdominus.

Bosu Ball Cable Row
Attach a straight-bar to a pulley that is halfway down the cable apparatus. Hold the bar with a wide grip and stand on the flat side of a Bosu ball (round part down). Begin with arms straight, then bend your elbows and pull the bar towards you. Return to the starting position and repeat for 12 reps.

Weighted Abdominal Crunch
Lie face up on the floor or a stability ball holding a dumbbell in both hands above your chest with arms extended. Contract your core and press up, lifting your shoulders, then lower back down and repeat for 15 reps.

Cable Trunk Rotations
Attach a handle to a pulley that is chest-height and stand sideways next to the cable apparatus. Reach across your body and grasp the handle with both hands, keeping the arms straight. Rotate your torso, pulling the handle to the other side of your body, then return to the starting position and repeat for 10 reps per side.

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