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Is Stand-up Paddle Boarding a Good Workout? | SUP Exercises

Nothing beats the fun you get to have while stand-up paddleboarding, but is it good exercise? A lot of folks think stand paddling only works your arms. However, that’s just not the case. When I’m in the mood for a good cardio workout, I hop on my SUP and go paddle for an hour or two.

Stand-up paddleboarding is a great workout. In addition to arms and cardio, paddling a SUP is also a great core workout, especially the abs. The good news is that you don’t even really need to think about it, you get to have fun and not even realize you are getting great exercise.

Want to lose that muffin top? Get rid of those love handles? Well, grab a paddle, and let’s get started.

Stand up Paddleboarding as a Workout

Paddling a SUP engages your core from the first stroke. For best results, and to focus on your abs, you should reach farther forward, bending your back as you do, to start your stroke. This way when you are pulling the paddle back, you are engaging your abs and your arms in tandem.

It also helps to keep your arms straight on the retrieval stroke. Considering you will take several hundred, if not thousands of strokes in a SUP outing. If you focus on the technique you won’t have to work those abs on dry land.

Here is a full rundown of the best stroke technique to work your abs on a stand-up paddleboard:

  • Stand in the middle of the board.
  • Reach very far forward with the paddle, bending your back as you do.
  • As you retrieve the paddle, drive down with your top hand while twisting your hips to engage your core.

Let’s not forget that just balancing yourself on a SUP is an ab workout. Every little adjustment you have to make to stay balanced increases your core workout. With an increase in wave action, your ab workout increases without ever needing to take a stroke. Just keeping yourself self-balanced is accomplishing your goal of working your abs

Now, if you really want to take your stand-up paddleboard ab workout to the next level, find some calm water and try these ab exercises on your board after you warm up. You can do these in a wavy piece of water for increased intensity if you really want to.


Before starting your stand-up paddleboard workout it would be best for you to warm up a little. I prefer to take just a few minutes and just paddle around my location. I’m not trying for any speed records, just increasing my heart rate and warming my muscles for the work to come. This allows me to work hard with less possibility of injury. Nobody wants a strained muscle keeping them sidelined for days or weeks.

Russian Twist

The Russian Twist is one of my favorite ab/core exercises, and on a stand-up paddleboard, I like it even more. To perform the Russian twist:

  • From a sitting position on the SUP raise your feet a couple of inches off the board keeping your knees bent.
  • Lean back to balance, and lace your fingers together.
  • Once in position start on your right side by trying to touch your hands to the board, then twist to try and touch the board on the other side. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t touch the board on each twist.


The plank is another great ab exercise you can do on a stand-up paddleboard. I like it because it really works the abs, without a lot of moving parts. To perform the plank:

  • Start on your hands and knees.
  • Then lower yourself to your elbows, and straighten your legs so that you are balancing on your elbows and toes. Hold this position for as long as you want.
  • Make sure to keep all of your core muscles tight. Your goal is to remain as straight as possible. If you feel your butt and hips sagging down, really engage your abs and pull that puppy back up. When you can’t do that, it’s time for a break before the next set.


Seeing as how we are working our abs on the water, I couldn’t leave out the Boat. To do the boat:

  • Sit on the board and raise your feet off the ground to about a 30-45 degree angle, making sure to keep your legs straight.
  • Your arms can either be raised straight over your head or straight out in front of you.
  • Like the plank, hold this pose as long as you can…..Then repeat, repeat, repeat.

A variation on the traditional boat exercise is the “half” boat. This is when you keep one foot on the ground, with a bent knee and hold the pose as discussed above. You may think that this would be easier, but just try it out and see how “easy” it is.

Many Other Core Exercises

So, the core exercises I listed above are what I call my core 4. These are the exercises that I do when I need a workout on my stand-up paddleboard.

There are many more possible exercises that you can do on the paddleboard. It just depends on what specific muscles you want to work. Many of the other core exercises are just modifications of the ones I’ve listed. For example, you can modify the plank by……

  1. Bracing on your extended hands (like a pushup) instead of on your elbows
  2. Using your knees and elbows to make the plank a bit easier
  3. Rotating your body so you are balanced on one hand and the other is reaching straight up (side plank)
  4. Starting in regular plank. bring your right knee under your body as far as you can. Repeat on the left side.

You could probably make a list of dozens of more variations for each of these for instance; For the In and Out, you could start the same way, but peddle your legs instead of extending them. Hey, you could even peddle backward if you want.

The thing is, you could use a lot of the exercises you use at home. On a SUP, however, it’s more fun, and the wave action makes it a better workout.

Here are a few more fun exercises to do.

In and Outs

In and Outs are similar to the boat.

  • Like the boat, you start seated with your knees bent and your feet flat on the stand-up paddleboard.
  • With your arms stretched straight overhead, lift your feet off the board and straighten them.
  • Then you pull your feet back and straighten again and you keep doing that until you finish your first set. In and out, in and out, in and out, making those abs burn real good.

Side Pushups

To do side pushups:

  • Lay on your left side with your knees bent.
  • Put your right hand flat on the board in from of you.
  • Place your left hand on your right shoulder.
  • Perform the one-handed pushups with your right hand to failure.

Rinse and repeat with the other side.

“Boat” Bottoms Up

This one is simple, just make sure you aren’t looking straight into the sun!

  • Lay down flat on the board with legs straight.
  • Pull your knees up to your chest and extend your legs out above you.
  • Lift your butt off the board and push your legs up as high as possible.

Cool Down

One of the best things about working your abs on a stand-up paddleboard is that when you finish, you are on a stand-up paddleboard. Hopefully, you are surrounded by watery beauty. When I finish my workouts I always swing my legs over the side and just sit with my legs dangling in the water. This gives me time for my core to recover a bit and I just enjoy the quiet time.

This cool-down period allows your heart rate to decrease to pre-workout rates. It also allows your blood pressure to come down. Like warm-ups, cool downs also help prevent injury.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, there is no better way to get exercise than be out on the water, free and with nature. Whether you are doing the exercises I list here or practicing Yoga, it sure beats being stuck in a dingy workout room with a bunch of sweaty smelly people. I’ll take my board and the fresh air any day.

Related Questions

Can you do Yoga on a SUP? You Betcha! and It’s fun too. I would recommend a SUP anchor if you plan to do Yoga on your paddleboard. It allows you to focus on Yoga and not have to reposition every few minutes.

What muscles do you work on a SUP? Stand-up paddleboarding is a full-body workout. In addition to being a great cardio workout, It also uses your arms, back, shoulders, abs, glutes, and legs.

Can you lose weight paddleboarding? Since paddleboarding is a great exercise that targets every major muscle group, you can certainly lose weight doing it. Since you can burn as much as 1000 calories an hour, working paddling into your weight loss plan along with a balanced diet is a fun way to shed those pounds.

Do you wear shoes when paddleboarding? Since boards are designed to grip bare feet, you normally would not want to wear shoes while paddleboarding. The exception would be if temperatures are cool, you would want to keep your feet covered and warm.