SUP for Cross Training

In Health, Inspiration, Learning, Newsletter, SUP Fitness, Wellness by Daniel

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Learn Why SUP is an Excellent Way to Cross Train!

stand up paddle boarding

SUP (or stand up paddle boarding) is an excellent tool for cross training. 

Whether you are a runner, powerlifter, endurance athlete, play a sport, or just want to stay in shape, there are certain motions, and core strength, required for SUP that can help improve your performance.

In addition, SUP is also a great tool for connecting with the natural world around you. This can lower your overall stress. Reduce your anxiety. And make sure you hit your daily requirements of Vitamin D. 

Interested in learning how stand up paddle boarding can be used for your cross training? In this article, we discuss the different sectors of fitness SUP can help to supplement, why they’re important, and how you can get started — today!

Note: This post is for experienced paddlers who have mastered the basics on a SUP. If you are a true beginner in paddle boarding, you might be best served by checking out our Beginner Guide to SUP. This is the ultimate guide designed to help you understand everything you need to know before getting started. 

Once you have the basics down, then you can begin using SUP as a complement to your healthy training regimen! 

Balance Training

Athletic endeavors require effort from your body. By being under constant stress when performing athletic endeavors, it’s not unusual to experience injury in major joints. This can be especially the case when it comes to your knees. 

One of the best ways to prevent knee pain or injury is by strengthening the muscles that surround them. A great way to do this is through balance training. 

By balancing on a moving surface like a SUP, you are forced to use muscles in your legs and around your knees, ones that we don’t normally use, just to stand upright. By continuing with this type of training, the muscles surrounding your knees become stronger and this will prevent injury over time. 

Additional benefits of balance training include:

Body Awareness — The sense of how your limbs are oriented in space. This is also called proprioception. Balance training improves your body awareness which decreases the likelihood of injury when performing complex athletic movements. 

Coordination — Balance training forces your major muscle groups to work together to maintain an upright posture on a SUP. Improved coordination will translate to other areas of your training. 

Reaction Time — If you happen to slip or stumble while on a SUP, your body needs to re-balance quickly or you will fall in. This will improve your reaction time in other athletic endeavors. 

Long Term Health — As we age, our balance can deteriorate. This can lead to slips, falls, and injuries whether you’re training or not. By maintaining a balance training routine on a SUP, you are more likely to maintain balance in your everyday life. Especially as you age.  

stand up paddle boarding

Off Season Balance Training Tools

We understand, in certain areas, stand up paddle boarding can only be enjoyed when the weather is nice. During those times when you can't spend it outside, you should still be training your balance — simply because of the benefits discussed above.

When off-season hits, the team at Perfect Paddles loves to use certain tools in order to continue training. Our main trainers are wooden balance boards that can be used right in our living rooms in order to keep our balance in top shape all year long.

These boards mimic the feel of standing on SUP and will keep your muscles sharp throughout the year. In addition, they also come with training videos so you can learn how to use the boards for upper body strength as well.

They've become a serious staple in our health and fitness routines. And they're a great tool stay in paddling shape all year long!

Core Training

Learning to SUP means learning how to engage your core while using all of your muscles in a concerted effort to create forward momentum.

As well as staying balance on an ever-changing, fluid, surface.

When you paddle a SUP, you are by default having to use your core for the paddle stroke and to remain upright.

But what does this mean for your overall health?

Think — injury prevention.

According to Lauren Elson, MD, in an article written on the Harvard Health blog, "As we age, we develop degenerative changes, very often in the spine. The structures of the bones and cartilage are subject to wear and tear. Very often, we are able to completely control and eliminate symptoms with the appropriate core exercises.

Having strong and stable postural muscles helps suspend the bones and other structures, allowing them to move better. Scoliosis, a curving or rotation of the spine, can also often be controlled with the correct postural exercises.

Having an imbalanced core can lead to problems up and down the body. Knee pain is often caused by insufficient pelvic stabilization. Some runners develop neck and back pain when running because the "shock absorbers" in their core could use some work."

Along with injury prevention, a strong core will help you well into old age. And stand up paddle boarding happens to be a great way to strengthen your core.

In addition to the paddle stroke, you can also use SUP as a platform for additional core exercises like planks, v-sits, sit ups, and more! Combining the balance receptors with a core workout is the ultimate way to use SUP for cross training when it comes to health and anti-aging.

SUP for cross training

Off Season Core Training Tools

There are plenty of core-training tools for in-home workouts on the market today. But not all of them are created equal. The best one we've found is the Stealth core trainer that is perfect for training every portion of this important muscle group.

But if you're short on space, an ab roller will target the portion of your core that is largely responsible for the correct paddle stroke.

With either of these tools, your core will be strong for paddling season!

Strength Training

When you paddle against the wind, in the waves, or against a current you are using the resistance of the elements to increase your strength. 

This does require a bit of experience before giving it a try. For paddlers of every level, the best way to implement strength training on your SUP is through the use of the wind. 

As you paddle into the wind, keep your stroke tight and use the proper form. Hinge from the hips, push your paddle blade as far forward as you can to get the proper catch, and use your entire body to push the board towards your blade as you pull back.

Paddling in the wind gives you an opportunity to practice going in a straight line while using your whole body stroke. Combine this with a quick return — getting the paddle back in the water — and you’ll feel the difference in each stroke. 

Your body is a sail just by the nature of standing on a board and paddling in the wind. Every moment your paddle is out of the water, it gives the wind a chance to push you around. By developing quickness while maintaining good technique, you will be able to develop a “high-gear” stroke. This is similar to the stroke you will use to get through boat wakes, catch a wave in the ocean, as well as the one you will use for your paddle race stroke. 

The best way to learn a “high-gear” paddle stroke is by heading into the wind for a certain amount of time and distance. Once you have that down, you can really start going places on your SUP including long distance tours and other adventures. 

By using proper stroke technique that engages all your major muscle groups in your legs, core, and upper body, and combining it with resistance wind training, you’ll be well on the way to increasing your fitness levels too. 

SUP for cross training

Additional Strength Training Tools

Besides learning how to use a correct paddle stroke, most SUP boards can be turned into a floating gym with the use of resistance bands.

You can attach them to the d-rings on your SUP. They can be used by just standing your board and placing them underneath your feet. Or you can use resistance bands in the same manner as you would in a yoga class.

No matter how you decide to implement them into your training — they're an all-around useful tool for getting into top shape.

Cardiovascular Training

An additional way you can use SUP for cross training is by increasing your cardiovascular output. 

When most people paddle, they tend to take a leisurely attitude toward the activity. This will keep them in a low heart-rate state and will not really push your cardiovascular output. 

But the effort you put into stand up paddle boarding greatly affects the output. 

If you want to train your cardiovascular health the best way to do it is through sprints! Pick a direction you want to paddle, go as hard as you can for about 20 seconds, rest for 10, and repeat. 

This will push you into a max heart rate (or close to it) and allow you to recover until you are ready for the next sprint. 

Repeat this process a few times and you’ll be training your cardiovascular health right on the water. 

Cardiovascular Training Tools

It can be difficult to know what your max heart rate is in real time. Especially if you aren't using anything to track it.

That is why the team at Perfect Paddles likes to train with a heart rate tracker like the Fitbit. With it, you'll be able to see just how fast and how far you can push your body.

These waterproof watches are the perfect tool to monitor your heart rate when undergoing sprints. Find out your rest zone, push yourself past your limits, and understand how you can get into the best shape of your life — just by monitoring your progress.

SUP for cross training

Full-Body Workout

In addition to training your balance, strength and cardio, stand up paddle boarding is a full body workout. Especially if you employ the correct paddle stroke. 

Everytime you paddle, you’re engaging your balance receptors in your feet and legs, hinging from your hips, engaging your back and core, using your shoulders, even your lats and biceps/triceps. 

It’s truly a full-body workout and a great way to cross train for any athletic endeavor you decide to undertake. In addition, SUP is also a great way to implement resistance training to grow your strength and speed on the water. 

In order to experience these benefits, you do need to use the correct paddle stroke, as we’ve already stated. 

stand up paddle boarding

For beginners, practice these three paddle strokes in order to use your board as a supplement to your fitness routine:

Forward Stroke

The main stroke propels your through the water. 

  • Hinge at the hips
  • Reach your paddle forward towards the nose of the board keeping your arms straight
  • Sink your paddle all the way into the water (not just the tip of the blade)
  • Pull back

Reverse Stroke

The reverse stroke is great for stopping your momentum and turning. The process is similar to the forward stroke but done in an opposite fashion. 

  • Reach behind you and sink your paddle towards the tail of your board
  • Keep your arms straight, twist from the torso, and pull your forward towards your feet
  • Performing the reverse stroke on the left side of your board will cause the nose to go left, and vice versa

Sweep Stroke

The sweep stroke turns your board in a forward motion. 

  • Again, reach forward and submerge the entire paddle blade into the water
  • Sweep your paddle away from your board is a wide arch motion 
  • Performing the sweep stroke on the left side will cause your board to right and vice versa

When you use the correct paddle stroke, you increase your efficiency on the water, and this will in turn, greatly enhance your fitness. 

Ready to Give SUP for Cross Training a Try?

Are you ready to begin using SUP as a way to cross train for your additional athletic endeavors? If so, you should always start with a complete beginner lesson from a qualified Paddling Professional. With a firm understanding of every aspect of stand up paddle boarding, you’ll be able to tailor your training on the water for your specific needs. 

If you’re not sure where to get a beginner lesson, check out our SUP Search section on Perfect Paddles. Type in your location and you’ll be present with a full list of Paddling Professionals in your area ready to get you on the water. Sign up as a Member of Perfect Paddles today and receive up to 25% off lessons and rentals with participating outfitters. 

Now is the time to use SUP as your next cross training tool. Use our resources to make sure you have a fun and safe time on the water while doing so. Including these additional posts on the subject:

How to Implement Resistance Training on Your SUP

Tabata vs. HIIT: What's the Difference?

30 Minute HIIT Bodyweight Workout

About the Author


Daniel is a travelling author with a passion for exploring new waterways and sharing his experiences with the world.

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