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5 great SUP exercises

July 2, 2014

Found in Activities, Skills and tips

You might not guess it from looking at serene paddlers, casually gliding along, but stand up paddleboarding is a workout. Like, a full body “burn up to 500 calories in an hour” kind of workout.

To give you some moves you can add to your everyday paddling, we asked Emily Hinton (certified SUP instructor, avid yogi and MEC staffer) to share her favourite exercises to build strength, burn calories and mix up your SUP routine.

SUP exercises

Things to keep in mind before you start

  • The best part of incorporating exercises into paddleboarding is the built-in warm up. A quick paddle on the water gets your blood moving to warm up your core, legs and body.
  • SUP is all about balance. So to give yourself an even workout, be sure to paddle and do every exercise on both sides of your body.
  • Your paddle can float beside you in the water, you can loop your leash around it to tether it to your board, or you can set it next to you if there’s space on your board.
  • You can do exercises on any board, but wider or yoga-specific boards are more stable and offer more displacement to make your paddling more efficient. Plus they often have space to store your PFD, props and any other items you might need (like a water bottle or sunscreen).
  • Whether or not you anchor your board while you perform these exercises depends on the water conditions, the moves you want to do, and any hazards that might exist around you. If you want to focus on your workout without worrying about drifting off, then anchoring is a good way to secure peace of mind. Also, if there’s traffic or a strong current, it’s a really good idea to anchor your board or attach some kind of leash rope to a deck or buoy.


“One of my favourite poses to do with a paddle is the classic – and thematic – boat pose,” says Emily. “Depending on the level of difficulty you want, there are a number of ways to do boat pose. But no matter the level, your core will feel the burn – especially when it’s done on water.”

  • Keeping your shins parallel to the ground (bent at the knees, as Emily demos in the photo) is easier than having them straight out.
  • To include the paddle in your pose, keep your shins parallel to the ground, and hold the paddle perpendicular to your arms and legs.
  • If you want a little extra core work, add movement. Keep your paddle stretched out, perpendicular to your legs, and pulse the paddle up and down. This helps strengthen your core, especially your psoas muscles. These deep core muscles connect all the way to your hip flexors, and help support your posture and provide more stability in balancing poses.

Bonus: Incorporating your paddle to an exercise adds an element of balance (which means more core work!). Plus, it solves the problem of where to put your paddle when you’re performing an on-SUP exercise.

SUP exercises


Chair pose is a great way to get the movement of squats on your board, and is much more challenging than it looks,” says Emily. “Playing around with how far apart your feet are will change the level of difficulty.”

  • It’s very important to always keep your weight balanced behind your knees, and to keep your back as straight as possible. Try tucking your tailbone to maintain a neutral spine and discourage your back from arching.
  • An option is to raise your paddle above your shoulders at the same time as you lower back into your chair pose, and hold the pose until your legs start to burn.

Bonus: To add more shoulder burn, come in and out of your squatting position, lowering and raising your paddle with every up and down.

SUP exercises
SUP exercises

Chest stretch

“Paddling is a great way to strengthen your arms and shoulders, so it’s a good idea to balance out all that muscle work with a good stretch,” says Emily. “Bow pose is a great way to open up your chest and is especially fun to do while bobbing around on the waves.”

  • Start on your stomach and breathe as you gently lift your chest up with your hands under your armpits. After coming in and out of this gentle warm-up pose a few times, reach behind you and grab your feet with your hands. You will feel yourself naturally rock backwards and forwards with your breath.
  • Try not to rely too much on your arms in this pose – pushing your feet against your hands creates a great resistance and helps to work your legs a little more too.

Bonus: Because of the rocking that occurs in this pose, it’s also a great way to stimulate your organs, helping to increase their efficiency and flush out toxins.

SUP exercises


“Plank is one of the all-around best strengthening poses, on and off the water,” says Emily. “These variations allow you to ‘test the water,’ while also challenging your balance.”

  • From plank pose (either full plank or plank on your forearms, as shown below), breathe out and lift one leg, moving it off the side of your board. This weight shift will mean your board will be slightly tilted – don’t panic, this instability is great for your core. Dip your toe just over the edge of the board into the water. Breathe out, and return your foot to its original position. As with all exercises, repeat on other side.
  • Another plank variation is to reach your leg to the opposite side of the board. Stretch your right leg under your left leg to “test the water” on the left side of the board. Alternate legs and repeat.

**Bonus:**Dolphin plank is a variation where you place your forearms on the board and lift your hips up in the air (almost like a half-plank/half-down dog). The change in angle demands a lot from your core, and it works as a great shoulder opener, which your body will like after all of the paddling.

SUP exercises
SUP exercises

Straight up cardio

“In addition to a vigorous paddling session, there are a lot of exercises you can do on a SUP to get your cardio fix,” says Emily.

  • Jump to it. Instead of just standing up and down as you’re coming in and out of your squat, try adding a jump – it’ll get your heart going and really challenges your balance!
  • Go with the flow. Move through a fluid sequence of downward dog, plank and dolphin (and repeat) to get your heart pumping and your mind calm.
  • **Add a burst.**Interval training is easy to do on a board by repeating short bursts of fast paddling (say 30 seconds), followed by long, strong strokes for two minutes. Do a few repeats of this interval to get your heart going and build your endurance.

**Bonus:**Working out on a moving board helps engage your entire body. The water’s waves and currents add an element of playfulness and extra element to your workout. Not only does it challenge your core, but there’s also the chance of falling out of a pose and into the water. Just think of it as really getting to tune into nature.

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