How to Train for Stand Up Paddle Boarding

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a happy stand up paddle boarder with a strong stroke

The utter simplicity of stand up paddle boarding (SUPing) is a big part of its appeal. It’s just you, the water, your board and a paddle. (Plus, of course, a few key essentials.) One oft-overlooked aspect is conditioning: A several hour SUP tour will re-introduce you to muscles you haven’t been in touch with for a while. Below we offer a simple workout plan to reacquaint you with them.

This workout is designed to increase strength, endurance and balance in the legs, hips, abdominal area and back. A few exercises also build endurance in shoulder and arm muscles that you’ll be moving continuously as you do paddle strokes. (Doing prehab exercises like these also makes it less likely you’ll need rehab after your SUP season.)


Here’s a quick, general overview of how to train for SUPing:

  • Increase strength in core muscles that help you generate paddling power.
  • Build endurance in shoulder and arm muscles, which will need to be in continuous motion as you paddle on each side of your board.
  • Improve your balance so you have a more stable base that will allow you to do your paddle strokes smoothly and efficiently.
  • Add cardio time, too. Complement this workout plan with any exercise that builds up your heart and lungs—swimming is a great aerobic exercise to integrate with your SUP training.

Before beginning any training plan, check in with your doctor or certified training professional.


Training Schedule for SUPing

Start training 6 to 8 weeks before you’ll be hitting the water on your board. A good mix of workout types for each week involves the following (but feel free to modify this schedule to fit your needs):

  • 3 nonconsecutive days of strength training (exercises in this article)
  • 2 nonconsecutive cardio sessions
  • 2 nonconsecutive rest days

Training Exercises for SUPing

Keep the following in mind as you train:

  • Make the exercises fit your body, not the other way around.
  • If something hurts, modify the exercise or skip it; and take extra rest days if you feel the need.
  • Move at your own pace, going slowly at first.
  • Increase the repetitions or add more resistance or weight as your training progresses.

Warm up: Get yourself warmed up by doing an easy 5- to 10-minute session on your favorite exercise equipment, or just go for a brisk walk. Then follow the guidelines below as you progress through the exercises in this article:

  • Inhale during initial exertion, then exhale as you return to the starting position; during faster exercises, simply make sure you breathe regularly.
  • Rest for 30 to 45 seconds at the end of each exercise (if an exercise requires a longer rest period, it will state that in the steps for that exercise).
  • Do each exercise one time in succession, then rest for two minutes and repeat the whole set of exercises again (if you have time to fit in a third set, that’s even better).

Skater with Uppercut Exercise

This exercise engages your glutes, quads and abdominal muscles to develop your rotational power and balance. The uppercut motion helps increase shoulder strength and endurance. The dynamic side-to-side skater motion also helps get your blood circulating.

Props: A set of lightweight dumbbells

  1. Start in a standing position with a dumbbell each hand.
  2. Hop laterally, landing on your right foot, while also bringing your weighted left arm up diagonally across your chest as if you were doing an uppercut punch. The power to raise your arm should be generated more by your torso and core muscles than with your arm muscles.
  3. Hop back to left leg, bringing the weighted right arm diagonally up across your chest.
  4. Complete 15 reps on each side.

Tips and modifications: Adjust the difficulty by using a lighter or heavier dumbbell; you can also adjust how far laterally you jump each time.


Single-Leg Deadlift Exercise

This exercise engages your hips and core muscles to develop strength and balance as you center your weight over each side of your body.

Props: A lightweight dumbbell

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in your left hand.
  2. Centering your weight over your right foot, bend forward at the hips as you extend your left leg backwards. Maintain your balance as you lower the dumbbell toward the floor. Do not let your hips rotate.
  3. Raise back up to the start position by squeezing your glutes. Your core should remain engaged and your back should remain straight.
  4. Do this 20 times, then switch to your other side and do 20 reps.

Tips and modifications: Adjust the difficulty by adjusting how high far down you bend toward the floor. You can also use a lighter or heavier dumbbell.


Chop Exercise

Similar to the motion you use for a forward paddle stroke, this exercise is good for balance development and enhancing your core rotational power. It targets the upper and lower abdominals and the obliques, as well as the glutes and upper leg muscles.

Props: A resistance band

  1. Secure one end of the band at slightly above shoulder height.
  2. Stand sideways to where the band is anchored and position yourself so that you can reach up even with your right shoulder to grab the free end of the band with both hands. Your knees should be slightly bent.
  3. Pull the band down across your body while turning your body. Think about the trunk doing the majority of the work for this exercise instead of your arms and shoulders.
  4. Keep your arms as straight as you can as you pull down on the band. Your arms should act as guides, with your obliques and back muscles generating the pulling and rotating power.
  5. Do this 15 times, then repeat facing the other way.
  6. Rest for 90 seconds before moving on to the next exercise.

Tips and modifications: Adjust band resistance level by shortening it to increase resistance or lengthening it to ease the resistance. Your goal is to feel fatigued at the end of your reps, but not so fatigued that you struggle to finish them.


Lift Exercise

Sometimes called the “reverse chop,” the lift exercise puts your body through a motion that’s similar to a backward paddle stroke. It helps develop balance and core rotational power by strengthening your upper and lower abdominals and obliques, along with your glutes and upper leg muscles.

Props: A resistance band

  1. Secure one end of the band at ankle height.
  2. Standing sideways to where the band is anchored, position yourself so that when you grab the end of the band with both hands, there is tension in the band.
  3. Rotate your torso upward to the right, pulling the end of the band at an upward angle across the front of your torso. Let your feet pivot until you are facing in the opposite direction with your arms straight in front of your body. Straighten the leg closest to where the band is anchored while pushing up onto the toe of that foot.
  4. Return to the starting position while maintaining an even tension in the band.
  5. Through this entire motion, your core muscles should be powering the movement. Your shoulders should stay square and your hips should remain aligned, and your elbows and wrists should also remain as straight as possible.
  6. Do this 20 times, then do the same on the opposite side for 20 more reps.

Tips and modifications: Adjust band resistance level by shortening it to increase resistance or lengthening it to ease the resistance. Your goal is to feel fatigued at the end of your reps, but not so fatigued that you struggle to finish them.


Single-Leg Squat and Row Exercise

The squat in this exercise develops core strength and stability because it engages core muscles and the muscles that support the hip to balance body weight over your knee. The row portion of the exercise develops endurance in biceps and lat muscles, both of which are in continuous use during a SUP tour.

Props: A resistance band

  1. Secure one end of the band at slightly above shoulder height.
  2. Begin in a standing position facing where the band is anchored with your left hand holding one end of a resistance band and bent at a 90-degree angle next to your rib cage.
  3. Keep your shoulders broad and your trunk tall throughout this exercise.
  4. Do a single leg squat on your right leg, extending your left arm out as you lower. Use your right arm to counterbalance your movement.
  5. Stand back up from the single leg squat and row the left arm back to the starting position.
  6. Do 15 reps and rest 30 seconds, then switch sides and do 15 reps on the other side.

Tips and modifications: Adjust the difficulty by adjusting the depth of your squat, or start by performing a regular squat with both legs before you begin your arm row.


Side Plank with Leg Raise Exercise

Because hip and core fatigue can lead to soreness, paddling inefficiency and unintended swimming sessions, you want to develop strength, endurance and balance in muscles in those areas. Planks are a staple of many exercise routines because they help build key core muscles like the obliques, glutes and leg muscles. This plank variation adds a leg raise to build endurance in the muscles that move and support your hips.

Props: None

  1. Lie on your right side, supported by your elbow under your shoulder. Your right forearm should be perpendicular to your body. Your left hand should rest on your left hip, with your left elbow pointing up. Your legs and feet should be stacked atop one another.
  2. Tighten your core as you raise your hips up into a plank, creating a straight line from your head to feet.
  3. Slowly raise your left leg up and slightly back, keeping it straight as you do so. Keep your hips still.
  4. Lower your leg and raise it a total of 10 times.
  5. Repeat the exercise lying on your left side for 10 more reps.

Tips and modifications: Adjust the difficulty by adjusting how high you raise your top leg each time.


Step Up with Lateral Leg Raise Exercise

After many hours on your board, quads and other upper leg muscles can become fatigued. This exercises builds up strength and endurance there. It also adds a leg raise that targets the hip-area muscles.

Props: A stable surface, about 8 inches off the ground. If you have a training box or an aerobic step at home, you can use that. If not, the bottom step on a flight of stairs can also work.

  1. Start with your left foot on the ground and your right foot on top of a step. Your right knee will be bent.
  2. Step up until you are standing with your right leg nearly straight and you are balanced on top of the step.
  3. Slowly extend your left leg to the side and then back again.
  4. Pause in a balanced position, then step down, returning your left leg and foot to the starting position.
  5. Do this 15 times, then repeat the exercise 15 times on the other side.

Tips and modifications: Adjust the difficulty by finding a higher or lower (stable) surface to step on.


Hip Clock Exercise

This exercise strengthens your glutes and hamstrings. It also improves balance and stability to help you stand comfortably atop your board for an extended period of time.

Props: None   

  1. Stand with your weight balanced on your left leg and that knee slightly bent.
  2. Keep your back straight and weight centered over the standing knee.  
  3. Imagine that you’re at the center of a clock. Lift and extend your right leg, reaching forward toward 12 o’clock.
  4. Bring your leg back to the center.
  5. Repeat the movements toward the 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions. As you reach for each position, stay balanced over the standing leg and don’t let your hips shift from side to side.
  6. Switch to the other leg and repeat. Do 5 to 8 sets on each leg.

Tips and modifications: Keep your hips level and push into the ground with your standing foot for balance. Make smaller leg movements if you feel off balance.


Also Work on Your SUP Technique

Strong people with poor SUP technique can still struggle when they try to paddle for long stretches of time. So, make sure you also brush up on your basic strokes.

Sign up for a SUP Class 



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