Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) has moved away from just a resort sport—something you can only find at fancy beachside properties—to an activity that you can do anywhere you can find a body of water. You can take a SUP class, go on a SUP trip, and rent SUP boards at most sporting goods stores. But with the recent explosion of the sport, little research has actually been done on the effectiveness of stand-up paddleboarding as an exercise, until now.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recently released two studies that looked at the benefits of the popular watersport and found that leisurely paddling may not get you the workout you think you’re getting when you hop on a board. It’s notworthy to pause and realize that all people engage in the paddle board sport differently, and there is not always adequate homogenization among such study. One person’s leisurely stroll around the lake may be another’s hell-bender to beat their best time. The health benefits of paddle boarding are largely correlated to how one is using the paddle board. For instance; Yoga SUP practices may not necessarily help your cardio, but you’ll help strengthen many minute stabilizing muscles often not used. Think of it like dumbbells vs. bar weights vs. machine weights. There are degrees of variance among all approaches.
For the first study, researchers tested the common theory that SUP is a major core workout. Because SUP involves maintaining your balance on a board with water underfoot, the belief is that your core muscles need to fire more to steady yourself. Study participants paddled at three levels of difficulty—light, somewhat hard, and hard/heavy (but not at maximal exertion). Researchers found that when people paddled at or above a light level of perceived exertion, the erector spinae (muscles of the back) and rectus abdominis (abdominal) muscles were stimulated enough to boost strength. The external obliques, on the other hand, weren’t activated enough to improve strength unless people were paddling really hard.