Is Paddle Boarding Good Exercise? 

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One of the most common questions I get asked would be “Is Paddle Boarding Good Exercise?”.

Oftentimes times many people like to make assumptions that paddle boarding can replace the gym. Spoiler alert, It doesn’t. However, if you use both of them together you can really improve your paddling technique by a country mile. 

In my own experience doing circuit training and the below-targeted paddling exercises my paddling stamina and technique has improved tenfold.  

So where am I going with all of this? Below we are going to be showing you the benefits from both my experience and what research studies show. Let’s read on.

Answer the Question! Is Paddle Boarding Good Exercise?

Just like anything that has to do with fitness/ hobbies. The more you do it the better benefits you will get. Both from a skill set point of view and an active point of view. 

If you were to paddle board twice a year and expect shredded abs after, I’m sorry to disappoint you but that’s just not how it works. The more you engage a certain group of muscles the stronger they will be. Luckily with paddle boarding, you have multiple muscle groups engaged. 

“SUP appears to be associated with increased levels of aerobic and anaerobic fitness, increased static and dynamic balance, and a high level of isometric trunk endurance.”

Pub Med (Profiling the Sport of Stand-Up Paddle Boarding) 

What the Studies Say

It’s easy for me to make a list of things saying how “paddle boarding is fun and engages your core”. But we want cold hard facts here! So after taking some time to comb through medical studies here are some positive correlations between paddle boarding and overall fitness. 

In the first study, they monitored the progression between a 58-year-old male and a 58-year-old female after continual SUP training. The participants were monitored based on mass, body composition (BIA), and aerobic fitness. Below are the results:

After 12 months, the male lost 6.8 kg (- 8.0%), decreased his body fat by 5% (Baseline level = 27.1%-Week 52 = 23.7%), and reduced his BMI by 7.34%. The female lost 3.7 kg (- 6.5%), had a 6.6% decrease in body fat (Baseline level = 27.1%-Week 52 = 21.5%) and reduced her BMI by 13.3%. Trunk muscle endurance improved by 70% overall in the male and 147.5% overall in the female. Aerobic fitness improved by 25.0% in the male (+ 5.5 ml/kg/min) and 42.3% in the female (+ 12.2 ml/kg/min). Self-rated quality of life improved in the male 84.1%, 33.9%, 50.0%, and 28.6% and in the female by 17.4%, 33.9%, 25.3% and 27.5% in the physical, psychological, social relationships and environment domains respectively.

Clin Med (Long term Effects of Stand-Up Paddle Boarding) 

In a very detailed study, the folks at Ace Fitness wanted to create a device where they could accurately see the effect paddle boarding has over a variety of different skill sets but in a controlled environment. They made a steeplechase put with two 40 lb sled weights to keep the board in place as they ran a variety of different tests. 

Photo’s by Ace Research

These tests included Test #1 which measured core muscles that are activated such as the Rectus Abdominis, External Oblique’s, and the Erector Spinae. 

Test #2 involved Stand Up Paddling for Fitness and Caloric Expenditure where researchers tracked their heart rate as well as a chest-mounted portable breath-by-breath metabolic system. These tests were conducted in calm water in Southern California on paddle boards (they don’t specify which type). 

The overall results are as follows. You can read the full details of the study in the link below. 

The results of this study indicate that SUP provides a sufficient stimulus to strengthen the erector spinae and rectus abdominis at RPEs of 11 and above, while the external obliques were only adequately stimulated when the RPE reached 15. (RPE is Ratings of Perceived Exertion)

 The average relative HR (Heat Rate) of the novice paddlers in this study during on-water paddling did not meet established industry guidelines for maintaining and improving cardiorespiratory fitness. However, as a paddler becomes more comfortable on the water and improves paddling technique, he or she will begin to get an increasingly better workout.

Ace Sponsored Research (Can Stand-Up Paddleboarding Stand Up to Scrutiny?) 

In another study in PubMed Central, they measured aerobic, anaerobic, multi-directional core strength and self-rated life questionnaires between 13 SUP participants ( 9 males and 4 females) who were untrained or new to the sport. 

The subjects were left for 6 weeks to act as their own control before the SUP intervention study which comprised three 1 hour sessions per week for 6 weeks.  Below are the overall findings.

“No significant changes occurred during the initial control period. Significant (P < 0.05) improvements were made in aerobic (+23.57 %) and anaerobic fitness (+41.98 %), multidirectional core strength tests (prone +19.78 %, right side +26.19 %, left side +28.31 %, Biering Sorensen +21.33 %) and self-rated quality of life questionnaires in the physical (+19.99 %) and psychological (+17.49 %) domains. No significant changes were detected in static or dynamic balance over the duration of the training intervention.” 

PubMed Central (The physiological, musculoskeletal, and psychological effects of stand-up paddle boarding) 

My Personal Experience 

As with everyone I too have started paddle boarding in a rather awkward state only to get better and better at it as I put myself out there more and challenged my limits. 

As I started working on my personal fitness I found that my paddle stroke greatly improved and I am now able to transfer more power into my stroke and release at a greater velocity than I have before. 

This especially helps in more challenging conditions such as tidal zones or encountering high winds which is definitely something you will encounter at one point or another. 

Benefits of Paddle Boarding Exercise

Need some more convincing? Here are some other points that help support the claims that paddle boarding is a good workout.

Paddle Boarding Helps Engage Your Full Body

Paddle Boarding acts as a great compound exercise in that it combines a wide variety of muscles such as quadriceps, hamstrings, rhomboids, lats, traps, triceps, biceps, rotator cuffs, and abs. In working with these muscle groups it also provides cardiovascular fitness for all of these muscles as they work together to help you balance and propel your board forward. 

From a gym perspective, you can almost think of a paddle board as a more sturdy Bose ball which helps strengthen a wide variety of ligaments throughout your legs and back as you balance. 

Paddle Boarding Helps Improves Balance

Balancing on a SUP definitely requires some coordination. You are constantly adjusting your legs, back as well as your core, and your arms (paddle) to keep yourself on that board in the middle of the water.  

I am one of those people who is admittedly balance-challenged. However, after putting myself on a SUP over and over my body has gotten used to the movements and now I’m able to stand in most water conditions (within reason of course).

Editors Notes

SUPing Gives You the Core Workout That You Never Knew You Were Doing

When you think of a core workout you usually think of planks, crunches, and glute bridges. They all kind of suck when you are doing them don’t they? 

Well with paddle boarding, your core is actively keeping you balanced and you aren’t even thinking about it! This is because paddle boarding is a great “distraction exercise”. That is, you are so focused on not falling into the water and moving forward that the energy you are exerting is not as noticeable. 

If you want to amplify this core workout while paddling focus on engaging your core the entire time throughout your paddle strokes. This will also increase your power while taking the load off of stress points such as your back and shoulders. 

Provides Excellent Cardio and Stamina Benefits 

Talking from personal experience, the more you paddle board, the more stamina you get. Especially when you are tackling outside forces like wind, waves, and tidal conditions. 

But even paddle boarding in calm conditions has its stamina and cardio benefits.  What’s even better is the fact that oftentimes you don’t even realize the calories you’ve burnt until after you get out of the water.  Speaking of which…

Calories Get Burnt Away

In my article How Many Calories Does Paddle Boarding Burn? We calculated that through an MET (value associated with a certain activity known as energy cost) calculation the average paddler can burn between 300 to 600 calories per hour on a leisurely paddle

As you increase your skill level and output you will be burning more calories. Some examples of this are: 

  • SUP Yoga: 400 – 650 Calories Burnt Per Hour
  • SUP Surfing: 400 – 750 Calories Burnt Per Hour (Depending on a bunch of variables)
  • SUP Touring: 615 – 708 Calories Burnt Per Hour
  • SUP Racing: 713 – 1125 Calories Burnt Per Hour

Of course, these are general ranges that do not fully take into account the experience of the paddler, body mass, the outside conditions sex, and age. They are rough estimates. 

Paddle Boarding has Been Shown to Reduce Stress and be Meditative

There is a clear correlation between stress reduction and being in nature. Especially when you are by a large body of water as shown in this Pubmed study. Paddle Boarding naturally can be grouped into that as you are literally standing on a board in the middle of the water. 

The simple act of preoccupying your mind by paddling this board in the middle of the water also helps the mind focus on the task at hand and less on what Tina from Corporate said about you in your performance review. 

Paddle Boarding is Low Impact and Has a Low Barrier to Entry

Paddle boarding is actually a great tool to use for overcoming injury and re-stabilizing your joints. I myself have used it to get me back up to speed after an injury 6 months prior. I firmly believe that paddle boarding helped strengthen my back which allowed me to get back into the gym and start circuit training. 

Stand Up Paddle Boarding also has a low barrier to entry. Meaning it’s not super difficult to learn whatsoever. Most people I have talked to were able to stand on their boards after 1-4 paddle sessions. As you get more practice you gain more confidence which allows you to move on to other disciplines of SUP.  Compare that to doing something more complicated like playing hockey!

Paddle Boards are Very Versatile

Paddleboards are some of the most versatile vessels out there. Inflatable paddle boards have really blown the market wide open to a wide number of demographics and income brackets. No longer is paddle boarding only for people with garages and storage units. Now with these inflatable boards, people can store them in their closets! 

This also means that they can be used by people of many different age groups in lakes, rivers, oceans, beaches, harbors/ marinas, and bays. 


Is Paddle Boarding Good for Weight Loss?

Paddle Boarding can be used as a tool for weight loss but it won’t be the end-all-be-all be-all solution unless you are paddling at least 3 times a week consecutively. Paddle Boarding can burn between 300 to 600 calories for the average recreational paddler. 

However, diet is also a big part of this. If you did an hour paddle and then guzzled down some ice cream. It would effectively negate what you did when you went out paddling. Diet is 80% of fitness and weight loss so eating healthy is crucial to this

Does Paddle Boarding Burn Belly Fat?

Just like weight loss, consistent paddle boarding can help you lose belly fat and strengthen your abs. But it is not the end-all-be-all be-all solution. Once again a healthy diet has a big part to play in this dynamic. 

Is Paddle Boarding Better Than Going to the Gym?

Going to the gym helps you target specific muscles. While paddle boarding is more of a full-body aerobic workout. Instead of thinking of it as doing one or the other, try to incorporate both into your fitness plans as they can go a long way into keeping you healthy

Does Paddle Boarding Tone Legs?

Balancing on a paddle board helps you use leg muscles for balance that may not normally be used. However, it is not the ultimate solution. As you are not doing a complete range of motion compared to exercises such as squats. Paddle boarding acts as a good cardio activity to do to keep your joint stability intact. 

Is Paddle Boarding Better Than Running? 

Paddle Boarding can be better than running because it is an easier activity on your joints. However, it does not burn as many calories. Sixty minutes of jogging can burn anywhere from 700 calories to 1000 depending on the individual’s weight, speed, etc. While paddle boarding is in the 300 to 600 calories burnt range

So Is Paddle Boarding a Good Workout? 

As we have learned today paddle boarding can be a good workout when it is done consistently! There are a wide variety of mental and physical benefits that can be associated with it such as

  • Increased levels of aerobic and anaerobic fitness
  • Decreased body fat and weight loss
  • Being a full-body exercise 
  • Reducing stress
  • Helps improve your balance
  • Works your core muscles
  • Burns about 300 – 600 calories per hour
  • Is a low-impact exercise 
  • Are versatile and easy to travel with

Do you have any other paddle boarding fitness tidbits? Let us know on our Facebook page!

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Hey, My name is Derek Lenze and I'm the owner of Inflatable SUP Authority. I've had over 20 years experience with watersports and over 10 years of various paddle boarding experience. My new-found passion is bringing my stand up paddle boaring knowledge in an explainable and actionable way all the while giving you my unbiased takes.

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