What Does Hard Science Say About a SUP Workout?

Stand up paddle boarding is an enjoyable, easy to learn alternative to traditional forms of training. This study confirmed what SUP enthusiasts have known anecdotally for decades.

Here's what they did.

Stand up paddle boarding (SUP) is the fastest growing outdoor water sport in the world. Anecdotally speaking, the fitness and injury rehabilitation benefits of SUP appear to be stellar. Up until recently though there was scant scientific evidence to back up any such assertion relating to these benefits.

A recent study on a group of individuals was conducted to ascertain the potential of SUP on various health categories. This article offers a high-level review of the results from this study.

One of the major attractions of SUP is that it offers a thorough full body workout. Isometric contractions of the glutes, leg muscles (hamstrings, quads, achilles) and entire core and trunk region are required to counter the force from the pull phase of each paddle stroke.

In other words, the inherent act of balancing on the SUP board is a key component to the workout one receives while paddle boarding.

In addition to these anaerobic benefits, SUP also provides a somewhat deceptive aerobic workout as well. We say ‘deceptive’ because many paddleboarders make note of the fact that they oftentimes return from a workout surprised by how tired they feel afterwards.

Time flies when you’re having fun.

water workout

It’s no secret that physical activity significantly increases cardiovascular fitness. Physical inactivity is a major self-inflicted risk factor of a wide range of diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease and some forms of cancer.

Decades of research has shown unequivocally that even small amounts of regular physical activity can significantly improve overall health, lower the risk of heart disease by 43%, stroke by 29% and lowers the incidence of high blood pressure by almost 55%.

Additionally, the incidence of mental disorders including Alzheimer’s and depression were significantly reduced by regular exercise.

The goal of recent research was to assess SUP’s effects on a group of sedentary individuals (with no previous SUP experience) with respect to fitness, strength, balance and self-rated quality of life.


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A control group of 18 people (10 females, 8 males) was selected for the SUP fitness study. Inclusion criteria required individuals to have not been participating in physical activity for the last 6 months and were between the ages of 20-60. Additionally, none of the participants had any previous paddle boarding experience.

The SUP training regimen consisted of 4 1-hour sessions per week for 8 weeks. There was a rest period of at least 24 hours before subsequent paddle boarding sessions.

At 2-week intervals wider boards were replaced by progressively shorter and narrower SUP boards – thus challenging postural control while balancing on the water. The intensity of the sessions was gradually increased as well.

At week 3 high intensity sprint/interval-based training (HIIT) was incorporated into the week with the regular sessions. Initially, participants were paddle boarding 1 kilometer in an endurance session, which increased to 10-kilometer SUP sessions by the end of the training program.

HIIT sessions initially involved 2-minute sessions of 10-second paddling bursts followed by 10 seconds of rest. This transitioned to 5-minute SUP sessions of 10-second bursts followed by 10-seconds off.

The vast majority of training sessions were performed on the SUP boards with minimal land-based training which included running from the shore to the SUP boards to begin a paddle session.

water fitness

Participants were instructed to keep their current diets intact and perform no other physical activity apart from the SUP training during the study period.

Pre and post SUP training testing was performed on a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scanner, considered the gold standard for body composition analysis.

Participants were assessed for height and weight on a standard medical balance scale and body fat%, visceral fat amount, android/gynoid ratio, bone density and basal metabolic rate on the DXA scanner.

Vo2 Max tests were conducted at the beginning and end of the study to assess cardiovascular changes. Blood lipids and pressure levels were monitored throughout the 8-week study as well.



Sixteen participants completed the entire 8-week SUP training program. With respect to aerobic fitness dramatic improvements were noted including Vo2 Max cardiovascular output (+23.5%), absolute aerobic power (+19%), relative aerobic power (+24%), maximum SUP distance paddled (+37%) and peak SUP paddling speed (+11%).

Additionally, the SUP training study showed significant anaerobic gains as well in all of the participants with a staggering 42% increase in anaerobic power output and relative power output.

Peak paddle boarding speeds reached during the HIIT 10 second bursts increased by 18% and distance covered by 14%. Strength tests indicated a net increase in core strength of 19%.

Self-rated quality of life increased 19% for respondents’ feeling about their own physical health and 27% relating to social relationships and environment. No notable differences in blood lipid levels were reported.

This was in line with previous short-term tests documenting physical activity. Empirical data suggest changes in blood lipids are not seen in studies less than 16 weeks in length.

Slight changes were seen in body fat % (2%) but again the length of the study was not great enough to see significant changes.

SUP fitness



Stand up paddle boarding is an enjoyable, easy to learn alternative to traditional forms of training. This study confirmed what SUP enthusiasts have known anecdotally for decades.

Paddle boarding provides a full body workout that delivers significant aerobic, anaerobic and quality of life benefits. With that said, go paddle the planet now!


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