What Muscles does Stand Up Paddling work?

We all can feel that we’re getting a great workout when we take our SUP. We typically know because our muscles usually have that “good soreness” that we get after a hard workout. But do we know which muscles we’re working out? Paddle boarding is truly a full body workout. Read on to find out why.

man on a paddle board


There are 11 muscles paddle boarding works:

  • Lungs (diaphragm)
  • Heart
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstring
  • Rhomboid
  • Lats
  • Traps
  • Triceps
  • Biceps
  • Rotator cuffs
  • Abs

Paddle boarding uses all kinds of muscles from large to small. When you’re standing up, you’ll rely on your shoulder, arm, back, and abdominal muscles.

Many of us start our paddle boarding session by kneeling. While kneeling, you will work your abs, shoulders, arms, and back. When in the prone position of lying down, your triceps and biceps do the brunt of the work, as do your shoulders.

Following is a breakdown of the muscles you will use in the various positions (prone, kneeling and standing) on your paddleboard:


Your feet have over 100 muscles and when you first start standing on a SUP you may well experience cramps. This is simply because you are using tiny muscles for stability that you seldom use.

The workout your feet will get is in direct proportion to how rough the water you are paddling is as your feet need to grip the SUP pad more tightly in rougher conditions.


To sustain correct posture and balance you will work a range of muscles in your legs. Every time you paddle with a power stroke and bend your knees you work a range of muscles including your lower calf, upper calf, abductors, hamstrings, quads and your glutes.

Keeping your feet planted to the board is crucial to balance on a paddle board, even before you begin paddling. Your legs play a key role in doing just that. Namely, the hamstrings and quadriceps are responsible for letting you stand and do so much more.

Hamstrings are a series of posterior muscles in the thigh. There are three of these total: the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and the semimembranosus. They run from your knee to your hip. Through the use of your hamstrings, you can move your hip joints and knee joints.

The quadriceps are another leg muscle that is used extensively when standing on and paddling your paddle board. The quads are thigh muscles that are located at the front of your legs. Instead of three muscles, the quadriceps have four. These are the rectus femoris, the vastus intermedius, the vastus medialis, and the vastus lateralis.

Your quads work in conjunction with your hamstrings to allow for greater knee joint flexibility. When doing activities like balancing, squatting, jumping, running, and walking, the quads get used.


lower body muscles paddle boarding works



Correct SUP paddle technique means using a range of muscles to pull your board across the surface of the water. Rather than using just your arms to pull the paddle to your body, you will use your Latissimus Dorsi (lats) and core to pull your body to the paddle.

The lats are the largest muscle in your back and it’s the development of the lats that give the torso a wider, flared shape. 

Your legs keep you standing, but your back lets you stay upright and straight. That’s quite important when it comes to maintaining your balance while standing on your paddle board.

Particularly, your rhomboid muscles are activated when balancing. These upper back muscles go along your shoulder blades and near your sides. The muscles connect to your spine.

The reason these back muscles are called rhomboid muscles is because they’re shaped like a rhombus, a four-sided parallelogram. Your rhomboid muscles include the rhomboid minor muscle and the rhomboid major muscle.

While paddling, your trapezoid muscles (traps) in your back are also helping you stabilize and strengthen your shoulders.


back muscles for paddle boarding


You often hear that a strong core will keep you balanced and one of the main muscles in that core is your abdominal muscles or abs. Everyone has abs although they might be hidden in a lot of us by a layer of fat.

The obliques, which are on both sides of the abdominals, are triggered as the body turns slightly during the “Power” section of the paddle stroke.

Balancing on your paddle board can be challenging but it’s well worth the effort. The following thesis from the University of Wisconsin cites data that discusses what it takes to balance on a SUP board.

When a group of scientists tested eight SUP athletes back in 2014, they sought to determine the level of balance of these athletes. They did so by reviewing track postural sway with a center of pressure force platform.

The athletes were proven to have a “greater dynamic balance” when compared to athletes who engaged in other aquatic activities.

Now, these were some of the premier SUP boarders in the world, but it does go to show. If you can balance on a SUP board, you can do almost any other kind of balancing activity.


core muscles for paddle boarding


The rotator cuff in your shoulders has two purposes. First, it keeps your glenoid cavity and humerus in place so your shoulder joints work properly. It also allows for greater stability in the shoulder.

The rotator cuff contains these muscles: the subscapularis, the teres minor, the infraspinatus, and the supraspinatus.

Many SUP boarders liken their shoulders to anchors that connect their forearms/upper arms to their core/back. While your shoulders don’t drive the force of your strokes, they do allow the upper half of your body to move and pivot as needed.

You get a great shoulder workout as you have to pull, dip, and lift your paddle constantly when paddle boarding.

This may be tough to do the first few times you go out SUP riding, especially if you’re a beginner. As you build up the strength in your shoulders, maneuvering with the paddle will seem easier.

 paddle board workout


Just as you need your shoulders to propel your SUP board, the same goes for your arms. In fact, there is no more important muscle in handling your paddle than those in your arms. Without those muscles, you wouldn’t be able to hold the paddle.

Several muscles are utilized when you paddle. The triceps and biceps being the main drivers of the paddle stroke. The triceps are located in the back of your upper arms.

Every time you straighten out your arm, you can thank your triceps for their efforts.

Your biceps are located at the front of your upper arm and connect your elbow and shoulder. You can relax and flex your forearm with your bicep muscle.

You don’t necessarily need arms like a body builder to paddle proficiently because you should be using your as more of a lever for your larger back muscles. Relying mainly on your arm muscles will make you tire faster and can lead to injuries.

inflatable paddle board muscles


Stand up paddle boarding truly is an amazing full body work out and short regular sessions will quickly result in toning, fat loss and development of muscle.

In addition to building and toning muscle, SUP is great for burning calories and building aerobic capacity as we discussed here.


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Beginners' Guide to Paddle Boarding