Paddle boarding may not seem all that challenging at first glance, but looks can be deceiving. While it may not appear to require much effort to casually paddle along on an oversized surfboard, paddle boarding uses virtually every muscle in your body. Even first-time paddle boarders in good physical condition quickly learn the effort required goes far and beyond what meets the eye.

World champion paddleboarder Annabel Anderson says she often sees people who are in great physical shape have their arms and legs shaking within minutes of climbing on a paddle board. However, this should not discourage people from trying the sport, as paddle boarding is a good workout once the basics have been mastered.

Level of Intensity

The three ways to ride a paddle board are sitting, kneeling and standing, with each requiring progressively more effort. Additionally, the amount of effort required will depend on whether paddle boarding is being done on calm or in choppy water.

Standup paddle boarding, commonly referred to by the acronym SUP, provides the most intense workout, requiring you to balance on the board while paddling. SUP is a great total-body workout as it engages muscles in the entire body from head to toe. Even when paddling in a sitting or kneeling position, balance, strength and endurance are all exercised equally. ACE Certified personal trainer Jose Gonzalez explains that stand up paddle boarding works the entire core as well as the arm and leg muscles throughout the entire paddling motion.

Paddle boarding Benefits

The main muscle groups activated while paddleboarding are the latissimus dorsi, or mid back, the deltoids, or shoulders, the flexor and pronators, triceps and biceps in the arms. However, the area that paddleboarding targets the most is the core. The major core muscles include the pelvic, transversus abdominis, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, longissimus thoracis and the diaphragm. These core muscles are involved in virtually every movement the body makes and are the muscles most professional athletes and trainers feel are the most import for overall fitness.

a picture of scull rowingRowing a boat has long been considered the ideal total-body workout, as the activity combines aspects of cardiovascular exercise and full-body resistance training. Likewise, paddle boarding is a good cardiovascular and resistance workout, even when paddling at just a moderate pace over calm water. However, paddle boarding can provide a extreme cardiovascular and strength-training workout when paddling at a faster pace in rougher water.

Gonzalez points out that just as with other forms of cardio workouts, like running or biking, you can train to target heart rates while paddle boarding. A good interval-training routine might consist of a 30 minute workout with hard paddling for two minutes intervals at 80 to 90 percent of maximum heart rate with 30-seconds rest intervals while paddling slowly.

Calorie Expenditure

Paddle boarding can burn up to a whopping 2,000 calories an hour. Here is how paddle boarding compares to other popular sports in calorie expenditure:

• Biking: 483 calories an hour

• Running: 650 calories an hour

• Surfing: 412 calories an hour

• Swimming: 840 calories an hour

Of course, the number of calories a person will burn in an hour depends on several factors, including how aggressively they exercise and their percentage of muscles mass. Sex also plays a role, as males will typically burn more calories than females when performing the same exercise. Here are the main paddleboarding categories and the respective calorie-burning estimates based on a 150 pound person for one hour of paddling. All the below number are base estimates for paddling in fairly calm waters, so paddle boarding in heavy surf or into a strong headwind will further increase calorie expenditure.

a picture of suping

Recreational Paddling Calorie Expenditure:

The most general type of paddleboarding is recreational, meaning leisurely paddling in calm water with light to no winds at a pace equal to walking. However, this will burn roughly twice the amount calories of a moderately-paced walk at approximately 3 mph. This equals out to roughly 350 calories for an hour of paddling. There are many areas to practice this style of paddling, such as bays and coves that are protected from strong winds and on calm lakes and ponds.

SUP Surfing Calorie Expenditure:

Surfers say stand up paddle boarding is probably the best cross training exercise available to improve your strength, endurance and agility. Understanding that the bigger the waves and the rougher the water will result in increasing amounts of burned calories an hour of paddle board surfing in strong neck-high waves with light winds can burn over 500 calories per hour. However, you will of course need to live in an area that offers this kind of suffering action to rack up this type of calorie count.

a picture of sup racing

SUP Racing Calorie Expenditure:

Racing is the most-intense category of paddle boarding, allowing for no slowing down or rest periods. Racing paddle boards will push you body to its limits and work your cardiovascular system to it full potential. While the actual number of calories burned can vary somewhat, depending on stroke form and intensity, wind speed and water conditions, a five-mile SUP race can burn over 700 calories an hour. You also need to remember that time and intensity are inversely related during any type of exercise. So paddling the same distance at a slower speed will burn the same amount of calories, provided that the pace is consistent with no rest breaks. Additionally, even when racing, water conditions will contribute to the overall level of exertion, and the total calorie expenditure.

The Verdict

Aside from just being a whole lot of fun, the fitness benefit gained from paddle boarding is probably one of the main reasons the sport is becoming so widely popular. As the numbers show, compared to other sports paddleboarding burns more calories while building strong muscle. Riding a paddle board can be done strictly as a leisurely activity or as a light to high-intensity full-body workout, and it beats being stuck in a gym. Paddle boarding also increase your balance and can even work to renew your spirit. So, as you can see, the answer is a resounding “yes” when answering the question of “Is paddle boarding a good workout?”

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