SUP Fitness: 20% arms, 80% Core. What are your stats?

ultimate paddler

SUP Fitness; “An ambition to stray far from grey, disenchanting and monotonous indoor exercise”

Almost everyone who has ever heard of SUP has also heard that it’s good for your ‘core.’ Well, they are right and yes, it is. Very good in fact! It’s important though that if you are to use SUP for core fitness and really make the most of it, you are trained by an instructor how to properly engage your core whilst you paddle, or at the very least understand how to train yourself in order minimise the risk of injury, maintain your safety and maximise the amount of fun and productivity to your fitness session.

Almost every stand-up paddleboarder out there is either paddling on a basic introductory lesson or with no training at all. Those without any training are easily recognisable because they are often paddling bolt upright using almost entirely arm power. I call those people the 80:20’s. It’s not a derogatory term at all, it just refers to a person who uses 80% arm power to 20% core which by the way is totally fine for a leisurely paddle around the bay whilst reeling off your juicy gossip to your SUP buddy. However, I’m here now to enlighten those of you who perhaps do not know that there is a very specific mechanical action to your paddling that requires body rotation, leverage and total core stability.

When you paddle with the understanding that you use your entire body to transfer power down from the handle of your paddle, through the length of the paddle shaft, into the blade and finally into the water, your stand up paddleboarding experience will become revolutionised. Applying this knowledge to your stroke will enable you to paddle with at least 50% more power and will transform your 5km paddle trip around the bay into a 15km coastal adventure almost overnight. Everything will feel so much less stressful on your shoulders and arms as you finally gain the ability to engage your entire body of muscles which will initiate new found power as you propel yourself around your water way with grace and purpose.

I’m going to level with you though guys and girls… Realistically you would have to read an entire book on how to paddle if you are to try and digest the entire instruction by reading, mostly because there are of course so many variables that effect your ability to paddle. Everything from the type of equipment you are using, the environment in which you are paddling and of course your own physiology. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to write a book so I am going to just offer you the base understanding of the essential principles. In the end, teaching you how to paddle efficiently and with good skill and technique is a very personal thing. Like any other sport, if you want to be stronger, faster and improve your stamina, you will need some basic coaching to get you going. The basics are not difficult to master but as you progress your skills you will need to train and you will need to be focused. When it all clicks into place you’ll never look back and the traditional forms of gym based exercise will wither into a pale, unremarkable memory.

20:80, this is our primary objective as a core fitness paddler. That’s 20% arm power and 80% coming from the rest of your body. Even if you have arms like the Hulk, they are still much more efficient when supported by the larger muscles throughout the rest of your body. When paddling I like to think of my arms mostly as the vehicles to hold onto my paddle. The amount of exercise my arms do will rely on everything I do with the rest of my body once I have inserted my entire blade into the water and developed a solid catch or anchor point from which I can pull. To elaborate just a little, the blade is designed to ‘catch’ water in the pocket which is the area (or side) of the blade that you look at before committing it to the water. Once the blade is fully submerged, you may then begin to squeeze and compress the water that is caught in the pocket. That compression will then transfer into forward propulsion (movement under power). The more efficiently you catch and compress the water with the paddle, combined with the amount of power you can generate by driving load down though the paddle into that blade and finally pulling through the shaft as you deliver rotation to your stroke, the faster you will go and the more anaerobic your exercise will become.

Before you can deliver any power to your arms and torso, you must fully stabilise you body from the waist down. You should ensure that your feet are no more than shoulder width distance apart and are in a slightly engaged stance (one foot half way in front of the other) and stood right over the ‘sweet-spot’ of your board so that it maintains a nice flat waterline when you power up. Your toes should be griping into the deck pad and you should crunch your powerful leg muscles into action so that they become fully stabilised in time for the full power phase. Once stabilised, you will then power up your Glutes, Traps and Lats before simultaneously driving power down from your top hand using your Triceps, Deltoids and Abdominals before finally delivering a burst of progressive power through a body rotation that uses your Obliques, your Lats your Pectorals, your Glutes, Hamstrings and Calves.

Hopefully, this explanation sparks some clarity on the matter of the 80:20’s paddler. It is clear to see that in 10 of the most prevalent muscle groups we use whilst stand up paddleboarding, just 2 groups (your Triceps and Deltoids) deliver your arm power to paddle.

So what are your stats?

If you would like to improve your paddle stroke for SUP Fitness, Safety or just because you want to become a more efficient and accomplished paddler, why not take a look at WeSUP’s all new SUP Academy. You can purchase any number of our modular courses to get paddling exactly how you want to paddle. Courses start from as little as £25 for a 60minute introductory group lesson and £60 for the 90minute private lesson. All courses include a competency award certificate and inclusion into our national data base where you can prove to other centres across the country that you have the skills to paddle


How’s your watersports experience: Do you even need any to SUP?

family paddle

SUP Experience; “One’s self-proclaimed paddling ability in multiple scenarios over ‘some’ time.”

Sean White – WeSUP Paddleboard Centre


A great question that I am asked often and one that taps right into the fabric of the sports popularity, broad appeal and rapid success. But worryingly it could also stem the foundation of the sports bad press.

Take a look at yourself… Are you a fair weather paddler? I expect so, and rightly so! It takes a rare bread of human to find that certain allure to the water when the wind is howling and the waves are up. But what happens if you find yourself in such a situation when you were not expecting it and quite frankly it’s the last place on earth that you’d wish to be?

It happens and unfortunately it’s happening more and more often in the world of SUP. Lot’s of you will have found your own way to develop your SUP skills which is what’s so awesome about SUP. On a flat lake or calm ocean when the wind is light visibility is good, you can take all you’ve learned from YouTube or what Dave told you and become a happy leisure paddler who’s looking like an absolute boss in his girlfriend’s eyes. But those of you without any professional training trying to paddle in more challenging environments are often easily recognisable as you paddle past with the grace of a drunk man leaving Whetherspoons, stood bolt up-right with a unsteady wobble, whilst using the wrong ratio of 80% arm power and just 20% core power. As well as giving the beach spectators something to giggle at, paddling in this way massively prohibits your ability to paddle efficiently over distance and against the wind. You’ll be burning your arms out and leaving yourself vulnerable to unnecessary fatigue and consequent injury. Most importantly you leave yourself at the mercy of the elements as you lack the technical ability to power through the wind and more challenging elements that often descend on you without warning.

Whilst that all sounds a little blunt, we really, really care about your personal safety and the reputation of our beloved sport. Many people getting into SUP are finding that this is the first watersport they have ever been able to achieve, enjoy and access regularly but the simplicity of the sport at base level is leading people into a false sense of security that the sport is always simple and always safe. The lack of watersports experience presents a natural lack of understanding of the dangers that open water a rapidly changing weather can present.

There are lots of great instructors right across the country that can offer you a fantastic beginners lesson which will at least arm you with the principle understanding of good paddle skill and the effects of paddling into the wind. Advanced lessons such as WeSUP’s Safe Paddler Award is designed to teach you about the things you perhaps have never considered whilst being prepared for the weather and giving you the skills to cope if it all goes wrong.

My advice is to always undertake training from a professional before you venture off into the unknown but in case you think it will never happen to you, please consider the following points,

  • Assess the weather and wind direction for the entire period of time that you intend on paddling. Also, check the weather at your destination as there is a good chance it will be different from where you set off.
  • Always wear your leash and ensure it is in perfect condition.
  • Do your best to not paddle further from the shore line than you can absolutely swim back.
  • If you do paddle far from the shore, ensure you wear a personal floatation device (PFD) that suits you. The Restube is a great option that you wear like a belt and wont hinder your paddling comfort.
  • If you paddle out of ear and eyes shot from help, take a form of communication with you in a waterproof pack so you can call for help or support if required. Calling home for a collection after you got stuck downwind could be a lifesaver.
  • Always let someone know where you are going, when you intend on coming back and most importantly how to get hold of you in case of concern.
  • If you are going on a journey for fitness or adventure, plan for the worst. Pack a waterproof pack with a first aid kit, an extra layer for warmth, some water, and something to eat for energy