SAN DIEGO, California — Stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) athletes claim the sport provides increased muscle strength, core conditioning, better balance and an excellent cardio workout. But do these claims stand up to scientific scrutiny? To find out, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) commissioned two comprehensive studies at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and University of California, San Diego, providing a thorough examination of the health benefits of this untraditional form of physical activity.
“A key takeaway from these studies is that stand-up paddle boarding is a unique way to incorporate healthy activity in your life, and the better you get at it the more health benefits you see,” says ACE Chief Science Officer Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D.
STUDY #1 – ACTIVATION OF CORE MUSCLES
The first study at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, led by Jeanne F. Nichols, Ph.D., evaluated the activation of core muscles during stand-up paddle boarding. Study participants wore electromyography electrodes on specific core muscles groups while paddling at various intensities to measure the strength level of activity for each muscle examined. The data found that front ab muscles and muscles along the lower spine (rectus abdominis and erector spinae) were effectively stimulated, even at lower intensities, while the muscles that run along the sides of the body (external obliques) needed the highest level of paddling intensity to reach significant levels of activation. This level of intensity requires good form that twists the torso with each paddle stroke, which in turn activates the external obliques enough to provide a stimulus sufficient to strengthen them.
“To get the comprehensive core benefit many people mention in reference to stand-up paddle boarding, you need to have relatively advanced form or technique, which only comes with practice. Without this high level of experience, you still get a good workout, you’re just not engaging the full suite of abdominal muscles,” says Bryant.
Left: Lara Claydon demonstrating a more experienced paddle technique as compared to the photo on the right which is more beginner. | Photos via: Lara Claydon & Lisette Fee
STUDY #2 – CALORIC OUTPUT AND CARDIORESPIRATORY FUNCTION
The second study, which took place at the University of California, San Diego, under the leadership of Jeanne F. Nichols, Ph.D., examined the number of calories burned during stand-up paddle boarding and the benefits to cardiorespiratory function. The study utilized testing in a lab environment pool as well as out on the open water of San Diego Bay. During the lab portion, participants wore a chest-mounted portable breath-by-breath metabolic system to measure everything from heart rate to the amount of oxygen they used. When on the open water, participants’ heart rates and distances travelled were measured with a sport watch.
The research showed that experience with stand-up paddle boarding was key to achieving a beneficial workout. While in the lab, both novice and experienced paddle boarders reached the intensity of exercise needed to improve cardiorespiratory health. However, on the open water, most novice paddle boarders didn’t reach the level of exercise needed to significantly improve cardiorespiratory function, while experienced paddle boarders did so easily. According to Bryant, “The difference seen in the two settings is likely attributable to a lack of comfort on the water, which would improve over time. Both groups of researchers remind us that there is great value in leisurely exercise and getting outdoors, but if you are using stand-up paddle boarding as a means of achieving a good workout, you have to paddle with intent.”
To view the study, click HERE.
The nonprofit organization American Council on Exercise (ACE) educates, certifies and represents more than 60,000 currently certified fitness professionals, health coaches and other allied health professionals. ACE advocates for a new intersection of fitness and healthcare, bringing the highly qualified professionals ACE represents into the healthcare continuum so they can contribute to the national solution to physical inactivity and obesity. ACE is the largest certifier in its space and all four of its primary certification programs are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), the gold standard in the United States for accreditation of certifications that assess professional competence. ACE also plays an important public-service role, conducting and providing science-based research and resources on safe and effective physical activity and sustainable behavior change. For more information, call 800-825-3636 or visit ACEfitness.org. AMERICAN COUNCIL ON EXERCISE, ACE and ACE logos are Registered Trademarks of the American Council on Exercise.