SUP Training – How to Train for Paddle Boarding

Are you tired of leisure paddling and now want to take your SUP routine to the next level? Or are you thinking about getting into competitive SUP, and want to know where to start? Stand up paddle boarding does not always have to be an easy, relaxing activity. It can be a fantastic workout whether you’re looking to become a competitive SUP racer, or you just want to add a different dimension to your training. Athletes can benefit from adding paddling to their training regime.

This is where SUP training can be a valuable asset to anyone who wants to take their fitness (or their paddling skills) to the next level. A good training program will keep you consistent, reduce the risk of injury, engage different muscles, and build strength and endurance. 

So here, I’ll talk about everything you need to train efficiently–schedules, different exercises, a few useful tips, and using technology in your training. 

Let’s get into it. 

Creating a Schedule for Your SUP Training

How your training schedule will look depends on what you’re training for. You could be training for fitness, for a specific SUP race or just for the purpose of becoming a faster, more efficient paddler. 

If you are SUP training for a race, you obviously need to start way before the race, about three months prior is a good estimate. Here is a brief example of what a three month SUP training schedule could look like, and what you can focus on:

Month One 

Your focus should be on increasing speed and endurance in the first month. This will prepare you to paddle the entire race distance faster than your current speed. 

Your training plan for this first month should involve you pushing yourself a little more each time. It’s important that you be consistent for better results. 

Ensure that you spend a considerable amount of time on the water, from 5 hours to 20 hours a week. It depends on your skill level. The more time you spend on the water the more you’ll be prepared mentally and physically for the race. 

Warm up for a few minutes before getting into the water. Next, paddle leisurely for about 10 minutes then do a long intense paddle for almost an hour. After that, paddle easily for a few minutes to cool down. 

Month Two

With the race getting closer in the second month, the training becomes more intense and you’ll have to increase your training load. Try to train for 5 days a week, an hour or so each day. You should consider combining endurance training and interval training too, especially if you’re preparing for a sprint race.  

Interval training exercises your heart muscle so you’ll be able to paddle more intensely and for longer periods of time. 

You could do three days of endurance exercises and two days of interval exercises, or three days of interval exercises, depending on what your goal is.  

Month Three

In the third and last month, you may be tempted to push harder as your SUP racing event approaches. But this is a bad idea. All the hard work is behind you now and you don’t want to get burnt out just before the big day. 

Your goal is not to lose previous gains but instead to maintain your fitness level or slightly improve it, and you should really consider resting more the week before the race. 

This is just a brief example of what your program could include. If you want more inspiration, there are many SUP training programs or plans online that you can use to come up with your own personal schedule.

Bart De Zwart’s training schedule is great–and he’s a pro too. You can copy it and maybe change it a little bit to suit your training needs. Here is another useful guide by a pro SUPer to help you create your own plan. 

Fantastic Training Exercises for Paddle Boarders

If you’re looking for some exercises to include in your workout schedule, here are a few ideas. 

Warm-Up Exercises

Warm-up exercises are easy workouts that you perform before your paddling session to prepare your muscles. 

You can do a simple 10-minute walk on the beach as your warm-up activity. 

Another good one is the classic arm rotation. It does a great job of activating your back muscles which are crucial for stand up paddle boarding. 

ALSO READ: What Muscle Groups Does Stand Up Paddle Boarding Work?

Stretch your arm in front of you and rotate it up, back, down, and repeat. Change directions after a few rotations, then do the same with your other arm. 

You could also try an arm swing to open up your chest, shoulders, and back. Swing your arms, crossing them in front of you, and swinging them back repeatedly. 

Strength and Endurance Exercises

Endurance and strength training helps you build your strength and fitness level on those days when you may not be able to get to the water. 

Squats are an amazing strength exercise for paddle boarders. They help strengthen your leg muscles, which are some of the key muscles used for paddle boarding. New paddlers who complain about soreness after SUP boarding will also benefit from this. 

I’ve seen people add a variation by doing squats while holding their paddle up with both arms. This ensures that you’re building strength in your shoulders and back as well. 

Another good strength exercise is the plank as it helps to build core strength. You use your core a lot while SUPing. So the stronger it is, the better your paddling technique will be. 

Last but not least, don’t forget the push-up. You need to strengthen those chest, back, abdominal, and arm muscles to make you a more efficient paddler. 

Flexibility and Mobility Exercises

Mobility and flexibility training enables you to have a wide range of motion and you’ll be less prone to injuries and soreness. This is important when doing SUP training because it can get intense. 

Here is one exercise that you can try. 

Key Rules for Successful SUP Training

The following tips will help you make the most out of your SUP training and exercise routine. 

Have a Schedule for Maximum Efficiency

Without a plan, your training will be all over the place and you won’t be able to attain peak performance. 

Before creating your schedule, research thoroughly and look for other SUP athletes’ plans to see what you can incorporate into your own schedule. Most importantly, consult with your doctor. 

If possible, talk to a professional paddle boarder to help you. 

A good SUP training schedule acts as a guide, ensuring that you’re training appropriately for maximum benefits. Make sure you follow it too. It will keep you in line so you don’t overdo or underdo it. 

Rest Is an Important Part of Training

Rest and recovery is a very critical component of training. You can’t just keep going and pushing because you’ll suffer from muscle fatigue and burnout. Contrary to what you may believe, you also won’t be making much progress if you don’t allow yourself to rest. 

Rest days help with muscle growth and recovery. You’ll be less likely to suffer injuries too. 

So take the rest periods on your training schedule seriously because your body needs it–as does your mind.  

Don’t Forget to Watch Your Diet

Nutrition is another crucial part of training that many people may fail to consider. 

Endurance sports require a lot of energy and, in training, all those exercises will use up much of your body’s resources. You need to eat well to replenish the energy used and for your body’s recovery. 

Eating well also makes you healthier and more prepared for any upcoming SUP races. Consult your doctor or nutritionist to help you come up with a meal plan so you know what to eat and when to eat. 

Balance Intensity and Volume for Great Results

Volume vs intensity: should you train long or train hard? 

It’s important to balance both when doing your paddle board training. Long-distance paddling at 50% or so of your maximum heart rate is good but incorporating high-intensity workouts will do you well too. 

So don’t just focus on high volume and forget intensity. It will greatly improve your V02 max and overall cardiovascular fitness. 

While on this, I should mention the importance of cross-training for a SUP athlete. Cross-training sessions in your schedule allow you to maintain your fitness level while giving your muscles time to recover. Repetitive exercises can lead to injuries. 

Perfect Your SUP Technique

All the training in the world won’t be of much help if you haven’t perfected your paddling technique. 

The proper paddling technique ensures that you use the bigger muscle groups, not just your arms and legs. This gives your paddle stroke more power–which will go a long way in an endurance event. You’ll be able to paddle faster and farther without getting worn out too quickly.

Additionally, the right technique will keep you from getting injured. If you’re not sure that you’re doing it properly, talk to a SUP coach so they can guide you. It doesn’t hurt to ask for help.

Make Good Use of SUP Technology

If technology can help you train better, why not use it? Here are a few addons that you can include in your SUP training, to better execute and keep track of your routine.


Most stand up paddle boards come with a GoPro mount attached. So make use of it and get a GoPro camera. 

A GoPro is not just for capturing awesome memories. It also helps you analyze your form and paddling technique once you’re out of the water. It enables you to see what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. 

You can go over the footage with a coach and they’ll help you practice properly. If you don’t have a coach, there are SUP communities that you can join to find dedicated paddlers like yourself – SUPAA (Stand Up Paddle Athletes Association) is a good example. 

Wearable Devices

Wearable devices help you track your heart rate, speed, oxygen levels, hydration status, and more. You’ll have all the data you need and access to your overall training load so you can see your progress.

Some smartwatches, like the Garmin Vivoactive, are great for paddle sports as well because they can track your stroke rate. That’s pretty cool. 

Stand Up Paddle Boarding Apps

You’d be surprised to know how many stand up paddle boarding apps are at your disposal and how useful they can be. 

An app like Geo SUP, for instance, tracks the time you take for each SUP session, your course, wind speed, your highest speed, and average speed. It’s a good app that will let you know whether you’re making any progress with your paddling speed.

Go Paddling is another useful app that helps you find paddling spots. You can use it to find new locations for your SUP training. It’s available on Google Play and the App Store. 

These are just two of the many apps you can find. There are more apps designed for different purposes such as to ensure your safety and to help you track weather and water conditions. 

Benefits of Proper Paddle Board Training

So, why should you take the time to train for paddle boarding? There are multiple benefits that come with paddle boarding, but it should be noted that having a dedicated SUP training routine unlocks even more positive attributes, some of which I’ll discuss here. 

Higher Fitness Level

Good SUP training will build your muscles, make you stronger, and boost your endurance. It will increase your energy levels and allow you to paddle more efficiently for longer periods of time. 

SUP training makes you a better paddler and tones your muscles too. Even though you’re not preparing for races or any events, you’ll be able to go on longer and more interesting SUP touring expeditions with your buddies (or alone). 

Increased VO2 Max

Stand up paddle boarding is an endurance activity and endurance athletes typically have a higher VO2 max than the general population. A higher value makes it easier for you to perform physical activities, not just paddle boarding. 

You will notice that even your daily activities like going up the stairs will get easier. 

Additionally, a high VO2 max translates to a lower risk of lifestyle diseases. 

Improved Performance in Competitions

If you always come last in all the SUP competitions you enter, you could greatly benefit from SUP training. 

A proper training plan will make you a better SUP athlete and you’ll start performing better in races. This may mean a lot if you’re looking to get into professional paddle boarding. (That’s quickly becoming a thing). 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Do You Need Training for SUP?

It depends. If you want to paddle casually at the nearby lake, you don’t need training for SUP. You just need a safe space to practice your paddle boarding skills. Even a paddler friend can teach you.

However, if you want to participate in SUP races and events, you will need proper SUP training. You first have to start by getting the right equipment, perfecting your form, creating a training plan, and following the plan.

How Do I Get in Shape for SUP?

You don’t need to get in shape for paddle boarding. Anybody can paddle board, regardless of age and size.

But if you’re looking to become a SUP athlete, you will have to get in shape. Talk to your doctor, find a SUP coach or SUP pro, and get ready to do the work. Consistency will produce improvement over time.

What Muscles Do You Use When Paddle Boarding?

Paddle boarding works most of the muscles in your body, not just your arms. Paddling utilizes your arm, shoulder, back, abdominal, core, and leg muscles. Almost every muscle from your neck to your feet is put to work.

Wrapping Up

Proper SUP training is essential for anyone looking to become a SUP athlete. Or if you just want to be able to participate in different SUP races and events. Those are becoming quite popular. 

As with everything else, you first need a schedule so you can focus on the correct systems and not just train aimlessly. Sit down with your doctor, contact a SUP coach, and scour online for different training plans by pros. 

Make sure you do different off-water exercises, especially if you don’t have time to paddle daily. Cross train too to avoid injuries caused by repetitive movements. 

Don’t forget to make good use of technology as it will put you ahead. 

Good luck and have fun!