What Muscles Do You Use When Stand Up Paddle Boarding?

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Stand up paddle boarding is a fantastic aerobic workout.

It gets the blood pumping, works multiple muscles, and is a great way to burn calories.

But is it a good workout if you’re trying to build big arms or a strong core? Does it work your lower body or your upper body?

Let’s find out.

What Muscles Do You Use on a Stand Up Paddle Board?

Although stand up paddle boarding is a full-body workout, some muscles are worked much more than others and they include:

Quadriceps and Hamstrings

Your legs don’t move much on a stand up paddle board, but they still play an important role and will get a great workout.

Your quads (above the knees and on the front) and your hamstrings (on the back) are the muscles used the most.

You should also activate the glutes, AKA your butt.

If your legs aren’t very strong, you’ll feel it after a short while.

They may weaken and feel a little jellified, and when that happens, you’ll lose the balance and stability that you need to stand on the SUP board.

If this is happening a lot and you find that your lower body tires much sooner than your upper body, it means they’re underworked and underdeveloped—it’s time to hit the gym.

You can build these muscle groups by performing squats and lunges.

Use progressive overload (keep adding more weight to the bar), go all-out during every workout, and your legs should catch up before long.

Abdominal Muscles

Core strength is key for stand up paddle boarding.

It helps you to keep your balance on the SUP board and provides more upper body strength. Your abdominal muscles will get a great workout as you fight to keep your balance and drive your way through the water.

You won’t get a six-pack from a few stand up paddle boarding sessions (six-packs are more about low body fat than heavy workouts) but you will build a stronger core.


Your deltoid muscles are your shoulder muscles and are located at the tops of your arms.

These muscles are activated with most upper body workouts and aid with overall strength.

You will engage your shoulder muscles when swimming, playing tennis, throwing balls, and even bench pressing.

And if you do any of these things excessively or with improper form, you may experience shoulder issues (often caused by the joint and rotator cuff, and not the muscle itself) that could make your paddle boarding difficult.

You’ll need to keep this in mind if you play any sports or perform any activities that are demanding on your shoulders.

If you’re swimming for cardio, performing push-ups, bench presses, and military presses as a workout, and then cooling down by hopping on a stand up paddle board, you’ll be punishing your shoulders.

Back Muscles

The latissimus dorsi muscle is the largest muscle in the upper body.

Also known as the “lats”, these back muscles are located on either side of the lower spine and help to create the “V” taper shape often seen in athletes and bodybuilders.

The trapezius muscle is also activated when stand up paddle boarding.

Known colloquially as the “traps” these symmetrical muscles are located either side of the upper spine.

They protrude from the area between the neck and the shoulders and are activated with a simple shrug, as well as the pulling motions used in stand up paddle boarding.

Triceps and Biceps

If you hold out your arms and bend at the elbow in a traditional “look at my guns” pose, the biceps are on the top and the triceps are on the bottom.

Your triceps and biceps are basically the push and pull muscles of the arm.

When you push out or down with your arms, you’ll be engaging your triceps.

When you pull forward, you’re probably using your biceps.

Your back also comes into play using these actions and proper paddle form will engage your back and shoulders more than your triceps and biceps.

Other Muscles Worked on a SUP

Your feet are also utilized when you paddle a SUP board.

There are lots of little muscles in your feet and while you can’t really “build” these like you can your biceps or triceps, they will definitely get a workout.

In fact, many first-time paddle boarders complain of aches and pains in their feet after a session or two.

It’s like when you hit the gym for the first time and blast your muscles on isolation machines—you’re placing a greater strain on those muscles than they have ever felt, and so they are going to be sore.

Your rhomboids, located underneath the traps, will also get a good workout, as will many other small muscles.

More importantly, paddle boarding is a great workout for your heart, the most important muscle of all.

Summary: Stand Up Paddle Boarding is a Great Workout

Going for a stand up paddle board workout just once or two a week is a great way to boost your overall health.

It’s a fantastic full-body exercise that is low impact, low intensity, and helps with your balance, strength, and flexibility while also improving your overall cardiovascular health.

You could reduce your risk of a stroke and heart attack, increase your strength, burn calories, and more.

After a few weeks or months, you should also see some big improvements in muscle tone.