Paddleboard: Effective Core Paddling

Are you missing out on the incredible fitness benefits of paddleboarding due to lack of core engagement?

I love that SUP is easily accessible, but I dislike the misconception that there’s nothing to it. Just like any sport there is effective and ineffective technique that can make or break your experience.

If your main goal with SUP is to get out, lounge and float then read no further. You’ve probably got all that you need, and I hope that includes a leash and a PFD.

If you want to reap the core strengthening, balance and fitness benefits of paddleboarding then read on.

Effective Core Technique for Paddleboarding

The muscles in the core are much bigger and stronger than the muscles in the arms. When we engage the core through torso rotation (twisting) and hinging at the waist we effectively move our board forward with less energy loss. When we paddle with our arms only we end up wasting a lot of our energy moving water instead of moving the board. When we learn to harness the power of our core we paddle effortlessly yet powerfully because most of our energy transfers to moving the board forward.

Using the big muscles of the core also helps to prevent injury in the shoulders. When we attempt to power our board with our arms only we end up putting a lot of torque on the shoulders and create a lot of tension and imbalance in that area.

Forward Stroke Basics

The forward stroke is the stroke you’ll use most in SUP. It propels you forward and allows you to glide and walk on water! Here are the key points to focus on:

Soft Knees

Keep the knees soft and slightly bent so they can act as shock absorbers. People think of standing up straight to stand up paddleboard, but you actually stand in a mini squat the whole time which is great for the glutes!

Arms Straight

Keeping the arms straight forces us to engage the core instead of pulling with our arms. This is the most challenging technique for most people to integrate and it is life changing! It is the key to core engagement. Keep both arms straight throughout your entire forward stroke.

Hands Stacked

Stack your hands on top of one another so that your paddle is completely vertical when it enters the water. This will help your core wind up for the catch and also give you the most reach and purchase on the water.

Unwind and Hinge

For the propulsion phase of the stroke unwind the torso as you press down onto the paddle with your top hand. This drives the entire blade down into the water. You can also think of your body movement through the propulsion phase as a side crunch with a small hinge forward. You’re essentially doing a little sit up/side crunch with every stroke!

Drop the Top Hand to Recover

Your propulsion phase should only last to just behind your foot. Forward strokes are a lot shorter than people think. To release the paddle from the water drop your top hand to slice the paddle out of the water and return to the catch.

Here’s a short video that demos effective forward stroke technique incorporating the points above.


And here is a video in which I go into more detail explaining the concepts above:

If you want more tips and instruction check my my online Paddleboard for Beginners course on DailyOm.com – starts at $10 for an 8 week series that includes strokes, concepts, maneuvers, gear and safety. Bonuses include a class on SUP yoga as well as Yoga for Paddling classes.

To get in-person SUP coaching on the water contact me for custom private and group lessons and check out my SUP and SUP yoga Instructor Certification Courses.

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Meet Anna Levesque

Anna Levesque is the leading expert on paddling instruction for women and yoga for paddling, including SUP Yoga. Named one of the most inspirational paddlers alive by Canoe and Kayak Magazine, Anna’s twenty-plus years of experience as an accomplished international competitor, instructor, coach and author has landed her in mainstream publications such as TIME, SHAPE and SELF.

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