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Is Stand-Up Paddleboarding a Good Workout?

I've Exercised For Years, and This Is the Only Workout That Made My Abs Sore

From CrossFit to hot yoga to indoor cycling, I love all things fitness. I'm one of those weirdos that looks forward to a tough workout — and actually likes doing burpees. So when someone told me stand-up paddleboarding was a good workout, I honestly laughed in their face. I couldn't imagine I would get much benefit from standing up and casually paddling around, especially when I could be in the gym squatting a heavy barbell or doing an ab circuit. How wrong I was.

Last weekend, I went stand-up paddleboarding for the first time, and I walked away with abs so sore, it still hurts to laugh. I went to Butterfly Beach in Santa Barbara with a group of several other fitness-loving folks, and most of the others who had done stand-up paddleboarding before gave me a look of warning.

"It's harder than it looks," someone said. I waved it off with an unhealthy degree of confidence.

I started by standing on my knees, which was shockingly difficult enough. When I was finally feeling sure enough of myself, I slowly stood up on my feet, and I was floored at how much I wobbled around. I nearly fell over several times, and the only reason I didn't was because I was clenching my abs tighter than I ever had before in my life.

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That was just the start. After catching my balance, I started paddling, which was yet another layer of work for my abs. The most surprising part was how much core stability it took to pull the paddle in toward my body, particularly when I was working against the current of the ocean. It had nothing to do with my arms — it was all about bracing my abdominals and pushing my hips forward, almost like you do at the end of a kettlebell swing. I was sweating within the first 15 minutes, and doing this motion over and over again for a full hour took its toll on me.

I don't know if it was because it was especially windy that day, which made it even harder to paddle in the direction you wanted to go, or because I had never done this kind of activity before, but this was genuinely one of the hardest ab workouts I've ever done — and trust me, I've done some insane ab workouts. There is no rest or downtime for your core when you're stand-up paddleboarding, because even if you take a break from the actual paddling, you still have to have your abs constantly engaged in order to stay upright. And my stubborn self had no interest in falling over, so my abs were working overtime.

As I climbed under the covers that night to go to sleep, I cringed at how sore my core was. It was a feeling I hadn't experienced in a long, long time (probably since the first time I did the CrossFit Hero WOD Annie, which is nothing but double unders and sit-ups), but I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it. Knowing I had completed such a killer workout that actually felt like fun was so rewarding. My biggest takeaway? I'll never scoff at stand-up paddleboarders ever again.

Travel expenses for the author were provided by Cercone Brown Company for the purpose of writing this story.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Kathryna Hancock
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