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In last month’s SUP Fitness article, “Lower Back, Active Rest & Nutrition”, we took a look at the importance of strengthening your lower back in relation to improving strength and endurance for stand up paddling. This month, as a natural extension, we will focus on your core. The word “core” has become a fitness buzzword over the past few years and with good reason.

Michael Booth SUP Fitnes
When we think of the word ‘core’, one can’t help but think of champion paddler Michael Booth. Michael’s strong fitness and core strength has seen him through to more 1st place finishes than most. The strength of core means you CAN paddle more!

Core Workout, Recovery & Nutrition for Stand Up Paddlers

What exactly is your core? The muscles of the core consist of your transverse abdominis (located on each side of the naval), internal and external obliques (extending diagonally from ribs to pelvis) rectus abdominis ( the” six-pack”) and the multifidus and erector spinae (located along the spine from head to pelvis). Structurally, these muscles make up the foundation of your upper body. Strengthening them will have benefits far beyond improving your paddling.

So much of what we do is dependent upon our core muscles. A strong core will improve balance and stability in addition to enhancing your paddling. Core strength is at the top of the food chain when it comes to SUP fitness, performance and injury prevention. So what can you do to strengthen your core?  Here are two effective and relatively simple core exercises that can be done pretty much anywhere: Dead Bug and Superman. No, this isn’t the title of another comic book movie but two of the very best core exercises a paddler can do!

These two exercises will help provide you with a stronger foundation from which to paddle and continue to develop your stand up paddling performance.

SUP Fitness Exercise #1:  Dead Bug   

The dead bug exercise is performed on the ground. Be sure you have a mat or carpet or patch of soft ground to perform them (gravel driveways not recommended).

  1. Lay on the ground with arms extended straight up over your chest so they form a perpendicular angle with your torso. Bend your knees to lift them to a 90-degree angle by lifting your feet off the ground. Your torso and thighs should form a right angle, as should your thighs and shins. This is the starting position. See photo for details
  2. Maintain contact between your lower back and the ground. You want to make sure your spine maintains this neutral position throughout the exercise.
  3. Keep your right arm and left leg exactly where they are, then slowly reach your left arm backward, over your head and toward the floor as you simultaneously extend your right knee and hip, reaching your right heel toward the floor. Move slowly and steadily, breathing in as you perform the extensions, avoiding any twisting or movement of your hips and abs. Stop the movement just before your arm and leg touch the ground.
  4. Reverse the movement and return your left arm and right leg to their starting positions. Move slowly and steadily, exhaling as you go.
  5. Perform the same movements to the opposite sides, this time keeping your left arm and right leg steady as you extend your right arm and left leg.
  6. Do the same number of repetitions on each side. When you complete a full set, simply return your feet to the ground and sit up.

DEAD BUG exercise for paddlers SUP Fitness

The number of repetitions on each side will vary according to your fitness level. If you are new to the movement, execute 6 reps per side for 3 sets, and then gradually work your way up to 10-12 repetitions per set.

SUP Fitness Exercise #2: Superman

The Superman exercise is also performed on the ground, so stay down there!

  1.   Lie face-down on the floor with your arms extended in front of you (palms down) and your legs extended behind you. This is the starting position. See photo for details.
  2. Keeping your neck in line with your spine (don’t arch), lift your arms, chest, and legs up off the floor.
  3. Pause and breathe into your lower back. Then lower your arms and legs back to the starting position.

The time you are able to hold the top position will depend upon your fitness level and familiarity with the exercise. If you are a novice, even a 5-second hold can be demanding. Try to do 3 sets of at least 5 seconds. As you become stronger and more proficient, you can work your way up to 15-25 second holds (even if it’s a gain of one second per week) for 3 sets.

Superman exercise for paddlers SUP fitness


I recommend doing these exercises together for maximal results. I suggest doing 3 sets of each, alternating each exercise- 1 set of Dead Bug, 1 Superman and repeat twice.

SUP Fitness Recovery Strategy-  Foam Rolling

As stand up paddlers and surfers, we can all relate to being sore, stiff or achy after a long session. One of the best ways to reduce soreness, improve flexibility, and get back on the water faster is the use of a foam roller. Unfortunately, I see many stand up paddlers doing the opposite of what they should be doing post session- sitting and resting – when it would benefit them greatly to do some type of cool down exercise. Foam rolling and light stretching are the ideal combination. Together, these two post session movements will help flush metabolic toxins built up within your muscles during your session. This simple solution can help avoid a good amount of the soreness and stiffness you may feel later without doing a cool down exercise.

According to Joe McNicoll, a Doctor of Physical Therapy in Londonderry, NH, the best time to use a foam roller for recovery depends on when you have exercised. Generally, it holds maximum benefit when you foam roll immediately post session and again 12-24 hours afterwards. You should spend 3-5 minutes vigorously working the muscles that are sore. After rolling, do some basic stretching to make the benefits of foam rolling even more effective and longer lasting. Foam rolling and light stretching are great activities to include on your active rest days.

For more on Active Rest, refer to last month’s Fitness Tips:
  Lower Back, Active Rest & Nutrition

There are many types of rollers, but the two most common are hand held or floor models. I prefer the floor models as they cover more surface area on my body and can provide more pressure resistance to sore muscles. Here are a few examples of foam rolling exercises using a floor model below:

SUP Fitness foam rolling

* Special Thanks to Joe McNicoll, DPT, CSCS*

SUP Fitness Recovery Fuel: The Smoothie

One of the best things about a stand up paddling session, be it surfing on the waves or paddling in the flats is the post session consumption of food and drink. It goes without saying that water should be a priority, but for recovery fuel there are some options.

Some paddlers prefer malted beverages (aka “adult beverage”) as a post session drink of choice. However, while it can be fun to rehash the session over malted beverages, for optimal recovery consider a self-made smoothie first. Beware store bought smoothies that can be laden with sugars and often have low protein content! A true smoothie not only helps you replenish nutrients depleted from your paddle session, but will help you recover faster. The beauty of a smoothie is that you can blend pretty much anything you like (I suggest refraining from a rib eye however) to create a super nutritious and delicious post session drink. Here is one recipe that fits the bill:

3/4 cup Almond Milk
1/2 Cup water
1 1/2 – 2 scoops Whey Protein *
1 Tbsp. Chia seeds
1 Tbsp Goji powder
1/2 Tsp. cinnamon
1/2 small frozen banana
1 cup frozen blueberries (or any frozen fruit)
1 handful fresh spinach leaves
*If you follow a plant based diet you can substitute Pea or Hemp Protein for the Whey Protein.

SUP Fitness smoothie nutrition

This smoothie is packed with phytonutrients, fiber and protein for optimal post session recovery!

Until next month, stay strong, stay safe and stay stoked!!


Questions on Fitness or Nutrition? Feel free to email me

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