| Last online: 11.17.2022
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Are Inflatable Paddleboards Better Than Hard Ones?

NEW YORK (Reuters) - small paddle board has surged to a fast-growing water sport that fitness experts say delivers a full-body workout to anyone exercising on an ocean, lake or river.

About 1.2 million people tried mini stand up paddle board in 2011, up 18 percent from 2010, according to the Outdoor Industry Association’s 2012 report, and nearly 60 percent of SUP enthusiasts tried it for the first time in 2011.

SUP is said to have started when surfing instructors in Hawaii stood up on their boards to photograph their clients. It involves standing on a long board and using a single paddle to propel through the water.

“It’s accessible to just about anyone with any athletic inclination,” said Will Taylor, associate editor of SUP Magazine. “Even my grandmother would be able to paddle around on flat water.”

SUP boards are larger and much more stable than standard surf boards, Taylor said.

“If you’re older, you can basically take a stroll on the water: paddle slowly, take in sights,” he explained. “If you’re a marathoner, you can paddle really hard or do intervals.”

Taylor said just standing on the unstable platform engages the stabilizer muscles, while paddling targets the upper body.

“This is a little more full body than surfing because you’re standing the whole time,” he explained. “It’s a balancing act. The core is really getting worked.”

Carey Bond, an instructor and guide at Manhattan Kayak Company in New York City, co-founded the Suplogix research group to explore the biomechanics of small inflatable paddle board.

“The health and fitness benefits are proving to be quite significant,” said Bond, whose company uses biotechnology to measure muscle activation during SUP.

“All of your stabilizing muscles in hip, lower leg, knee joint are activated in a therapeutic way to stabilize balance on the unstable surface,” he said.

The intensity of the workout also depends on the body of water, according to Dr. Cedric Bryant, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise.

“Balance, core strength and endurance are among the significant fitness benefits,” Bryant said. “Paddling is a great core workout, engaging every muscle either actively or as core stabilizer, and paddling out on the ocean with waves and currents can be really intense.”

At the New York Kayak Company, which teaches beginners to SUP on the Hudson River, SUP classes are fuller than kayak classes.

“We teach people how to get up, how to propel the board forward, how to maneuver, how to avoid falling, how to get back on board and fall off the board,” said owner Randall Henriksen.

“There’s less technique than with kayaking and the equipment is lighter and easier to use,” he said, adding a lot of people start it as a way to lose weight.

Henriksen said people new to SUP find themselves flooded with unfamiliar sensory data because standing on dry land isn’t the same as standing on a board in water.

“A lot of the techniques are counterintuitive,” he explained, adding most people get the hang of it after one two-hour lesson.

His company has also started SUP yoga sessions.

“We’re holding a pose rather than flowing,” he said. “The more advanced people will do headstands. Yoga people love this.”

Experts agree that anyone attempting SUP should be comfortable in the water.

“Knowing how to swim is a good idea for everybody, especially for people who want to engage in water sports,” Henriksen said. “But Eskimos didn’t know how to swim, that’s why they had kayaks.”

Stand up rescue inflatable paddle board is a rapidly growing sport and recreational activity where anecdotal evidence exists for its proposed health, fitness and injury rehabilitation benefits. While limited scientific evidence exists to substantiate these claims, previous studies have shown that high levels of fitness, strength and balance exists amongst participants of this sport. The purpose of this study was to conduct a training intervention on a group of previously untrained individuals to ascertain the potential of SUP on various health parameters.


An intervention study was conducted where after being tested initially, subjects were left for 6 weeks to act as their own control before the SUP intervention began. A total of 13 SUP participants completed the training study (nine males, four females) which was comprised of three 1 h sessions per week for 6 weeks.

Stand up paddle boarding (SUP) originated in Hawaii in the 50's and is a mixture of both surfing and paddling [1]. It is an emerging recreational activity which has attracted attention for its proposed fitness, strength and balance benefits. Anecdotally, SUP is thought to be a beneficial clinical training tool as it possesses many facets of an ideal rehabilitative exercise [2]. However our recent review of the literature has identified minimal scientific evidence to substantiate the proposed benefits.

Stand up 10 foot inflatable paddle board is a physical activity in which the participant maintains a standing position on a board similar to a surfboard. However, stand up paddle boards are longer in length (8–15', 2.44–4.57 m), thicker (4–8", 10.16–20.32 cm) and wider (26–31", 66.04–78.74 cm) than traditional surfboards. Stand up paddle boarding involves a participant getting to their feet on a large board before using the long paddle for propulsion with strokes on either side of the body [3]. Paddling involves the similar biomechanics of dragon boat racing which has the paddling mechanics of an entry, drive and exit of the paddle from the water [4]. It requires a rhythmic alternating paddle to propel the craft through the water. Isometric contractions of the entire trunk, gluteals and lower leg musculature are required to counter the rotational forces from the pull phase of each paddling stroke [2].

One of the major attractions of SUP is that it is thought to a good fitness training tool. Physical activity is well understood to increase cardiovascular fitness which is associated with cardiovascular mortality [5]. Physical inactivity is a major modifiable risk factor of a range of non‐communicable diseases such as diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis and some forms of cancer [6]. Physical activity significantly improves overall health, lowers the risk of heart disease by 40 %, stroke by 27 % and lowers the incidence of hypertension by almost 50 % [7]. Physical activity has also been associated with improved mental health and well‐being, minimizing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and depression [6].

Our prior research has demonstrated that high levels of aerobic and anaerobic fitness, core strength and balance are possessed by those classed as elite amongst this sport [8, 9]. Given the issue of sedentary behaviour and limited scientific research on SUP regarding the anecdotal claims of benefit of this activity, our intention was to assess the benefit of SUP on a group of sedentary, untrained individuals with respect to fitness, strength, balance and self-rated quality of life.

A total of 18 sedentary individuals (ten males, eight females) were recruited through radio and media advertisements about the study. A total of 13 individuals (four females, nine males) completed the training program. Inclusion criteria required individuals to have not been participating in physical activity for the last 6 months and were aged between 18 and 60 years. Exclusion criteria included a history of back pain, physical and psychological impairment. The study was approved by the University Human Research Ethics Committee (RO-1550) and each participant formally consented to taking part in the study.

The training program consisted of 3 1 h sessions per week for 6 weeks. There was a rest period of 48 h before subsequent sessions with no sessions being performed on Sundays for either group. Participants were given longer, wider boards to begin with (~11' length, 33" width, 4.6" thickness), before moving on to shorter, narrower boards (~length 9'1, 29.5"width, 4.4" thickness) to challenge postural control more as the weeks progressed. The intensity of the sessions was gradually increased until week three where high intensity sprint based training was incorporated into the week with the long slow sessions. Initially, participants were paddling 1 km in an endurance session, which increased to 10 km by then end of the training program. High intensity initially involved 2 min of 10 s paddling, 10 s resting which progressed to 5 min of 10 s on, 10 s off. Given the similar, low initial fitness of the males and females, the same training program was provided to all participants of this study. The majority of the training sessions were performed on the SUP boards with some minimal land based training which included running from the shore to the SUP boards to begin a paddle session. Participants were instructed to perform no other physical activity apart from the SUP training during the interventional period.

For testing, participants attended the human performance laboratory where they were assessed for height and weight on a standard medical balance scale (Seca, 700, Hamburg, Deutschland). Body composition and basal metabolic rate was assessed using bio-electrical impedance (Tanita Body Composition Analyzer MC-980MA, Illinois, USA) as this has been shown to successfully determine body composition [10]. Bloods lipids were analysed prior to exercise using a portable analyser (Cardiochek, P.A. Indiana, USA) to ascertain total cholesterol (TC), high density lipoproteins (HDL), low density lipoproteins (LDL) and triglycerides (Trigs). The Cardiochek is Cholesterol Reference Method Laboratory Network (CRMLN) certified and has high correlation to standard venous blood samples [11].

A continuous graded exercise test on a specialised SUP ergometer (KayakPro SUPErgo, Miami, FL, USA) was used to determine maximal aerobic power (relative and absolute). The SUPErgo is elevated on springs which aims to replicate the instability of paddling on water (Fig. 2). This laboratory assessment has previously been shown to correlate highly to field based measures [12]. Maximal aerobic power (VO2max) was determined using an automated expired gas analysis system (Parvomedics TrueOne 2400 metabolic system, East Sandy, Utah, USA) which was calibrated prior to each test. The expired-gas-analysis system meets Australian Institute of Sport accreditation standards for precision and accuracy. The gas analysis software was configured to breath by breath however VO2 max was determined from the average of 30 s of max data collected.
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