How to Use This Sport to Cross Train

As runners, we all know how important cross-training can be for the body and mind. We’re all susceptible to burnout; running is, after all, a grueling sport. So it’s important to balance miles with other forms of low-impact cardio to give the joints a rest from time to time, while also adding a new challenge and level of excitement to your routine. Enter: paddle boarding, a fun summer activity that can also serve as your cross-training workout.

Paddle boarding has gained popularity in recent years. Since 2011, the number of US participants who’ve tried paddle boarding has nearly tripled, increasing from roughly 1.15 million Americans participating in the activity more than a decade ago, to 3.74 million paddle boarders today, according to Statista.

What exactly is paddle boarding?

Think of paddle boarding as a hybrid between kayaking and surfing. You’re standing upright on a board, similar to a surfboard, but dipping one long paddle (like an oar) into the water to propel you through the water, performing strokes like you would on a kayak or canoe.

One of the draws of paddle boarding is that you can enjoy it in any body of water, from big oceans to small lakes. And it’s a great workout you can do outdoors.

What are the benefits of paddle boarding for runners?

“Paddle boarding and running are great complementary cross-training activities,” he says Melanie Smith, PaddleFit Core Coach, SUP Yoga certified instructor, and owner of Miss Melanie Yoga & MMY Paddle Boards. . “When on the paddle board, you’re working stabilizer muscles, increasing your balance and core strength while adding the component of water resistance to your workout.” The resistance from the water means your legs, back, and core have to work in overdrive to both keep you upright and move you forward with each paddle stroke.

Because paddle boarding is a low-impact activity, it’s also great for individuals who deal with arthritis or are recovering from an injury, Smith says.

Also, just like when running, you can choose your pace and duration while paddle boarding, so you always have the option to turn a leisure paddle into an endurance event and get that intense workout and increased heart rate, Smith says. Just be careful not to overdo it if it’s your first time paddling, so you’re not too sore at the end of the day.

If you’re interested in stretching sore muscles, you can also consider trying yoga on a stand up paddle board. “All yoga poses are much more challenging on the paddle board. If you’re an avid yogi you might be surprised at how so many of your most familiar poses become even more dynamic and brand new by the addition of the unstable surface of the paddle board,” Smith says.

Finally, the mental benefits of paddling have similar qualities as a run outdoors—you’re connecting with nature, giving your mind a chance to be quiet, and focusing on the present moment, Smith says.

What should beginners know before their first paddle board session?

Buy the best board for you

Many state parks, private lakes, and beaches offer rentals, so consider trying out paddle boarding a few times before making the investment in your own board. There are many durable inflatable boards on the market if you can’t transport a traditional style board, but you’ll want to consider investing in a good pump to make inflating the board a breeze. Smith cautions, too, that some inflatable boards are cheaply constructed and made from harmful glues that can leach into waterways. Look for brands that use mainly PVC and kevlar composites, both durable plastics, and have a woven stitch construction as these are going to be more durable and have a longer lifespan.

“When buying a board, think about where you are going to use it the most—is it the local lakes or reservoirs, which are considered flat water? Or will you be taking it to the oceans, bays, or rivers where there are currents and tides,” Smith asks.

Touring paddle boards are made to go for long distances in the water, as they are designed to cut through the water more efficiently, while surf paddle boards are typically shorter to allow for quick maneuverability in ocean waters and rivers. A recreational board is an all-around smart choice for leisure boarding on flat water, and a smart choice for beginners.

“Then you must take into consideration your size and the board size,” Smith says. “In paddle boarding we measure people via their volume (height and weight) in comparison to that of the board. We don’t want someone to be on a board that is too small for their body as this will create a lot of instability for the paddler.”

Check the board’s maximum weight capacity before purchasing, and consider if you’ll ever add another paddle boarder on your board (some are designed for two people.) The standard size of a paddle board is usually 32 to 34 inches wide and about 9 to 11 feet long.

Pick the right paddles

It’s important that you have the paddle fitted for your height. Most paddles are adjustable, too. Smith suggests placing the paddle blade in front of your toes, with the paddle handle up, and reaching one arm up so that your palm and fingertips can curl over the top of the T-grip. “You want your second hand to be halfway down the shaft of the paddle.”

You should be able to dip the entire blade comfortably into the water while standing (with a slight bend in your knees) on the board.

Stand tall and strong

To get out on the water on a paddle board, you need to first learn how to stand on it. Smith breaks it down: “Your paddle stance will be at the center of your board around the handle of the board—the ‘sweet spot.’ This is the most central, stable part of your board,” she says. “Keep the feet aligned parallel to one another with softly bent knees, core engaged to help support the lower back. As for the paddles, grab the top hand on the handle (T-grip) of the paddle, bottom hand halfway down the shaft of the paddle. To start moving, gaze forward to the horizon, heading the direction you wish to go,” Smith explains.

Move with ease

Mastering the actual paddle stroke will help you move efficiently in the water. “Reach your paddle blade into the water as far forward as you can, submerging your paddle blade fully into the water and drawing it back to your toes,” Smith says.

“When you’re working through your forward stroke, consider pressing your feet into the board—engaging your quads and glutes while keeping a slight bend in the knees and extending through your oblique muscles and side body to help you reach that paddle forward.” This is what makes paddling a great full-body workout, Smith says.

Ready to get on the water? Smith recommends having these essentials with you to make for a safe and enjoyable experience:

  • A life jacket (check you local boating laws as they may even be required)
  • A whistle in case of emergencies
  • A dry bag that holds important items like sunscreen, sunglasses, water, and refueling snacks for those longer endurance paddles
  • If you’re paddling solo, consider wearing a leash, which will keep you connected to your board at all times
  • If you want your board to stay put (and there is a current) for something like yoga or a rest break, consider packing an anchor

How to Fit Paddle Boarding into Your Run Routine

Smith says for cross training, runners can take up a 30-minute paddle boarding session anywhere from one to three days a week. And he says the mental determination required for long paddling sessions is similar to that of long endurance runs.

I consider paddle boarding a fun option for cross training days when you don’t feel like hitting the gym. Better yet, find a state park that offers paddle board rentals, and has a running trail to explore. After a light summer run, finish up your workout on the water. If you’re limiting your miles due to injury, check with your doctor first to see if paddle boarding might be a good fit for you to stay active.

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