How Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP) Can Benefit Triathlon Training

Top triathletes share how and why they incorporate stand-up paddleboarding into their training.

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From time to time during your training year, it’s important to give your muscles and supporting tissues a break from the swim, bike and run routine. You also need to give your brain a rest from all of the focus and pressure of a full training schedule. In the off-season, we encourage the athletes we train to stay fit, dial back the swim, bike and run, and focus on cross training.

Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) and prone paddleboarding are cross training workouts that are being used by many top triathletes as a way to improve their endurance, work on their core and balance, and get a bit of a strength workout in one training session. Paddleboarding is essentially a dynamic core training workout that will require you to use muscles in your shoulders, upper back, spine and core that are not typically challenged during triathlon training. Paddleboarding is also a remarkably efficient workout. Forty-five minutes or an hour is all you need.

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Stand-Up Paddle Boarding

SUP is a sport that is growing rapidly. The good news for triathletes is that the price of boards has come down, and the availability of boards has increased dramatically. Recent advances in board shapes and materials have also made boards lighter and more stable. 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist Simon Whitfield is an avid paddleboarder. “[I am] absolutely loving SUP, for so many different reasons but the stand out is the chance to truly be alone,” Whitfield explains. “The days on a bike where you’re truly alone are few and far between; the opportunity to visit solitude, the take a deep breath, no cars, no drivers. [SUP] is similar to mountain biking, but far less mechanical. The stroke feels similar to swimming, with the fundamentals being very similar without the constant black line.”

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Prone Paddleboarding

The much lesser-known counterpart to SUP is traditional prone paddleboarding. With prone paddleboarding, paddlers either lay on their stomach and use a “surfer style” crawl stroke while paddling with two hands, or paddle on their knees. Prone paddleboarding is an extremely challenging workout that will bring huge benefits to your swim. Two-time Ironman winner Luke Bell has incorporated prone paddleboarding into his training regimen.  “Prone paddleboarding will help the swim as it is a very similar action to swimming and allows for an uninterrupted continuous action for long periods of times,” Bell says. “There are no turns or stopping at the end for breathers, just like racing! Get on and go for an hour or more. How often do you do than in a pool?”

The bottom line: the season is winding down and it is time to mix things up!

“Triathletes spend so much time swimming, biking and running and it can take a physical and mental toll,” explains world champion SUP racer and triathlete Jenny Kalmbach. “Stand up paddling is a fun, low-impact workout. Training benefits aside, SUP gives triathletes something fun and relaxing to do, and it’s a nice break from the monotony of their usual workouts. Whether you live near a river, lake or the ocean, try stand up paddling and incorporate it into your training regimen.”

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Roch Frey has coached triathletes, including Ironman world champions Heather Fuhr and Peter Reid, for 25 years. Three years ago he began coaching prone and SUP paddlers. You can learn more about SUP race training, ask questions about getting started with paddleboarding, and check out Frey’s new book at

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