Off The Water by Robert Norman: Increasing Pulling Power (Upper Body)

Faster, farther, and easier… this mantra is the goal of paddlers of all skill levels. Being a recreational paddler in a local waterway or a traveling elite level racer makes no difference that SUP is an outlet for personal fitness. The most absolute indicator on your paddling skill level and increased fitness output, is how fast you are paddling at each exertion level. Many are firm believers that paddling on the water is the only way to become a better paddler, while this is partially correct, all successful paddlers are incorporating almost an equal amount of off the water training to supplement their paddling ability.


“All successful paddlers are incorporating almost an equal amount of off the water training.”


Why? To be put simply, off the water strength training is conditioning your muscles for more resistance than you are currently getting from paddling. Which, over time, equates to stronger muscles for the purpose of pulling your board forward. In this series, Off The Water , we will be covering specific muscles used in SUP, and how to condition them to benefit SUP. Strength training is very much like a diet, or weight loss with help, performing either for only a few weeks will have minimal results, but implementing them over a long period of time will yield major improvements.


“SUP is a full body work-out.”


Today, we are looking at how you are using your upper body, what muscles are used, and how we can train them off the water. SUP is a full body work-out and you should be using almost all muscles while paddling, so there will be a core strength and lower body article coming soon.
Your arms are simply levers while your core and lower body should be performing most of the work, but a strong upper body will help with efficient energy transfer from those larger leg muscles to the paddle.


paddle stroke


Our top hand starts overhead, and our bottom hand is out stretched, as the top hand drives down we are working the (lats primary and anterior deltoid as support) while our bottom arm is pulling straight back. Since the arm is straight we aren’t working the arm muscles, we are working the rhomboids, rear delts, and lats. Our chest muscles are used as supporting muscles here, and the main movers comes from out upper back. Bending the hips is where the real power comes from, but making that connection with the arms as levers is vital.
Here are some exercises designed to target the muscle groups. The exercises are simple and nature and are partially compound. As the series progresses we will take these simple exercises and specific muscle groups and broaden them to incorporate the entire body. It’s best to start off simple to build a good foundation.

Bent Over Lat Rows – Arm bends which is not like paddling, but focus on the elbow coming back to engage the latest muscles and really pull from your torso rather than bending your arm. 2 variations of exercise shown.




Pullup/Chin up – start with the arms completely straight and pull yourself as high up as possible and control yourself on the way down. You can find assisted pullup variations online using resistance bands or a buddy, or use a lat pulldown machine.




Straight Arm Lat Pulldown /Knees or Standing – this is an excellent exercise to strengthen the top hand driving the blade down. The kneeling variation I’ve picked up from Josh Smart.(@smart4fitness) try to keep whichever position you choose completely stable and pull from the shoulders keeping the arms straight.




Pushup/Chest Press – Supporting muscle group so program AFTER the back exercises, focus on slow and controlled here. On the pushups focus on good posture and on chest Presses focus on being very controlled with the movement.




Overhead Dumbell Presses – another supporting muscle group for the top hand. Start off light and maintain good upright posture. Don’t bend your back if the weight is too heavy…




When formatting your exercises together, make sure to group similar muscle groups consecutively with each other. This will help with more strength gained, increasing lactic acid threshold (muscle endurance) and muscle recovery. If you space them out you are limiting your potential muscular increases, don’t worry if you are doing a little less weight on certain exercises because of this format, over time you will be able to do much more.


Find out more about Robert Norman on Instagram!

About the Author

Mathieu Astier

Mathieu is the hyper-active founder of TotalSUP and a multilingual online marketing veteran with more than 20 years of experience working for top international internet companies. His love-at-first-sight for Stand Up Paddling in 2013 led him to build one of the leading online media dedicated to SUP in English and French and to turn his family lifestyle towards the ocean.

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