Hands up all athletes who´d like to enjoy your specific sport as long as you can!
Yeah, that´s what I thought. I´m with you. Why wouldn´t we want to practice and enjoy the sport we love so much, for as long as possible? It makes total sense. But sometimes it´s not possible, most often because of injuries. That´s a shame. Stand up paddle boarding (SUP) and SUP yoga can be a game changer, no matter what kind of sport we love and live for.
SUP is well known for being awesome when it comes to increasing balance. It´s obvious. We hear the word paddle or surf and we think of people balancing and paddling on surf boards. We think it sounds beneficial and great, but out of our league. We don’t see how it makes any sense that we, as football or tennis players, runners or triathlon athletes should even consider adding SUP to our training schedule. We need to think again.
First of all – SUP doesn´t have to include waves. SUP can be done in a lake, or on days when the ocean is calm and flat. Second, SUP is hugely accessible and beneficial for all athletes of any sport. It gives us so many different benefits – all at once. All we need to do is give it a try and see for ourselves.
SUP offers many different styles, such as racing, surfing waves, cruising for adventures, practicing yoga or putting on a helmet going crazy along rivers. When it comes to using SUP as cross training for athletes, I recommend flat water paddling with some SUP yoga poses. The reason comes down to this: you don´t want to put yourself into the risk of being injured. The reason for taking up SUP is to increase your longevity in your sport. Keeping it simple is key. Simple doesn´t necessarily mean easy though.
SUP AS CROSS TRAINING
So, why should you add SUP to your athletic program? I´ve listed seven reasons on why I think SUP and SUP yoga is awesome for all athletes.
I can´t think of any athlete that wouldn´t benefit from having good balance. Raised on a wrestling mat, growing up as a competitive wrestler for the female Swedish national team, I know all about the importance of good balance for fighters. You need it. Today I´m a different kind of athlete, spending time fighting my battles in the trails running ultra-marathons, and the waves surfing my SUP board. Different kind of sports – but still in need of good balance. Being thrown off your feet as a wrestler and getting back up on your feet again is way easier with good balance. Running trails requires good balance jumping over roots and rocks, avoiding face plants. In surfing, well… it´s obvious. The waves make you humble. Balance is key.
In every sport I can think off – balance will make us better athletes. Adding SUP to our training schedule will make us work our balance just by placing our feet on the board. That´s it! It may look easy, but staying on the board requires us to stay focused. Like really, really focused. A skill needed in all sports too, right? Mental focus makes all the difference. And while we´re focusing hard on staying on board, working and increasing our balance skills, something else comes with it. Proprioception.
There are different systems in our bodies that helps with our balance. Proprioception is one of them. A large sense system which produces a tremendous amount of data without us actually knowing about it. It´s like a sixth sense. A sense of position and movement, produced by sensory receptors in our fascia, i.e. ligaments, bones and myofascia. It keeps track of where our body parts are oriented in relationship to our surroundings, and informs our central nervous system of what´s going on in our muscles.
Without proprioception, we wouldn´t be able to stand up. And I don´t mean stand up paddling. I literally mean, standing up. (Something that´s actually shockingly complicated). It´s like knowing and feeling where our body is in space. Like the wrestling part where we´re being thrown of our feet. Getting back up and knowing exactly where our body is in space is a must if we don´t want to lose the fight. Or a trampoline, where we jump up and down and fall and get back up again. We might feel dizzy and disoriented, not having control of our body, but quickly find our sense of control again. If you don´t relate to any of the above, I´m sure you know the feeling of walking or running, and the pavement/trail changes under your feet – and you´re about to fall. Your fascia kicks in and respond before you´re nervous system is aware of what´s going on. Your fascia is an amazing communication system where information travel quicker than when it comes to your nerves.
In our everyday life, we are affected by outer forces all the time that disturbs our balance, but we don´t think about it because our bodies are managing this automatically. We can´t feel proprioception. It´s like asking fish what water feels like. We can´t know what it is and how it feels – until it´s gone. That´s when we tend to seek solutions.
Increasing our balance with specific balance training, like SUP, in a combination with stretching our muscles and fascia so the sensory receptors can work properly is effective for athletes (and everyone else). And this is where SUP yoga can shine!
Practicing yoga on a SUP board might look difficult. But again, simple is key. We´re not talking advanced poses like being upside-down. That doesn´t belong on a SUP board. We´re talking easy, basic poses that does wonder over the long haul – to take our balance training one step further. SUP yoga empowers us to slow down. If we don´t – splash! I believe we all need to learn how to slow down. It´s a practice and requires training just as any other type of training. The lessons we can learn by embracing stillness and subtler training can do wonderful things physically and mentally, and feed our performance in our sport. Yoga is well-known for benefits such as injury prevention, body awareness, breath awareness, presence and better recovery… and that´s just a few things.
SUP yoga works best when we keep it to easy poses. Then we can really feel the difference from practicing on a fixed yoga mat, and we instantly feel why yoga on a SUP board is awesome.
Strength is well known by athletes. Mobility though, can often be overlooked. Yoga got this covered. Many sports require us to move in different directions. Getting up fast if we fall, or move forward as fast as we can while still keeping track on our surroundings and maybe catching a ball. All these movements will be improved with greater mobility around our joints. Stiff joints increase the risk of injury and our movements will be restricted. Practicing yoga doesn´t mean we have to be good at it. In yoga there´s no competition, and we don´t get applause from others if we do it well. How well yoga is done is measured by how we feel in our bodies when we practice – and after. If we come out of our yoga practice feeling more calm and balanced – it was a good practice. Which poses does the trick for us – depends on our bodies.
Just placing our hands and knees on the board, lifting one leg and the opposite arm, will work our balance and fire up our deep inner core muscles. With plank pose and other excellent poses, we´ll increase our balance and strength. We can also practice resting poses which is perfect for the SUP board, like Sleeping Swan to stretch our IT band and gluteus muscles, and increase mobility around our hip joints. The athlete’s hips and legs are highly trafficked areas – we need yoga!
Many sports are asymmetrical, which means we work one side of our body more than the opposite side. Tennis, golf, football, surfing, snowboard to mention a few. We have one dominate side that does most of the work, and this can result in some imbalances in our body. SUP will even out our strength – and eventually we don´t have a weaker side!
Paddling on a SUP board works our upper body strength, as well as our core and back strength. By learning and using good technique, we basically use mostly our core when we paddle. Since we need to shift side with the paddle after a few strokes, we work both sides of our body equal.
I´ve seen elite ultra-runners getting their SUP and SUP yoga on, showing their skills (or lack of) on social media. They´ve got it – SUP will help them be the best version of themselves in running, by implementing some change in their training and firing up new muscles to get some upper body strength useful in the trails and mountains.
I wish I would have done more of my athletic training outdoors when I was a wrestler. I didn´t know back then how amazing it feels to train outdoors and all the benefits that comes with it. Mother nature is beautiful and offer so many places where we can increase our fitness – to no cost at all. Yes, a SUP board comes with a cost, but if we choose a really good one it works for many years to come. Being outdoor lowers stress hormones and depression and adding salt water to the equation is nothing but success. Being near, on or under water has so many benefits that will make any athlete a better athlete.
Adding something new to your athletic program could feel draining and confusing. You have a program that works good for you, so why change it?
Change is good. Change is necessary. Change is part of life. Stirring things up now and then might not be something all professional coaches would back me up on. But I dare saying that change is for the good.
Repetitive overuse is common for athletes. We move our body in a certain way over and over again, a way that our specific sport require us to move. This can lead to muscles getting inflamed and choked. All it takes is one muscle to choke, one part of your body, and the rest of your body can get thrown out of alignment – hello imbalances! When we stop using our muscles the same way over and over again – adding some change – blood flow can return and make way for good things. (This is a must for a well hydrated fascia system).
Adding something new to our training doesn´t mean it´s forever. SUP is an all year round sport for us who´s made SUP our primarily sport. But for most people, SUP means a few months during summer time, or during travel to warmer climate. So it can mean adding some SUP to our training schedule during summer time, or why not during off season and we travel for family vacation? Bring your kids on your SUP and you have a fun session including the whole family.
I once worked with a competitive runner, who was injured and couldn´t run as he wanted and were used to. He came for some SUP lessons, because he saw the opportunity to train without affecting his legs, where injury bothered him. He paddled to keep his training going, and it all ended up with him getting more core muscles then before – to bring with him into his running.
Injuries can be tough, physically and mentally. We are kept off the sport we love. And let’s be honest, rehab sucks. Adding something that still feels like training during rehab could make a huge shift in our mood and fitness. If we´re suffering from shoulder injuries and paddling doesn´t work, we could still practice SUP yoga.
Let’s be honest, as athletes we can sometimes be hard on ourselves. I remember training wasn´t always fun back in the days when I was an elite athlete, it just had to be done. Adding some fun to the equation is nothing but beneficial. Even Olympic athletes need fun to keep the stoke.
Getting out there on the lake or ocean can bring some fun into our busy training schedules and lives in general. I have the benefit of being out there anytime I want, since it´s part of my job – and it´s always fun. I can´t remember one time I haven´t enjoyed myself on the water – in freezing winter and cold water surf, as well as burning sun and SUP yoga.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
We can combine paddling and yoga anyway that suits us. Here´s an example of how I often train and practice SUP and SUP yoga when I´m around my home lake in Sweden.
35 minutes of paddling. Anchor the board: 20 minutes of yoga. Getting back up on my feet and paddle 35 minutes. Now I´ve got a 90-minute SUP session including: balance, strength, mobility, awareness, presence and fresh air.
So set yourself up for long-term success, by including SUP paddling and SUP yoga in your athletic program. If you´re still not convinced it´s a key to success – head over to check Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama and their athletic fitness. Or head over to Swedish Crosswater (only in Swedish) and set yourself up for some inspiration by the best of the best!